Two years ago to the day, we decided to take a risk and launch our own business. This is something that so many people out there want to do, but for most, life gets in the way and it just isn’t feasible (or so they tell themselves). Born Primitive started with just a single product idea (the Snatch Shorts) but has evolved to become a bigger brand carrying all kinds of athletic apparel for men and women. Along the way, we’ve made a ton of mistakes, but as a result, we have gained a ton of knowledge. For those of you out there who have aspirations to launch your own business, take a chance and go for it. There will never be “the perfect time.” Life will always be happening (marriage, kids, jobs, etc.) no matter what stage you are in. Stop making excuses and take a chance.
Below I’ve outlined the main lessons we’ve learned since it all started. I’m hoping this can be insightful for my fellow entrepreneurs out there who aren’t afraid to take risks and want to pursue their own version of the American Dream. So here goes:
There’s a story about a big dinner that a newly elected Mayor was hosting at a banquet hall. The servers were going around giving everyone their dinners, which included a serving of butter for each plate. A teenage boy served the Mayor his plate at the head table. Shortly after, the Mayor flagged the boy down and said he needed another serving of butter. The boy, who was just following the rules, politely told the Mayor that each guest was only allowed one serving of butter. The Mayor leaned in and arrogantly responded, “Son, I understand the rule, but I’m the fricking Mayor.” The boy leaned in and said, “Yes, sir… but I’m the one with the butter!” The lesson here is to know when you have the butter and don’t flinch when big players like the Mayor try to push you around in a negotiation. If you have the butter, you have the leverage, and at that point, status does not matter. Present yourself in a strong and confident manner and you will get the deal you want.
No matter how big you get, never forget where you started. Never forget what it was like in the beginning when you were contacting big companies, and they were blowing you off and not taking you seriously (I won’t mention any names here…). Once those roles reverse, don’t be an arrogant asshole who thinks their time is too valuable to respond to an email or respond to someone’s phone call. As you grow, more and more people will contact you for partnerships, advice, donations, etc. Give them your full attention and go out of your way to help them. You were in their shoes once… don’t ever forget that!
With the age of social media, there is a new breed of people out there who suddenly possess tremendous “courage” when they are sitting behind a keyboard. These people want their voices to be heard so badly, and because of social media, it is very easy for them to make that happen now. When these haters direct their “courage” in the direction of you or your business, don’t take it personal and just realize that it is a reality of having a presence on the Internet and social media. Shrug it off and get back to work!
When you are trying to create a brand, I believe strongly that you need to stand for something. Establish your ethos. Put it out there and don’t shy away from it. Don’t be afraid to be polarizing. Too many brands out there try to cater to everyone, and their brand messaging ends up being generic and diluted. There may be people who do not align with your brand ethos, and that is okay. You will get much stronger brand loyalty through this approach because the people who do choose to wear your brand will do so because it has a personality behind it.
Running your own business sounds sexy to many people on the outside, but those who do it know how much work it takes and how much you will sacrifice if you want the business to succeed. Make sure you are fully aware of what you are getting yourself into. You will likely be burning the candle at both ends from the moment you start, and that can get in the way of other aspects of your life. Fortunately for me, my wife has been just as passionate as I have been about the business, so we don’t mind staying up late and doing work together. For many, you may not have this luxury, and you will have to attempt to find balance with your business and the rest of your life (if that is even possible).
You need to always be thinking 6-12 months out. If you are always thinking in the present, you will limit your own success. Many things in business do not happen overnight, so you need to lay out a plan that allows enough time for your business initiatives to develop. So don’t wait until the last week of June to come up with that big 4th of July promotion. That should have been figured out in February! Catching my drift?
No matter how great things are going, there will inevitably be a point where you hit a major obstacle. Expect that to happen and when it does, aggressively take it head on. If possible, try to turn it into a positive. Just 4 months into launching our business, I was at boot camp and unable to communicate with my wife who was running the entire show. Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law kicked in full force, and she realized that our most recent Snatch Shorts order had a defect. The supplier had failed to use the proper adhesive to attach the pads to the compression material, so the pads were falling apart when our customers were putting them in the wash for the first time. The emails quickly came flooding in and my wife was tasked with weathering the storm. Fortunately, she aggressively attacked the problem, reached out to all 400 customers individually, and was able to smooth things over by replacing all the shorts with brand new pairs. The lesson here is these things are going to happen. When they do, take a solution-oriented approach to the problem and attack it.
This overlaps with #2 quite a bit. As you grow, still commit yourself to responding to every customer’s email and make sure they are completely satisfied with your products. A few months ago, we had a very minor product defect in a couple hundred apparel items that were shipped out. Once we realized it, I started burning the midnight oil and sent each customer a personal email explaining the minor defect and letting them know we would be more than willing to exchange it. I was amazed with how many people responded, thanking me for the personal note and saying how appreciative they were. What initially appeared to be something that could have been very damaging ended up being extremely positive with those customers.