Your business is your baby, raise it right.
January 25, 2013 was easily one of the best days of my life. I became a father to an amazingly perfect baby boy, Landon. In the time since, my wife and I have experienced fear, joy, confusion, anger, love, and every varying degree of emotion in between. We have seen sleepless nights, emergency ambulance rides, bumps and bruises, and yes, tears, lots of tears. In the same breath we have seen the most beautiful smile, an infectious giggle that sends us into hysterics, and a love so indescribably amazing that it brings us to, yes, tears.
In reflecting back on the past year of my new found fatherhood, I began noticing the similarities between raising a child and starting a business. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how alike the two are. Am I a business pro that's at the top of the economic and business pyramid? No. Am I a salty seasoned parent that has successfully spawned 10 doctors and lawyers? No. I have, however, come to realize the similarities between the first years of starting a business and raising a kid.
1) You learn as you go. I studied business in college. I read books (started them anyways) on how to start a successful business. I watch "Shark Tank". I asked my parents about what to expect with having kids. I read books (well I listened as Mandi read them out loud) on pregnancy, childbirth, and the first years of a newborns life. No book, class, advice, YouTube video, or Google search will ever prepare you for what you are on the precipice of. You may have a general idea of what childbirth looks like, but until you witness first hand the miracle of your child being born you never really know. FYI - very alien like and slimy. Similarly, you never fully understand or know what you are doing in business until you make that first step. I believe the saying goes, "There is no better teacher than experience." When we started this company with just an idea and some t-shirts, we had NO CLUE what we were doing. Sure we knew how to design and print cool graphic tees, but that's it. How will the business be structured? What is our marketing strategy? What are our core competencies? What's our mission statement? What's our plan? NO CLUE! As seemingly ignorant as we were, we took each question as it arose and answered accordingly. When you lack the knowledge but counter balance it with willingness and dedication, you can achieve anything. I look back at when we first started out and remember the mistakes, the bad decisions, the failures, and I wouldn't change a thing. They are the lessons learned, the weaknesses conquered, and the reason we are where we are. Have we figured it all out? No, but we'll learn as we go.
2) It's not easy. All too often I see TV, social media, magazines, etc. sensationalize being your own boss and starting a business. Likewise, you get flooded with adorable little humans wearing adorable little clothes and being perfect little angels, too which your wife says, "Oh I want one!!" Look at my Facebook profile for instance. It's flooded with pictures of my son smiling, playing, crawling, dancing, and being the most adorable thing you've ever seen. You know what's not on my page? Sleepless nights, crying fits, allergic reactions, vomit, and diapers so dirty you have to take a turpentine bath just to get clean. The same goes with business. You see the success stories, the millionaires, the Richard Branson's of the world, and think, "Oh I want one!!" Like with your child, you are going to have crap filled diaper days, but what will determine the success or failure of your business is how you handle it. You have to put in the hours, put in the effort, and know that your actions today and everyday that follows will determine the direction and growth of your business. It's not easy, but it's worth it.
3) Be consistently consistent. Kids are very good at knowing what they can get away with, and I'm no different. As the youngest of 5 kids from a divorced family, I learned this game from a young age. I knew exactly what I could get away with at my dad's (nothing) and what I could be away with at my mom's (a lot). This doesn't mean that our parents didn't love us, care about us, or have our best interest at heart. Rather, they just weren't on the same page about some things and us kids took full advantage of the inconsistency. I can't expect Landon to learn right from wrong when I allow him to do something today that he was told NO for doing yesterday. With business, a consistent message in who you are and what you do is a vital ingredient to being successful. Jason, Tim, and I have had many "discussions" (when you work with your brothers, discussions become synonymous with fights/arguments) about the direction and message of the company. Are we going to be a clothing line? Are we going to be a retailer? Are we going to be a wholesaler? Are we going to be a print shop? Who are we?!?! Answering these questions was important for us because it allowed us to have a focused approach to our growth plan and carry it out effectively and efficiently. Though the questions may vary, you must answer them before you can achieve any real growth as a business. With a consistent brand image and message across all media, brand recognition begins to build with potential customers, and potential customers become customers. Be consistent, consistently.
4) Be patient, it takes time. We've all heard, "Rome wasn't built in a day", "Good things come to those who wait" blah blah blah, right? Even though I can see my high school counselors office littered with similar clichéd inspirational posters, it's true. As your child is learning to live, you are learning how to be a parent, and the payoff won't come until years down the road. For example, a fetus is full term after 40 weeks, your child will likely walk after 1 year, form simple sentences after 2-3 years, go to Pre-School at 5-6 years, hate you at 13, leave you at 18, call you for bail at 21, around 25-30 your child realizes that you were right about A LOT OF THINGS, and then after many years of waiting, your child will finally say thank you for all that you've done. And there are no rules as to why things happen when they do. A few of my college buddies had kids around the same time we had Landon. One of which was walking at 11 months, while Landon could care less about standing. Another one wouldn't self feed, while Landon may as well have attached his own feed bag at 9 months. Their is no pre-ordained time that kids will invariably achieve things. They will reach their own "milestones" in their own time. Your business is the same. It has taken us almost 10 years to achieve mild success, and we still have a long road ahead. We are of the mindset that organic growth at a steady pace creates a more sustainable business model. We didn't want to walk before we could crawl, we didn't want to force feed the growth by financing it, and we definitely didn't look at other businesses and think "Why not us!?" When you allow your roots to grow deep and wide, you will yield a bountiful harvest. There will be plenty of times that you question what you are doing, unsure as to what it's all for. If you are diligent, dedicated, and confident that your business will be a success, it likely will be. Just be patient, it takes time.
I take this business very seriously and personally. I started it with my brother Tim in college in 2005, we became GreenHouse Clothing, LLC in 2007 with a handful of boutiques carrying our shirts, added our oldest brother Jason to the mix in 2009 when he launched us onto the world wide web, we opened our 1,800 square foot retail space and print shop in 2013, and are expecting even more great things in 2014. It's been a long road with a lot of late nights, arguments, mistakes, and yes, crap filled diaper days, but it's all part of the journey. This business our baby, and whether we've raised it right or not is yet to be seen. Either way, I'm one proud dad.