Barkbox’s path to 100m revenue: understanding and respecting the customer

Henrik Werdelin, co-founder of Barkbox a subscription ecommerce service for dog owners wrote a great post on Medium detailing The 6 counterintuitive ways Barkbox grew to a 100m business. It’s a great read combining high level thoughts about approach (be the place to hang even if users aren’t buying) with tactical specifics (be very active on Instagram).

There is one thread that runs through the entire post though, and that is to understand and respect the customer. Here’s a crude abbreviation of six ways designed to make my point (but do read the full post):

  1. “Give a shit [about the customer], … thinking that customers are idiots … is toxic, … elevate support as a focal point of the company”.
  2. Obsess on your user flow.
  3. Use email in a way that’s sensitive to the customer.
  4. “Let users do the talking [on social media]”.
  5. “Be the place your customers hang even when they aren’t buying”.
  6. Be pushy with sales only once intent has been established, but be polite

Each of these is about understanding and respecting the customer. In other words, the key to getting 100m revenue was customer focus.

Putting the customer first, or at the centre, is such a well worn cliche these days that it’s easy to be dismissive but it’s still rare for companies to go as far down this path as Barkbox has. Still rare, but increasingly common, especially amongst the best companies. Understanding and respecting the customer results in good product and an authentic brand, two critical success factors for effective marketing in the social media age.

Yet doing it well is still hard.

I’ve blogged this point from a number of different perspectives and my view is that thoroughly understanding customers (aka customer development) is as important as hypothesis driven development and build-measure-learn cycles. It’s one of the areas in which we are working hard here at Forward Partners, but we have yet to collectively wrap our heads around how to do it really well.