Hidden confidence, not-so-hidden success: a chat with the founder of startup KNOBBY 

KNOBBY

KNOBBY founder Rob Rand

A finalist in this year’s Telstra Queensland Business Awards, KNOBBY is a subscription business out of the Sunshine Coast whose products are worn by tens of thousands of members globally. You might struggle to spot one on the street, of course, because KNOBBY is an underwear club. If you were to ask founder Rob Rand, he’d probably tell you to look out for a confident gait.

Rand told Dynamic Business that he began working on the idea for KNOBBY in 2012, after relocating to the remote town of Chillagoe in Far North Queensland, where his wife had been sent to perform her country service as a teacher.

“A visit to the closest shops meant committing to a six-hour round trip,” he said. “So, when we’d go shopping, buying underwear was a low priority, and from my research, I discovered this was common amongst men – many were wearing old, worn-out undies that’d lived in their drawer for years. When you put on daggy duds, let’s face it, you feel drab. That said, it’s hard enough to get a bloke to pop to the shops for anything, let alone underwear.

“My mission with KNOBBY was to provide people with fresh, funky and comfy undies that give them a hidden confidence, so that they feel like a million dollars even if they’re just wearing a basic t-shirt and jeans. We deliver a new, unseen design to our members every month. We originally launched as a men’s underwear brand, but we recently expanded to include a women’s range too. Our underwear features printed designs, which are really bold and unique, have been created by designers in-house and through collaborating with artists around the world. KNOBBY’s range is available exclusively online through our website.”

Rand said that while KNOBBY has enjoyed consistent growth since launching in 2014, the rollout of the brand’s women’s line, late last year, “amplified” growth – “in the first week alone, our overall member base increased by 25%”.  He said KNOBBY now has “tens of thousands of members” across fifteen countries including Canada, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Japan, and is shipping a quarter of a million pairs of underwear each year.

“Numerous factors have contributed to our success,” he said. “For one, we were the first to introduce the subscription model for underwear featuring unique monthly designs. Plus, our brand personality is witty, cheeky and colloquial Aussie – and this fun, light-hearted approach has really resonated with our market. Further, our bright, bold designs have been popular because they’re unlike anything else on the market – they really are works of art, not just a cheesy stock photo.”

In light of KNOBBY’s “massive, diverse, and very engaged” audience, Rand said it was important to him and his team to use their position to support “amazing organisations”, including charities, that are making a difference in people’s lives.

“We’re a proud partner of Orange Sky Laundry, the world’s first free mobile laundry service for the homeless,” he explained. “We provide them with underwear for homeless people and we’re currently producing special edition Orange Sky branded underwear, which we’ll release to our members to later this year. For every pair sold, we’ll donate an extra pair to Orange Sky as well as a donation to provide people with hot showers and clean clothes.

This year, KNOBBY was a finalist in the New Business category of the 2017 Telstra Queensland Business Awards. Although they were eventually beat out by Family Doctors Plus, Rand said the overall experience was ‘invaluable’.

“It gave us the opportunity to bench mark our business with other start-ups and learn what has and hasn’t worked in their companies,” he explained. “It was a fantastic opportunity to make new connections and look at the KNOBBY business model critically, so that we could then pin point how to do what we do more efficiently. The actual submission was huge. Numerous questions were very in-depth, which made us look at our systems and processes from a new perspective. We have grown KNOBBY from nothing but an idea and to now see it alongside other amazing businesses in such a short time was a massive achievement to everyone in our corner.”

In terms of what’s next for KNOBBY, Rand said the startup will be introducing “some really cool new styles” to their product line and that new athletes and brand ambassadors will be “jumping on the Knobby wagon”. “Plus, there will be a few surprises along the way, he added.” We have some exciting announcements to make in the coming months.”