One year ago, I was fortunate to be able to take a trip to Snowbird — a ski resort in Utah. The Cliff lodge offers spectacular views of the mountain, and one portion of the hotel has a full 13 story, glass window/wall that displays the eastern segment of the slopes.
I clearly remember enjoying that view one night, full moon above illuminating the rugged Wasatch terrain, wondering what 2012 had in store for me. Things could go in any direction by the time 2013 came around. I could have been getting my MBA, searching for work, have a job in the Boston area, or most likely, I could have ended up working for my uncle’s footwear company in Thailand. In the ideal world, I would be working full-time on Thirst, preparing to begin sales.
Somehow, things turned out as I had hoped they would. Within two weeks of that moment, a potential investor I had been speaking with decided to pull the trigger and inject $50,000. I remember the phone call very well. She drilled me on some serious questions regarding risk, vision, and even some various smaller short-term details. I managed to answer them as best I could, but I really thought that by the end of the call she would say “no thanks.” I was already starting to think “well… where do I go when I hang up the phone? Do I start looking for a job? Is this it?” And then, bam, she told me she was in. We discussed the deal and hung up. The minutes following were much more low-key than I expected it would be. I just sat in my car for a moment trying to wrap my head around the opportunity that just fallen into my lap.
The investment allowed me to do what was necessary for the startup before selling any shoes. My last semester in college was chaotic, in a great way. All of the proper steps with Thirst were being taken, and my consultant kept bringing onboard talented professionals who wanted to be a part of it. Working with these people has been incredible, both in terms of how much they have taught me, and how much their work strengthens Thirst as a company and brand.
School was better than ever. I loved working on Thirst throughout my time at Gordon, but there was always that thought in the back of my head, “What if nothing comes of this and you spent all of these hours on nothing?” I feared regretting my time spent on Thirst, and in my last semester, I felt a great weight fall off my shoulders as I knew that that time was absolutely a wise investment. It was a great spring, and the demands of the startup actually allowed me to relax a bit more, because my work became so much more objective than the never-ending task of business planning and seed-funding outreach. Overall, there is no question that my final semester at Gordon was my best.
Things changed quickly following graduation. The insanity that had ensued from January through May came to an abrupt halt in early June. Everything was ready to go– we just needed the prototypes to launch the site and continue fundraising, forecasting, and ultimately place the order of 10,000 pairs. My consultant had a contact in the Dominican Republic who had said we would have the shoes by April. By June, the shoes still weren’t there. I thought that 2-3 weeks off would be good for me, but in reality, I wanted nothing more than to keep pushing the startup. The producer continued to tell us that they were another week off, but almost ready. By mid July, I was nearly going crazy. I couldn’t enjoy time that I had, as I didn’t feel that the time was earned. In my head it was an unearned vacation, at a point where I was dying to keep the momentum we had been building since January. My consultant had never seen such difficulty in developing protos, and the reality was that they hadn’t even begun them. They told us they didn’t have time, and there we were in mid July with no producer, and no prototypes.
It was a stressful period, but I learned the importance of contracts, adaptability, and responsibility in general. The prototypes were my responsibility and while I had every right to pass the blame through to the producer, that failure was on me. I realized that all shortcomings, missteps or failures from Thirst are my personal responsibility. Learning as you go is the most crucial trait to have as a budding entrepreneur, and it goes far beyond learning day-to-day details of the operation cycle. If you want a great look at where your personal shortcomings are, spend a few years on a startup with no capital and no experience!
In terms of personal reflection, the summer taught me a great deal in terms of dealing with patience and stress management. I thought that I was patient in my 2 years before raising capital. After having a taste of something so great (launching my dream startup), the feeling of it coming to a halt so abruptly is much harder to deal with. I was certainly humbled. And impatient.
I was so tempted to hop a plane to Asia, hire a translator, and go to producers on my own. I am glad that I refrained, as it definitely would have ended up being a waste of time and resources. You need to have a good sourcing agent, amongst other things, if you want to have a shot at finding the right producer as a small footwear startup in todays world.
My uncle was in design, development and manufacturing for Reebok in the ’90s. He now has his own brand that is selling in Thailand and throughout southern Asia. He was able to provide us with some great prototypes, by the end of the summer, things were back on track. It was great to get some meetings together.
We launched the website, which was a lot of fun. Finally I had something to show my friends, as easily 90% of what I have done isn’t for the eyes of my market or consumer. 2012 was a time of preparation, and building a foundation that would support Thirst through infancy, growth, and profitability.
Since then, I have begun posting in the blog occasionally. My work is still more internalized and less blog-worthy than the work I will have in the spring and summer. We’ve continued to develop the team, build relations with producers, and we raised an additional $200,000. The coming months will include more fundraising, a production order (very soon), and the beginning of our outreach campaign. We will also finalize our philanthropic program, which will be very exciting!
Overall, the summer was the most difficult time of the year, as I felt a lack of control over the happenings of the brand. The world of footwear manufacturing is complicated, and if navigated poorly, could kill the startup. It is required for success while it is not necessarily what drives success. It is funny how that works: any part of it could put an end to Thirst, but having every part in place correctly doesn’t mean it will find success. I would argue that the key drivers for success are found in the intangibles… that said, I would also argue that Thirst has all of those intangibles and huge potential for success! It is like a cake and its icing. A cake is still a cake without icing, but the icing is what makes or breaks it. You can decorate it well with bad icing, you can decorate it poorly with good icing, and to take it a step further, all of those inputs that lie on a spectrum of quality. In many industries there are ways in that allow you to skimp on certain parts of your cake, but not in shoes! What we have to do is make a cake out of the best ingredients, that is well decorated by great icing. It is hard to do as a startup, but if you do it right, it will drive your longterm success!
Happy new years! Hope you enjoyed it!