Owner Stories: Dan Cohen, Co-Founder, Neon Bandits
We met Dan on LinkedIn and, after a short call, he immediately agree to tell the origin story of Neon Bandits, the business he launched with his sister Sammy a few years back. Neon Bandits, like so many companies, was created out of need and, as a side hustle for both Dan and Sammy, they’ve had the luxury of being able to listen to their customers, follow what’s working and allow success to be built up over time. And what they’ve built is quite impressive.
Our interview with Dan is below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Also, make sure to read our Local Business Owner Spotlight series.
Interview with Dan Cohen, Co-Founder, Neon Bandits
10|20 Marketing: Hi, Dan! Thanks for agreeing to do this. So tell me a bit of your background and how it led to Neon Bandits’ launch.
Dan Cohen, Neon Bandits: First off, thanks for thinking of us for this project. We appreciate it!
Good question! How did we get started on Neon Bandits? Both myself and Sammy (my sister and co-founder of Neon Bandits) were athletes growing up. I played basketball and baseball while Sammy was a soccer player. Since we were so involved in sports growing up, we always asked our parents for the latest and greatest gear.
As a basketball player, I loved sneakers and hated when my socks lost their elasticity and fell down my leg, so I always tried to have a handful of special basketball socks that I just kept for my games.
My passion for sports and apparel grew as I got older, leading me to the sports apparel industry after college. In addition, Sammy found interest in retail and worked as a retail consultant after college.
The first job that I had after grad school had me working for a growing sports apparel brand as a college marketing rep. For this job, I travelled around the country to different colleges. At the time, I had to wear khaki pants, dress socks and a nice shirt to meet with various representatives on campuses – totally not my look! Dressing like this made me feel very out of place. At these meetings and around campuses, I noticed many students were wearing high white or black tube socks with bright sneakers.
Meanwhile, I was wearing dingy dress socks that were not comfortable or functional. When I travelled, I had to bring ten pairs of socks for two days. My routine included a workout, shower, then wearing dress socks for a meeting. After the meeting, I’d take the dress socks off right away in favour of athletic socks.
10|20 Marketing: So, where does your sister come into this story?
Dan Cohen, Neon Bandits: At the time, Sammy and I were both living at home. After a business trip to Texas, I came home, and Sammy asked me how my trip was. I told her it gave me a business idea. She replied, that’s funny; I have one too. So we agreed that we should start a sock brand!
We set out to create a versatile sock to be worn while working out, hanging out and everything in between. However, we didn’t want just to produce a sock; we wanted to create a premium sock. At the time, “athleisure” really wasn’t a thing/word, but we essentially set out to create an athleisure sock brand that was fun, vibrant and had a bit of an edge to it.
10|20 Marketing: So what came next? How did you come up with the name Neon Bandits?
Dan Cohen, Neon Bandits: Coming up with the name Neon Bandits was the easiest part of bringing our socks to market. We wanted to create a brand that was a bit edgy and stood out. The name Neon Bandits just came to me one day, and we ran with it.
Next, we had to source a great sock manufacturer. Again, Sammy led our efforts in this area. And going back to us thinking about our sock brand, we didn’t want to create just any sock; we wanted to create a premium sock. And it was challenging to find a factory that could develop a sock with the quality we wanted.
It took us about 18 months to find the right factory and develop the right sock blend and construction that matched our expectations. We were very fortunate that we landed a great factory that took a chance on us, given that we were a new company.
After landing a sock manufacturer, we worked with a designer to bring our sock designs to life and sampled them with our factory. Over the next six months, we settled on our initial looks, built our website and prepped all of the not so glorious things about running a business (like legal and banking needs).
We went live with our brand in June of 2015, and we haven’t looked back.
10|20 Marketing: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to launch an online brand?
Dan Cohen, Neon Bandits: I think that I have two main pieces of advice for entrepreneurs looking to launch an online brand. First, don’t underestimate how difficult it is to drive traffic to your brand. After the initial “friends and family” buzz dies down, things get real.
Building a social media presence is complex, and even if you have a large following, that does not translate to website traffic and sales. Think through how you will drive sustainable traffic to your website and the economics of doing so.
For example, consider your product costs before devoting a budget to paid advertising. Why? Because you need to make sure that you are not losing money to acquire a customer. And if you are, you need to make sure that you have a business where you can upsell that customer again through email marketing).
10|20 Marketing: And your second piece of advice?
Dan Cohen, Neon Bandits: Listen to your customers and adapt to what they are telling you. For example, with Neon Bandits, we started selling socks to gyms through a wholesale program. They told us that they loved our socks but wanted to make custom socks.
At first, we were skeptical about it, but we eventually warmed to the idea. Now, 98% of our business is developing custom socks for different companies, from gyms to restaurants to breweries.
If we stuck to our ways and not listened to our customers’ feedback, the business would have likely failed. Listening, learning and adapting are a massive part of running a business.
10|20 Marketing: I have a follow-up question, Dan. How are you driving traffic to your website now?
Dan Cohen, Neon Bandits: When we first launched, we tried to do everything – social media, paid advertising, strategic partnerships, content marketing – and we quickly found that we could not be good at everything. We would be spending tons of time doing these activities and not see much return. As a result, we scaled back our efforts to focus only on activities we saw moving the needle.
We know that we are in a unique position in that we don’t need the money that we generate from Neon Bandits to keep the lights on in the business, as this is our side hustle. As such, we have taken the “long-tail approach to drive traffic to our site. For example, we have written a few blog posts based on keyword research. Additionally, since we now have a robust wholesale network (based on our custom sock business), many customers find out about our socks after buying them from, say, a brewery or restaurant, like them and then come to our site to buy them from us.
We wish that we had more time to devote to creating content for Instagram, but we don’t see a direct correlation between a great post and driving traffic to our site, so we have scaled that back a bit. Additionally, the math does not make sense for us to invest heavily in paid advertising (since our margins are smaller from a dollar perspective). We would need to change our pricing and packaging model if we did get into paid advertising, and we have thought about doing that to scale the business. So stay tuned!
10|20 Marketing: That’s amazing, Dan! Any last words for our audience? We appreciate your time!
Dan Cohen, Neon Bandits: Thanks so much for reaching out to us and for thinking of us for this project. We appreciate your time and for allowing us to share our story!
This interview is part of our Local Business Owner Spotlight series. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.