Black Enterprise contributor Brandon Andrews sat down with Andrew Bentley for an interview about Bentley’s startup, Father Figure—a lifestyle brand that makes products for new dads. Bentley also spoke about his recent appearance on Shark Tank.
Brandon Andrews: Father Figure is a lifestyle brand for dads. What motivated you to serve dads?
Andrew Bentley: I’ve wanted to be a dad as long as I can remember. When I became a dad a little over two years ago I wanted to spend as much time with my son as possible. Thankfully, I had paternity leave that I used when my wife went back to work. Since my son was colicky, he was crying and spitting up a lot. I found I was losing burp rags at all the wrong times. I bought a glue gun and put a loop on a shirt to store burp rags. That’s when the Luca T-shirt was born!
As I became a stay-at-home dad I realized that most parenting brands and products were designed for the mother experience. After talking with a lot of my dad friends and conducting some research I saw clearly that there was a big need for a lifestyle brand focused on dads.
Some may see being an entrepreneur with a young child as a sacrifice. I see it as a privilege. It motivates me. It makes me a better entrepreneur. My goal is to always prioritize my family and to have at least one day a week that I’m spending time with my children.
What do dads in 2017 want/need that dads in the past did not?
The amount of time today’s dads spend with their children has tripled from 50 years ago. And that additional time involves loving, nurturing activities. This is the result of a lot of things. One of my friends and leaders in the responsible fatherhood movement, Haji Shearer, explains it well.
He says it started with the growth of feminism. As the role of women in the workplace and home began to shift, men’s roles also shifted. In being more supportive to women and families, men naturally started being more attentive fathers. When that happened, it opened the eyes of dads to the power of loving, caring parenting.
Given that context, there’s a remarkable lack of companies and parenting products that focus on the needs of new dads. I felt it acutely as a new dad, in love with my tiny baby. I felt that none of the items around me spoke to me as a father. To figure out if I was correct, I did research. I found that 84% of new dads wish parenting companies better understood their needs. And the same amount of dads were interested in apparel or gear that catered to the dad experience. I don’t think dad-focused parenting products are the only answer to supporting new dads but I hope it helps generate confidence and community.
Father Figure has a range of products. Many entrepreneurs struggle with figuring out which products to take to market. Walk us through how the process worked for you.
Yeah, product creation and development isn’t easy. It’s especially not easy in a completely new segment, like paternity clothing and accessories. I started with what I needed as a new dad. I went from never holding a baby before to being the primary caretaker of a colicky, underweight baby that spit up like it was his college major. Solving the problem of losing burb rags led to the creation of our first product.
For the other products, like the Bandana Print Burp Rag Set, I started with things I liked and then asked a lot of dads. I was lucky to be a part of a close stay-at-home-dad community in Brooklyn, New York. When I had questions about products, I’d just ask them.
Father Figure is a public benefit corporation. What does that mean? What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to use their business to make a positive social impact?
A public benefit corporation is a specific type of corporation that includes a social mission with its profit-maximizing goals in its charter. Father Figure is a PBC because it’s important to me and also, great business. I was fortunate to have paternity leave and great prenatal health services and it transformed my life and becoming a father was the greatest experience of my life. I want others to have the same opportunity.
Our mission is to “Strengthen the loving bond among fathers and their children.” I have a background in social impact work at Google and also with a nonprofit I co-founded. I think it’s important for the private sector to create positive change.
And becoming a public benefit corporation is good for business. Eighty-seven percent of millennial moms, one of the highest rates in the U.S., consider the social impact of a company when deciding to buy. My customers expect their brands to work on social impact causes and will pay more for products from those brands.
There are a lot of myths about fathers; especially black fathers. What role do you see yourself and Father Figure playing in changing the narrative about fathers?
The misconceptions of fathers, and black fathers, in particular, were big reasons why I wanted to start this company. I grew up without a great relationship with my mother yet was close with my father. And in my world, I see black men being some of the best dads on earth. The data supports this as well. The CDC released a study a few years ago showing that black dads spend more time with their kids than any other racial group.
Also, in the black community, I see fathering take on a different definition than in other communities. Often father figures, whether it’s from a school, a church or a neighbor take on a lot of responsibilities a dad would have. There are multiple paternal influences, instead of a singular father figure.
Yet, because of perceptions related to the marriage rate or the black community in general, there’s a stigma associated with black dads. The world sees us as absent at best or violent at worst. It’s hurtful.
I want the world to see me kiss my son just because, snuggle him when he’s sick and read with him before bed. I hope I can be an influence to men who want a loving relationship with their kids.
I’m also very focused on the images associated with my brand. It’s powerful to see men of color being nurturing figures. I have men of different backgrounds in my product photos. Also, on Sunday you’ll see I brought out my friends of color and their babies with me into the Shark Tank. Just that image of these men of color loving their children on primetime television is a big deal to me. I’m proud of that.
My nonprofit partner, Fathers Incorporated does an amazing job addressing all of the issues I brought up. They not only support parenting training for dads, they work on building positive content related to men of color; like books and films.
What did you learn from pitching your business on Shark Tank? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs pitching their business?
Preparation is vital to giving the best pitch you can. Whatever the audience for your pitch, know who they are and what they care about. Everyone who has seen the show knows you have to know your stuff too. Don’t get caught off guard with a simple business question. Prepare nonstop!
On second thought, don’t prepare nonstop. I made the mistake of working a bit too much through the three weeks I had to prepare. I had to readjust and make sure I was spending time exercising, eating well, seeing loved ones and sleeping well—I got a new comfy pillow.
Be yourself. An investment is more than just money. You are linking yourself to someone or a group of people that you’ll be working with for the long-haul. Your personality mix is just as important as the business interests.