The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 2 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 podcastfrom the Pierre L Morrissett Institute for Entrepreneurship at the Ivy Business School. Inthis 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 youhave no experience in. You work the hardest you've ever worked in your lifeto source the product, build the brand and launch the website. And guesswhat? You actually get sales rolling in on day one. But then,of course you do. They're all from your family and friends. And thenday two comes around and crickets. This is how cotton started. Cotton's founder, Romy Hallali, worked in the finance industry and was crushing it, butnew his true calling was to be an entrepreneur. This podcast is his storyof starting a renowned fashioned brand selling Egyptian cotton teas and partnering with family ownedfarms and charities in Egypt to do it ethically. Cotton has since grown exponentiallyin 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 planfor how to start the business, how to quit the right way, howto 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 ofHustle, learning and growth is inspiring for any entrepreneur, whether you're just startingout 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 haveyou back. Yeah, good to be here, excited to have you. So, for those that may not be as familiar with cotton, Ithought it would be helpful if we start off with what is it that youdo? Yeah, so cotton is a direct to consumer apparel company. Westarted online a little over three years ago now. We started with a simpleidea that we felt that the everyday essential is kind of the things that wecome in contact with in our wardrobe every day, the tea, shirts,the underwear, the kind of repeat items you either had to go designer andpay a lot of money and sometimes the ethics matched, or you have togo kind of HM and kind of throw away clothing. So we just sensethat 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 grownto 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 tokind of grow in that way. But a big part of what we dois actually how we source it. We are completely transparent ethical supply chain fromthe second the cotton leaves the ground till the final product. We actually workdirectly with the farm small holder farms in the Nile Delta in Egypt. Everythingwe make is made out of Egyptian con we provide direct subsidies and guaranteed pricesand kind of work our way through the supply chain with a ethical facilities untilwe 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 goodjob of telling the story of cotton. I mean it when you look atit on the surface. I remember when you first launched the company, you'rethinking t shirt company. How do you how many do we need? Howdo you differentiate that? But the story and what you actually stand for asa company is a huge differentiator. Yeah, I mean I think, listen,one of the biggest diferentiators for us. I think that the way we approachedsolving this problem. We are a product of our current generation, Ithink, and to us it inherently meant that it needed to be what peoplecall ethical, but for us it was kind of the default. So mybackgrounds Egyptian, so I kind of quit my job in New York and spentsix months in Egypt. Four of those months I was living with a farmsto 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 iswe have a brilliant and incredible I mean one of my cofounders is incredibly brilliantcreative and as a really great way of telling that story and and her entirecreative team has been really great at that. But I think the core of itof kind of like it being true and it being I actually think thatwe kind of understate what we do, but it is part of the DNAof the company and I think that's what people are gravitate towards and kind ofare interested in and and a part of the story success. Cool. Sopart of what we like to do on these podcasts get into some of thedetails here. So you you know, graze over, I left my joband we started this company and when lived on the first for four months orsix months. So Yeah, how talk me through what you were doing beforeand how did you get this to a point where you were comfortable actually leavingyour job just start this thing? So we had nothing done when I leftmy job. So we didn't we didn't get it to any though. BusinessPlan really, honestly like kind of just looking back now, quite a naiveidea. So I don't know if I'd recommend that for everyone listening, butit worked out for us and it was kind of our story and I'm verythankful that I worked out that way. But so what did you have inthe beginning when you first left? Well, honestly, like been my cofounder calledme and said, hey, you know like how tshirts are either reallyexpensive and on accessible or kind of like like not made well and and withshoddy ethics, and I was like, yeah, this seems like enough toquit my job bar and ended that and looking back now, I really objectivelysee how how little that is. But maybe, reflecting now, what Idid have is a trust in us as a team's ability and a conviction thatI think my gut told us that kind of the way things are made isn'tokay and can't be the way things are made in the future. And termsof the ethics and the impact on the environment, I think our gut setit. Even if we at the time, if you'd ask me, I probablycouldn't have put it in words. I think our gut told us thatthere was an opportunity to do something different and kind of innovate on a supplychain and the transparency and kind of ethics there and the way that our businessmodel 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, againas 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 ina bit years, for in a bit years, so you were in goodrole. Kind of you mix of, you said, private equity in entertainment. Yeah, yeah, so really cool role. Yeah, your friend callsyou with an idea and you, at the drop of a had decide youwant to be an entrepreneur. Listen, I always knew that I want tostart my own business. It was always a thing. I mean when Iwas 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 andI 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 ofus. Like we were like, Oh, we're gonna start like an online laundrybusiness, like you go like whatever, you drop it off and like itexists now, like do I want to be doing laundry my whole life? Like, probably not. So I always knew I want to start myown business. I think for a while in kind of like my gut,something was boiling that like Hey, this is a dream job. It reallywas like I had a CEO at the the company I worked at that waslike 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 herselfand she really liked it, felt like took me under her wing and kindof 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 youngage at the company. But just my gut told me, like you're goingto get comfortable and like this feels nice and like likely at a certain pointyou're it's going to feel too nice to kind of give it up. Sofor 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 itjust happened to me that that was the idea. Maybe that was kind ofthrown out there during that period. The...

...one thing I will say those likeI've always known that like the opportunity I was afforded because my parents come overhere 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 communityhere, and and do what I can to help in where my heritage isfrom. So I always also had that. But you know, this surprisingly andkind of fashion or retail was the way to kind of bridge all thosedifferent 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. Sospending a lot of time on the quitting part, but because people care aboutthe DDAS, of course. How did that quit conversation go? I thinkI've had people quit on me. We've had a termining people. There's there'sa good way in a bad way to do it. So how did youdo 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 lookingback now, I remember feeling sick to my stomach for about a month beforekind of like I was making that decision. kind of I was leaning more andmore towards like it happening. I think they had a lot of trustin 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'tknow if they felt that way. I can't speak for them. I toldthem I'd work for as long as they needed me to. I kind ofgave him that option. I talked through it. I didn't end up workingthat long like they you know, cut the transition happened relatively quickly. Iremember like not sleeping for a couple days before having to do it. Iremember like relative like I'm fortunate to not have to like I don't get nervousin those situations. I remember being extremely nervous because I felt like I wasletting down kind of like an older sister and older brother, like kind ofa parent figure or whatever it maybe. And you know, I still Icatch up with them every once in a while, both the CEO, CEOand CEO of that company, and you know, not as much, youknow, 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 particlazeover 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 myhead was like if this doesn't work, I'll go traveling, and like Iremember going to Egypt and not knowing how long I was going to stay andhad a family wedding at the time and that kind of thing. And Iremember going like actually, a friend of mine had booked me and a friendof mine who was Ivy classmate of mine, had book six months in South Americaand 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 andI just called him and I was like, Dude, sorry, I'm not comingon this trip, and he's like so, I'm going away for sixmonths 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 dothis. I quit my job and it's like this romantic thing. It reallywasn't like that's a lot messier than that. You know, like I think humanemotion and how we are wired as a species a lot less clear cutthan that. I mean, you know, there's there's so many considerations when you'remaking 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, thishappened and then this happened and obviously it worked. Look at all those thingsthat happened, but when you're in it, it's very often not that clear andand and you know, it just happened, you know, and itis sticking to it and kind of like having that belief is kind of thereason, I think, why it happened. Cool, that's helpful. So shiftinggears. 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 toget done next? Yeah, so it's really funny. Actually I remember thinkingof my head and now it's kind of funny, but I remember think ofmy head was like how do you ship...

...a thing? Like how do yougenerate a label? Like I remember that being a question, like how doyou create a label like on a for on a commercial level, and likestick them on packages, and how does that Info happen to have to entermy I remember that being a sticking point. For whatever reason, I head likelooking back now it's like a two second thing. But anyways, Ispent four months of those six months on the ground with the farms. WhatI did there is like literally, I didn't really know. I knew nofarmers, 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 firstplace where we started, in the Nile Delta. It's kind of like wherethe Nile splits into two in the north of the country and credits like thiscredibly 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 orchampagne from champagne. It's like the salinity in the air mixed with the fertilityof the soil because of the nutrients that come from Central Africa through the Nilecreate 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 gofigure out what this is. And I literally like this isn't an exaggeration,like park the car, walked on to a farm, like Hey, whoowns this place? And like I'd get like weird looks and like get offmy property and that kind of thing until like, after doing this a fewtimes, someone was like, Oh, come and I'll talk to you andtalk to me through kind of their experience, and that person introduced me one moreperson and that kind of thing. There's no like easy way to dothese things. From my experience is just like it's kind of just hard andyou just kind of have to do it and just kind of like most ofthe days are kind of bad and you know there's like that good day thatgives 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 knowanother good day. So yeah, I went to the farms understood kind oftheir struggle. And then from there I was like, I guess what comesafter the cotton? I guess yarn. So I went and like Linkedin,like who owns you arn companies? No one on my linkedin when the yarncompanies surprised. See, yeah, ask one person who introduced you on anotherperson H or like, you know, forty terrible meetings, and then youmeet one kind of like person you're like, Oh, I feel like this person'shonest and is going to provide good quality. And then you do alittle sample and whatever. And then from yr and I went to fabric.Same thing, and then cutting, so same thing, and all of thisI'm trying to convince them to do like two hundred tshirts, which is likethat's like sample room stuff. Like they like you're asking me do all thisethical stuff like that. I've never heard about, and it's two hundred tshirt. So that was a real big thing. I remember. I remembertaking 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'mhaving lunch with some friends. I'd love to introduce you, and you knowhow parents like just proud of their kids and whatever, and I remember thinkingin my head, I'm like, I really don't want to go, andI was like whatever, I'll just go and at that lunch. And Idon't know whatever you call this, but after trying for like months to finda manufacturer, like a cut and so, one of his new friends, hehad just moved there. He was like, Oh, I heard you'redoing this, like family friend of mine owns a factory. I was likein my head, like this is another one of those things. Call theperson, 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 howyou want. And that's how kind of we found the final and kind ofone of the more important pieces of that puzzle. Wow, mix of look, what do you call luck meets opportunity or grace, whatever, it isnice. So early days you're getting your butt kicked. You know, isthis going to work? Is this idea that am I bad? He allthose thoughts. How did you push through that? Like, did you havea when you started? You have a vision for what you wanted it tobe? Like? Did you have an idea of what, once you goton the other side of it, what to look forward to? How didyou I always like I think we have this habit of going like if Ijust get there, everything's going to be amazing, and then you get therelike 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 solike I feel so fortunate to have the problems that we have. Like Itell I say this to our team all the time, like we get towake up and solve really hard problems. There, really difficult, but likethat's really exciting. Like would you rather just be going to do the samething over and over again every day? Some people doing that's fine, that'sreally 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 peopleon the team and my partners, like...

I know what makes us tick islike 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 answeryour question do I there wasn't like a thing like I or a status whereI thought like if we got there, like everything would be fine, butI did have a vision that, like, I think that we can have profoundimpact on the ground to these people who, I felt like we're letdown 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 thearea. You had like a lot more girls than boys that were illiterate andand, you know, going around around like my mother and sister, incrediblybrilliant women and motivated and driven, an ambitious and of you know, taughtme so much, and seeing that as like Oh, that literally could havebeen me a generation ago, was a strong motivator. I think all ofus at cotton, the entire team, like that's kind of the thing thatkeeps us going when it gets bad. Like you go visit these schools andyou're like, you know, some of these girls, like we prioritize twoto one in the schools that we built, girls two boys, and some ofthese girls, like literally I met lot a year ago and we openthe school, didn't could not read a word and like we were there amonth ago and I was like they're doing like multiplication on the board and Ihad to kind of like think about some of the problems and they were goingso quick and I was like, Oh damn, like this is a thinglike so that you know that, that helps a lot. So so nowyou mentioned the schools and, just to be explicit, so now you area part of educating the youth in that region. So maybe cheer a littlebit about some of those goals. Yeah, so we what we do is,like we have complete transparency and ethics in our supply chain, with everythingalong the partners we work with, right, and we make sure of that andhold ourselves accountable by having third party people audited us, like we don'teven take our own word for it, like we make sure that other peoplewho are experts come and make sure that we are doing what we say we'redoing right, and that's really important. And we give back to these farmersthrough 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 youhave a guaranteed revenue and we're going to decrease your expenses by providing whatever agriculturalconsultants, 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 costof good soul, but we bake that into our actual marchins. Over andabove that, for us, our belief is for us to a exists andhave an ecosystem in which people are thriving and businesses are thriving and people aretreated with the respect. We need to invest now in something that's going tocreate change in the next generation the one after that. And through their workwith the communities, we understood pretty quickly that like a lack of education isa really big problem. Access to early kind of elementary school and early educationis a problem. You know, sometimes it closes schools eight colommers away andnose 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'regoing to start building these community schools in the places in which we resource ourcotton. And we think of it as not like, Oh, pat uson the back, we're doing such a great thing, but for us toreally have anything left probably in a hundred years. I think these are thetype of investments that we need to be making as private businesses and not justNGO's and whatever government agencies, whatever they maybe. So how does that investmentthat 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 ofthe cogs. Out Out of all that, two percent of our revenue, minimumis, goes to these programs. Got It? So you decided topresent your business model is including the two percent of your revenue goes directly tothose more minimum and we haven't. We haven't even gotten close to it's oftenbeen more than that, you know. We've we work with an NGO therethat helps us, like we fund the build, the Kapacks and the operationalexpenses, so everything, the teacher salaries, all that kind of thing. Butthen there's an Edgeo that like specializes with education to run the schools andtrain the teachers and that kind of thing. So we work and work on needsassessments, 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, andit's like, I're actually quite a rigorous audit process to get a Bcorps. Patagonia as like the most famous be Corp and all that. Thatwas more like, you know, those things are good for consumers who don'twant to spend the time researching. That kind of stamp means that someone elsehas done the research, they've done the work, they've audited, they knowthat this is true. So that provides that which has been really helpful forus. But yeah, we kind of honestly, we hold ourselves so prettyhigh standard on that front. It's really what motivates me and and I thinkthe whole team. Cool. So you've gone. You come quite a longway. 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 wejust we just finished up our one year and Soho in New York and we'removing that to Brooklyn now. But right now we have Toronto, Vancouver andMontreal and probably another five coming in the next eighteen months. Awesome. SoI've picked up a few things that you do really well as a brand ifyou just search cotton kyoten. Yeah, you've done a phenomenal job of storytellingand 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 talkingabout this earlier, but I remember we launched and we like post it on. I put it on my facebook. My cofounders did the same. Likego by and like my mom and dad bought and my uncle's and Ben's momand Mackenzie's mom and everyone bought and as all great and like Oh did sixthousand. 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 likecouple hundred bucks and then third, fourth, fifth, Sixth Day was just zerodollars. Like no one is googling and at the time it was KOTNDOT COO, like no one's googling that and like no one knows what thatis, and I was like Oh, so what now? And I rememberhaving 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 aboutthis, 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 listthat had like, I don't know, a thousand five hundred editors or somethinglike that, or a journalists from like every walk of life, like everytype 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 ablast, I remember, because it said like whatever, is the same subjectline, and then I tailored each one. Is Like I really enjoyed this articlethat you wrote and it showed that I like actually thought about it alittle bit. And I did a thousand five hundred of those and I stillhave it in my scent and I go back to those every once in awhile and I'm having a bad day and being like at least you don't senda thousand five hundred preass emails today, and I remember I think I gotsix or seven responses and the first thing that wrote about or publication that wroteit 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 hundredand ninety four that und't responded, and then got like a couple more andI think one of the first ones was maybe anchor. You know what washigh snowbiety at the time? I can't really remember, but as one ofthose. 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, butit worked on a few of them. And I remember Tech Crunch, andI won't mention the editor's name because he'd probably so around, but I remembersaid like Hey, the article goes out tomorrow. I remember being like Ohmy 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 andI email he's like yeah, I'm sorry, just got caught up. Articles alreadywritten hitting published today at three PM. Again nothing and he, the guy, just disappeared and never wrote the articles. I remember like those aresuch insane highs and lows, but that was how it was done at thebeginning and then eventually we hired a PR agency that's like really, really greatin the US and does this. But I think you can't like have abad 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 orservice, or you have to differentiate. If it's a space that is alreadyquite, you know, busy, you have to have a differentiation and areason for these people to speak about it and stepping in the editor or thejournalist 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 theytalk about this? Like it's a bunch of new colors, like do youwant to read about that? I don't really want to read about that.Okay, so the product is a bunch of new colors, right, youknow, they don't care how hard it was to get those colors, likethey're not in that. But actually, like, I mean this we canspeak 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, doesany want to care that? There's more Geno's probably not, and then wethought about him were like, oh, but what we are, one ofone probably in the world, is like I can tell you we are eachindividual fiber came from and every single person that touched it and what condition theylive in and how much they make and is that enough, and how we'rehelping. Like we have complete transparency to the actual natural material, which Ithink is is very unique, and that's what the rhetoric is going to beabout. 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. Butlike, if you want to get coverage, have something worth covering. Yeah,and do the work for them and do the work. Yeah, alot of these news outlets, especially local news, are gutted. There's veryfew people left and if you can make their work easy, have something worthwriting about and make it copy paste if possible. Yes, I have ahigher likely that. I literally have like an early press release that I touchedthat 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 thatwas bad and I was like, Oh man, these huge publications likereally basically ran this. I mean they put in their own flare, eachjournalist, you know, they put in there like you know lens or whatevermay be. But the heart of it, the content, the hard part,is done for them right. Make it easy it. Would you mindsharing what that email subject line was like? I have it here somewhere, becausethat's a big there's a book on advertising by Obilvie talks about if youdon't sell it in your headline, then you've basically wasted your money. Soninety percent of people will read the headline story. Now you're some of peopleonly read the headline and will not read the body copy. So when itcomes to email subjects, let's assume the same ratio. That nine out often people are never going to read the body, unless the cop unless theso I got it here. This looks like it went to the senior producerat CTV. I guess they're on the list and the subject of the emailis 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, Iremember thinking like, if I got that email, I'd be like, whatis this about? You know at least going to skim it. Yeah,exactly, and then right away I just said acknowledge that they're busy, likehey, I'll keep this brief because I know you're super busy and you getlots of these. Our story includes three New Yorkers, all originally from Toronto, quitting their jobs and a six month journey to Egypt, living on cottonfarms and factories, all to create the perfect t shirt and save the Egyptiancotton 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 andI remember downloading like one of those things where you could see if theyopen the email or not, and like using that as like, oh,these are getting open more, I should use this. And I didn't knowat the time that was called Ab testing and all the startup jargon, butI remember just inherently understanding like Oh, like, just put them against eachother 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? Ourbiggest revenue generator from press to this day is a gq article. I gotmonth three and it's the articles titled these are like the White t these arethe best white t shirts. Are Like White Tshirt, gq staffer swear byor something like that. So every time people google best white tea, thatcomes 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 thejournalist was at I want to say ink, and when I emailed him the firstblast, he was like Hey, I'm actually leaving next week and movingto Gq, like this actually might be a really great thing. I waslike Hey, can I send you a sample right away? Respond like withintwo seconds. He's like yeah, sure, he's my address and I sent itand I guess this guy moved before it got to him. And it'slike three months later this guy went back because he figured that there might bepackages waiting for it as old building and this was one of them and heopened it. Is Oh my God, this thing emailed me. was likehey, like there's a gq thing coming out tomorrow, and I remember justseeing like our revenue just like really really go I don't know how much we'vemade off that article, like that specifics mention, but it's like it couldbe six figures, like I don't know, but it's it's one of our topprefers. And this is like four years in. This is from oldschool rolls. was like three months and yeah, like just blasting and kindof like going back and circling back and like trying to be like empathetic andsaying, like I know I'm being annoying, like I re Im really sorry andlike but like I really care about this and this is something that's likereally important story. Not, sorry, yeah, that kind of thing do. The Nice Canadian were always so you've had some pretty notable success. Thisis 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? Toughto 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 reallyquick learners. I think like the team like that we've put together is likesuper 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 makingsure 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'tknow if this sounds cheesy, I can't tell, but like the teamthat we have is the reason for the company success. And and I meanthat in the founding team, but also like the first kind of like fiveto ten employees. Like, honestly, I they all treat the company likeowners, because they are and you know, like I just feel incredibly fortunate,tough, like these driven, motivated, much smarter than I am, peoplekind 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 glancingover the resumecing now, this won't work and kind of like passing it offand 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 oneand to this day, you know, a huge, huge part of oursuccess. And and same thing with our first creative hire, same thing withlike the list goes on. So find those people. Be Like for us, key success was learning quickly and then, I think just generally, you justgot to stick with it just hard, like it just is hard, andlike we kept thinking like this is the silver bullet, we just turnthis corner and then like all of a sudden, like the millions come inwith no additional effort and this is it, like your problem is just change,like the current challenge just goes from like, okay, I used toliterally there used to be a storage locker where we like had the t shirtsand I'd go from my house, like it was kind of depressing, tobe honest. Some days, like just with a backpack and it's like rainingand I just like put like to tshirts that were ordered in the backpack andgo and like mail them me, and you don't like that can be depressingand like I still kind of remember how...

...the stores Walker Smelt, like thatsticks out in my mind. But, you know, that seemed like thehardest 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 completelyfrank, like some days, you know things might not be going well orlike the pank account might be looking a little light and whatever. Maybe andfundraising is going a little difficult and you're like, and I really hope I'mnever 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 couldgo back and just back. It's always going to be kind of difficult oneway or another, and just getting better at at kind of of reacting ornot 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 putin the work, you can try to mitigate the risks, you can tryto do all these things, but things happen in the way that they happenand it's your job to react and and look at it and be able tozoom out and go, okay, what does this mean for us, andthat kind of thing. I mean, fortunately we haven't had to kind ofcall it quits or anything like that, but just the ability to kind ofreflect and kind of the interpersonal growth. Cool. How do you find thosepeople? So no doubt you need to find great people and a lot ofpeople who have had measure of success or saying it's the team, quick togive 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 becausewe're at the point now we're hiring more and more people. My how doI make this a repeatable process. I guess this is where I've this iswhere I'm at now in this journey for that answer. I think doing thingsin the way that you want to be want it to be done will attractthe same kind of people. So if you are doing things terribly and notbeing honest and all those types things, you're probably going to attract those typesof people. And on the other hand, if if it's truly what you careabout and it's baked in the DNA of the company, and I thinkpeople 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, alittle more active recruiting for nonrecent like more senior positions and and that kind ofthing. But I don't know that we figured it out perfectly. I thinkwe my cofounder bends quite good at the interview process, like setting up processthat kind of like weeds out and you get the right people that have theright attitude and optitude and then it becomes kind of like a gut thing andkind of asking the right questions. I mean in my roles CEO I kindof come in if it's not directly under one of my teams, like I'llcome in at the end and when there's a couple candidates and kind of havejust 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 andkind of what they're north star is, and that's kind of what we lookfor. Cool something I haven't tried yet, but since a lot of the peoplethat 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 stillworking on growing the company. So what are your priorities right now?What are you working on? What's top of mine? So we have youalluded to this, but we have a new business division, kind of aI think you call it a plan be, a business that's come out of ouroriginal business that we're quite excited about, and I can, you know,quickly touch on that. We had a bunch of these kind of companiesthat had similar mindsets, or the people running those company had similar mindset toour 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 printour logos and whatever it is? And we had say no a lotat the beginning because we're like okay, well, like it doesn't help thebrand and all that, and then we're like, oh wait, this isa might be a big business. We look into it's actually a twenty eightbillion dollar business and it's all this stuff and we're quite excited about and we'regoing 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 yourbrain on and how to set up a sales process and kind of think throughit. And I mean we you said there is like you just got toroll up your slyve and do it again right, like you gotta get intoit and figure out what the customer is really liking and what is attractive tothe customer, what isn't, why you've won the customers you have and whyyou 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 ofthe choice early on. Either be patient, and I think that's a really greatway 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 ofthings, or if, for it there is a business reason. I thinkthis is the advice I would give. If there's a reason for the viabilityof your enterprise to go fast, then you start becoming a bit dependent onoutside capital, which provides its own risks. are kind of presents its own risks. So I guess yeah, I spend a lot of time fundraising rightnow 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 tobe we believe that we are the people to do that. So we're kindof 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 ofpeople in the entrepreneurship community. So if there's any request that you have ofthe community, it would be right now you're fundraising yeah, I mean Ithink it's we haven't done like big structured announce rounds. We never announce howmuch we raise. Like I just kind of I never really I get itfrom 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 wantto be a part of. Sometimes not everyone, but sometimes it can be. So we have an announced raise in that kind of think. We actuallykind of like don't do these big structure rounds. We kind of like findthe right partners that are aligned both timeline and kind of where the North Starof the company is and share the vision and we kind of taken the checksas 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 thenear future. But yes, we are. We are fundraising. Okay, soif people are interested, they get in touch with you that for thatreason and then on your call it not doing it justice, but the whitelabeled side on the emotional so the business if there are any. It soundslike you're serving primarily companies in the fifty two fifty for typically using he's someother buil dinner, whoever, maybe like low quality that's marked up because oflike kind of the supply chain howsing how it exists right now. So youknow, it's often kind of the newer age companies, you know, thedigitally native or kind of like those types of companies have so far been ourmost 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 anevent or need company t shirts made, actually consider actually ordinary supply or nicesupply. So the two companies. They find cotton online. Best Way tofind you, guys, just cottoncom or just at Kot on on instagram orKot oncom and ordinary supply. Same thing. Ordinary supplycom or at ordinary supply oninstagram. Perfect. And if someone were to reach out and had someway to help you, best way just through the website and it'll find itsway to you. Yeah, I'll find its way. There's a general Ithink, 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 cottonand 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 totalk about you know, somebody had heard the podcast and that led to yournext 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 giveyour twenty year old self? So often the the students that are in theschool, many of them are around twenty, twenty five years of age, manyof them taking entrepreneurial classes. Is there anything that you're thinking, man, I wish I would have learned this...

...earlier, or advice that you wouldgive to Rummi sitting in those seats so many years? I think I'd sayperspective is everything. In perspective and how you internalize, with the filter inwhich you you deal with the events is everything. I've learned that things aregoing to go wrong, things are going to go well. You have xpercent 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 canput in, and everything else is purely perspective. A mistake can be ohmy God, this is a disaster or could be like I'm never going todo that again, which is actually so valuable. Like when we go throughand try to figure out which channel works, like I want channels to fail sothat 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 perspectiveis really important. The other thing is, like focus is really difficult and there'sa lot of opportunities that I can to present themselves when you're going throughthe path and learning how to say no is super, supervaluble. It's beenreally great for us. So you can say heck ye out of the thingsthat actually exactly since we've needle this has been awesome. I hope people getsome value out of this session and it's fantastic to have you in and tellyour story. Thank you. appreciated. You've been listening to the Ivy Entrepreneurpodcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the showin your favorite podcast player. Or a visit IV dot C, a forwardslash entrepreneurship. Thank you so much for listening, until next time,.

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