Bonobos is a stylish, sustainable men's clothing retailer dedicated to helping every man find their perfect fit. This guide explores what entrepreneurs can learn from Bonobos, including their commitment to comfort, communication, and compassion for their customers.
Can an innovative piece of clothing turn into a multimillion-dollar company? It did for Bonobos. After crafting pants that fit better, the co-founders introduced their design to men everywhere. And they did it on their own terms—entirely online. In just a few years, the brand grew a loyal customer base and a jaw-dropping valuation.
But the tables would quickly turn after selling to an undesirable company that didn't match the brand's style.
Here's how Bonobos changed pants for the better, grew to a $310 million valuation, and tumbled down to a $75 million selling price.
PLUS, discover how you can build your own million-dollar brand… for FREE!
|Founders:||Brian Spaly and Andy Dunn|
|Acquisition Price:||$75 Million|
|Type of Business:||Menswear Company|
What is Bonobos?
It is a menswear company dedicated to comfortable, well-fitting clothes. The brand began in 2007 as an online-only store. Its first product? The perfect pair of pants. In 2012, the company opened brick-and-mortar locations called Guideshops and partnered with Nordstrom.
Think you've heard the word bonobos before? You probably have! Bonobos are primates that look like smaller, skinnier chimpanzees. And 98.7% of bonobo DNA matches the human genetic code! Unfortunately, bonobos are on the Red List, with only 10,000 to 20,000 left in the wild.
Who founded Bonobos?
Brian Spaly and Andy Dunn co-founded the company in 2007. The two were roommates at Stanford Business School.
What is Bonobos' origin story?
Finding comfortable, well-fitting men's clothing that also looked amazing was always a challenge for Spaly. He struggled to find pants that fit his muscular thighs and skinny torso. Spaly started tailoring pants himself and developed a curved waistband.
His determination to make great pants struck a chord with Dunn. "I watched him walk around Stanford with these two Trader Joe's bags, selling pants, and it was like, wow, we've really got something here," Dunn recalled.
The two combined forces and started sewing pants in their apartment kitchen. In 2007, they launched the brand to give guys the best-fitting pants ever.
What about the name? Yes, the brand is named after the bonobo ape. The founders said bonobos are one of the five great apes, along with humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. Dunn told CBS News, "What I think is most interesting is the absence of violence in their [bonobos] society. And so we think bonobos are an inspiring animal."
How was Bonobos funded?
- Seed Round (January 1, 2008)
- Angel Round (September 1, 2008)
- Seed Round (June 19, 2009)
- Seed Round (January 21, 2010)
- Series B (December 16, 2010)
- Venture Round (April 12, 2012)
- Series C (December 14, 2012)
- Venture Round (March 13, 2013)
- Series D (June 2, 2014)
What made Bonobos grow?
As cliché as it sounds, superior products designed for its target audience made Bonobos grow into a multimillion-dollar company. Instead of starting with a clothing line, the brand began with a single pair of pants. "You need to start a fashion or an apparel brand with a hero item. You got to get one thing right and be known for one thing," Dunn said in an interview with The Fort podcast, "We started with bootcut, corduroy pants with a curved waistband for guys who grew up playing hockey, soccer, and football, who lived in Palo Alto, and who were tired of shopping in stores."
Although the brand enjoyed rapid success, Spaly left after only two years. He went on to found Trunk Club, a men's clothing service.
What is Bonobos' valuation?
In June 2017, its valuation was an impressive $310 million when Walmart acquired the brand in an all-cash deal. But Andy Dunn didn't leave the brand entirely. Instead, he joined Walmart to oversee the company's exclusive online consumer brands.
Marc Lore, President and CEO of Walmart US e-Commerce, said, "Adding innovators like Andy will continue to help us shape the future of Walmart and the future of retail. I'm thrilled to welcome Andy and the entire Bonobos team. They've created an amazing product and customer experience, and that will not change."
BUT the acquisition didn't deliver the desired ROI. Customers felt Walmart's reputation wasn't the right fit for the brand. Website traffic fell by 12 percent in just a year.
Dunn left Walmart (and Bonobos) in 2020.
In April 2023, Walmart sold Bonobos to WHP Global and Express Inc. for $75 million. That's nearly 75 percent less than it paid six years prior!
What can entrepreneurs learn from Bonobos?
You can learn many valuable lessons from this brand's journey as a menswear brand. Here are a few key takeaways:
Solve an ill-fitting problem for you and your customers
When Spaly and Dunn co-founded Bonobos, they shared a common problem: finding pants that fit. And they knew they weren't alone. It became their mission to create something better, tailored to both themselves and their future customers.
Men's clothing was an underserved market. Companies kept delivering the same product without regard to fit or experience. By listening to its customers (and eliminating khaki diaper butt), the brand differentiated itself from traditional retailers and created a rabid customer base.
Take the road less traveled (but on the rise)
They launched as an online-only menswear retailer. Many considered this a risky move. Online shopping wasn't nearly as popular as it is today. According to the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, e-commerce only made up 3.5% of all sales in Q4 of 2007. (For reference, e-commerce accounted for 15.1% of total sales for Q1 2023.)
This decision to sell online allowed Bonobos to reach customers directly, offer a variety of merchandise, and streamline the shopping experience. And it turned out to be the right move.
Dress to impress your customers through service
Exceptional customer service has always been at the forefront of Bonobos' mission. Customers receive personalized care from the brand's customer service ninjas—a way cooler title than representative. Instead of following a script, ninjas can resolve customer issues how they see fit.
And to prevent buyer's remorse, Bonobos opened Guideshop locations across the country. Trained "guides" help customers find the right fit and style to meet their needs. You can't actually buy clothing from these locations. But the experience ensures your online purchase meets your expectations.
Check out these perfectly-tailored answers to all your Bonobos questions!
What is Bonobos?
Bonobos is a menswear brand dedicated to comfort, fit, and style.
What are the main features of Bonobos products?
Comfortable, stretchy materials set the brand apart from the crowd. But its flagship innovation was a curved waistband. "As you wear your belt, it starts to curve, so why didn't we make pants like that? Having the curved waistband actually made it more anatomically correct in the market," Dunn explained.
What is the Bonobos pricing like?
Bonobos pants range from $229 for Italian Stretch Wool Dress Pants to $99 for Stretch Wash Chino 2.0. (But you can also find some styles on clearance.)
How does Bonobos help bonobos?
In 2009, Bonobos donated $1 for every new customer to organizations protecting the endangered bonobo primate. The brand also gave an additional $5 whenever it told select t-shirts. (It appears the program is no longer valid, although we couldn't find any information about when the company discontinued it.) Those who want to help save bonobos apes can donate to the World Wildlife Fund.
Brian Spaly and Andy Dunn wanted to create the perfect pair of men's pants when they co-founded Bonobos. Going against the grain stitch, the brand embraced e-commerce before it was cool. Bonobos built a distinctive brand image by focusing on quality, style, and unbeatable customer service.
And even after two acquisitions, Bonobos remains a popular brand for men everywhere. In April 2023, Bonobos earned two nods for "Best Casual Pants" from GQ Magazine.
Inspired to create something great after learning the story behind Bonobos? Capitalism.com won't hem your pants, but we can help you grow a 7-figure (or greater!) brand from the ground up.
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