Sept. 13, 2022

How Suze Dowling Built an Ecosystem of Household Brands in the Direct-to-Consumer Space Ep. 84


Suze Dowling is Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Pattern, a family of purposeful brands providing the essentials to make, shape, and grow a home—the foundation of daily life.

Suze has built her career in the early stage landscape. Her role is the culmination of a decade of experience at the forefront of the NY start-up community; working hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs from ideation to, now, multiple billion-dollar exits.

Prior to co-founding Pattern, Suze was General Manager and Partner at famed challenger agency, Gin Lane, where she helped to launch over 50 DNVB brands and played a critical role in shaping the founder journey for brands like Harry’s, Hims, Sweetgreen, Quip and more.

Where to find Suze Dowling

Website: www.patternbrands.com

 

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Transcript

Suze Dowling:

So for us, it's always about how do we create the cohesion? Where when you look at our brands together, they can do help create a Pattern Home. And that's our dream is to people to have a pattern home. But they each have personality because I think for me, the worst thing would be to create a brand where it's a one note.

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 the 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 local indie bookstore too. And if they don't have it, they can order it. To 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 the relentless book.com for more information. Thank you so much. During her tenure at Jen lane, Suze Dowling helped to launch over 50 brands like Smile Direct Club, Hymns, Sweet Green, and Quip eager to create her own consumer brand. She, and co-founders started Pattern brands. We talk about the various brands they have in their portfolio, how they build their portfolio and her role in the company today. Now let's get right into it.

Suze Dowling:

So Gin Lane itself was around for a number of years. And for those that aren't familiar with, it was really a brand and marketing agency that was born out of really working with entrepreneurs and learning how to bring them to market in a really thoughtful way. And for us, our specialty was really in direct to consumer. So our work was known for really disrupting the space and humanizing the brands behind it. So worked with like a number of really incredible entrepreneurs and created some really incredible brands. I have two co-founders. We were all at Gin Lane together and we really led that company together. And it was almost like after all these years of working with entrepreneurs to launch them to market, that we kind of felt it was naturally time for us to take that step and really become entrepreneurs ourselves. It's almost like it gives you that little taste of it where you go, wow, wait one sec. I wanna do this too. I always really think that one of the most motivating things you can really do in life is really create something that matters to you. And for us, that was Pattern. We were able to, as a co-founding team, take a moment and really reflect how did we wanna spend the next decade together. Having spent nearly a decade already building an agency business. And I think Pattern for us was really born from that reflection. For us, we saw this opportunity to create a multi-brand family of brands that all work together. And we always say internally, how do you make one plus one equal three. And that's really how we think about pattern in our ecosystem of brands. So with Pattern, we are this family of brands that's focused on a home. And we have six brands in the family currently, but what we find really special is that we have this one team, one cap table model. So what that means is even though we have six brands in the family and are adding to the family by the day, our team actually worked across the entirety of our brands. Yeah, it's been really amazing to be able to offer brands that wouldn't necessarily be able to have all these specialist resources, amazing specialist resources to help them scale.

Natasha Miller:

Why do you have so many brands within pattern and not just call it Pattern and make it easier on yourselves?

Suze Dowling:

I think a couple of reasons there, I think for us, we had seen the trend in the D to C world, right of really scaling brands to tens, if not hundreds of millions. But in a way that wasn't sustainable or profitable, because I think you can easily fall into the trap of really scaling a business, but purely off of paid media versus really building a brand and kind of a core organic following in community. And so I think for us, the vision behind Pattern was always. Why not have a portfolio of brands that work together to still get to that level of scale, but aren't kind of throwing paid media to kind of artificially reach a level of scale, but rather have these very loyal communities. Similarly, I think we really view the brands and the family as siblings. And that's very special to us in that we want them to have their own distinctive personalities and that to like really play through the products and kind of categories that each of them play in. So for us, it's always about how do we create the cohesion, where when you look at our brands together, they do help create a Pattern Home. And that's our dream is to people to have a Pattern Home. But they each have personality because I think for me, the worst thing would be to creative brand where it's a one note. And when we think about how do we craft it and curate a home, right there is that level of curation. You want it to be multidimensional and have personality. And I think by having multiple brands, it allows us to offer that to the consumer in a really compelling way. And then on the back end for us, there's really interesting way of operationalizing these brands with our.

Natasha Miller:

I haven't checked, but I'm wondering if each of your brands has its own social media, you know, profile and wow. How much work is that to I'm assuming this is a big part of reaching your consumer. And so every time you create a new brand, it's a mini, well, it's not even mini it's a business within a business.

Suze Dowling:

It's a business within a business. And I think certainly there are some areas that are more high touch than others. I think some of the more operational components you're able to really find efficiencies of scale across. The businesses. And how you think about perhaps your supply chain, how you think about perhaps some of your more wholesale relationships, et cetera. And then there's also, of course, as you've noted, like the consumer first components where it is very much, how do we make sure that each brand has its kind of special moment in the sun? And I think that's really for us though. Where we choose to invest time and energy. Like we always really think about the direct with consumer model. I think people always say direct to consumer, but for us it's about, no, this does need to be a two way dialogue. And how do we build a relationship with the consumer? And that means things like having its own social media handle is actually a really important component and touchpoint for how we reach these brands. Also, the other thing for us is while we have incubated a number of brands in the family, the way that we grow our family is actually via acquisition. So we actually add brands to the family via this acquisition model. And a big reason that we did that is really. We feel like really strongly that there needs to be a new business model for the growing community of eCommerce brands, because you look at kind of what are those exit opportunities or liquidity opportunities and there's IPO exits and then really no exit. And there's not that much in between. And so for us, Our other passion area, being entrepreneurs ourselves though, is helping other entrepreneurs to kind of close one chapter of their journey and move on to the next. So for us, really, how do we complete really thoughtful acquisitions and when brands join our family, they have kind of that benefit of having our unique ability to provide them with, you know, amazing marketing, brand building the in-house operational like elements, because what we've seen is. It's easier than ever to start a brand these days, right? It, you can launch a website on Shopify and reach the masses, but after you reach certain scale, you really do need to have expertise at everything, right? From email marketing to paid to supply chain and everything in between that and what we're able to do is kind of offer these brands that, and one of the first acquisitions we did put it so nicely. She said, "I feel like my brand is graduating to Pattern," and that was, I thought a really cool way of putting it. And then a couple of the fact that we're actually able to then give these entrepreneurs the exits that they deserve. And that's something that personally really makes me so excited and happy.

Natasha Miller:

So of all the brands and I know of two specifically equal parts and open spaces, but of all the brands that you mentioned, what is the one that's really leading the way as far as people really sticking to it?

Suze Dowling:

I think honestly, each of them have their own special moment in terms of an Instagram community that's Letterfolk, which is our home day C Bryan.

Natasha Miller:

Yes, I want that mat. I'm going to be buying.

Suze Dowling:

It's so fun. I mean, for everyone who isn't familiar with it, it's like this tile map product that basically is an old purpose mat that you can use anywhere. But what's really cool is it has these little tiles that you can basically put on or off to basically create your own personalized messaging as much as you want. And so that community on Instagram honestly just is so amazing. I personally DM with a lot of them, myself because I just love getting their insights and energy about that brand.

Natasha Miller:

I'll do a picture of what I design on mine. Yes. But I'm wondering of all the brands. Is there one that is really driving revenue and helping out the rest is one really rising to the top?

Suze Dowling:

No, I mean, look, I think the beauty of our model is that it is an ecosystem and big reason that we've structured. This is one pattern team is to ensure that those learnings are shared across the brands and you know, a rising tide list all votes. And I think that's really in each of the brands while each of them have areas that they Excel. Quite frankly, they all are incredible at the role that they play in the portfolio. And again are really self sustaining each business in how we look at it needs to be able to stand alone as though it wasn't part of the portfolio, then also has the vital role to play in the portfolio itself.

Natasha Miller:

And how are you weaving them together? So if I'm going to buy, let's say the map, which is happening. How will I learn as a consumer of that one product about your other products, or will I?

Suze Dowling:

You will. We believe in being transparent? I think a big way that you really build a relationship with someone is by having that authentic, transparent communication. And so we are very upfront that these brands are part of a family of brands and that family is called Pattern. And here's our mission at Pattern. Our mission at Pattern is really to help people enjoy daily life at home. That's like our number one goal. How do we bring a smile to your face during those little, every day? Not particularly glamorous moments, but make them just a little bit better because it's those micro moments of your day that really make up your experience of that feeling of comfort and of control and where you feel your most authentic self. And so I think if you go and buy a map. For example, you'd be seeing in the confirmation email even, Hey, this is part of a pattern family of brands. Here's our brands. And then we do kind of story tell throughout the relationship, our consumer about the other brands in the family and why we're excited about them, but also about what it means to be a pattern family brand to us pattern really is. A stamp of approval on a brand of saying this is a quality product. This is made in a responsible way. And this also is something that we feel is really marrying form and function. So it's a very practical, everyday use item, but made just a little bit better and certainly more aesthetically appealing.

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. I understand you are acquiring some of these businesses, but did you start any from scratch?

Suze Dowling:

We did. Yes, though. Actually, a number that you'd mentioned earlier of equal pods and open spaces, we incubated ourselves internally. And that was a really incredible experience. We launched both right before COVID hit actually. So it was great. We were able to go walk the factory floor and really develop them. I think equal bots is kitchenware line open spaces is a home organization line for us. Both of those categories really spoke to areas that we felt were really vital in creating your home. I think your kitchen is your heart of your home quite often. And so that was an area that we really felt strongly about playing in. Similarly for home organization. I think we felt that there was a really acute need in the market for really beautiful long lasting home organization items. Our founding team are all based out of New York. And so we have small apartments and our challenge to ourself was how do you create something that you're proud to display, like out in the open and then the market research we did supported both those categories being our first launches. I think for us, honestly, the turning point was living in a post COVID era and really thinking about expanding the family of brands and actually looking at what was happening in the business market elsewhere. And seeing that there was actually perhaps a bigger opportunity for us to fulfill our mission in moving into acquiring brands. And that was really a bit of an aha moment for us where we thought, wait, one sec, we can expand our family with brands that were really, really excited about who built in incredible communities and also really celebrate the entrepreneurs in their journey and kind of help set them up success on whatever their next entrepreneurial kind of endeavor is. And so it was a moment for us where we said, okay, we're going to really explore this. And then it's been very impactful. And I think it, to me, as a learning of, I believe as an entrepreneur, you need to be really, really clear on that end goal. And what's your vision, but you also need to be really flexible in how you get there. And to me, that kind of move from incubating to now acquiring was a great example of living by that mantra.

Natasha Miller:

When you were creating your own products, did you have a design team and you were sourcing the parts, or did you ever go to someone who is making the one thing and took that into your supply and sold that? How did you work that out?

Suze Dowling:

No for us, it really was from the ground stop coming from a brand building and creative background. We really felt very strongly about ensuring that we had control over what we were bringing out into the market and that it was something we could be really proud of. We worked was really close friends of ours, which are an industrial firm named Brun on the actual core industrial design and like the technical components of that. But really for us, it was from high level macro concepting. What do we want this brand to feel and be like, then how does that translate to literally the curve on the product? The materiality of the product and really fun, little playful details that we felt were important to add, to also bring that element of joy to each of the products we offer. So for us, it was really very much a ground up endeavor.

Natasha Miller:

Yes, I'm imagining that incubating and creating your own line has its own huge set of challenges and wonderful feelings. And then I was thinking, well, acquiring a company is so much easier, but it's only easier in one part of the timeline. So will you continue to do both?

Suze Dowling:

I think right now we're really focused on growing the family via acquisition, but we always say, never say never if there's a category in or an opportunity, will we think that doesn't exist and we can really take it one step beyond then never say never there, but I think. Really the brands that we're finding have developed these really incredible products. And we really feel that they deserve to be continued to be elevated and brought to a wider audience. And we have the capability to do that. I also think just because we are acquiring a brand, doesn't mean that the brand remains stagnant nor that product catalog remains stagnant. A big part of really growing a brand is also continuing to grow your overall assortment and think about your product innovation and how you're going to be continuing to meet your consumers, where they are, and really offer them a need. So there's still a big part of our process that is about the creation and the innovation within the brand that exists.

Natasha Miller:

Tell us about your role with your co-founders and Pattern. What is your role and what are you doing most of?

Suze Dowling:

So I'm our chief business officer and really what that means to us is operationalizing the business. So I really span the gamut from overseeing diligence and integration of the businesses that we acquire to ongoing brand management and growth. So it's really working. Very closely across the entirety of the team to look at where are the business opportunities. And then honestly, to break it into bite size, achievable pieces and figure out, "Okay, what are the stepping stones for how we get there?" My co-founders and I have worked together for a very long time. And I think the reason that we have is really just because we have such complimentary skill sets in that we're very different from one another. But those kind of pieces together are really stronger than any one individual. And I think that's really the dynamic you want in a co-founding team.

Natasha Miller:

I love that you have a very healthy, successful co-founding grouping. I hear from so many entrepreneurs that have partnered either with one partner or more. I actually hear more stories of devastation rather than harmony. So good for you or good on you. That's how you would say it, right?

Suze Dowling:

I exactly, I think it's like any relationship, right? It takes work. It takes communication skills. It takes learning how to argue in a productive way. And I think we're fortunate in that. Because we worked together for so many years in our agency business, we learned each other's ins and outs, and it meant that when we were able to co-found Pattern together, we already had that really solid foundation in which to take the journey on.

Natasha Miller:

What is something that you're really focusing on for the rest of the year to grow and scale your business?

Suze Dowling:

For us, it's really interesting how kind of bread and butter and origin has always been really grounded in direct to consumer or, you know, as we like to say direct with consumer, and while that still remains a really core cornerstone of our business, we've had some really exciting opportunities expanding omnichannel. And so I think that's something that. It's a new endeavor and a new challenge and something that really is exciting to me at the moment as we look at where our portfolio is, we still have this kind of core of D TOC, but have also opened up. Amazon have opened up wholesale relationships with, from specialty to big box, major retailers. And actually without-

Natasha Miller:

What's one of the realtors that you can find Pattern at?

Suze Dowling:

So we have a number of relationships. Nod has been a really important partner for us, Bloomingdale's, and it's really been exciting. It's for me, it was one of those moments where I had like a pinch myself moment of going.

Natasha Miller:

What is that?

Suze Dowling:

Our products in store. I think it's especially as a growing up as a kid in Australia. I never imagined that our products that A, that I would have a company B that I'd be living in America and C that my product would be in Nordstrom, you know?

Natasha Miller:

Right.

Suze Dowling:

And then actually without most recent acquisition, the Keto, they actually have a Brick and Mortar store in LA. So that's a new, exciting.

Natasha Miller:

I think I've been to that in, is it in Venice? No. Culver city.

Suze Dowling:

So pre COVID, there was a number of locations. And so obviously acting in a really conservative way during COVID. They now have their Maki location in little Tokyo. Okay. But for us, we're excited to really understand. What could Brick and Mortar mean not only for that brand, but also for us as a portfolio. And then I think on the D to C side for us, it's really about those core fundamentals of continued brand building. And so I think that's an area where really focusing on community, building organic social, as much as I'm still not good at TikTok, TikTok is where it's at as well. So, our team are luckily much more adept to that than me.

Natasha Miller:

And so on the flip side, as a successful business, you are going to have challenges. It's just the way of the world. What is a challenge that you're really having to overcome right now?

Suze Dowling:

I think there's a kind of larger challenge, which I feel like is also just being in a remote first environment. Candidly, that's been something that we've had to really. Put a lot of care and thought into navigating through. And I think we're doing a pretty good job of, but certainly is still that ongoing challenge. Because when you think about our business, the majority of time that our business has been in existence has been in this era of COVID and remote first.

Natasha Miller:

And you look like you're talking to me from home. Is that correct?

Suze Dowling:

Exactly. I'm from home. Our company is remote first. We have small creative studios still that does have a number of folks that go in for our photo shoots and video shoots. But really our team is spread out across the US and. I think that's been a challenge, both for us as a company, but also for me as a leader to really understand how do I give clarity and direction? How do I create a sense of connection in our team? There's also some things that I think you just don't realize how easy it is. Sometimes in a physical office to go up to someone and say, "oh, Where's this at? Or how's this going? And so really being careful to think about workflows and how to remove silos of information. And then I think culturally, how we create that sense of connectivity. It's been something that we haven't a hundred percent cracked if any company has, I would love to hear from them and learn from them.

Natasha Miller:

But how big is your company today?

Suze Dowling:

So we are just over 50 full-time employees. So it's still a small business, but for us has really scaled from where we first started out, you know, co-founding team. So it's been a good experience. I'd say one of the big lessons that we've learned is just you can't try and replicate the culture that you have in an in-office environment in a remote environment, it doesn't one to one translate and nor should it. So it needs to be about redefining. What do you want your culture to be? And I think for us, as soon as we had that aha moment, we were able to then really start to think about how to then go and create that.

Natasha Miller:

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.

Suze Dowling Profile Photo

Suze Dowling

Suze Dowling is Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Pattern, a family of purposeful brands providing the essentials to make, shape, and grow a home—the foundation of daily life.

Suze has built her career in the early stage landscape. Her role is the culmination of a decade of experience at the forefront of the NY start-up community; working hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs from ideation to, now, multiple billion-dollar exits.

Prior to co-founding Pattern, Suze was General Manager and Partner at famed challenger agency, Gin Lane, where she helped to launch over 50 DNVB brands and played a critical role in shaping the founder journey for brands like Harry’s, Hims, Sweetgreen, Quip and more.