We at Indie Source are thrilled to have Jacob Eberhart lending his knowledge to us for a post. Jacob is the co-owner and VP of operations at Pretty Knotty and knows a little something about running a business in the fashion industry. Whether you are starting your first fashion line or are considering embarking on a new business idea, we hope you find his tips on getting your brand going useful and inspiring.
Looking at our world with a magnifying lens, every product and service you see started as someone’s idea. While many of those ideas came from a group of people, i.e. a company such as Apple, many ideas that have been turned into products have come from first-time entrepreneurs such as yourself.
While I can’t pave the North Yungas Road that leads you from your idea to your invention, my goal in this article is to serve as the knee pads and helmet to your cyclist as we navigate the twists and turns of progress.
As far as my expertise goes, I helped to start Pretty Knotty LLC – we sell products, including our FIT TIES, and I have a lot of experience in customer service, as well as billable hours for design services.
1. Know Your Role
As The Rock has been known to say in a demeaning way to many WWE wrestlers, it’s important to know where you excel and where you do not. A nicer turn of phrase would be to, “play to your strengths”.
A good example of “play to your strengths” is military veterans who start a landscaping company. Veterans are used to hard physical work and the need for clear and concise leadership, both traits that are needed for the labor and management involved in landscaping.
Jocko Wilinick is a good example of playing to your strengths as a military veteran who started a martial arts gym, a leadership consulting company, and a leadership podcast.
Let me be clear, just because an idea you have for a product or company requires strengths that you may not have does not mean that you should abandon it. Admittedly, if you are not used to hard physical work and don’t have leadership experience, starting a landscaping company by yourself won’t make much sense.
This isn’t saying that you MUST have certain attributes to start a product or services company, just that if you want to succeed, someone on your team should. As an example, I have very little marketing experience and my partner Shelly does not have a lot of product design experience, but in Pretty Knotty we are able to balance each other with both.
It’s also fair to say that many skills can easily be learned through YouTube or similar sites. If you don’t have the skills you need, learn them!
2. Know Your Limits
I know several people who work an 18-hour day, 7 days a week for months on end. My old neighbor would regularly pull an all-nighter every week, without issues. I had a friend in college with a photographic memory. These traits are great, but they are anomalies.
Know your limits, because it is very easy to bite off more than you can chew. I certainly have! For me, if I don’t get at least 6 hours of sleep, I’m not going to function well the next day, let alone the week, if I keep that schedule up. It doesn’t matter how great your idea is if you’re too tired to work on it.
Hubris overtook me and I once tried to interview with a product development company, thinking I could do their job, only to realize that between the two partners they have 50 years of product development experience! I may be able to learn a lot on YouTube, but there’s no video or series of videos that will give me the knowledge of 50 years in business!
It’s not reasonable to assume you will become an expert in any skill overnight, or even in 6 months. If being an expert is essential to your idea, understand it will take some time and cannot be “hacked” by all-nighters and cram sessions.
Let’s say you have an idea for a new pair of jeans, and you’re a great seamstress. You’re not really knowledgeable about retail or manufacturing, and you’re not too enthusiastic about branding. You can either learn these things or you need to find partners to fill those positions; otherwise you’re just a seamstress with an idea, which brings us to…
3. Fill your Gaps with Partners, Not Money
Beware of the trap of filling your personal skill gaps with money, not partners. A friend of mine wanted to make a social media website for sports, but knew very little about social media, a lot about sports, and a tiny bit about marketing. They hired out contractors for many of these things, which got the job done, but only worked as long as there was money flowing in.
Charles in Citizen Kane had been told he was losing a million dollars a year in his newspaper business (et tu Jeff Bezos?) and replied that he would have to “close (the newspaper) in 60 years.”
Most of us are not that lucky. My friend was not, and after a few years of pumping money into their business, it flopped. They had contractors, not partners, so when the money dried up, the business dried up. It is not true 100% of the time, but it’s often the case that business owners will not make money for a while, so while, “There’s nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash,” nothing is less trustworthy than a contractor without a paycheck!
Another important thing that a partner brings to the table is credibility. If you cannot convince one other person that your idea is valid, how are you going to convince an investor, let alone the market? I have been a contractor on projects that were cringe worthy, but as I was getting paid only to produce, it was none of my business to offer suggestions.
That being said, it’s fair to outsource specific paid tasks to others, such as creating a website, making a 3D rendering, and 3D printing a product, but make sure to ask for constructive feedback. I can think of several projects that I have nipped in the bud and saved thousands of dollars from going to waste, because I was given the chance to offer suggestions. In general, when you outsource a job to a paid contractor, it’s most likely unsustainable.
4. Make it Work
As eloquently stated by Tim Gunn of Project Runway and 3M Command Strips, you have to, “Make it work.” But what does that mean, besides having a functional product or service? You have to make the business model work. For a service such as landscaping, you have to offer what the market needs.
If you’re living in an area that’s mostly desert, your landscaping will not involve a lot of evergreen trees or Kentucky bluegrass. If your immediate market is mostly commercial in nature, there will be far fewer complicated floral arrangements or topiaries.
When I think of a good pair of jeans, comfort and fit are on the top of my list. Unless your brand name is JNCO, the market is not looking for a bad-fitting uncomfortable pair of jeans. However, as a devil’s advocate, stores such as Rugged Wearhouse have done well by selling factory rejects; bear in mind though, their prices, perception and therefore profits are much lower, so it’s not a great strategy to start out with.
My grandpa outsourced equipment production overseas for some of his products, and was forced to sell those machines as “factory seconds” because they were manufactured poorly. As Grandmaster Flex said in White Lines, “Da-Da-Da-Da Da Don’t do it, do it, do it!”
5. Become OK with Being Wrong
There’s always one person in your life who will try to convince you that they never make mistakes. That’s their first mistake, nothing is perfect, including your idea. Even Steve Jobs, the oft idolized technology bellwether brought the Lisa and Newton to market, neither of which did well.
Any brand you enjoy, inventor you look up to, or trends you follow, made mistakes. The Dada and Memphis movements in particular, were simply not meant to see the light of day, such as the spirit who possesses young Reagan. All of this to say nothing wonderful in this world has been made without revisions, except yours truly… kidding!
In my sophomore year of Industrial Design, one of my most vivid memories is the story of a doorknob. Our stolid and polished professor pointed to a door, specifically to the doorknob. He told us how this particular doorknob took a year to design to perfection. In a world of just-in-time and “need this yesterday,” a year seemed like an eternity, until I developed a product.
With Pretty Knotty LLC, our hair ties took 5 years to perfect, with many of those edits coming after much hand-wringing and hair-pulling. While there are head-scratchers such as Shannon Bedor’s frozen food line going live in 5 months, there are individuals who have won the lottery 3 times in 1 day, people struck by lightning several times, and other crazy things happening in the world. In other words, immediacy in product development is an exception, not the rule.
My wife echoes the sentiments of many seasoned inventors when she suggested to me that if my idea passed muster in the eyes of someone who wasn’t my fan, it was ready. It could be your neighbor, it could be your moody teenager, it could be your sister in law, there’s probably someone in your life who’s a naysayer. It will take a lot of work to make a naysayer approve, but when an ardent naysayer likes your idea, you’re well on the way.
To button this up, let me offer you a compliment. You, the reader, are already putting effort into starting the right way, by reading Indie Source and this article. Take it from someone who’s brought a product to market, there’s no “perfect” way to get started and no “perfect” path to take. Go forth and turn your idea into a product or service!