Mike Beckham sees the benefits of competitive markets. Simple Modern, a company he co-founded in 2015, sells insulated drinkware, competing against Yeti and other large providers. He says markets are competitive because many consumers value those products.
He told me, “Capturing a small percentage of a competitive market can make you insanely successful.”
Beckham and I recently spoke. We addressed his ecommerce journey, Amazon, physical-store selling, and more.
The audio of our entire conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your journey.
Mike Beckham: I grew up in Oklahoma and received a finance degree. I went into a nonprofit ministry job after college. I thought I’d work it for one year, but one year turned into 10. When I turned 30, around 2009, my brother approached me with a business idea. That business [QuiBids, a retail auction site] got big and quickly hit a million dollars in revenue. The company had many highs and lows, but I gained experience and learned much about ecommerce.
Around 2014, we realized competing against Amazon was an uphill battle. We began looking at companies to buy on that marketplace. The more we looked, the more we thought, “We can do this. We have the skillset.” I helped my brother build the company — the Beckham Hotel Collection, selling mostly pillows — on Amazon. We have close to 300,000 reviews. It’s been the bestselling pillow for years.
In mid-2015, a group of guys I’d worked with approached me about starting a side project. We had no idea what we wanted to do or sell. We just knew we wanted to sell on Amazon as our first channel and to have a culture and commitment to generosity. We decided to sell insulated drinkware. We bootstrapped the company and called it Simple Modern. I put my life savings in, and we have grown rapidly. We now sell in many places, including our own ecommerce site, major retailers, and Amazon.
Bandholz: Why Amazon?
Beckham: We had several years competing against Amazon [with QuiBids], spending a lot of money driving people to our website. I don’t know of any consumer retail brand that spent more between 2010 and 2014 on direct response advertising than we did. We learned the trials and challenges of driving traffic daily and gaining awareness, especially when competing against Amazon.
With Simple Modern, our posture was letting Amazon do the heavy lifting. We would optimize for their system because we’ve built websites and understand algorithms.
Bandholz: Insulated drinkware is hyper competitive.
Beckham: Yes. When we launched, Yeti was crushing it. Hydro Flask, Corkcicle, and S’well were there as well. But they all focused on brick-and-mortar retail and higher prices. We focused on a premium insulated water bottle at an affordable price, available online. Many of those competitors had built their business models around physical distribution. We built ours around digital.
We sold multiple sizes, SKUs, and colors. Those became a competitive advantage with more selection, better pricing, and the same quality as the leading brands. Competition is a two-sided coin. Most entrepreneurs see only the downsides. But highly competitive markets exist because many folks want to buy that product or service. Capturing a small percentage of a competitive market can make you insanely successful.
I teach entrepreneurship at the University of Oklahoma. Students almost always aim for something with little competition. I always tell them that no competition occurs because their idea is unique, which is unlikely, or something about that market makes it toxic.
To be sure, you have a higher chance of succeeding in a small market. Simple Modern wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve learned the benefits of starting and focusing in a niche. As you build operational skills, challenge yourself to larger, more competitive markets.
When we launched Simple Modern, a full-frontal assault against Yeti would’ve been disastrous. There’s no way we would’ve won. But we’ve carved out market share in many ways. Yeti has not focused on colors. The average guy has a black Tumbler. When your market’s big, there’s room for many winners.
We have competitors that are better at some things than us. But there are things we’re better at. You need a sense of humility and accuracy and to take stock of what you can do at an exceptional level. Do you have something that the market’s going to reward you for? We’ve been successful at parlaying digital success into physical retail placement. We’ve built Simple Modern around that.
Bandholz: Where can people follow you and support you?