Jan. 24, 2023

How Stacey Keller reached 2M with Ponyback in under 2 years Ep. 105

How Stacey Keller reached 2M with Ponyback in under 2 years Ep. 105

Stacey conceptualized Ponyback with the hopes of helping others like herself find comfortable, stylish, and flexible headwear that can accommodate long hair in any style. Watching her sons enjoy a plethora of hat options without constraint, Stacey knew it was time to revamp the hat industry. She successfully crafted a prototype for her viral,patent-pending design after dismantling a brand-name hat in her home.

Graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Bachelor's in Business Administration, Stacey worked in accounting before pivoting into education. Teaching high school business for ten years, Stacey decided to combine her knowledge in business with her passion for starting a small business and officially launched Ponyback in June 2020.

Today, Ponyback embodies so much more than just an accessory. Through insightful messaging, content, and deep connection with her audience, Stacey is innovating Ponyback into a community that invites everyone to love themselves, embrace their style and support one another. This unique narrative and brand character is what sets Ponybck apart and is the key to driving meaningful innovation in the fashion accessory industry.

Where to find Stacey Keller

Website: ponybackhats.com

 

Tech Stack

  • Shopify
  • Klaviyo
  • Tiktok
  • YouTube Shorts
  • Instagram

 

SPONSOR

This episode is sponsored by Entire Productions- Creating events (both in-person and virtual) that don't suck! and Entire Productions Marketing- carefully curated premium gifting and branded promo items. 

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Transcript

Stacey Keller:

Like, I am so prevalent in the face of the company on social media in like the day-to-day interactions with everybody online that I see all of that coming in. Like it just hits me in the face. So it just feels second nature to be like, and that's where we're going next. And this is the next thing we're gonna do.

Natasha Miller:

Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life or are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. My book, RELENTLESS is now available everywhere books can be bought online, including Amazon and BarnesAndNoble.com. Try your indie bookstore too, and if they don't have it, they can order it. Just ask them. The reviews are streaming in and I'm so thankful for the positive feedback as well as hearing from people that my memoir has impacted them positively. It is not enough to be resilient. You have to be relentless. You can go to therelentlessbook.com for more information. Thank you so much. Stacey Keller is the founder, CEO of Ponyback and reached over 1 million in revenue in less than two years of starting the company. We talked about how she came up with the idea, how she got the product to market and her strategies for growth. It's very exciting. Now let's get right into it.

Stacey Keller:

So Ponyback is a ponytail hat for people with long hair, but what is unique about it is that we have this patent pending magnetic design at the back that is invisible so you don't see it when it's closed. So the whole back seam on the back of the hat opens to accommodate any hairstyle from the top of the button to the bottom of the band, and then it just closes up. So you can wear like your high ponytail, your messy bun, or if your hair is down, you can just throw your hat on and go, and that is pointing back in a nutshell,

Natasha Miller:

Great. When did you first have the idea for the product? Like the first inkling? Like the first, "Oh, I wish this hat did."

Stacey Keller:

Yes, I remember that clear as day. It was a summer in 2018, and prior to starting Ponyback, I was a high school business teacher and I had three little kids and I remember them like I constantly am preaching at them, "Wear your hat outside, wear your hat." And one day my oldest looks at me, he's like, "But mom, you're not wearing a hat." And like, honestly, that question kind of set about this whole thing because I was in the search for a really great hat, but I couldn't find what I really wanted. I was buying them these like cute fitted fullback hats, like the super. Kind of more expensive ones. They're branded with the sports teams on the front. And I thought like, these hats are amazing. Like they're high quality, like they fit really good. And I just felt like the hat options that were for women always just didn't seem to fit the same to me. They didn't have the same options. They didn't have the same sizing. And we were just at like the lid store picking out their summer hats for the season, and I'm like, I really want one of these fullback hats, but it's summer, my hair is up. I'm like, I can't wear a fullback hat with this high pony and this messy bun. I'm rocking all the time being outside with these little kids. So I did not buy hat that day. I went home and like as Facebook has it, right? It's, it starts serving me all these ponytail hat ads. I'm like, this is what crazy. So there is other ponytail hats on the market that have a permanent opening in the back of them. But they don't close. And just like as somebody who's kind of a half up, half down hair wear, I'm like, but what if my hair is down? I'm just gonna be wearing this hat with this big gaping hole in the back. Like I just, I don't think that looks cute and I really want the full back. And so that is when I kind of had the "aha" moment of how could these two things come together? Like how could you have a ponytail hat with a full bag cat? So it's still cute, comfortable quality with the ponytail option. And that said about like trying to come up with the idea.

Natasha Miller:

And then we're gonna get to the middle of the story in a moment. But you launched this brand in 2020, what month in 2020.

Stacey Keller:

June, 2020.

Natasha Miller:

Okay, so right at the beginning of the pandemic, after it set in that it wasn't going away. What were the steps in between that initial idea and your launch date?

Stacey Keller:

I came up with a prototype, a workable one, that I approached lawyers first before I even told anyone. It was like I told my husband to kind of get the gut check and then it was like directly to the lawyers because I knew as a high school business teacher, like if you can patent your idea. Like that's incredible. So that's where I went first. Once that was kind of in motion and I knew the patent pending application was coming, then I started reaching out to manufacturers and a couple fell through at the beginning, but as fate may have it, and like some very lucky spells, I ended up with my current manufacturer and I remember going to place my first order. In February, January or February of 2020, and I remember my contact was like, "Stacey, there's this thing called Covid going on over there." I'm like, "What's Covid?" And then as I found out, placed my order, then they're off. And there was all these delays and like Covid blew up and my launch had to be delayed. And so that was a whole thing in and of itself.

Natasha Miller:

And where are the hats made?

Stacey Keller:

They are made in China. So there is not a lot of specialty hat manufacturers that exist in North America that make them to the same quality. That there are a few manufacturers that exist and I am very lucky to have one of them.

Natasha Miller:

That's great.

Stacey Keller:

So yes.

Natasha Miller:

So you started, this was not necessarily. A reaction to the pandemic. You staying home as a teacher and maybe having idle time. There's no way you had idle time with three children, and maybe you were teaching remotely. I don't know, but so this, you were launching a product knowing that you were going to launch before the pandemic hit, and then you launched in the pandemic with a patent pending license with a prototype. And well, how big was your first?

Stacey Keller:

It was the minimum order quantity. You could place an order for $5,000 US. And that is all I bought. I was like, this is the test. We're gonna see if anyone will actually buy this. And we ended up like selling out with like that summer. So I launched pre-orders in June and the shipment arrived in July and I shipped them all out. And then by the end of August we had ended up selling out of that small quantity.

Natasha Miller:

And how did people find out in those early days about your product? Because it was brand new to.

Stacey Keller:

Yeah, it was all social media, organic social media. I had no paid ads of any kind. About a year, I would say, once I actually had that patent pending and the manufacturer kind of lined up, I created social media accounts and I was talking about it freely and anytime I would meet someone, I would direct them to my Instagram account and it just kind of snowballed from there. I ran a couple of giveaways before we launched just to kind of spread the word. So it had actually spread quite rapidly in my like local area, just with friends and family and few connections and different entrepreneur groups that I was a part of. Just sharing it out on my behalf.

Natasha Miller:

And what kind of entrepreneur groups are you involved in?

Stacey Keller:

This per se, second. None.

Natasha Miller:

Ok, before.

Stacey Keller:

But before I've been in I think four different programs essentially. Up until last spring I was always in a program of some kind. So there's been a few different incubators or re programs, universities run for women entrepreneurs specifically. There was one, we have the University of Waterloo here in near Toronto where I'm from, and they have a big launchpad program for up and coming startups, and I had gotten into that program. So yeah, there has just been a handful of places that helped me network and actually the connection to my manufacturer was as a result of being connected with one of those programs. It was like, that person's, had a contact who landed me like the manufacturer, which was incredible.

Natasha Miller:

Who you know.

Stacey Keller:

Absolutely.

Natasha Miller:

Yeah. Your network is amazing in business. It should be. Otherwise you're gonna be climbing a hill, an arduous, steep, very rocky hill. Okay, so you were teaching high school and you're teaching business in high school. Did you have a product or service before you taught, during when you taught that was separate from Ponyback?

Stacey Keller:

No, I've never had a business before.

Natasha Miller:

Okay, great. That's-

Stacey Keller:

Yeah, I always had a desire in my heart to have one, and I think, I mean, I've been on a journey from somebody who is very, very shy in my adolescence to over my tenure career in teaching and just going through some self-development and growth, like definitely got to a place. Where I was much more confident and started realizing like the desires and the passions of my heart. And I knew there was rumbles of like, I really wanna have like own and run a business one day. And before I came up with the Ponyback idea, I had made a vision board. Six months before I came up with the idea saying like, "I'm gonna start a business plan." I'm putting this out to the world. I remember telling a teacher friend, we were talking about the future and I was like, oh yeah, one day I wanna start a business. She's like, what business are you gonna start? I'm like, I have no idea. I'm just gonna start one someday. Like that's, I'm gonna do it. And I remember like putting that out to the universe and like then coming up with the idea like six months later.

Natasha Miller:

That's amazing. So you were, you started bootstrapped no venture capital, no angel investment. Maybe friends and family at some point to help you straddle, I don't know. I'm making that up, but are you bootstrapping still?

Stacey Keller:

So how do I answer this question? I pitched to the Dragons Den show. I'm not sure. It's like the equivalent of Shark Tank in the us. So if you have a huge US base, it's like Canadians version of Shark Tank. I pitched to the Dragons in the spring, but I actually can't say and answer that question, up until October 19th. So my, it's coming, my episode is launching next week.

Natasha Miller:

Yes. I can't wait to.

Stacey Keller:

And then I should share all about it, but I can't, I don't think I should actually confirm or deny, but prior to the Dragons Den, I went on the show and yes, at that point in May of last year, I was completely bootstrapped.

Natasha Miller:

And I understand, and this isn't from you, and this is if you're not comfortable saying, but I heard through the grapevine that in at least one year, or at least through Covid, you ended up having a million dollars in revenue, in sales.

Stacey Keller:

Yes. We hit that this summer. Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

Ok, so let's just stop for a moment. No business experience except for teaching it, which I think is a great attribute. You're a member of a couple of startup women's entrepreneur groups and you really knew how to access what you needed from that group. Clearly you had an idea. Did you have other ideas or were you like, this is the idea, this is it.

Stacey Keller:

I've had other ideas in the past, but nothing hit me so hard in the face that it was like, I have to do this. I'll never forget the day that I came up with the prototype design. It all kinda happened in one afternoon while my kids were napping, that I came up with the initial prototype and I have never felt this like surge of excitement and like desire in my heart to do something like I did that afternoon and I. It's really actually hard to describe the feeling, but it was literally like, I can't do anything else. Like I don't want to do anything else. This is the new desire of my heart. And it just like filled me like it is my destiny that I needed to make this ponytail hat like-

Natasha Miller:

Amazing.

Stacey Keller:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

Have you ever thought that you should write a book, that you should write the story of your life to help other people learn from your experience? Please go to memoirsherpa.com and learn how I can help you write, figure out your publishing path and market your story, your memoir, to a best seller status. Okay. So I wanna talk about the brand. So first of all, amazing ascent. And incredible revenue for such a brand new person in business. So amazing work. And anyone that's listening to this, I mean, I'm not gonna say if Stacey can do it, you can do it. Cause Stacey isn't like coming from the bottom of the rubble, but seriously amazing arc and who knows what's next. And I have some ideas, but if I have ideas, that means you have ideas. Because having Ponyback is one thing and doing various styles and colors. But to build out a brand, You have to ultimately create other things, and I have a feeling there are probably a bunch of very useful things that you have identified as being a mom with young kids, as being an active person and knowing that you have to expand the brand at some point. Am I right?

Stacey Keller:

Absolutely. I definitely have a vision for where to take it in the future. I think right now the focus is on headwear, but we have a lot of different irons in the fire about where development to get into, but mostly driven by our social media community. So they're the ones that are constantly like, "We need a winner hat." And I'm like, okay, so we created a winner beanie. "We need a satin lined." "We need this." And like they showed it at you and you just have to listen.

Natasha Miller:

It's amazing. You're not paying for that's development.

Stacey Keller:

I think that's one of the benefits. Like, I am so prevalent in the face of the company on social media in like the day-to-day interactions with everybody online that I see all of that coming in. Like it just hits me in the face. So it just feels second nature to be like, "And that's where we're going next." "And this is the next thing we're gonna do."

Natasha Miller:

Thank you very much people of the internet. What is your team? What is it comprised of

Stacey Keller:

Right now? It is myself and I have one other full-time person who just started in August full-time. Up until that point it was me and a crew, like 10 part-timers, who each had their like old little specialty. We just decided to move to a fulfillment center. Actually, we're doing that move, today. Like immediately after this podcast, I am running to the warehouse and the truck is coming and we are sending all of our inventory off to this fulfillment center. But prior to that, I had this small part-time crew who were my order packers, pickers.

Natasha Miller:

Yeah. You probably had your neighbors and your fellow moms doing this.

Stacey Keller:

Yes. Where my old parents were there a lot too, helping me out, so absolutely. That was the part-time crew of 10. And so now we're looking ahead at scaling and I've got myself a really experienced mentor and this is part of the reason why I actually stepped away from some of those other programs because I found this e-commerce expert who is now helping me on my journey. And I just feel like I don't have time to be a part of. Like now I just need to focus in on the core things that need to get done to help us to scale. And I feel like I've got the right mentor to set me up for that.

Natasha Miller:

And will that mentor help you build out your executive team and the vision for the company and help strategize? Or is that person really specifically adept at e-commerce and the inner workings of that?

Stacey Keller:

So I have been, I mean, so lucky. I mean, I take a lot of action and I think when you take a lot of action you get really lucky, but. Mentor, like I told her, she's my guardian angel. Like this woman has years of experience as a general manager operating like consumer product goods, but also she's been supporting this e-commerce brand for the past eight years, eight to 10 years I think, and helped them scale to like eight figures. Like she's just so knowledgeable about organizations, like massive global organizations to small e-commerce shops. So I feel like she just has the breadth of like knowing how to set direction and where to go next and what's needed. Like it all.

Natasha Miller:

Where did you find her?

Stacey Keller:

Oh my goodness. Well, I believe you've interviewed or maybe have interviewed, I was recommended to you from Marnie.

Natasha Miller:

Marnie, yup.

Stacey Keller:

From Thigh Society. Yes. And so this is a woman that Marni works very closely with, and was Marnie's one of her first mentors when she was first starting the Thigh Society, so, and the crazy connection with Marni is I heard her on a podcast once and she popped up in this like Shopify group that I was a part of and I was like, I just listened to your podcast. It was fabulous. Great job. And then like, we just hit it off. I asked to chat with her and like, we've now become friends. And now she's just helping me.

Natasha Miller:

That's wonderful. Yeah. Okay. So mentors, at least in America, are usually a non-paid relationship. It's just them really helping you out. An advisor or a consultant you would pay. So is this woman really, your mentor or is she part of your team in a more formal way?

Stacey Keller:

Yes, so she is both I feel like she is giving to me of her time in excess, but we do have an arrangement that she sort of dedicates eight hours to me per month and I pay her for those eight hours. But honestly, Natasha, she's giving more than that.

Natasha Miller:

Like yeah, sure.

Stacey Keller:

I, yeah, absolutely.

Natasha Miller:

So she did ask for an equity. That's amazing.

Stacey Keller:

No, truly is my guardian.

Natasha Miller:

Yes, yes. You're so lucky.

Stacey Keller:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

Okay, so you have one person, what is that other person doing?

Stacey Keller:

So my prior warehouse manager was just helping me out on her gap year between high school and university, and she headed off to university. You this year and my current full-time employee was my YouTube video editor who's just like very techy, like computer skills. She was the one who was over helping me set up my mic before I came on here. I mean, there's a random story, but I met her as well. That's very lucky. Anyways. So when I knew that my prior warehouse manager was going off to school, I was like, listen, I have this vision that we're gonna move to fulfillment center. I just need somebody to straddle this gap. Once we do that, I mean, like you have, she has, she's so skilled. I feel like. She's almost like a replica of me in so many ways that I can now just like

Natasha Miller:

Hold onto that forever.

Stacey Keller:

It absolutely offload bits and pieces of what I was doing and she's now picking it up and I had listened to a podcast that said once what you should really hire for your, your first full-time hire should really be somebody who can kind of be a second you. And I really have found, and she's more skilled than me, so that actually really worked out. Yeah. So she was. Actually a fan. I wanna say fan. But she connected with me on social media. Initially, I don't know. And we, we kind of like have been messaging back and forth. And then I really wanted to get into YouTube and create a YouTube channel to sort of share the journey because I do feel like businesses are moving towards being more authentic and showing more of the behind the scenes. And I had this feeling like, I think this is something I should really do, but I knew it didn't have the time for like YouTube video editing, like all of that takes a lot of time.

Natasha Miller:

Right. And is that your number one marketing strategy, is YouTube and Instagram?

Stacey Keller:

TikTok was the thing that put us on the map. I'm trying to think of the year. It must have been the end of 2020. The beginning of 2021. Gary V, are you familiar with Gary V? Yeah, everybody is probably Gary V was preaching like, you've gotta be on TikTok, you've gotta be on TikTok. And I listened. So January, 2021, I started just hitting TikTok with crazy out there videos, like I scroll back to them now I'm like, what was I even thinking? But I didn't know what TikTok was all about, and so I just experimented. And by the,

Natasha Miller:

Were you dancing and pointing at words?

Stacey Keller:

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I was doing it all. I was doing little skits, like back and forth. I watched. Them back the other day and my kids like a couple of the early ones, "Mom, gosh, don't show us that one again." I scroll back and I'm like, oh, it's so cringey. The things that I tried, but I literally went for it. Like I went all in. I remember my husband, my husband works in business at a large consumer products, goods company and sales. And he looked at me and he's like, Stacey, you are wasting your time "I'm like, no." I think there's gotta be something here. And I just kept at it. By the end of that January, beginning of February, 2021, we started seeing viral TikToks. And it just catapulted. And now we have 175,000 followers on TikTok. So thank you, TikTok, because I feel like we wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for that initial.

Natasha Miller:

Yeah. You know what, I have someone, actually, this is amazing. We're gonna do this right here. I have someone that is in Canada, maybe near Toronto, I can't keep track of her. She has over a million followers on TikTok. She has really long. She is a mother of two young kids.

Stacey Keller:

What? Who?

Natasha Miller:

Her name is, Kimberly Moffitt.

Stacey Keller:

Kimberly Moffitt.

Natasha Miller:

And I'll introduce you and I think something phenomenal could possibly happen. So you heard that right here. We're making connections on Fascinating Entrepreneur. I love that show coming up soon. But, and here's another thing. When you're ready with the next steps that you're gonna take with your mentor and as you're building your. This is how I met Kimberly. I really suggest you look at Entrepreneur's Organization because that is a very mature group of entrepreneurs that do a million dollars in revenue or more that are the founder CEOs of their businesses, and that, I mean, you could go to a hundred million easily if you got to 1 million that quickly. I think that that group would really help you if that's where you wanna go. And by the way, if it isn't, it doesn't need to be. And I hope that people understand that we all have our comfort zone and then our BHAG, our Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal, and those can move around. But I don't see any reason why you wouldn't just be catapulting. Okay. So one last question is, as you're building this company, do you have an exit plan in mind?

Stacey Keller:

Yes, but-

Natasha Miller:

thank you

Stacey Keller:

Okay, so as I already mentioned, I'm a huge Gary V fan and I totally agree with him when he says you should build your company as if you're going to own it forever. And so that is what I am doing. I am pouring the blood, sweat, and tears into this organic content and trying to build and foster a community, which is a slow and arduous process, but I absolutely have made the decision to focus on that over some other paid social media strategies, et cetera. I know I'm spending more time on that, but I have to trust and I have to trust in it taking time and I have to have the patience to see it through long term. I would love if in doing that, which I feel like is the right idea on how to move forward with it. Similarly to Lululemon's story and how they sort of like grassroots formed community and then grew. I see that. As the path, if the opportunity met, me there at some intersection, a along the way to sell to a Big Hat brand, I think I would take it. But obviously I don't know my future self. I don't know where I will be at that moment, but I want to build it like I'm going to own it forever. And if that offer came in, Then I would evaluate it. At that time. It, to me, it's not, "Oh, this is the goal, to sell it for X dollars and what have you." I am just building this to build, to have fun, to see how much I can grow and learn, and how much value I can give to my community along the way. And if those two things meet absolutely fabulous, but I'm not like bending over backwards, per se to make that goal happen. For more information, go to the show notes where you're listening to this podcast. Wanna know more about me, go to my website OfficialNatashaMiller.com. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review where you're listening to this podcast now. I'm Natasha Miller and you've been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Stacey KellerProfile Photo

Stacey Keller

CEO

Stacey conceptualized Ponyback with the hopes of helping others like herself find comfortable, stylish, and flexible headwear that can accommodate long hair in any style. Watching her sons enjoy a plethora of hat options without constraint, Stacey knew it was time to revamp the hat industry. She successfully crafted a prototype for her viral,patent-pending design after dismantling a brand-name hat in her home.

Graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University with a Bachelor's in Business Administration, Stacey worked in accounting before pivoting into education. Teaching high school business for ten years, Stacey decided to combine her knowledge in business with her passion for starting a small business and officially launched Ponyback in June 2020.

Today, Ponyback embodies so much more than just an accessory. Through insightful messaging, content, and deep connection with her audience, Stacey is innovating Ponyback into a community that invites everyone to love themselves, embrace their style and support one another. This unique narrative and brand character is what sets Ponybck apart and is the key to driving meaningful innovation in the fashion accessory industry.