Believe it or not there were a few people out there who thought starting a luxury clothing business in worst economic climate since the great depression was a bad idea. Perhaps it had something to do with the market hovering around 7,000 or that it looked like burlap would be the dominant fashion trend for 2009. But, luckily there were a few believers and to those we will be forever grateful.
So I am happy to report that last month was our one-year anniversary. There have been some ups and downs, but mostly a lot of good times. We are pleased of where we are (in business and growing), but realize that there is still a long way to go.
So for those select few who read this blog I thought I would pass on some thoughts/experiences from our first 365 days. Nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary, but then again, business rarely is.
Being popular in Eastern Europe is not always a good thing.
72 hours into the launch of our business we had 40 Facebook friends from Poland. We of course attributed to the excitement of the Eastern European Fashion Community over the launch of our business, but then our website disappeared. Over the next three days we pieced back together what had taken us three months to build. We latter found out latter that the outage was not the result of Brook Brothers corporate sabotage (as we first suspected), but rather a team of eastern european hackers that turned our server into spamming equivalent of Chernobyl. A humbling lesson in internet security for a man who still has an AOL e-mail address.
The key to success is the right people/ensuring they all have the same name.
Ledbury would not be around if it was not for the small, but dedicated team, 75% of which have the name Paul. The Founders names are both Paul and for a short period in 2009 both their girlfriends/wives shared the same name (which was not Paul) and this made it nearly impossible to hold a dinner conversation. The second hire was also named Paul and we very nearly had a summer intern by the same name. Our European suppliers think Paul is the most efficient person in the world.
If we are popular in Portland, we just might make it.
Customer E-mails. A couple of favorites
“I have an interesting story for you. I am a consultant with a Big 4 accounting firm and travel a lot. I am sitting in the very tiny Portland Maine airport and a guy walks by with the Pink and Blue Starks shirt on. I call out as he passes by, “Don’t you love Ledbury’s shirts”. He immediately stops and asks how did I know. We chat awhile about the value and quality and wished your small company much success. “
“I am pleased with everything about your product! I wear the finest hand made clothing in the world . Kiton Brioni, Fraye Isaia and Loro Piana to name a few . The opening price on shirts is $225 and the quality does not even come close to Ledbury”
Passion and fear are incredibly motivating factors.
Anyone who has started a small business can appreciate the personal financial realities that come along with it. In our early 30s, we hopefully can take that risk without life-altering negative implications, but that does not make the end of each month any less real.
Weeks after the financial collapse I decided I wanted to go into shirtmaking and to fund this new adventure I cashed in my merger stock portfolio (i.e. life savings) and 401K. In retrospect, doing this one week from the bottom of the market may not have been the best move, but timing has never been my strength and I had to take a shot.
And in my opinion, the risk has paid off. We love what we do, the business is growing and we now even pay ourselves a small salary. (Slightly above the mean poverty level)
But, the financial realities are still real. Perhaps the greatest illustration of this came in September, when we were featured in The Financial Times. The FT blew us away by featuring us in their Business Diary column. Each week, Business Diary focuses on the day in a life of a CEO. The week prior to Ledbury, the column featured the CEO of the largest private company in China and the following week Chairman of the U.K.’s largest bank. So obviously a no name shirtmaker from Virginia was an appropriate inclusion.
The day it came out, I raced to the corner store and grabbed a paper and there we were, page 14 right next to a story about the collapse of the Euro. I poured a cup of coffee and went to the cashier pretty pleased with myself and with the exposure for our young business. With a smile I handed over my debit card, which was then declined. Another swipe yielded the same result and with a maxed out credit card I was forced to put back the coffee and take only the paper.
A humbling and comical experience. I can imagine there are very few Financial Times Business Dairy CEO’s that have had less than $3.75 total net worth at the time of publication…. So real.
So there we go, a few random thoughts from a great year. Hopefully there will be many more (thoughts/years) and thank you all for your support and making this all possible.