Brian Folmer

Founder of FirstLook

Brian is the founder of FirstLook, a subscription box full of emerging, high growth consumer brands for early-stage investors. Before starting FirstLook, he led BD & Strategic Partnerships at XRC Labs, International Operations at Victoria’s Secret, and founded a previous company through a technology startup accelerator in Cleveland.

Brian believes founders are the dreamers in action who push forward innovation enjoyed by the masses each day. He’s passionate about helping them build exciting brands that positively impact the environment and society.

Catching him working out of WeWork Labs in NYC.

Where did the idea for FirstLook come from?

The idea for FirstLook came while I was working at XRC Labs, a startup accelerator for consumer brands and retail tech. Each week we’d get samples from brands, try them, and decide whether to continue conversations or not. This helped me realize what an inefficient process it was for founders to catch our attention, as well as the attention of other consumer investors.

While bike riding one day, the concept of FirstLook hit me. From that moment on, it’s all I could think about. I quickly ran it by friends who helped me refine it into what it looks like today.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day is split between maintaining the day-to-day operations, and working on things to help us continue growing. To be productive, I pretty much need to leave my apartment so I’m not distracted. I find it mind-blowing for anyone who can get work done on their couch. I also started utilizing a task list which has really helped me focus on what needs to get done.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bring ideas to life by first running them through what I call the ‘Google Gauntlet’. This is really just me googling the shi*t out of an idea to see if anyone’s done it before, is there anything similar, why it could or could not work, etc.

If an idea makes it past Google, which is rare, I next bring it up with close friends. This part is fun as the idea usually grows and morphs based on their feedback. If I get enough “this could work” moments, I dive in deeper to piece together an MVP.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I get really excited about all the people and organizations dedicating themselves to planting trees. If you go down this rabbit hole, you’ll see some wild innovation in this space. From drones planting trees, to helicopters shooting seeded charcoal balls all over the place, it is amazing to see. There is still so much work to be done in terms of restoring the planet, but I do think things are trending up here.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I try my best to find balance between work and play, which can be really hard at times for a founder. By forcing myself to not blend the two, I’m more productive and happier doing each. It’s almost akin to companies testing four-day work weeks. Employees are more productive and happier because the separation of the two worlds is more apparent and better balanced.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Leave five minutes earlier for everything. You won’t feel rushed, you’ll enjoy the journey to wherever you’re going, and if you arrive early you might meet someone interesting.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

“The Internet tailwinds that propelled Silicon Valley’s meteoric growth for decades are stalling out.” That’s the opening line to an article by John Luttig at Founder Factory, and a big part of me agrees with him.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Understanding optics and framing, and how that plays into storytelling. When you frame things in a particular way, it can totally change the outcome despite all the information remaining the same. Storytelling is at the heart of building a company, which is why I am always trying to work on this skill as well as preaching it to any founders I meet.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

A key but subtle strategy every founder should embrace is giving others the impression that you’re going places. Momentum is everything in the startup world. It’s what gets everyone on the sideline to look at you. That said, whenever I speak about FirstLook, I try to give the listener a sense that things are moving forward, doors are opening up, and overall we are continuing to validate ourselves. Everyone wants to be a part of something that’s going places.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My first company was a failure. Despite the support by the accelerator I was in, I couldn’t get things moving quick enough to jump to the next level. Despite failing, the experience was a big win in terms of learning and exploring. I went on to use my founder story to land my first corporate job. I think having a unique story to tell helped me stand out amongst the crowd.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d like to see a mobile app that provides real-time data on the quality of tap water near me. It’s mind-blowing how horrible tap water actually is in many parts of the U.S.. Many municipalities continue to pay fines instead of fixing actual problems.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently bought plane tickets for my Dad to come visit me in NYC. I’m so excited to see him and show him around. I wouldn’t be where I am today without his support. Family is everything, so this was one of the easiest purchases I’ve ever made.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I use Shipstation to manage FirstLook’s shipments. So far it’s worked quite well, and it’s certainly helped me streamline the shipping process each month. I highly recommend it for anyone needing a shipping management solution.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. This is a must read. It dives into the psychology of how people process information, and what you can do as a speaker to help get your message across. It also helps you understand all the dynamics of almost any social situation, which is really interesting. When you understand who’s who in a room, you’ll be much better equipped to make the most of a situation.

What is your favorite quote?

“Your path is harder because your calling is higher” – Unknown

Key Learnings:

  • FirstLook helps consumer brand founders turn fundraising from a one-to-one journey into a one-to-many journey with investors.
  • By separating work and pleasure, founders can unlock more productivity and be happier in the moment.
  • Founder should embrace storytelling and the finer points of optics and framing to make the most of their time when building a company