City: Denver, CO
Entrepreneurs: Emily Núñez Cavness, Betsy Núñez, Cully Cavness
Sword & Plough, the Denver-based apparel manufacturing business we were fortunate to partner with over the past two weeks, is the result of Emily’s experience as an officer in the U.S. Army, her time at Middlebury college, and, most importantly, her ingenuity and imagination. With luck and helpful hands thrown into the mix, Sword & Plough has managed to flourish as a business and, bag after highly-sought-after bag, is accomplishing its mission to encourage veteran employment and reduce military surplus waste.
Unlike Rebel Nell in Detroit and YEP! Fitness in Cincinnati, the previous two businesses our team partnered with, Sword & Plough is much further along their business life cycle. Successful product-market fit, growing sales, national publicity, a strong founding team, and a round of fundraising behind the business gives it instant legitimacy. On the surface, it wasn’t clear what our team would be able to add. Long discussions around Emily and Cully’s dining room table, tours of Sword & Plough’s shared manufacturing facility, and trips to trade shows in Colorado Springs with the team did little good in terms of finding something we could help with – this was a truly impressive business in every sense of the word.
It wasn’t until our third day, after a trip to KOTA Longboards – one of Sword & Plough’s business partners – that Emily, Betsy, Cully, and our team settled on what initiatives we would pursue during our time in Denver. At its core, S&P’s business model relies on a virtuous cycle: military surplus is purchased and combined with other American-made materials, these are pieced together employing veteran hands, the resulting bags are sold to a wide audience, and 10% of proceeds are donated to veteran initiatives i.e. the initial users of the military surplus. To the extent that Sword & Plough wants to increase its impact, and increase the speed at which this virtuous cycle is completed, we recognized the need to help the company increase demand. This led us to work on understanding the economics of Sword & Plough’s marketing channels.
One of the realizations that has come to light as our road-trip progresses is the power that small businesses can gain from data-based decision making. This is particularly true today when customer information is so readily available and analyzable. Unfortunately, for many small businesses, this type of analysis is prohibitively expensive (in terms of both explicit and implicit cost), which is often the barrier small business owners cannot break. This is the hurdle our team wanted to help Sword & Plough overcome. Over the course of a week and a half, the four of us worked closely with Emily, Betsy, Cully, and Haik Kavookjian (Sword & Plough’s Creative Director) to parse through their customer data, quantify their return on advertising, and create a set of tools to help them assess which channels (i.e. direct to consumer, wholesale, or brick & mortar) would be in the best interest of Sword & Plough and their mission going forward.
It’s very easy to get lost in numbers and project specifics, but the reality is that working with Sword & Plough was eye-opening in terms of how seamlessly capitalism and mission-driven purpose can come together. From the new quality control employee we met on day one, who was grateful for the opportunity Sword & Plough offered him after his service, to the complete stranger who had only fantastic things to say after recognizing the S&P logo on our shirts, we were able to see firsthand the impact Sword & Plough has on Denver and its community. It is profound.
Entrepreneurship, let alone social entrepreneurship, is not an easy path. The journey until now for Emily, Betsy, and Cully, has been one of hardship and loneliness. These are young, bright, and energetic individuals who could excel in many other (potentially more lucrative) endeavors, should they decide to take their talents elsewhere. But thankfully for them, and for the countless individuals their company affects, their passion and dedication has turned Sword & Plough’s story into one of triumph, and our team is tremendously thankful for the opportunity to experience a very small part of that. If America had more entrepreneurs like them, and businesses like this, there is no doubt that this country would be better off.