As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Tannen.
Scott is the CEO and founder of Boll & Branch, a leading luxury and sustainable home brand. An innovative entrepreneur, Scott disrupted the textile industry for the good by launching the world’s first Fair Trade certified bedding in 2014 with his co-founder and wife, Missy Tannen. His commitment to mindful manufacturing delivered via an e-commerce first route to market has been lauded as the “world’s most ethical cotton sheets brand.” Prior to founding Boll & Branch, Scott spent several years building online marketing groups and award-winning programs for beloved consumer brands such as Altoids, Planters and Oreo. He also founded an early-stage investment fund, red5 Capital, and Funtank, one of the world’s leading casual games publishers, which he sold to Publishers Clearing House in 2010.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
In hindsight, my career can really be broken up into three chunks. I started my career with Nabisco (later acquired by Kraft) and had the opportunity to learn from some incredibly talented marketers while working on brands like Oreo, Planters, and Altoids that I absolutely loved. In the early 2000’s I found my marketing niche in the digital world and led digital for about half of Kraft’s portfolio. I ultimately left for Wrigley to build the company’s global digital marketing competency.
In 2007, I departed Wrigley to found Funtank which quickly became one of the largest publishers of casual video games in the world. We cut our teeth with Candystand.com which boasted a portfolio of about 300 web games, all sponsored by Fortune 500 brands from Disney to Coca Cola to LEGO. From there, we expanded to social gaming and mobile gaming as the app ecosystem opened up. It was a crazy time in my life to transition from `big company’ guy to more of a tech entrepreneur. We sold the company to Publishers Clearing House in 2010.
After staying on to transition the business for a bit, I began investing in and advising startups in 2012. At the same time, Missy (my wife) and I were redoing our master bedroom. To make an exceptionally long story short, she was frustrated by the shopping experience. What started as a Google search to find the best sheets wound up becoming the adventure of a lifetime. Missy and I launched our own bedding company, Boll & Branch, in 2014, and as they say, the rest is history!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’ll start with the takeaway: no matter how much you think you know, there’s always so much more that you don’t! Neither Missy nor I had any experience in textiles — in fact, I don’t think we even knew more than a handful of people that did. So we were on our own to research, research, research. When I look back on it, I can’t believe we were able to be as successful as we were early on — because we knew nothing!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
It’s cliché to say “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek, but his message just speaks to me. More recently, “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight holds a special place in my heart. It’s funny because my dad worked for Adidas in the 80’s and I was brought up to think less-than-highly of anything having to do with Nike. After reading the book, his determination, passion, and spirit resonates so well with me. Now, Phil Knight would 100% be at that mythical `if you could have dinner with any three people’ table for me.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
We simply wanted to do the absolute best we could, by every possible measure, no matter what. I think that for many entrepreneurs, your first venture is often more about `figuring out’ how to run a business and proving something to others about yourself. Act 2 is extremely different, it’s much more about what you’re aiming to do. I’m very lucky to have been able to self-fund the business out of the gates and that enabled us to truly live and own our vision — to create better products for customers, and improve the standard of living for those who actually make them.
Missy and I are not wired to cut corners, nor is our whole team. That’s what, to me, makes this company so special.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
My number one principle in business is the very same one that guides me in life: treat others how you’d like to be treated. The Golden Rule is a message that my parents preached to my sister and me from the time we were very young. It’s such a simple principle yet incredibly easy to follow.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m healthy, my family has been healthy, my friends have been healthy. Has COVID-19 inconvenienced me? Sure. But, in truth, I have absolutely nothing to complain about and have been remarkably fortunate through it all.
When you have good fortune, the question really starts centering around how you pay that good fortune forward. Missy and I are incredibly proud that the Boll & Branch team began making and donating mattresses and pillows to emergency medical operations in the fight against COVID-19 in New York. We have also begun donating mattresses to emergency shelters for homeless veterans in Pennsylvania and Florida. We’re proud to have helped keep workers employed, and to have assisted medical and government agencies prepare for and respond to this crisis.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of my biggest worries has been my employees working too much during the pandemic. Right off the bat we implemented the Boll & Branch Siesta where everything shuts down from 12–1PM each day. No calls, no Slacks, no email, no meetings — period. Folks can take a nap, eat lunch with their families, play a video game (guilty!), anything except working!
We’ve also created a more liberal Summer Friday program. Not only do we close every Friday at 2, but we will be fully closing the office for two Fridays each month of the summer. Since folks aren’t using PTO, I am going to make sure they feel they can take a step back and breathe a bit.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I try to check-in on folks often — much more often than I have done in the past. Just a quick “how are you?” text or call can help folks to feel much less alone.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Well, I don’t think there is really such a thing as a `post-Covid economy’ — we will never really be post-Covid, we will never un-experience what we’ve experienced.
Now more than ever it is important to ensure that we are doing all we can to lift people up vs. knocking them down. We all want the same thing out of life, health and happiness for ourselves and those we love. I hope the memory of COVID will continue to remind us of that simple fact.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I might be reaching in hoping that my three teenage daughters would want to hang out this much with me in the future… but that would be nice! In some ways, it seems like COVID triggered a fast-forward button on the world. Suddenly, so many more people are relying on ecommerce, ordering groceries online, etc., and COVID pushed them in that direction. I traded in my car through COVID without stepping foot in a dealership and the experience was delightful.
In general, I hope we can capture the good, the togetherness, and eliminate the unnecessary in-person `stuff’ that is generally less meaningful. Face time in the office, circa my Kraft days, ought to be extinct forever!
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We will continue to do what we’ve always done. Focus on quality, value, service and empathy. It was a good policy pre-Covid and will be post too!
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Other employers need to embrace the positive impact that balance can and does have on their employees. Time off is critical and not everyone needs to be in the office every day, just so you can watch them work. COVID has made business dinosaurs evolve and begin to trust others — and in many cases the result has been fantastic.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ― Steve Jobs
It’s often so hard to trust your intuition and bet on yourself. We all want to know what’s going to happen vs. spending our time making it happen.
How can our readers further follow your work?