The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 3 years ago

6. Taking Risks in Entrepreneurship w/ Rami Helali

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

This week’s Ivey Entrepreneur podcast features a New Yorker who quit his corporate job and moved to Egypt--all for the sake of the perfect t-shirt.

Guest, Rami Helali shares his experience starting KOTN--an ethically sourced t-shirt company that specializes in using a transparent manufacturing process that meets the highest standards in both ethics and quality. 

He chronicles the hustle, drive, and determination that it took to grow a brand from a backpack and a dream four years ago, to having a strong online presence in addition to several retail stores in multiple countries today.

His insights are applicable to anyone looking to make the jump from employee to entrepreneur and pull it off successfully.

 

You're listening to the Ivy Entrepreneur podcast from the Pierre L Morrissett Institute for Entrepreneurship at the Ivy Business School. In this series, Ivy Entrepreneur and Ivy Faculty member Eric Jansson will anchor the session. You quit your dream job to launch a company in an industry that you have no experience in. You work the hardest you've ever worked in your life to source the product, build the brand and launch the website. And guess what? You actually get sales rolling in on day one. But then, of course you do. They're all from your family and friends. And then day two comes around and crickets. This is how cotton started. Cotton's founder, Romy Hallali, worked in the finance industry and was crushing it, but new his true calling was to be an entrepreneur. This podcast is his story of starting a renowned fashioned brand selling Egyptian cotton teas and partnering with family owned farms and charities in Egypt to do it ethically. Cotton has since grown exponentially in open flagship stores in Toronto and Queen West and in Manhattan's heart of Soho. Romy shares the story of how he left his job with no formal plan for how to start the business, how to quit the right way, how to hire your first employees, and even the exact email, word for word, that he used to get covered by top media outlets like Forbes, vogue, the New York Times, the Huffington Post and Gq. This story of Hustle, learning and growth is inspiring for any entrepreneur, whether you're just starting out and need some motivation or trying to break through that next level of growth. Enjoy this conversation with my good friend Rommi Hilali, the cofounder of cotton. I'm here with Rommi Hilali from cotton, and Romy it's good to finally have you back. Yeah, good to be here, excited to have you. So, for those that may not be as familiar with cotton, I thought it would be helpful if we start off with what is it that you do? Yeah, so cotton is a direct to consumer apparel company. We started online a little over three years ago now. We started with a simple idea that we felt that the everyday essential is kind of the things that we come in contact with in our wardrobe every day, the tea, shirts, the underwear, the kind of repeat items you either had to go designer and pay a lot of money and sometimes the ethics matched, or you have to go kind of HM and kind of throw away clothing. So we just sense that there was a gap there in the market that needed to be addressed. So we started online with a couple of these products and since then we've grown to have for retail locations across Canada, in the US and you know, it's still the majority of our businesses online and and we've been very fortunate to kind of grow in that way. But a big part of what we do is actually how we source it. We are completely transparent ethical supply chain from the second the cotton leaves the ground till the final product. We actually work directly with the farm small holder farms in the Nile Delta in Egypt. Everything we make is made out of Egyptian con we provide direct subsidies and guaranteed prices and kind of work our way through the supply chain with a ethical facilities until we have the final garment. We kind of call it like mid market price, luxury at a mid market price. Awesome. You've done a really good job of telling the story of cotton. I mean it when you look at it on the surface. I remember when you first launched the company, you're thinking t shirt company. How do you how many do we need? How do you differentiate that? But the story and what you actually stand for as a company is a huge differentiator. Yeah, I mean I think, listen, one of the biggest diferentiators for us. I think that the way we approached solving this problem. We are a product of our current generation, I think, and to us it inherently meant that it needed to be what people call ethical, but for us it was kind of the default. So my backgrounds Egyptian, so I kind of quit my job in New York and spent six months in Egypt. Four of those months I was living with a farms to kind of understand what their struggle was and all that type of thing. And and I really think that kind of time spent and that effort spent, I think customers really appreciate the authenticity of...

...our story. The other thing is we have a brilliant and incredible I mean one of my cofounders is incredibly brilliant creative and as a really great way of telling that story and and her entire creative team has been really great at that. But I think the core of it of kind of like it being true and it being I actually think that we kind of understate what we do, but it is part of the DNA of the company and I think that's what people are gravitate towards and kind of are interested in and and a part of the story success. Cool. So part of what we like to do on these podcasts get into some of the details here. So you you know, graze over, I left my job and we started this company and when lived on the first for four months or six months. So Yeah, how talk me through what you were doing before and how did you get this to a point where you were comfortable actually leaving your job just start this thing? So we had nothing done when I left my job. So we didn't we didn't get it to any though. Business Plan really, honestly like kind of just looking back now, quite a naive idea. So I don't know if I'd recommend that for everyone listening, but it worked out for us and it was kind of our story and I'm very thankful that I worked out that way. But so what did you have in the beginning when you first left? Well, honestly, like been my cofounder called me and said, hey, you know like how tshirts are either really expensive and on accessible or kind of like like not made well and and with shoddy ethics, and I was like, yeah, this seems like enough to quit my job bar and ended that and looking back now, I really objectively see how how little that is. But maybe, reflecting now, what I did have is a trust in us as a team's ability and a conviction that I think my gut told us that kind of the way things are made isn't okay and can't be the way things are made in the future. And terms of the ethics and the impact on the environment, I think our gut set it. Even if we at the time, if you'd ask me, I probably couldn't have put it in words. I think our gut told us that there was an opportunity to do something different and kind of innovate on a supply chain and the transparency and kind of ethics there and the way that our business model kind of gives back without us having to kind of have a cee us, our team or whatever it may be, and at the same time, again as a trust in art, my own ability and my partner's ability, and kind of that thing. So when you how did that conversation go? Because you'd been working in your previous role for hollow five year, four in a bit years, for in a bit years, so you were in good role. Kind of you mix of, you said, private equity in entertainment. Yeah, yeah, so really cool role. Yeah, your friend calls you with an idea and you, at the drop of a had decide you want to be an entrepreneur. Listen, I always knew that I want to start my own business. It was always a thing. I mean when I was here at IV, I took as many of those courses as possible, and and and I always, you know, like one of my cofounders been and I always just kind of bounced ideas off each other and they're all terrible. Like looking back now, you know, like I remember one of us, McKenzie, our third cofounder, and Ben's wife, like makes fun of us. Like we were like, Oh, we're gonna start like an online laundry business, like you go like whatever, you drop it off and like it exists now, like do I want to be doing laundry my whole life? Like, probably not. So I always knew I want to start my own business. I think for a while in kind of like my gut, something was boiling that like Hey, this is a dream job. It really was like I had a CEO at the the company I worked at that was like she's one of the most inspirational kind of people that I've been around. She was like so smart and so direct and I respected how she conducted herself and she really liked it, felt like took me under her wing and kind of really taught me and I I had a path to, I think, a lot of success and I was having a lot of success at a young age at the company. But just my gut told me, like you're going to get comfortable and like this feels nice and like likely at a certain point you're it's going to feel too nice to kind of give it up. So for a while kind of was like in my gut that, you know, the time might be coming if I was going to do it, and it just happened to me that that was the idea. Maybe that was kind of thrown out there during that period. The...

...one thing I will say those like I've always known that like the opportunity I was afforded because my parents come over here and immigrating here, as you know, and all that kind of thing. Always knew that, like I wanted to take the things that I've learned, whether or not ivy or and, you know, kind of my community here, and and do what I can to help in where my heritage is from. So I always also had that. But you know, this surprisingly and kind of fashion or retail was the way to kind of bridge all those different things. But it's funny how life shakes out. I mean it's interesting. I couldn't have kind of written this out. Yeah, previously. So spending a lot of time on the quitting part, but because people care about the DDAS, of course. How did that quit conversation go? I think I've had people quit on me. We've had a termining people. There's there's a good way in a bad way to do it. So how did you do it and did you do it the right way? I'm not sure. I think again, I'd have a bias answer, I'm sure, but looking back now, I remember feeling sick to my stomach for about a month before kind of like I was making that decision. kind of I was leaning more and more towards like it happening. I think they had a lot of trust in me and as kind of someone at a company now that has team members, I have a few people, you know, like I get it, like if they left, it would feel like almost a betrayal. I don't know if they felt that way. I can't speak for them. I told them I'd work for as long as they needed me to. I kind of gave him that option. I talked through it. I didn't end up working that long like they you know, cut the transition happened relatively quickly. I remember like not sleeping for a couple days before having to do it. I remember like relative like I'm fortunate to not have to like I don't get nervous in those situations. I remember being extremely nervous because I felt like I was letting down kind of like an older sister and older brother, like kind of a parent figure or whatever it maybe. And you know, I still I catch up with them every once in a while, both the CEO, CEO and CEO of that company, and you know, not as much, you know, in the last year probably as it has, but right after, I mean we still talked for quite a bit. Cool. That's, yeah, helpful to know. I think the details matter. So you easy particlaze over the story. I had this job and I quit and we moved on. And the other thing I want to add here is like I in my head was like if this doesn't work, I'll go traveling, and like I remember going to Egypt and not knowing how long I was going to stay and had a family wedding at the time and that kind of thing. And I remember going like actually, a friend of mine had booked me and a friend of mine who was Ivy classmate of mine, had book six months in South America and I was like, okay, maybe when I'm back I'll do this. And within a week it just kind of like the hooks were in and I just called him and I was like, Dude, sorry, I'm not coming on this trip, and he's like so, I'm going away for six months by myself, like I guess, I guess. So I'm sorry. And I never got a refund for that trip to Argentina actually, man. So yeah, so you gave up that trip in order to start. Yeah, yeah, it was like all like it wasn't like I need to do this. I quit my job and it's like this romantic thing. It really wasn't like that's a lot messier than that. You know, like I think human emotion and how we are wired as a species a lot less clear cut than that. I mean, you know, there's there's so many considerations when you're making these decisions. So I mean, I would say to my like self, and I try to remind myself all the time, it's like, you know, like when you zoom out at all looks like Oh, this happened and then this happened and obviously it worked. Look at all those things that happened, but when you're in it, it's very often not that clear and and and you know, it just happened, you know, and it is sticking to it and kind of like having that belief is kind of the reason, I think, why it happened. Cool, that's helpful. So shifting gears. So now you you quit your job, you're in Egypt. If you can go into the details, what did you do to start it? Because often there's this big, a big intimidating what do I do next? How do I prioritize? Like how did you figure out what needed to get done next? Yeah, so it's really funny. Actually I remember thinking of my head and now it's kind of funny, but I remember think of my head was like how do you ship...

...a thing? Like how do you generate a label? Like I remember that being a question, like how do you create a label like on a for on a commercial level, and like stick them on packages, and how does that Info happen to have to enter my I remember that being a sticking point. For whatever reason, I head like looking back now it's like a two second thing. But anyways, I spent four months of those six months on the ground with the farms. What I did there is like literally, I didn't really know. I knew no farmers, I knew no one who owned a farm. I literally drove, it's about a three and a half hour drive from Cairo and to this first place where we started, in the Nile Delta. It's kind of like where the Nile splits into two in the north of the country and credits like this credibly fertile Delta, which is where a hundred percent of Egyptian cons have grown, and it's it's kind of like how CONNAC can only come from Connyak or champagne from champagne. It's like the salinity in the air mixed with the fertility of the soil because of the nutrients that come from Central Africa through the Nile create this place where like the best Cott in the world can be grown. And I was like I think it. I've heard of Egyptian con let's go figure out what this is. And I literally like this isn't an exaggeration, like park the car, walked on to a farm, like Hey, who owns this place? And like I'd get like weird looks and like get off my property and that kind of thing until like, after doing this a few times, someone was like, Oh, come and I'll talk to you and talk to me through kind of their experience, and that person introduced me one more person and that kind of thing. There's no like easy way to do these things. From my experience is just like it's kind of just hard and you just kind of have to do it and just kind of like most of the days are kind of bad and you know there's like that good day that gives you that energy that you felt like at the beginning that like you know, makes you withstand the next twenty, thirty bad days and then you know another good day. So yeah, I went to the farms understood kind of their struggle. And then from there I was like, I guess what comes after the cotton? I guess yarn. So I went and like Linkedin, like who owns you arn companies? No one on my linkedin when the yarn companies surprised. See, yeah, ask one person who introduced you on another person H or like, you know, forty terrible meetings, and then you meet one kind of like person you're like, Oh, I feel like this person's honest and is going to provide good quality. And then you do a little sample and whatever. And then from yr and I went to fabric. Same thing, and then cutting, so same thing, and all of this I'm trying to convince them to do like two hundred tshirts, which is like that's like sample room stuff. Like they like you're asking me do all this ethical stuff like that. I've never heard about, and it's two hundred t shirt. So that was a real big thing. I remember. I remember taking a weekend. My parents at the time lived or live in dubais. So like I went over there and I was like this really isn't working, blah, Blah Blah, and but dad was like Hey, listening, I'm having lunch with some friends. I'd love to introduce you, and you know how parents like just proud of their kids and whatever, and I remember thinking in my head, I'm like, I really don't want to go, and I was like whatever, I'll just go and at that lunch. And I don't know whatever you call this, but after trying for like months to find a manufacturer, like a cut and so, one of his new friends, he had just moved there. He was like, Oh, I heard you're doing this, like family friend of mine owns a factory. I was like in my head, like this is another one of those things. Call the person, the person that can. I'm actually coming to buy in a day. I'll bring you all the samples you want and I'll do it exactly how you want. And that's how kind of we found the final and kind of one of the more important pieces of that puzzle. Wow, mix of look, what do you call luck meets opportunity or grace, whatever, it is nice. So early days you're getting your butt kicked. You know, is this going to work? Is this idea that am I bad? He all those thoughts. How did you push through that? Like, did you have a when you started? You have a vision for what you wanted it to be? Like? Did you have an idea of what, once you got on the other side of it, what to look forward to? How did you I always like I think we have this habit of going like if I just get there, everything's going to be amazing, and then you get there like no, it's just it's hard, but it's different kind of hard right. So I think the thing that I've learned is like man, I'm so like I feel so fortunate to have the problems that we have. Like I tell I say this to our team all the time, like we get to wake up and solve really hard problems. There, really difficult, but like that's really exciting. Like would you rather just be going to do the same thing over and over again every day? Some people doing that's fine, that's really great. Like, and I don't mean that in a condescending way, but like we all understand what makes us tick and like myself and the people on the team and my partners, like...

I know what makes us tick is like this is really hard and it's like basically impossible. Let's take a shot, you know, like and that's kind of the mentality. So to answer your question do I there wasn't like a thing like I or a status where I thought like if we got there, like everything would be fine, but I did have a vision that, like, I think that we can have profound impact on the ground to these people who, I felt like we're let down by the system and I don't need to get into politics, but whatever, maybe didn't have opportunity. You had a really high literacy rate in the area. You had like a lot more girls than boys that were illiterate and and, you know, going around around like my mother and sister, incredibly brilliant women and motivated and driven, an ambitious and of you know, taught me so much, and seeing that as like Oh, that literally could have been me a generation ago, was a strong motivator. I think all of us at cotton, the entire team, like that's kind of the thing that keeps us going when it gets bad. Like you go visit these schools and you're like, you know, some of these girls, like we prioritize two to one in the schools that we built, girls two boys, and some of these girls, like literally I met lot a year ago and we open the school, didn't could not read a word and like we were there a month ago and I was like they're doing like multiplication on the board and I had to kind of like think about some of the problems and they were going so quick and I was like, Oh damn, like this is a thing like so that you know that, that helps a lot. So so now you mentioned the schools and, just to be explicit, so now you are a part of educating the youth in that region. So maybe cheer a little bit about some of those goals. Yeah, so we what we do is, like we have complete transparency and ethics in our supply chain, with everything along the partners we work with, right, and we make sure of that and hold ourselves accountable by having third party people audited us, like we don't even take our own word for it, like we make sure that other people who are experts come and make sure that we are doing what we say we're doing right, and that's really important. And we give back to these farmers through subsidies and guaranteed prices. Right, we say to them, okay, we're going to at the end of season by it at this much so you have a guaranteed revenue and we're going to decrease your expenses by providing whatever agricultural consultants, fertilize or whatever it may be. So that all goes into our cogs. I mean, I don't think most people put that into their cost of good soul, but we bake that into our actual marchins. Over and above that, for us, our belief is for us to a exists and have an ecosystem in which people are thriving and businesses are thriving and people are treated with the respect. We need to invest now in something that's going to create change in the next generation the one after that. And through their work with the communities, we understood pretty quickly that like a lack of education is a really big problem. Access to early kind of elementary school and early education is a problem. You know, sometimes it closes schools eight colommers away and nose cook car, the kids have to walk to three, our dangerous walk. So we determine, okay, this is what we're doing now and we're going to start building these community schools in the places in which we resource our cotton. And we think of it as not like, Oh, pat us on the back, we're doing such a great thing, but for us to really have anything left probably in a hundred years. I think these are the type of investments that we need to be making as private businesses and not just NGO's and whatever government agencies, whatever they maybe. So how does that investment that you make? You said the investment in the schools is part of cogs. No, so the subsidies of the farms and the guarantee prices part of the cogs. Out Out of all that, two percent of our revenue, minimum is, goes to these programs. Got It? So you decided to present your business model is including the two percent of your revenue goes directly to those more minimum and we haven't. We haven't even gotten close to it's often been more than that, you know. We've we work with an NGO there that helps us, like we fund the build, the Kapacks and the operational expenses, so everything, the teacher salaries, all that kind of thing. But then there's an Edgeo that like specializes with education to run the schools and train the teachers and that kind of thing. So we work and work on needs assessments, so the community and we prioritize which community need is it, and like we prioritize, like there's a lot of work that goes into that, but that all comes from that two percent. We're a B Corp, which the corps. That one of those...

...not only for profit businesses. Yeah, it's like it's called the benefit corporation, like benefit for all that, and it's like, I're actually quite a rigorous audit process to get a B corps. Patagonia as like the most famous be Corp and all that. That was more like, you know, those things are good for consumers who don't want to spend the time researching. That kind of stamp means that someone else has done the research, they've done the work, they've audited, they know that this is true. So that provides that which has been really helpful for us. But yeah, we kind of honestly, we hold ourselves so pretty high standard on that front. It's really what motivates me and and I think the whole team. Cool. So you've gone. You come quite a long way. You launched a business one twenty, yeah, almost four years ago. Now we're fourteen, yeah, for fifteen sixteen. Wow. Okay, so so new two thousand and fourteen, five hundred and sixteen. Yeah, you went from strictly online to you said how many physical retail. So we just we just finished up our one year and Soho in New York and we're moving that to Brooklyn now. But right now we have Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal and probably another five coming in the next eighteen months. Awesome. So I've picked up a few things that you do really well as a brand if you just search cotton kyoten. Yeah, you've done a phenomenal job of storytelling and of press coverage. So how did you get like where did that start? How did you first start to get coverage for cotton? We were talking about this earlier, but I remember we launched and we like post it on. I put it on my facebook. My cofounders did the same. Like go by and like my mom and dad bought and my uncle's and Ben's mom and Mackenzie's mom and everyone bought and as all great and like Oh did six thousand. The first day I'm like, Oh, it's only up from here. In the next sound was like to and like third day I was like couple hundred bucks and then third, fourth, fifth, Sixth Day was just zero dollars. Like no one is googling and at the time it was KOTN DOT COO, like no one's googling that and like no one knows what that is, and I was like Oh, so what now? And I remember having like a moment of panic, like I don't even know what to do, like what comes in x, and I kind of like broke it down. I'm like, okay, well, I need more people to know about this, and the people who are gatekeepers to the house people or press. So how to get press? And then I googled and I found a list that had like, I don't know, a thousand five hundred editors or something like that, or a journalists from like every walk of life, like every type of publication. It was like Fiv Dean box or something like that, and I like buy that and I sent an individual email. Was Not a blast, I remember, because it said like whatever, is the same subject line, and then I tailored each one. Is Like I really enjoyed this article that you wrote and it showed that I like actually thought about it a little bit. And I did a thousand five hundred of those and I still have it in my scent and I go back to those every once in a while and I'm having a bad day and being like at least you don't send a thousand five hundred preass emails today, and I remember I think I got six or seven responses and the first thing that wrote about or publication that wrote it us with a thing called Mike shouts. I don't know if it still exists. Thanks, Mike. Yeah, thanks for cover the shout out, Mike. And then I'd a follow up to every whatever one thousand four hundred and ninety four that und't responded, and then got like a couple more and I think one of the first ones was maybe anchor. You know what was high snowbiety at the time? I can't really remember, but as one of those. And then that got another one, and that was the early days, and I'd literally just like honestly to the toe to probably an annoying point. Was a harassing these editors. Like I wouldn't recommend doing that, but it worked on a few of them. And I remember Tech Crunch, and I won't mention the editor's name because he'd probably so around, but I remember said like Hey, the article goes out tomorrow. I remember being like Oh my God, like at the time tech crunch was like the thing everyone right, I was like, Oh my God, we're about to be so rich, right, and then the next day comes and he didn't post it and I email he's like yeah, I'm sorry, just got caught up. Articles already written hitting published today at three PM. Again nothing and he, the guy, just disappeared and never wrote the articles. I remember like those are such insane highs and lows, but that was how it was done at the beginning and then eventually we hired a PR agency that's like really, really great in the US and does this. But I think you can't like have a bad products with no story and no need...

...for that product didn't expect coverage. I think you either not need to innovate with like the type of product or service, or you have to differentiate. If it's a space that is already quite, you know, busy, you have to have a differentiation and a reason for these people to speak about it and stepping in the editor or the journalist shoes is it really has been effective for me and all of us, I think, as a team, as we think about like why would they talk about this? Like it's a bunch of new colors, like do you want to read about that? I don't really want to read about that. Okay, so the product is a bunch of new colors, right, you know, they don't care how hard it was to get those colors, like they're not in that. But actually, like, I mean this we can speak to like this upcoming we're releasing like kind of like Chinos and woven pants, and that's a huge product release for us. I was like, does any want to care that? There's more Geno's probably not, and then we thought about him were like, oh, but what we are, one of one probably in the world, is like I can tell you we are each individual fiber came from and every single person that touched it and what condition they live in and how much they make and is that enough, and how we're helping. Like we have complete transparency to the actual natural material, which I think is is very unique, and that's what the rhetoric is going to be about. And I mean, we'll see how much press we get about it, but historically that's, you know, compelling story to to kind of tell. So that's these are simple lessons but not easy to grasp fully. But like, if you want to get coverage, have something worth covering. Yeah, and do the work for them and do the work. Yeah, a lot of these news outlets, especially local news, are gutted. There's very few people left and if you can make their work easy, have something worth writing about and make it copy paste if possible. Yes, I have a higher likely that. I literally have like an early press release that I touched that email and I think like the first five articles were literally that release, like and I was a bad press release, like looking back now, like that was bad and I was like, Oh man, these huge publications like really basically ran this. I mean they put in their own flare, each journalist, you know, they put in there like you know lens or whatever may be. But the heart of it, the content, the hard part, is done for them right. Make it easy it. Would you mind sharing what that email subject line was like? I have it here somewhere, because that's a big there's a book on advertising by Obilvie talks about if you don't sell it in your headline, then you've basically wasted your money. So ninety percent of people will read the headline story. Now you're some of people only read the headline and will not read the body copy. So when it comes to email subjects, let's assume the same ratio. That nine out of ten people are never going to read the body, unless the cop unless the so I got it here. This looks like it went to the senior producer at CTV. I guess they're on the list and the subject of the email is I quit my job in New York and lived on cotton farms in Egypt, all for the perfect tea. And that's our sorry. Yeah, I remember thinking like, if I got that email, I'd be like, what is this about? You know at least going to skim it. Yeah, exactly, and then right away I just said acknowledge that they're busy, like hey, I'll keep this brief because I know you're super busy and you get lots of these. Our story includes three New Yorkers, all originally from Toronto, quitting their jobs and a six month journey to Egypt, living on cotton farms and factories, all to create the perfect t shirt and save the Egyptian cotton industry from ex extinction. That's a story, though, you know. Yeah, like, and yeah, I guess early on the instinct said, like, would I open this email? Was the question I would ask myself. And I'm sure this is version five. I'm sure I've sent a few and I remember downloading like one of those things where you could see if they open the email or not, and like using that as like, oh, these are getting open more, I should use this. And I didn't know at the time that was called Ab testing and all the startup jargon, but I remember just inherently understanding like Oh, like, just put them against each other and see which one wins. Cool. So you've been covered in Vogue Forbes, Globe and Mail, New York Times, helping to post gq. A lot of local stuff blocked to you.

...o. How much of that? How many of those came from just you rolling up your sleeves? Our biggest revenue generator from press to this day is a gq article. I got month three and it's the articles titled these are like the White t these are the best white t shirts. Are Like White Tshirt, gq staffer swear by or something like that. So every time people google best white tea, that comes up right at the top and we're like the second one in that article. And that actually remember very, very specifically how that happened. I the journalist was at I want to say ink, and when I emailed him the first blast, he was like Hey, I'm actually leaving next week and moving to Gq, like this actually might be a really great thing. I was like Hey, can I send you a sample right away? Respond like within two seconds. He's like yeah, sure, he's my address and I sent it and I guess this guy moved before it got to him. And it's like three months later this guy went back because he figured that there might be packages waiting for it as old building and this was one of them and he opened it. Is Oh my God, this thing emailed me. was like hey, like there's a gq thing coming out tomorrow, and I remember just seeing like our revenue just like really really go I don't know how much we've made off that article, like that specifics mention, but it's like it could be six figures, like I don't know, but it's it's one of our top prefers. And this is like four years in. This is from old school rolls. was like three months and yeah, like just blasting and kind of like going back and circling back and like trying to be like empathetic and saying, like I know I'm being annoying, like I re Im really sorry and like but like I really care about this and this is something that's like really important story. Not, sorry, yeah, that kind of thing do. The Nice Canadian were always so you've had some pretty notable success. This is I mean you've got for retail locations, the online business is taking off. There's a other project that you folks are working on a different space. It's very interesting. What of your keys to success been so far? Tough to boil it down, but if there is there anything that, like, you can say these few things we did really well. I think we're really quick learners. I think like the team like that we've put together is like super quick. Like will make a mistake, but we won't make it again, and like we're quite good at that, at pinpointing what went wrong and making sure that's ingrained and all of us that that mistake can happen again. That's one thing. The other thing is, like, honestly, and I don't know if this sounds cheesy, I can't tell, but like the team that we have is the reason for the company success. And and I mean that in the founding team, but also like the first kind of like five to ten employees. Like, honestly, I they all treat the company like owners, because they are and you know, like I just feel incredibly fortunate, tough, like these driven, motivated, much smarter than I am, people kind of all working towards the same thing. So find those people. Early on and our very first employee applied for an internship and I remember glancing over the resumecing now, this won't work and kind of like passing it off and my cofounder looked at it and I was while I was away in Egypt, hired her and to this day she's like she was in playing number one and to this day, you know, a huge, huge part of our success. And and same thing with our first creative hire, same thing with like the list goes on. So find those people. Be Like for us, key success was learning quickly and then, I think just generally, you just got to stick with it just hard, like it just is hard, and like we kept thinking like this is the silver bullet, we just turn this corner and then like all of a sudden, like the millions come in with no additional effort and this is it, like your problem is just change, like the current challenge just goes from like, okay, I used to literally there used to be a storage locker where we like had the t shirts and I'd go from my house, like it was kind of depressing, to be honest. Some days, like just with a backpack and it's like raining and I just like put like to tshirts that were ordered in the backpack and go and like mail them me, and you don't like that can be depressing and like I still kind of remember how...

...the stores Walker Smelt, like that sticks out in my mind. But, you know, that seemed like the hardest thing ever. And then now, like we have teams across multiple countries, continent, cities, and like managing that and like realizing that like know, like they entrust you to help lead and help kind of guide the course, and that trust is like it's kind of scary, like to be completely frank, like some days, you know things might not be going well or like the pank account might be looking a little light and whatever. Maybe and fundraising is going a little difficult and you're like, and I really hope I'm never put in that position where I like feel like you've failed those people. So just knowing that it's going to be hard and I wish like I could go back and just back. It's always going to be kind of difficult one way or another, and just getting better at at kind of of reacting or not reacting often to these things really is the kind of key success thing. It's like if you can just get better like at you know, you put in the work, you can try to mitigate the risks, you can try to do all these things, but things happen in the way that they happen and it's your job to react and and look at it and be able to zoom out and go, okay, what does this mean for us, and that kind of thing. I mean, fortunately we haven't had to kind of call it quits or anything like that, but just the ability to kind of reflect and kind of the interpersonal growth. Cool. How do you find those people? So no doubt you need to find great people and a lot of people who have had measure of success or saying it's the team, quick to give credit to the team. How did instead of generally, how can you? How did you? How did you find those people? I don't know. I honestly don't have an answer for that. I think about this because we're at the point now we're hiring more and more people. My how do I make this a repeatable process. I guess this is where I've this is where I'm at now in this journey for that answer. I think doing things in the way that you want to be want it to be done will attract the same kind of people. So if you are doing things terribly and not being honest and all those types things, you're probably going to attract those types of people. And on the other hand, if if it's truly what you care about and it's baked in the DNA of the company, and I think people can sense that, I think we have attracted those types of people. So, yeah, we put out job postings in those types of things and, you know, university websites for reason grads or, you know, a little more active recruiting for nonrecent like more senior positions and and that kind of thing. But I don't know that we figured it out perfectly. I think we my cofounder bends quite good at the interview process, like setting up process that kind of like weeds out and you get the right people that have the right attitude and optitude and then it becomes kind of like a gut thing and kind of asking the right questions. I mean in my roles CEO I kind of come in if it's not directly under one of my teams, like I'll come in at the end and when there's a couple candidates and kind of have just a conversation, often not about anything technical. I've had. You know, I have an instinct where I feel comfortable and I see like Oh, this, this person, I think is aligned in values and an aligned and kind of what they're north star is, and that's kind of what we look for. Cool something I haven't tried yet, but since a lot of the people that we have on the show are still in the middle of their journeys, you've had, by a many accounts, some good successes, but you're still working on growing the company. So what are your priorities right now? What are you working on? What's top of mine? So we have you alluded to this, but we have a new business division, kind of a I think you call it a plan be, a business that's come out of our original business that we're quite excited about, and I can, you know, quickly touch on that. We had a bunch of these kind of companies that had similar mindsets, or the people running those company had similar mindset to our kind of be like business, BDC kind of consumer and they went Oh, you know, like we really like the quality of these t shirts, the ethics behind it and the price point. Can we use it to like print our logos and whatever it is? And we had say no a lot at the beginning because we're like okay, well, like it doesn't help the brand and all that, and then we're like, oh wait, this is a might be a big business. We look into it's actually a twenty eight billion dollar business and it's all this stuff and we're quite excited about and we're going after the opportunity now. So I'm spending a lot of time now, and we were having a chat before this...

...and I was kind of picking your brain on and how to set up a sales process and kind of think through it. And I mean we you said there is like you just got to roll up your slyve and do it again right, like you gotta get into it and figure out what the customer is really liking and what is attractive to the customer, what isn't, why you've won the customers you have and why you haven't. So I'm going to be spending a lot of time doing that. I spend quite a bit of time fundraising. I think your face of the choice early on. Either be patient, and I think that's a really great way to be be patient. Know that the business might take ten, fifteen years to build and that's still not that long on the grand scheme of things, or if, for it there is a business reason. I think this is the advice I would give. If there's a reason for the viability of your enterprise to go fast, then you start becoming a bit dependent on outside capital, which provides its own risks. are kind of presents its own risks. So I guess yeah, I spend a lot of time fundraising right now because we believe that this, one of the spaces that we're going after, is going to be one in the next few years and we need to be we believe that we are the people to do that. So we're kind of running to do that. And then organizational design, I guess cool. So something that again relatively new podcast people in the middle of their journey. This is going to go out to a lot of alumni, a lot of people in the entrepreneurship community. So if there's any request that you have of the community, it would be right now you're fundraising yeah, I mean I think it's we haven't done like big structured announce rounds. We never announce how much we raise. Like I just kind of I never really I get it from a recruiting perspective. So like if you say we've raised eighty million dollars, you might get higher tent that want more security. I get that. Otherwise I kind of feel like it's an ego contest that I don't really want to be a part of. Sometimes not everyone, but sometimes it can be. So we have an announced raise in that kind of think. We actually kind of like don't do these big structure rounds. We kind of like find the right partners that are aligned both timeline and kind of where the North Star of the company is and share the vision and we kind of taken the checks as they come in based on alignment rather than like doing these bigges structure round. I'm sure we're going to have to do a large structured round in the near future. But yes, we are. We are fundraising. Okay, so if people are interested, they get in touch with you that for that reason and then on your call it not doing it justice, but the white labeled side on the emotional so the business if there are any. It sounds like you're serving primarily companies in the fifty two fifty for typically using he's some other buil dinner, whoever, maybe like low quality that's marked up because of like kind of the supply chain howsing how it exists right now. So you know, it's often kind of the newer age companies, you know, the digitally native or kind of like those types of companies have so far been our most frequent customers by fifty two fifty, kind of Toronto, New York, San Fran is how it's been. So so next time you're putting on an event or need company t shirts made, actually consider actually ordinary supply or nice supply. So the two companies. They find cotton online. Best Way to find you, guys, just cottoncom or just at Kot on on instagram or Kot oncom and ordinary supply. Same thing. Ordinary supplycom or at ordinary supply on instagram. Perfect. And if someone were to reach out and had some way to help you, best way just through the website and it'll find its way to you. Yeah, I'll find its way. There's a general I think, email hello at Cottoncom and and those are directed the right way. The other thing is we're hiring on a few different areas, both like operations, kind of sales, and a few different places, both on the cotton and ordinary supply side. So maybe check out our careers page. Perfect. Yeah, for I'd love to do a follow up episode where we get to talk about you know, somebody had heard the podcast and that led to your next handful of customers for ordinary supply or next BRO. Is there anything, any advice that you'd give? Is My last question. Any advice you'd give your twenty year old self? So often the the students that are in the school, many of them are around twenty, twenty five years of age, many of them taking entrepreneurial classes. Is there anything that you're thinking, man, I wish I would have learned this...

...earlier, or advice that you would give to Rummi sitting in those seats so many years? I think I'd say perspective is everything. In perspective and how you internalize, with the filter in which you you deal with the events is everything. I've learned that things are going to go wrong, things are going to go well. You have x percent control, whatever that may be. Our different people believe different percentages, but whatever that may be, and there's a maxim amount of effort you can put in, and everything else is purely perspective. A mistake can be oh my God, this is a disaster or could be like I'm never going to do that again, which is actually so valuable. Like when we go through and try to figure out which channel works, like I want channels to fail so that I know and I can peace of mind sat that will never work. I'm done spending one percent brain power there. So I think that perspective is really important. The other thing is, like focus is really difficult and there's a lot of opportunities that I can to present themselves when you're going through the path and learning how to say no is super, supervaluble. It's been really great for us. So you can say heck ye out of the things that actually exactly since we've needle this has been awesome. I hope people get some value out of this session and it's fantastic to have you in and tell your story. Thank you. appreciated. You've been listening to the Ivy Entrepreneur podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Or a visit IV dot C, a forward slash entrepreneurship. Thank you so much for listening, until next time,.

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