Under Construction: Finding Your Focus
It has been about three weeks since I posted “The Best Offense is Not Always a Good Defense – The Get Ready Pt. 4.” That post talked about some of my current experiences as an entrepreneur, in that, it’s okay to be transparent. There’s a benefit to being open and honest. Getting out of the building and just talking to people. What I didn’t mention was that, sometimes, it’s not always the fear of someone stealing your idea/product that prevents you from freely discussing your vision. Sometimes it’s that nervousness that people may not like what you’ve created. The fear that someone may tell you, “This is not good.” And not only is that fear real, it may be an even bigger reason why we’ve been reluctant to Jump. Why we put it off until the right time.
I mean it’s scary, right. Even as I write this post, many times over the last three weeks, I’ve questioned how open and transparent we should be. As we continue to develop Merit, what stories do we tell. Is it okay to make it known we don’t yet have a manufacturer? One that can produce our designs at a price that works for us? Is it okay to show you a product design that may not go up for purchase? Stuff like that! Hmmmm…
I thinkkkkkkk it’s okay. Let’s take a look at the latest Merit developments from the last three weeks:
Meetings with Adriana Pavon – Detroit Fashion Collective
As I was searching on the internets for local fashion designers back in 2010, I came across the name Adriana Pavon. After checking out her website, I reached out and we eventually met up in Royal Oak. Two years later, Adriana and I reconnected because Merit’s looking to secure manufacturing here in the US, and Adriana’s started the Design Fashion Collective. DFC focuses on accelerating independently owned fashion businesses and has a mission to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of design students through a co-operative. DFC services include fashion design, manufacturing and consulting, photoshoots, and educational seminars and classes. The potential to manufacture Merit’s product in Detroit through the Detroit Fashion Collective really excited me. Adriana knows her stuff too. She’s been in the apparel space for many years and has the knowledge and experience that we, as a startup, can benefit from. So Kuhu and I had two consulting meetings with Adriana in early April to see if a manufacturing in Detroit was possible, in addition to, discovering what areas we could improve Merit.
It’s crazy how many versions of Merit’s business plan, exec summary, and pitch deck I’ve created, yet when someone asks you, “Why are people going to buy your product?” or “What do you want people to think of your product?” or “How is your product better than your competitors?” you pause. You’re like, “Wait… hold on.” The sessions with Adriana really helped us frame the problem we’re solving, refine our target markets, and get closer to solidifying product offerings. We may not be able to bring Merit’s manufacturing to Detroit just yet, but Merit got better through these meetings.
Meeting with Richard Sheridan
Mr. Sheridan’s becoming a regular on my blog eh? I got another chance to meet with him on April 6th. After briefing Mr. Sheridan on Merit’s current situation, we talked more in depth about my “why?” After getting a vibe that I still hadn’t 100% revealed my why, Mr. Sheridan asked me to dig and search deeper. That led me to tell a story. A story from our experience in early 2011 as we piloted the FATE program. Working with the Neutral Zone, our kids from Mae C. Jemison were asked to draw a shield that had 4 sections. In the last section, we posed the question, “How would you personally change the City of Detroit?” As Kuhu and I stood, our eyes met the paper of one particular boy. This boy was the cool guy. The tallest one of the group. He loved to play fight. He loved to joke around and be tough. But what he wrote demonstrated that maybe he wasn’t those things. He wrote, “I would make it so that every kid had someone to talk to about their feelings.” Blown away we were. This experience just made us realize that there are so many kids out there like this. They appear to be this and that on the outside, but inside they’re hurting. Mr. Sheridan thought I was getting closer.
He also encouraged us to reign in some of our approaches. We have this grand vision to send students across the country to college through the purchase of our product. Giving 20% of our entire revenue line to our cause of youth and education. So we’re working on investment, thinking of building a team, etc. But Mr. Sheridan was trying to get the point across that to realize that grand vision, there must be a countless number of small steps. A lot of trial and error. Knowing this, he asked me what could we do now? Today. What’s a small objective that we can accomplish on a daily basis that gets us one step closer. Pushing the needle ever so gently. He told me to look up the Life is Good story and how they made it happen: Although the story may be embellished, it goes like this:
In 1989, Bert and John Jacobs designed their first tee shirt. They knew nothing about the business.
For five years, the brothers hawked tee shirts in the streets of Boston and traveled the East Coast, selling door-to-door in college dormitories.
They collected some good stories, but were not very prosperous. They lived on peanut butter and jelly, slept in their van, and showered when they could.
Chicks were not impressed.
By the Fall of 1994, heading home from a long, less-than-fruitful roadtrip, Bert and John were desperately searching for answers to keep the dream alive. Little did they know, the only answer they needed was back in Boston, hanging up on their apartment wall.
Jake’s contagious grin, simple as it was, seemed to express everything the Jacobs brothers believed in.
One fateful September day, they printed up 48 Jake shirts for a local street fair in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They laid the shirts out on their rickety card table. By noontime, all 48 of those tees were gone. A star was born.
How do we get to noontime? David Brandon always asks me every time I see him, “You got any revenue yet?”
I’ve recently read some really interesting content on the importance of having laser-like focus as a startup (read Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule). Fab.com calls it their One Thing strategy. The company’s founder states:
If I’ve learned anything in business the last 20 years it’s this:
The most important concept for any company to get right is to know your One Thing.
Your One Thing is the One Thing your company does best. It’s the One Thing your company’s brand represents. It’s your promise to your customers, partners, shareholders, and employees. I’ve written about this before.
Knowing your One Thing is critical to success. As important is blocking out and refusing to pay attention to other things that are not critical to executing on your One Thing.
That hit home with me. Refusing to pay attention to other things that are not critical to executing on your One Thing (We will talk more specifically about Merit’s One Thing in a later post). Merit has two team members. One full time. One part time. Obviously, time is of the essence. With a team so small, we really have to take advantage of every second we work. But we can’t do everything. So we need strategy and laser-like focus. What doesn’t help is that we have a two-sided model; our product and our cause. It would be a little easier if we were just giving 20% of our purchases to established organizations that are mentoring underserved high school students and getting them to college. But we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to create our own nonprofit arm and put together an innovative program that would greatly impact underserved youth in Detroit.
So while most companies start focusing strictly on the product, we have to focus on product aaaand cause! Call us crazy, but we’re gonna do it! Knowing what’s up against us, requires us to be very disciplined with where we appropriate our energy to start the company. Take a look at a diagram that we drew:
I’ll be back with another post to explain some of the items on the list in more detail. But here’s where we plan on (bolded items) spending the majority of our time over the next few months:
Let me know what you think about the post and if you have any feedback, comments, etc. See you soon.