The end of the year is always a special time.

For me, it's a time of reflection. I enjoy looking back on the 11 or 12 months prior and thinking of the goals I had set for myself, and the goals we had set for ourselves as a company, and looking for new ways to improve. It's also fun to think back over longer time periods and take a moment to appreciate the growth that has happened over the past two years, three years, five years, and so on.

This year, in particular, one of the things that has been on my mind is really going back and understanding how our company, ThirdLove, got to where it is. Five years ago, we were still trying to figure out how to effectively manufacture our product, refine our message and deal with all the typical startup challenges. At the time, DTC (direct-to-consumer) wasn't even a term in the market. And today, we have built an entire business specializing in DTC, along with recently opening our first in-store location in New York City.

How did we build our brand in just a few years? We did it by taking these three simple steps to listen to our customers, push boundaries, and stay true to our mission.

Here's how you can do it too.

1. Use customer feedback to guide product development.

Our guiding light has been always listening closely to our customers. 

So many startups tunnel-vision on what they think their customers want, instead of hearing what customers actually want. For us, every major leap forward has always been grounded in what our customers were asking for--both from qualitative data, and from the data we collect through surveys and our FitFinder. For example, we heard from our customers that they wanted to see our T-shirt bra in more than one nude shade. So we developed additional shades to fit a wide range of skin tones, and launched our New Nakeds in 2017, offering five different naked shades.  

Each year since inception, we've added more sizes based on the data we've collected and customer requests. In 2015, we began a journey to develop extended sizes. It took several years to develop them as it's a complicated process, but today we are proud to offer over 80 bra sizes. 

These are just a few of the many decisions we've made as a company based on what our customers were telling us--directly, or out in the marketplace. Which is why it's your job, whether you're the founder, manager, or more junior employee, to always be listening to what people are actually looking for.

2. Every time you take a step forward, make sure it is pushing some kind of boundary.

Like any startup, in the early days of our company, we had very little revenue and extremely limited resources. 

In our first few years, we had only one model per photoshoot. As the company has grown, we've been able to source a diverse range of models in different shapes, sizes, and skin tones who represent our brand and our diverse customer base. We've focused on shaking up the industry: If we weren't setting the tone, who would?  

In 2018, one of our customers, a woman named Hope, emailed us to ask why we didn't have any older models in our catalog. Once we pulled the data, we realized a large portion of our customers were over the age of 40. We had the data, but it took Hope to show us how important it was to highlight customers of all ages. From that moment on, we made a decision to include a diverse age-range of models in our marketing. 

More recently, we have pushed boundaries in imagery to reflect real women who represent our customers. Over the past two years, our campaigns have begun to feature real women (not models) including an amputee and trans woman, bringing visibility to a group of women a lot of other brands are still overlooking.  

3. Stay true to your mission, and what you set out to stand for in the world.

Has this journey been easy? Not for a minute. 

If it had been, someone else would have done it well before us. We stayed true to who we were and who we wanted to be from the very beginning and built a brand around those core principles, using what we had learned from our customers to continue to improve and iterate. 

This means recognizing when to say "no"--whether it is a potential partnership or product launch that doesn't allow you to fulfill a promise to your customers. When we stopped selling our product with a department store partner in 2016, we did that because we realized the experience wasn't ideal for our customers and took the short-term hit on revenue that came with shutting down a channel. 

More than anything, we're proud to have built a brand that stands for something uniquely special for women of all sizes, shapes, and shades. We have made a real difference in the lives of millions of women--and we know we're just getting started.