Fran Dunaway – Co-Founder & CEO, TomboyX

Fran likes to call herself the accidental entrepreneur. In 2013, she had a great life – partner in a media strategies firm with big budgets, lots of vacation time, regular exercise, and excellent sleep habits. She and her wife, Naomi Gonzalez, started a little side business because they wanted some cool button down shirts, like a Robert Graham for women. They picked the name TomboyX for their side project because they thought it was cute.

When the name started resonating with women around the world, they knew they had an instant brand. It turns out the word ‘tomboy’ opens the door to a conversation about being whoever it is you want to be. Women were SO elated to have a brand that saw them for who they are at their core. So, when customers started begging for TomboyX to design the first boxer briefs for women, Fran and Naomi obliged.

In September 2014, they pre-sold two styles of boxer briefs designed for women and sold out in two weeks. They have never looked back. TomboyX has since refocused solely into the underwear/lounge wear market and is thriving on the fact that people of all shapes and sizes want to be part of a brand that stands for values they share. Their customers continually prove that there is a toughness required to express your individuality – the defining characteristics of a tomboy.

How did the concept for TomboyX come about?
It all started because I wanted a cool shirt, like a Robert Graham or a Ben Sherman, but for women. Fine quality fabric and attention to detail, which you can’t really find in women’s shirting. We chose the name TomboyX because we thought it was cute. Turns out the name had instant brand recognition and soon customers were asking for us to make the first boxer briefs for women. We obliged, sold out in two weeks, tripled our revenues in six months, and realized that we had found a hero product to build the brand around. We’re now the world’s first gender neutral underwear company and make “next of skin” products for everybody.

What was your marketing strategy?
Facebook and word of mouth.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
First couple of years were slow, but then year three was 4x, year four was 2x, and this year we’ll double again.

How do you define success?
I’ll let you know when I get there.

What is the key to success?
Persistence and the ability to listen.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To not be emotional about money.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Out of my way, I’ve got work to do.” – Shirley Chisholm

What are some of your favorite books?
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Dealing with a new big funder who was unwilling to compromise.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The emails we get from customers who are thrilled to have a brand that sees them.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
If you have a hard time with change, entrepreneurship may not be your thing. If you’re wildly curious, able to get up when knocked down, and have a vision you believe in, go for it.



This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

Check out our Books page to see the top books recommended by entrepreneurs, professional athletes, and executives.