Building a following on social media is not easy.
Building a following and then selling them a product is borderline impossible.
Homefield Apparel has done the seemingly impossible, piling up 50k+ followers on Twitter and 40k+ followers on Instagram all around their D2C collegiate apparel brand based here in Speedway.
We sat down with CEO, Connor Hitchcock to learn a few secrets of the trade.
Connor Hitchcock is the Founder and CEO of Homefield. A direct-to-consumer brand that sells premium licensed college apparel for schools of all sizes.
What started as a side project in Connor’s college apartment has blossomed into one of the most dominant D2C brands in the collegiate athletic space.
Connor is a whiz when it comes to building a strong brand, creating authentic social content, and people-first management.
Be sure to check out these great clips from the show:
- [3:19] Starting a Business in the Basement
- [13:14] Building a Strong Brand in E-commerce
- [14:48] The Importance of Brand in Valuations
- [16:03] Investing in Brand and Word of Mouth Marketing
- [23:10] The Last Dance and the Impact of COVID
- [28:13] Creating Engaging Content
- [35:13] Building an Authentic Brand
- [39:41] The Brand Battle
In our conversation with Connor, you will learn about:
- The Role of Branding: Homefield’s heavy investment in building their brand has paid off. By focusing on brand, they’ve managed to lower customer acquisition costs while increasing the lifetime value of their customers.
- The Power of Social Media: Our conversation highlighted the importance of engaging with your audience on social media platforms. Homefield’s relaxed and engaging approach on Twitter allowed them to connect with their audience and have fun with their brand.
- Building a Strong Community: Homefield has built a raving community that goes beyond just buying their products. Their customers even sent them food and drinks during a time when they were behind on orders!
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Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Companies and organizations:
- United State of Indiana
- One Click
- Half Liter
- Indiana University
- Butler University
- Xavier University
- DePaul University
- Wabash College
- Notre Dame College
- University of Southern California
- Indianapolis Colts
- Patties of Jamaica
- Conor Hitchcock
- Christa Hitchcock
- Angie Stocklin
- Randy Stocklin
- Pat East
- Eric W. Smith
- Tim Klausmeier
- Karen Corsaro
- Jon Corwin
- Steven Jones
- Kyle Robbins
- Travis Green
- Michael Penix Jr.
- Abby Parker
- Nate Spangle
- Matt Hunckler
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Matt: Hey there from the crossroads of America in the Hoosier state of Indiana, this is Get IN, the podcast focused on the unfolding stories and extraordinary innovations happening right now in the heartland. I’m Matt Hunckler, CEO at Powderkeg, and I will be one of your hosts for today’s conversation. I’m joined in studio by co host Nate Spangle, head of community at Powderkeg. Hey.
And I’m really excited because on the show today, we have Conor Hitchcock, who is the founder and CEO of Home Field.
Connor: But we made a subscription so people could get a shirt from a different school every week. And to the power of brand, 500 people signed up.
Matt: Conor Hitchcock is the founder and CEO of Home Field, a direct to consumer brand that sells premium licensed college apparel and for schools of all sizes. In today’s show, we are going to cover growing your company with content. The harsh reality of early stage startups and how any brand can level up and how they’re going to market Connor, welcome to Get IN.
Connor: Hey, thanks for having me, guys. Excited to be here.
Matt: Thanks for being here. We’ve got some fun stuff in store today. We’ve got a couple new segments we’re going to try out. Ooh, I’m a guinea pig. We’ve got some things that I think are going to be really fun for the camera, for our visual listeners.
Don’t worry, audio friends, we’re going to make it interesting for you, too. Yeah, absolutely.
Nate: But, subtle plug to go check us out on YouTube. Instagram, social media, all those places.
Matt: Yes. Connor, you have such a cool business. It’s cool to us being in the software world because you have actual products.
Tell us a little bit about Homefield and what you do there.
Connor: Yeah, software world is cool to me because you have no inventory. That sounds awesome. We can talk about that. Yeah, no doubt. Homefield, it’s pretty easy to understand what we do once you see it, but direct to consumer collegiate apparel, right?
We go get licensed for these universities. And we are printing logos, stories, histories, whatever is relevant to your school, about your school. It’s unique to your school, and selling it primarily through direct to consumer means. Collegiate industry traditionally has been insert school name here apparel.
It’s not very creative, because it’s really difficult to do what we do, and to scale what we do. We do a lot of non scalable things funny enough, that have made us successful. Yeah, the tech people listening will love the non scalable stuff,
Matt: but you always got to start with doing things that don’t scale.
Connor: Yeah. Yeah. And we find ways to make it scale. That’s cool. Yeah, so we’ve, we launched the brand in 2018. So this is, we just celebrated the fifth year of the brand. When I say we, it’s myself and my co founder, Chris who’s also my wife. Couldn’t be here. I never know what to talk about that too. I never know what order to say those things in whatever context, probably wife first, I should say,
Matt: but it depends on the context,
Connor: depends on the context.
We. We launched it out of our basement in Broad Ripple in 2018 and five years later. We’ve scaled it to be pretty significant size with over 180 Universities that were licensed with so
Matt: Take us back to those days of being in the basement in Broad Ripple Or maybe even before that what was the original idea?
When did you decide? Hey? Maybe we should start a business out of our basement.
Nate: What if we made t shirts for colleges cool? Exactly. What was that idea?
Connor: It goes back before that. So in 2014, I, for whatever reason, I don’t remember why, I was a student down at IU, go Hoosiers, and in my apartment in Bloomington, I just mocked up some stickers of the state of at the time, still one company crushing it right now, United State of Indiana.
Yeah. Because that Graham and Grant are awesome. But they have a store now on 54th, actually in the Monon. Yeah. Right
Nate: there by Mama Carola’s, right? Yes. Yes. United state of Indiana.
Connor: Yes. So we actually did a lot of similar stuff and Graham was still super cool and met with me and basically taught me how to run a t shirt company, which is wild.
Cause I was doing what he was doing, but I’d started with stickers and went literally door to door in Bloomington and some stores had picked it up, made Instagram, made a website on Shopify. So as a student thought it’d be fun. And 30 stores in the state picked it up, which is crazy. And they started asking if I had t shirts.
I was like, Oh yeah, totally. And I have t shirts. So I texted my then girlfriend now wife and co founder Crista and said, Hey, I can’t design anything. She has a design background. She’s in school for photography and media in general. Can you mock up a few designs for me? She was at my home of Ohio at the time.
And she said, yeah, sure. So she mocked up some designs. I taught myself how to screen print in my college apartment. So like literally a tabletop press. And for those familiar with making a shirt, you need to cure the ink, which normally requires a massive conveyor dryer. Did not have that in my Bloomington apartment.
So I use water based inks, which can cure over time with heat in the sun, sometimes in the oven. And so I was literally laying out these shirts in my apartment, putting them in the sun for a certain amount of time, and then shipping them to stores. I was doing that for a couple years. That side project was called Hoosier Prep.
So then, my final year of school, I graduated in 2016. I’m a huge college sports fan, and IU sports fan in particular growing up and then going to IU. IU played in a bowl game, which doesn’t happen very often. And it was a meaningless bowl game. It’s a pinstripe bowl. And if you’re a college football fan you know no one cares about that bowl.
But for me it was a big deal. I just never won a bowl game in my life. They line up in double overtime to kick a field goal, to tie it, to go into triple overtime. Kick looks like it’s good. It’s called no good. IU Twitter, at the time which I was a active lurker, not a participant, all off season, kept saying, tongue in cheek, the kick was good.
Pretending to be really upset about this meaningless bowl game. But a little upset. And so going into the next season, 2016, I graduated, I started working at OneClick shout out OneClick, RIP OneClick.
Matt: Yeah, we had Angie Stocklin on the show recently.
Connor: Yes, phenomenal company, phenomenal people.
And I was already working e commerce marketing at OneClick and I made this shirt. I designed it, it was horrible, but I made it and put it on the website an hour before the kickoff of the next season. And it got picked up on Indiana Twitter. Went nuts. And I started to realize oh there’s something here.
I think I’ve hit on the shirt. Say the kick is good. It just said the kick was good. Yeah. It was terrible design. There’s like the state of Indiana on it on a crimson T didn’t require licensing. So I took that opportunity with a sales, like literally, but we sold in one hour was more than I had sold in the two years prior the website existing.
Oh, wow. And so I went to IU and said, Hey, I run this Indiana side project. I’m a recent alum. Can I get licensed? And looking back, there’s no way they should have given me a license, but they did. And so I got licensed for IU, Purdue, Indiana state, ball state.
And how did you, how do you nail down all those other ones?
So I went, once I went to IU, I had that license in hand. I’m, I had a mutual connection that connects me to the licensing office with your huge legal team at the time. Yes. Yes. That’s correct. Yes. Out of our base, my basement at the time, I then went to. Looked up online like just googled Purdue licensing and said, Oh, we work with Learfield licensing, which used to exist No longer does but was based here up at 86th and Keystone and so I reached out to Learfield licensing and the interim they work as an intermediary for Purdue and their rep for Purdue same as Tom Kehoe who now works at home field funny enough But I explained he totally got the vision of home field because my I was pitching him You know wasn’t like kitschy shirts like saying the kick was good It’s vintage apparel.
That’s a different take that’s unique for each school. It tells a different story. He totally got it from the outset and our angle beyond that too, is we’re direct to consumer. And so nobody does direct to consumer. Like there is a brand in the collegiate space, 200 million brand. They did not have a website when COVID hit.
Wow. So it’s all bookstore, right? It’s a 5 billion industry. And so nobody, I was working out one click one being born in the nineties. And, Later as an adult, just pretty much shopping everything online.
Matt: Absorbing e commerce industry understanding how that whole machine works
Connor: My interests being in e commerce marketing and collegiate sports.
I like oh, this is a home run the industry being so old Nobody saw that so Tom though saw it at Learfield and He convinced Purdue to give this little side project out of our basement a license and then Indiana State in Ball State and so we do that side project for a year. Chris is doing the design side.
I’m doing the marketing side. And after a while I was getting coffee every month at One Click with Randy as a mentorship coffee. And I remember one day Randy was always super interested in what Randy and Angie were both super interested in what I was doing. They, their pitch to me literally at One Click was, Hey, we know you’re doing your own thing.
Why don’t you come here, learn literally whatever you can. And then we’ll help you go do your own thing, or hopefully we’ve positioned you well to go do your own thing. And they held true to that promise. I met with Randy once a month, and at one point he asked if I would ever do the license thing full time.
I was like, no, I think the industry’s super crowded, but then I went home, talked to Christa, and really looked into building out okay, what would it look like if we did do this? Is this feasible? And I came back the next month to coffee with Randy. I was like, Hey Randy, I think this is, I think this is real.
I think what I’ve learned here, no one’s doing it in collegiate and nobody’s designing for sure. It all starts with what Chris’s team does. It’s the designs are so different.
Nate: Oh my gosh. Cause if you go into any, at least I went to DePauw and I know at all like D3 schools, they just copy and paste a logo and a name and it’s like.
DePauw football, DePauw swimming and diving. Depaw like in the shirts in the bookstore. There’s like huge racks of ’em. Yes. They’re all the same gray t-shirt and it’s terrible.
Connor: Yes. And for all the DePauw grads listening, ’cause I know, I’m sure there’s an overindexing on or fellows that probably listen to this, which means a lot of DePauw people I know Our collection is lacking or working on it.
Nate: I was gonna say ball Games coming up. I was gonna say something.
Connor: It sure is one of our investors, Pat East, is a Wabash grad, so I hear about that too. I bet. Shout out to Pat. They don’t even on the site. I don’t, they’re not, yeah, we need to, we need to beef that up. But all that to say the pitch was obvious to us, but we worked through it and literally for a year, Randy, while I was working at his company and Angie, while I was working at her company and Eric Smith, the CFO at the time, and Tim Klausmeier, the Head of Business Intelligence, they were all helping me plan out my business, my financials, all of it, operations, they even were connecting me like, Hey, you should talk to this person for investing in fundraising. Taught me how to fundraise. Cause that’s 23.
Matt: Yeah. And so looking back, why do you think they helped you?
Connor: They’re just one. They’re just genuinely good people.
Definitely. And some of the best people.
They’re just the one click. Everybody says it. Who’s worked. Not everybody. I’m sure not everyone has a great experience ever, but the time I was there generally just in genuinely great people. And. It was a really special company to be at
Nate: In the life cycle of one click. Where were you at in,
Connor: I was there 2016 to 20 no. Yeah. 2016 and 2017. So literally this kind of ties in. I was planning this company. They were all helping me. Randy and Angie both ended up investing. They ended up connecting with a bunch of other investors, including Pat East, including Karen Corsaro, who’s involved with Homefield, a ton of people in Indy that are phenomenal and then they kept telling me like, Hey, I wanted to leave in May of 17 and they’d be like, Hey, can you just stay on for six more weeks? We really need some help. And so I’d be like, okay. And they’d be like, can you just stay on for two more weeks? We want to, be able to hand off your job to somebody else.
And so then the week I am set to leave, they call an all company meeting and they announced they sold the company. And at that moment, eric Smith, Tim Klausmeyer, John Corwin, a bunch of people just looked down the row at me Because everyone had an equity incentive. So they kept me there. So I’d make money.
That’s amazing. Really cool So they were like they had they didn’t need to keep me They were just paying me a salary and they just wait until I got my check, which is really cool That’s really cool. That just speaks to that pervaded the whole company. What a story.
Matt: Yeah When you were at One Click, what are like the Yeah, I’m sure you learned a ton about e commerce and I’m sure you’ve learned a lot since running your own e commerce business But if you were to say there were like three main things that a successful e commerce business needs to have What would be those like top three things?
Connor: Wow. Top three things a successful e commerce business needs to have. You know, it’s funny. I listened to Angie’s episode and she downplayed the product because we did make it work with, they were discount reading glasses, nothing super special, right? But I do think you actually, if for explosive growth, I do think you need a phenomenal product.
Most definitely. I think that part one, part two, I always had this sense when I should say the term, then I’ll dive into it. I think you need a. You need an incredibly strong brand to make it work in e commerce and that’s duh You should have a good whatever, but I say that because at the time when I left One Click E-commerce was taking off in terms of you saw these crazy valuations and all these companies the playbook was you just pour a bunch of money into digital marketing you pour a bunch of money into Facebook ads and I always just felt weird about that because I You would make barely any money on the first purchase.
Sometimes you’d lose money and you just hope you’d make it up an LTV. All these companies got so focused on Facebook advertising that they didn’t think about customer or consumer connection at all. And the LTV just never came, they just thought
Matt: For those who are listening that don’t know LTV, sorry, lifetime value of a customer.
No, probably all of our listeners know that, but I just feel like, yes, it’s worth calling out.
Connor: Yeah, the fundamental equation in e commerce is CAC to LTV ratio, right?
Matt: Customer acquisition costs to lifetime value.
Connor: So they would have these customer acquisition costs that were really high, but they’d be like, oh, people will come back and purchase more.
If you don’t have a brand. And there’s no connection with the consumer, they might just jump to the next company that does the same thing that’s cheaper.
Nate: Yeah, and on the back side valuations of those companies, if you’re just selling a widget, like phone chargers or whatever, it’s like That’s not valuable like for multiples, but if you have a brand and a customer base established, that’s where you start to see similar, not quite as good as like the software and the tech valuations, but like they buy you for your brand if they want to make an acquisition.
Connor: Yes. And that’s been a moat for us. Most definitely. It’s a ton of companies have tried to copy what we do and we can talk more about that in a bit because I know I’m in the middle of a three part list and I tend to ramble, but. We have an insanely devoted fan base because we invested in brand and we barely put any money into Facebook tying that full circle.
If any of you have ever advertised on Facebook, when iOS 14 hit, it ruined everyone specifically in e-commerce. I know one company who’s 70 percent of their revenue was based upon Facebook ads gone almost overnight. Wow. Because they just. They had no focus on brand. They were just like, this is going to work forever.
I’m going to put 1 in and get 4 back. I’m just going to keep doing that.
Matt: And there’s a brand Is work on both sides of that equation, right? It’s lowering customer acquisition cost while increasing lifetime value of customer. So it’s literally your cacti LTV ratio. You’re turbocharging it.
Connor: And then what ends up happening when you invest in brand? Every marketer is going for word of mouth marketing. That’s all you want. You want your customers to do the marketing for you. You don’t have to pay for that. They’re actually paying you and doing the marketing. And so when you invest in brand and that consumer connection, so many brands are invested or try to just.
Scale up as fast as possible. They want to get a bunch of VC money and pump it up and then go off and sell it. Chris and I have a strategic advantage of liking what we do a lot. And so we want to grow this thing sustainably and we’re not going to go five X year over year, every single year. We don’t want to do that.
And so you start to see exponential growth though. So around the holidays last year, our post purchase survey told us that 35 percent of people came to the website because a friend or family member told them, which is crazy, right? That’s absurd. That means. We, you start to have, if I spend 10 to acquire one customer and that customer tells three people and then tells three people and then tells, you get exponential math, right?
Nate: And it’s like the holiday season. It’s like you show up to watch the bucket game, right? And you’re wearing a cool IU shirt versus like the cringy, normal IU shirt. And they’re like, where’d you get that shirt? And it’s boom, there you go. Now you’re one customer became three customers became nine customers and there’s your exponential math.
Connor: And it’s hard because you can’t. I can’t say I spent this much on, I spent X on brand and I got Y very difficult to capture that. So the way we, and coming from One Click, which is extremely data driven, we were always last touch attribution. I put 1 in. I know Tim Klausmeier did a phenomenal job of saying you put 1 in here and 320 came back or whatever it was.
Which is a foundation of what we do. Data is super important, but this early stage for us, we’ve just made bets that we know make sense. And then we evaluate holistically on a quarter or a year. Holistically and directionally how that money is played out.
Matt: So I’m going to hold your feet to the fire.
We’ve got two legs with a three legged stool of e commerce, great product, great brand. If you had to pick one third thing that a great e-commerce company needs to have what is that?
Connor: I’d say any company, this is true, but ultimately especially in our state, it’s just really great people and I’ll dig deeper.
And that, because that sounds really cliche, scrappy people who are just going to make it work, especially we’re five years in, right? We have, it’s funny we don’t have a developer on staff, which is crazy. But Shopify, I’m not doing a plug for Shopify, but they make it so you can have like part time.
We will be invoicing them. Yes. Yes, you should. They have a lot of money. But for example, Steve, our email marketing manager who came over from OneClick sat next to me at OneClick. He also was like a, he’ll just. See the tech problem and he’ll resolve it like customer service will go to him be like, hey Steve Do you know how to fix this and I’ll find out he fixed it later.
It’s not within his job description Yeah, our warehouse team is amazing. They are you know, you’ll see so many things I’m talking about It probably feels like you’re just talking to Angie again because I stole so much of what we do from One Click We just prioritize people scrappy people who care about one another.
Our core values, it’s funny, , we mean them. And I won’t go down the list right now, but they are all I realized when we wrote them, they’re all just like basically interpersonal. There’s very few on performance, right? And that’s ’cause that’s an expression of what Christa and I care about. And it’s born out in our people.
And so it’s our scrappy people who care so deeply about the brand. And look, I don’t want work to be your life in any remote way, but they are people or why home field is different. You have an amazing product and we did great brand positioning. We know how to connect with people, but then ultimately behind the scenes, we’ve got people who are so scrappy because you’re just learning something new every day, whether that’s in social media, which is changing every second, whether that is in sports in particular for what we do.
We love it because it’s unpredictable, but when it’s unpredictable, it makes operations a nightmare, right? Because. Tennessee is a very specific orange and they were number one in the country last year. So what do you do when all of a sudden they’re comping 5x year over year for that specific team? So it’s just scrappy people.
Nate: Do you have a few of the scrappiness? Maybe a couple stories that you guys did back in the trenches, like in 2019. I remember we got coffee and it was before things started to be totally up and to the right. I’d love to hear a couple of those stories.
Connor: Yeah, scrappiness, man.
There’s so many. So we really took off as a brand in July of 2020. There were two bits late 2019. We took off when we were part of this nine Windiana campaign, which was a quote prophecy. We made one day with the former people who used to run crimson quarry and IU blog, one of who DePaul grad, Kyle Robbins, shout out.
But, and a tech guy and a tech guy. I’m going to his wedding this weekend, but shout out Kyle, shout out Beth. But, we had written the coattails of Indiana football. That was a blast, but then 2020 hits and there’s no sports. And we’re just like, Oh man, we are SOL because 2019 we had, it was our second black Friday.
And prior to that, the summer of 19, right before we met Nate, we were starting to do a lot better before you and I met, but the summer of 19, we almost called it quits. Because, we had only raised 150, 000 from Angels. That’s a lot of money to a person, but not for a company.
Coming startups, it’s not a ton of money. And licensing took way longer than we thought. And you can’t build a national brand when you have just random. If I’ve got an IU, if I’ve got the IU license, that’s great. But then I have a Marshall one, which is in West Virginia. And then I have Georgia Southern, right?
There’s just not a cohesive brand. But you need to demonstrate success with those schools to get other schools to, to build the cohesive brand. So big chicken and egg, but 2020 COVID hits, we had this big March Madness campaign planned and we can’t do it. There’s no sports. And so this is the scrappiest moment.
We’ve probably had just as a company, the four of us have worked at Homefield at the time, myself, Christa, Travis, our production manager, who’s now our warehouse manager. And Holt who had come on for temporary help in December of 19 and we just begged him to stay and now he’s our wholesale manager. So 2019 it happened.
We’d done really well on Black Friday. We were working till 2 in the morning every night, just the four of us. Christa’s parents drove down from Michigan to help out. They stayed at our house for two weeks. That was really scrappy 2020 happens COVID no sports and we’re sitting there like man what are we gonna do to save the company basically because there’s no sports And so we sent Holt and Travis home fully paid for a few months like we’ll figure it out Chris and I were trying to figure out how to pivot the brand during COVID during the day and then at night we would go to the office which was at 46 and Evan said at the time it’s now a hair salon and we print t shirts and so it’s funny, people talk about those first two or three months of COVID man, they were the longest days ever.
I barely remember them because we were just probably working 15, 16 hour days. So then we go, the one thing we would do every week though, that we’d look forward to was the last dance. The Michael Jordan documentary slash propaganda film. So good. Slash propaganda film.
Matt: I loved every second of it.
Connor: Yeah. But I would wait every Sunday until 9 pm. all week, sit down, watch the last dance. And. I, the second it would turn on, I would pull out my phone and be on Twitter and Chris would be like, are you kidding me that we’ve been working hard all week and all you want to do all week is watch the last dance and the second it comes on, you’re on your phone.
I was like yeah, everybody’s tweeting about the security guard who beat Michael Jordan in the random game with the Jerry curl and did the Jordan shrug and all that stuff. There’s a ton of jokes going on. We’re all experiencing it together. And it was in that moment I realized, oh yeah, this has taken the place of sports.
And I made a very big leap Chris and I did in talking the next day wouldn’t it be cool if we could make our product drop something that people anticipate, like a sporting event? Again, a very big leap. So a few weeks later, we announced we were doing this campaign called big new Saturday, where every Saturday we were going to drop a collection for school.
I’d never been on our website before. It’s going to be a mystery. And We just do it for 15 straight weeks and we had seven schools signed up for this at the time. How big was
Matt: your social following at the time? Ballpark?
Connor: I would say on Twitter we probably had 5, 000 followers. Okay. And Instagram was less than that.
Matt: So still pretty early days. Very early days. But it sounds like you had an engaged audience. Yes. Small but engaged. Rabid fans. Rabid.
Connor: Those early people, it’s funny now, we see people all the time being like, Oh, I remember Home Field did this. I bought this back in 2018 or 19. Like they’re a part of the in club, which is funny because like I was in my basement at the time it’s, it didn’t seem that big a deal to me, but now it does to people, which is cool.
So we did it with Tulane the first week and it went crazy because there was no sports going on. So all the college football, Twitter, these media members had nothing to write about. So they’re like, you know what, let’s. This is a really cool green wave design. And the next week we did Hawaii rainbow warriors.
People loved it. It’s the rainbow warriors. Pretty cool logos. And that drew a bunch of attention. Then we got people saying, Hey, if you’re doing this for 15 weeks, I’m going to want a shirt from each one. Can I get a subscription to get a shirt a week? And I thought that was stupid. I was like, no, I would never do that.
But we made a subscription so people could get a shirt from a different school every week. And to the power of brand, 500 people signed up for it. Holy cow. How much did the subscription cost? 25 bucks a week. So for 15 weeks, you didn’t know what school was coming. You couldn’t send it back. No take backs.
And so it started to pick up a ton of steam. So some,
Matt: I love bull markets. You go back to LTV there, holy cats.
Connor: And so we get a few bigger schools started to take some bites at us. UConn was like, yeah, we’ll do it. Why not? We got nothing going on. Yeah. Syracuse said, yes. Michigan state started to roll.
So that by the end of the season, we planned 15 weeks. We taxed two more on. Because Michigan and Alabama were like, Hey, we saw what you’re doing. Can we be a part of it? And we’re like, yeah, sure. So that was the first season of big new Saturday. And that was, that’s been the defining moment of the brand is, it wasn’t just, oh, you had one successful marketing campaign.
We ran four seasons of it, launched a ton of schools. It was the way we connected with consumers in every fan base. It’s understanding the 600 person Troy Trojan’s podcast, right? Like the fifth wall, right? Like I, I know that and I know who to send Troy Trojans products to because we’re so interconnected in these small niche communities and talk, talking earlier about how we see this exponential growth.
It’s investing in things that don’t seem scalable that then they end up doing the work for us. But we also actually care about them. Like we send them birthday gifts. We know when someone’s dog died recently, we send them some stuff, right? We have this relationship with the consumer that it’s not scalable on paper.
One, it’s what we actually care about, treating people that way, but then two it’s worked out for us too in, in amplifying the brand.
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I think the Difference there as well was it wasn’t just like you posted a big new Saturday and you’re like, okay. Hi go buy my shirt It was there was content and a strategy behind it Can you talk more to the power of the because it was video drops right
Connor: Video and images and a big new Saturday font and it’d be super obvious what team is gonna be So if it was Michigan, for example, it’d be a Navy background And the B in Big News Saturday would be like a winged helmet. And Michigan fans would freak out Sunday night. And all week we’d just make like jokes online with Michigan fans.
And there’s been like, there’s like a lexicon that’s developed among Homefield fans. They call us the good brand for whatever reason. They always say we can’t, like home field doesn’t miss or can’t miss or… They talk basically about us beating their wall. It’s senseless. They get pretty weird about it.
But we would take that phraseology and Play it. Play with it. Play with it. So if there’s an iconic moment in a school’s history, for example Florida State beating Auburn in the National Championship is a iconic moment for them. But there’s a moment where there’s a Florida State receiver who reaches up over a defensive back and just absolutely dominates him to grab this football.
And we would just like… Plug in like the worst designed memes, but on purpose, cause it was a nod to college football, Twitter, and it’d be the Florida state guy would just be like home field. And then the Auburn guy would just be like my wallet, right? Like stuff like that. That’s stupid. But we started making that content and people thought it was funny.
Oh, home field gets it. That was a big moment for my school. They’re being funny.
Matt: They’d be leaning into internet culture basically.
Connor: Cause that’s me. I grew up a lurker on Indiana, Twitter. I had a Twitter account for seven years and never tweeted.
Matt: What was it that helped you pass that tipping point of going from lurking to now I’m going to be a part of the conversation and a creator and not just creating stuff every once in a while or, commenting nice, but like actually adding value and creating interesting content and gear.
Connor: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. So mid 2019, that point where I said we almost had to call it quits. Chris and I walked over to Half Liter, shout out Half Liter. Yeah. Walkable from my old house and my current house. What a great place. Great barbecue spot. Yeah. And we were like, okay, what are we going to do?
We have 800 in the bank account. If we don’t even do well this week, we’re not hitting payroll. I started to not take paychecks because we had to take paychecks because. We were 23 when I yeah after jobs, right there. We there was no savings, right? But we had talked and I was like, Twitter is a huge thing in college sports and we played it very straight on Twitter and social media because we just didn’t want to upset anybody and I thought you know my background digital marketing.
I’ll just scale it up in digital marketing. That wasn’t working Yeah, and so we’re like, you know what Twitter is such an instrumental part of sports What if we just started to be a little more loose with it? And so I just love Twitter. Anyway, I’m addicted to it And I think you mean X. Yeah, yeah, sure.
I teach a social media class at IU right now and I’ve told the students I will not call it X.
Matt: That’s hilarious. Good. Alright, we can avoid that here on the show.
Connor: Yes, we’re good. Yes, Twitter. Twitter. That was aided by the 9 Win Indiana campaign, right? Because it was such a ridiculous proclamation that Indiana would win 9 games because they’ve only done it one other time and they almost did, right?
They were, Indiana won 8 regular season games. And this is in 2019 this campaign. I was a part of with Kyle Robbins and crew at Crimson Quarry and The players it became such a thing nationally the players ran off the field after they beat Purdue in the bucket game And we’re screaming 9, Windiana into the ESPN cameras, and I’m sitting there printing shirts black Friday That’s amazing 2 in the morning every night, and I’m watching the bucket game going Wait, stop.
Did you hear that? And so good. That was part of Oh, okay. Homefield is known as a specifically Indiana brand. Our identity is really tied to being here. Starting in my apartment in Bloomington, being based then in Broad Ripple or Midtown now in Speedway. It’s very Indiana forward. Yep. And the nine windy, anything helped grease the wheels a bit on being sillier on Twitter and just kept escalating.
People don’t. Who cares if you say, look at this cool shirt we dropped, shop it now, right? It’s sports are fun, right? It’s supposed to be released from like really hard stuff in life. So let’s have fun with it.
Nate: I will subtly plug. Yeah. I followed home field Twitter for a while now, and it’s awesome.
It’s just like a good way. You actually listen to your customers and know their culture. And it’s people don’t want to be sold something. They want to see a meme of whatever and laugh about it and be like, Oh, I like this brand.
Connor: Oh, absolutely. We’ll pay people we see on Twitter.
We think are funny. You like. Oh, you went to whatever school and we’re doing, we’re designing for them right now. We’ll pay people in dollars and shirts to consult for an hour and we’ll ask them questions about their school and moments and all that stuff.
Nate: That’s such a different strategy than Hey, we’ll pay you to promote this.
It’s no. We just want to learn more about the Monon Bell game, for instance, like we want to learn more about this so we can make something that people are actually going to want. Yes. I do have a, I do have a fun question for you. Who is, in your eyes, the most famous person that follows Homefield on social media?
Connor: The most famous person that follows Home Field on social? Oh man, that’s a great question, because for me, the people I like a lot… Famous Twitter accounts, right? And so it’s this guy closed up his or he stopped tweeting before Homefield ever was a brand Trill Bollins That would be my white whale. He is no longer on Twitter because it’s bad for your mental health.
So I’m trying to think the most famous person that follows home field on Twitter I think it’s more so famous people like in general pop culture because if I’m speaking about Sports Twitter people, nobody’s going to know what I’m talking about. We’ll have JJ Watt, where a bunch of our stuff on hard knocks one year, right?
Like our Wisconsin stuff. We get coaches who are at all the time for me, Mike panics, wears our stuff a lot now for Washington, which as an IU grad is a big deal. And he’s obviously the Washington quarterback now, but that’s great. Stuff like that. It’s always really fun to do.
Nate: I’m pretty sure this big cat from, Oh yeah, I saw that one like early on.
I was like, Holy cow. Yeah.
Connor: I forgot. He loves our Wisconsin stuff. So that’s incredible.
Nate: Yeah, I love it. Yeah.
Matt: What’s I’d like to dive in a little bit on brand because it really does seem like a master class on building a brand organically from the ground up. What are some of those things that if you’re talking to someone in your class or someone who is looking at really building a brand from the ground up with a new venture?
What are some of those things that you think every entrepreneur needs to do early on to make sure that they’re establishing a brand that they can build on and can really grow with the organization?
Connor: No, that’s a great question and something that Chris and I spend a ton of time on because I think brand works when people believe it and when it is in the fabric of everything you do because that also creates authenticity, right?
It has to stretch the whole company. So at first when we were in 2019, we’re also retooling what we wanted the brand to be. Understanding very specifically who this is for in the first place. Who are you talking to? Who is your ideal customer? And then everything flows from that because what do they care about?
What do they want? What motivates them? How do they talk? And so that’s who we started with. And fortunately, Chris and I found ourselves both as the ideal customer, right? We’re both, we were targeting the brands toward millennials for the most part. Now we’re trying to get more Gen Z in the fold, but our core demographic millennial college grad makes sense.
College apparel company. But beyond that sports fan specifically ones that are online. I grew up a massive IU sports fan. Still am. Chris’s dad played football at Michigan. She grew up going to a bunch of Michigan football games. She loves college sports, right? So it’s a very specific type of person and not only that people who live either within a city or within five miles of a city right, so very specific for us But then we started to just know everything about these people being a lurker for seven years on Twitter really helped me Yeah, because I just observed, Twitter is the primary place where these people go and so it’s where they go to hang out That’s the way I viewed it.
And so Twitter in particular is a bunch of concentric circles like little communities. I mean start with tech. Obviously, there’s these tech communities VC Bragg’s is hilarious and I you know, you have these people where that are leaders of certain communities so there’s a pit Panthers Twitter and somebody with 3, 200 followers is like a god to right people, right?
Because they make funny jokes about pit and so will Become like these are the types of people that will be like, Hey, can we learn more about pit from you? We’ll hook you up with a ton of product. What do you guys care about? And so we see how those people interact. And so we, we basically, so
Matt: you’re like befriending and making super fans of the mavens of each community.
Connor: Yes. Yeah. And it’s legitimate friendship. Like legitimately this Saturday, I’m going up to Ann Arbor and I’m getting beers with one of the women we become friends with. Yeah. For the Michigan fans. I’ll have to say though, extending beyond my brand, it is. I think it all starts with you have to understand everything about your target person, what they like, where, what motivates them, where they go to for new.
So for us, Twitter is not, people laugh all the time when I tell them in marketing circles Oh, our biggest acquisition channel was Twitter and they laugh. Nobody knows Twitter. Nobody understands how to use it for a brand, but college sports where everybody goes and they listen to podcasts, niche podcasts of other team and they go to niche blogs.
And we just were there. We spurned a lot of the traditional channels. We spent what was there efficiently, but really it was just going to these micro communities, which then those people became part of our own community. And we have this, we have a micro community of 1500 people in an app we developed called the varsity club.
That’s invite only. And it’s like top 1 percent of customers and they just, we just talk t shirts all day. And we let them have input on what we do. That’s so cool. Yeah, it’s. It’s a really, it’s a really cool community that supported us. Angie mentioned it last time, there’s a couple of times we’ve been really behind on orders.
One of them is right now, if you’re listening, we’re working very hard. I’m very sorry. Nights, weekends, all of it. Good problem to have. Good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. Yeah. But 2020, we were super behind on orders and our customers who were waiting for their products sometimes three or four weeks because it was 2020 and everything was a mess.
We’re sending us coffee and doughnuts. And McDonald’s and pizza to just fuel the team. Cause we would be working sometimes again until two in the morning, get these orders out. Like it’s just a cool community of people. Who expected nothing in return from that, they were just caring people. And so it’s ’cause we understood who exactly we were going after though.
Matt: I love those thoughts on brand and I love those stories. We had a an idea just before you came on the show to introduce a new segment because of your background and brand and your background in collegiate sports. This is the brand battle. Are you down to play? Oh, let’s go. Okay, let’s do it.
Nate: So we’re talking, we know, ball, right? Yes. Knows Ball. But we’re gonna talk brand. We’re gonna show you some organizations loosely tied to Indiana. Yep, and we want to know Who’s got the better brand and wow, okay, who’s got the better brand? We know you love them all. Yep I’m gonna say that
Connor: no ill will toward anyone if I don’t pick you Yes.
Nate: Yeah. He loves them all. We’re not talking ball. We’re talking brand. All right. So first we, what we have here is pulling from the
Connor: bottom, right? Oh, pulling from the bottom.
Nate: Pulling from the bottom. All right. Yeah, there we go. I was about to mess it up first. First off also humble plug or subtle plug, go watch on YouTube so you can get the full effect here.
But here we go. First we have three, two, one Butler versus Xavier.
Connor: Butler versus Xavier. Oh man, I don’t pick Butler. I am in so much trouble here locally. But what brand? They have very specific brands. Butler does a great job with the Butler way, right? You understand immediately it’s about hard work, teamwork, scrappy play maybe making the extra pass.
Xavier leans super hard into being into Cincinnati, in the city, right? They’re tough nose In the same way, similar, they hardworking, but they might they might fight in the parking lot and so that’s maybe not intentional in the university, but at the end of the day, I would say butlers. I don’t know as much about the Xavier student experience.
I’d say butlers extends from sports into the actual student experience, right? It characterizes the students who go there better. I think it’s more authentic and that’s why it goes Butler.
Matt: Butler wins that one. All right, I’m up one.
Nate: Oh no. All right. Round two. Here we go. Okay. Near and dear to my heart.
We have 3, 2, 1, DePaul and Wabash. Who’s got a better brand?
Connor: Oh man. Wow. You’re really .
Matt: Which investor do you want to piss? .
Connor: Hey. Hey, pat. Or my co-host over here. Yeah. Yeah.
Matt: But which one has a better brand and why?
Connor: Okay, so I’m thinking right now of brand assets. , right? What makes it different?
It’s very hard to beat the Little Giants because they’re so different than anyone else. And that for me is they’re running into a green space, right? Nobody else is the Little Giants. They’ve got some great…
Matt: And I’m an idiot at sports, so which one is the Little Giants? Oh, man!
Connor: The Paw Tigers.
Matt: I’m doing that comedic effect.
Connor: So I would say on a brand asset standpoint… Wabash now, I would say on like brand elements now. Yes again. We talked about authenticity the Pervasiveness of the DePaul brand like immediately earlier. I said, sorry for if I upset Orr fellows that’s burned in my brain You go to the Paul. There’s like a 50 percent chance.
You’re in or fellow, right? All right, so locally the whole student experience shout out Abby Parker The whole student experience is burned in my brain For deposit, I think it extends the whole University. I think athletically Wabash has a better brand See how I’m playing both sides. I’m up. I’m up
Nate: Connor Round oh we got Notre Dame vs. USC who’s got a better bro,
Connor: Notre Dame,
Matt: Man I am crushing you
Connor: Nate. Oh, so my reasoning is to Irish. Let’s go Notre Dame
Matt: Has a whole religion behind them,
Connor: Correct? They have a whole religion behind them the name. It’s funny of the fighting. Is there a magic in her name?
There’s a yes here come the Irish dude. Yeah I would say Notre Dame because they were excluded from the big ten Initially in the early 20 20th century because they were Irish Catholics the name fighting Irish Yes, mostly Irish Catholics, but it was they were made fun of it and they leaned into it.
And so that’s their whole fabric and identity. And so you have a bunch of brand signifiers, you have the golden helmets representing the golden dome. You have the kelly green jerseys that signifies something. USC the mid 2000s their brand was incredibly hot, right? You had Reggie Bush and Matt Liner and they were you had Will Ferrell and Snoop Dogg on the sidelines, right?
Stuff like that. I think that’s some good It’s great influencer. So both again, really strong brands, but I think Notre Dame’s historically has threaded throughout the years.
Nate: I think that USC is on an upstreak or an uptick right now. I’m pretty sure they’re doing, they’re leaning into NIL pretty hard.
That’s I think most of their football players have their own YouTube accounts and they’ll post up like Caleb Williams is a quarterback and he has his own like podcasts and they’re really leaning into the future of brands. So keep them on your, keep them on your radar.
Connor: We did just launch a shirt with Sam Hartman literally this morning, the Notre Dame quarterback, so I’m going to have to say
Matt: Notre Dame there.
Last one, I’ve been to both of these schools, but I only have a diploma from one.
Connor: Oh, let’s go. The battle for the Hoosier State. Indiana and Purdue. Better brand. Beloved Purdue people, you buy a lot from homefieldapparel.com and I’m very grateful for that. I think I’m looking into the camera. That’s the camera.
Yeah, that’s the camera. You do some innovative things. You’re very nice to me. I will never pick you in this battle. Haha
Matt: And that is Indiana University.
Connor: Spoken like a true Hoosier.
Matt: That’s a wrap.
Nate: That’s a wrap. We have one more segment we want to try out.
Alright, This is a fun segment, actually we have two more segments. You are a t shirt expert. I am. You’re an apparel expert. I’m gonna for the camera. We’re showing the Powderkeg hat. Nice.
Connor: We’re showing.
Matt: Nate and I are both wearing the hat. We didn’t need to bring a
Nate: third hat. And we’re showing the powder keg t shirt.
Front, back. Let’s go. Give us a t shirt makeover. How would you make this? How would you
Matt: the apparel, Nate. Can I see?
Connor: I have to hold it. Hold
Nate: it, feel it, touch it. How would you make over this t shirt?
Connor: So you already, you picked the correct blank. Bello and canvas is a great blank. Before we ever developed our own with factories and ordered thousands of thousands at a time.
We used to use Bella canvas t shirts They’re phenomenal. So you picked the right blank here. I the printing you have some nice colors here one thing. I’m a vintage person. So I would go for a softer hand This is a plastic salt ink. I believe I would rather go for a water based ink, but this is your logo.
It’s nice I think a lot of people make the mistake printing their logo to pick you guys. I think this is probably like what six inches. That’s great I mean it works there. It works. You could probably make a really nice left chest one like right here Yeah, because an emblem is really nice for different location prints.
So I Like the concept. I think there’s some other things you could do and then okay, I need some of the I need the rationale behind the URL with the blank space on the back.
Matt: So we only give these t shirts out. And you’re going to have one afterwards. You can write in with a fabric marker. Your company brand and then you’ll have a profile on Powderkeg.
Cool. So it’s a way to rep your brand Homefield we’ll set up How to kick comm slash home field. Yes for all you listeners out there So you can go check out home field on powder. I like that a lot.
Connor: That’s really cool It’s it’s not maybe a fashion choice, but it’s functional and for your brand.
That’s what I’m saying. It’s cool It’s good way to get It’s a marketing out there. So I like the base concept. You picked a good shirt for it. So my additions would be minimal. Maybe just changing the location of this, or if you ran a second version of it. Oh, yeah, because too many people want their logo to be huge.
I get a lot of people pay attention to it But
Matt: Keep it small subtlety is what do you think pockety? Those are out right now.
Connor: Those are out Yeah, they were big in I was never in Greek life, but they were huge in Greek life. Yeah a long time. So
Nate: What is, that’s a, that’s a good, as we dive in and wrap it up here.
What is a trend you’re seeing in apparel that’s keep on your radar. This is going to be cool when it finally streams down to Matt and I.
Connor: Bomber jackets are a big thing right now. They have been for a year and that’s why we’re doing a bunch of them.
Nate: Let’s hear it. Tell us about the experience with the Colts.
Connor: Yes, the Indianapolis Colts. So there is a local licensee program where, you know, typically if you’re going to be making apparel for an NFL team, you have to get licensed for all 32. Very difficult to do. Not really what we do anyway. We care a lot about college. We’re college. We’re not trying to go make a bunch of NFL stuff.
However, the Colts came knocking last year and they said, Hey, there’s this local licensee program. We want to do it for the first time. And we know you guys are based here in Indy. We’d love to work with you. And so we said, Yeah, absolutely. We’ll do this. And It’s limited to six pieces. So last year we debuted a collection of six pieces.
It was a lot of fun, dropped it at a preseason game against the Bucks. Nice. And, we got Blue involved, the mascot, and great time. And then it ended up actually the Earthsaves have a huge mental health initiative, Kicking the Stigma. And outside of the agreement, they said, Hey, can you guys make a shirt for Kicking the Stigma?
We said, absolutely. And so we made a charity shirt for Kicking the Stigma. They asked us again earlier this year, if we want to run back year two. And so we said, absolutely. So just last gosh, am I losing track of time? I think it was last week. Yes. Yeah. A week and a half ago, I guess now we won’t hold you to it.
The first home game, we dropped our second Colts collection and this is the 40th year in it in Indianapolis. And they want for all the decades they’ve been in Indy. We did a piece for each decade. So we did a piece for the 1980s with the Hoosier dome, the piece in the nineties for the cardiac cold. Cool.
2000s for the Superbowl, did a bomber jacket for the 06 Superbowl, which is funny because I’m a Chicago Bears fan and 2010s we did one for blue when he first won his first mascot of the year award and This for the 2020s we did a for the shoe shirt, which is or sweatshirt Which is a big initiative they’re pushing so that we do have a six piece coming out for the throwback game Which is not been announced yet, so I can’t say anything
Matt: I do want to give you a huge shout out because you are the first guest to bring three large t shirts.
We mentioned this the last several episodes that if you send That’s three large shirts. We will wear your shirt. So we will wear this on a future episode But I want to show it off first while it’s here. Yes. I’m trying to unfold it.
Connor: There we go It was from our third month mania campaign, which is what we call our March campaign because we can’t say the other words Third month mania third mania, but
Matt: yes, I dig it.
I like this. Is this your mascot?
Connor: Yeah, it’s a basket Paul.
Matt: I like basketPaul. That’s good. Yeah, that’s good. Nate. I love a good pun I’m a player. We’ve got one more Segment lightning round.
Nate: Yes, sir. This is quick three questions. All right, first thing that comes to your mind We’re gonna be talking all Indiana real quick.
So outside of the amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem What is Indiana known for basketball boom? What is a hidden gem in Indiana?
Connor: So I had one that has sadly gone away. The donut shop great. The best breakfast 5 in cash could buy in midtown. Similarly midtown, I believe it is off 62nd and Allisonville.
I always forget what the cross street is. I know it’s on the backside of Allisonville. Patties of Jamaica, if you’ve never been.
Matt: I’ve driven by that.
Connor: Yes. That’s good. Jamaican meat patties. Okay. Wonderful. Yes. Patties of Jamaica. It’s like a hole in the wall. It’s been around.
Matt: All right. We’ve got our next lunch spot, Nate.
Nate: Patties of Jamaica. I’ve heard some good things. Yes. And who is someone that we need to keep on our radar? Someone who is doing big things.
Connor: Man. Someone to keep on your radar. It’s funny. I have I get so engrossed in what we’re doing right now, and I’m still so early in my career. I Somebody asked me that the other day.
I was like, what do you mean? Like I’m in my 20s who am I looking at for next? And someone to keep on your radar. I would say it’s funny I’m gonna put this back to someone who has helped me out a lot. I would keep One Randy Stocklin on your radar still he has started again another organization called Zeal.
And they are buying companies and rehabbing them and mostly in the SaaS space. They just, they had their first acquisition, but everybody I’m sure listening knows Randy, but I think he’s got a great second act coming here after OneClick,
Matt: We gotta get him on the show. Yes. We’ll get him on.
Connor, thanks for being on the show. Thanks for everything that you’re doing for Indiana, Midwest, college fans everywhere. Love it. It’s awesome to have you here and I’m sure we’ll stay in touch. Yeah.
Connor: Thanks guys for having me. Yeah.
Nate: We’ll stay in touch on a Monon. Apparel drop.
Connor: Oh, the Monon.
The Monon bell game. I do see you on the actual Monon with your wrestling boys.
Nate: Yes, absolutely.
Matt: We’re grinding out there. Nick can frequently be seen jogging up and down. I’ll be there. Running off his caffeine high from Java House.
Nate: This was amazing, Connor. Thank you so much. It was cool to learn more about what home feels up to and big things coming.
Connor: Yeah, really appreciate you guys having me. Thank you.
Matt: This has been Get IN a Powderkeg production in partnership with Elevate Ventures and we wanna hear from you. If you have suggestions for our guest or segment, reach out to Matt or Nate on LinkedIn or on email to discover top tier tech companies outside of Silicon Valley.
In hubs like Indiana, check out our newsletter at powderkeg.com/newsletter and to apply for membership to the powderkeg executive community, check out powderkeg.com/premium. We’ll catch you next time. And next week, as we continue to help the world Get IN.
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