On Launching My Second Startup

Today marks the beginning of a new adventure. Sure, some might say that Unfettered Socks launched back in March when we set our Kickstarter campaign live. Some might even say we launched when we signed our operating agreement back in 2013. But to me, today marks the beginning of a new company - a real launch - because today anyone can go to UnfetteredSocks.com and order a pair of their own. Today is the day that all of our work and preparation starts to matter; the day that represents the point of no return. Today is the day that there is no going back. We are entrepreneurs again, and we are ready to take on the world. I'm ready to do it better this time around; to learn from all of the mistakes I made on my first try. Starting over offers a renewed sense of excitement and motivation, but it also presents a new set of fears: if I fail this time, then what? I used to believe that entrepreneurship meant living a few years of your life the way others won't, so that you can spend the rest of your life as others can't. I now believe that entrepreneurship means living your life on a roller coaster: it's a fun ride, but that doesn't make it any less scary.

I've promised myself that the way we operate will be different this time, and I believe I've taken my own advice. We've worked strategically with our CFO to make sure that expenses don't exceed revenue; we fully understand that projections are simply projections, and have intricately valued the cost of acquiring consumers; we have a realistic plan in place to scale and grow our business. With hard work and dedication (and maybe a little luck), the results will be a reflection of the means.

So here I am, three years later, ready to do it again. I'm ready to take the e-commerce world by storm, pull all-nighters to launch new products, and pull my hair out when vendors make empty promises. As much as I hate real roller coasters, and as crazy as entrepreneurship may be, I'm ready. Let's do this!

Graduation: From Student Entrepreneur to Young Entrepreneur

For most 22-year-olds, graduation is a highly symbolic, exciting, and bittersweet event. It feels like your whole life has been culminating to this moment and you're finally spreading those wings to tackle what you were born and trained to do. It's sad to say goodbye to friends, a flexible schedule, and unlimited dining hall meals, but still you are eager to move on. For student entrepreneurs, graduation can often take on a different meaning and a different set of emotions. I know that for me, it was incredibly bittersweet. There were so many elements of college that I didn't want to think about giving up, and so much that came with the title of Student Entrepreneur that acted as an advantage in business. But, I couldn't wait to start truly owning my future and to ditch the problem sets and multiple choice math exams.

So what was the hardest to give up on the path from student entrepreneur to young entrepreneur?

1. The cushion of college support: between professors, the library, and meal plans, college campuses are full of resources and brilliant minds at all times. In the real world, you have to cultivate your own network of geniuses and inspirers. When graduation hits, it's time to start thinking about paying off student loans and cooking your own meals.

2. Friends: when you're in school, you're guaranteed to have one thing in common with everyone you meet (yes, it's that you both attend the same school). Post-grad life doesn't always guarantee that, and you'll have to go out of your way to meet people through activities that you enjoy. Through social media, however, some networks stay intact forever. Through school and beyond I have been able to keep in touch with my GSEA network of young entrepreneurs who have always provided support, feedback, and friendship.

3. The title of Student Entrepreneur: There's a certain safety net that comes with being a student entrepreneur. When you're really that young, failure just doesn't seem so bad. People will say "you'll get 'em next time" or "it's so great that you even tried." In the real world, failure becomes very, very...real. When there's a chance of losing it all, rock bottom will feel that much harder. In the real world, it's all the more important to plan carefully, grow cautiously, and mitigate risk. Pretty tough to do when entrepreneurship is inherently risky.

Graduation may have meant a lot of goodbyes, but when one door closes another one opens. The real world opens up a whole new set of possibilities and adventures for a young entrepreneur. With no classes or homework assignments in the way, the world is your oyster to get out there and gain the experiences necessary to be the most well-rounded entrepreneur possible. As scary as it is, life after graduation is when the real growing begins.

When Does “Mobile” Become “Running Away From Your Life”?

I’m going to do something on here that I haven’t done much of yet: I’m going to talk about my day job. The one in which I’m in a rotational management program with Anheuser-Busch InBev. The one where I’ve spent long hours understanding the rigorous inner workings of the business from the breweries to distribution centers to sales offices. The one where I’ve worked on process improvement projects, shadowed experienced professionals, and absorbed countless hours of PowerPoints. For 10 months, I’ve lived out of two suitcases, moved every 4-6 weeks through various cities, and lived in pre-furnished temporary housing. I’ve made friends all over the country – quite literally from coast to coast. I’ve made some enemies too, but we’ll save that for another story.

With a program like this, I knew what I was getting myself into. When mentors tell you stories of packing and unpacking bottles of kitchen spices, you start to get an idea of what your life will be like. To some degree, it was only temporary. After “graduation” this week we won’t be moving every month, and we can finally buy adult things like furniture, but there is still no guarantee. In six months, or nine months, or a year, we may need you somewhere else. We’ve been advised to always go where the opportunities are, to follow the “business need.”

“You’re young,” they say. “This is the time to be traveling and establishing yourself in your career.” I couldn’t agree more, and I’m thrilled be to exploring so many new places. To some degree, though, you could say that forever. At what point do I get to say, “I like it here” and just stay (preferably in LA, thank you very much)? Or, if I decide the mobile life is right for me, at what point do I have control over where I go and when I go there?

When you’re moving around so much, commitment of any kind becomes difficult. My parents ask me if I can join them for a trip this winter. Well, I don’t even know where I will be. My friends ask me to book tickets to a spring music festival. Where would I be flying from? It’s difficult not to be able to commit to plans, to friends, to a relationship. It’s ironic when the only thing you can commit to is your job, but your job just can’t seem to commit to you. When someone else controls your future, at what point does “mobile” become “running away from your life”?

A Year Ago, I Didn't Think I'd Be Here

A year ago, I was submitting the last papers and problem sets I needed to get my diploma. A year ago, I was training my manager to take over the restaurant. A year ago, I was beginning to say goodbye to one phase of my life, and preparing for an entirely new set of challenges. To put it simply: A year ago, I didn't think I'd be here. I didn't think I'd no longer own a restaurant. I didn't think I'd have a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign. I definitely didn't think I would be moving to Miami, or moving anywhere within 300 miles of my parents, to be specific (small disclaimer: I couldn't be more thrilled to get to spend more time with them).

I didn't think I'd be here because while I thrive off of self-imposed goals, I prefer to dream big and leave the details as a suggestion. You never know when the right opportunity - one that will position your life to hit those dreams - will pop up. Remaining flexible allows you to maximize those opportunities, and thus, to maximize your potential.

Why did I close the restaurant? Because I knew I had learned all of the lessons from my failure, and it was time to stop the leaking funds.

Why did I launch a Kickstarter? Because we saw an opportunity in the market. And I saw an opportunity to add value to a company, gain experience in a new industry, and hone my management skills.

Why am I moving to Miami? Because I saw an opportunity to gain field sales and project management experience in an autonomous environment (small disclaimer: I'm really going for the laundry help and dinners with mom & dad).

All of these choices are crucial to achieving my ultimate goals, but I could never have predicted them a year ago. When you leave a little flexibility in your life (albeit riskier), you leave a greater potential for success (higher return). Plus, it's exciting for me to never know what's around the corner. That isn't true for everyone, but I think that's what makes a great entrepreneur.

Getting Back on the Horse

Just as the downfall of my first business began to wrap up, I stumbled upon a new opportunity. Being that failure is really just a fancy word for experience, I took advantage of what I gained from my first venture (lessons learned, connections made, work ethic established) and began fleshing out a friend's idea for a business sock. I finally felt comfortable getting back on the horse. Chris is a passionate salesman with a busy job. He's on his feet all day dashing between work, business school, and family. He and his friends share the sentiment that the current offering of business socks simply don't meet the needs of business professionals. He was enthusiastic about rocking the boat within the industry, but he needed help. So he asked his brother Tim and I to launch the concept with him since we had run businesses before and brought other unique skills to the table.

For months we laid the groundwork: we contacted sock mills, spoke with retail and e-commerce professionals, crafted a brand identity, and studied sock materials and lingo. We vowed to be selling socks in 2014.

Two weeks ago, we launched a Kickstarter for GoodFoot to raise the funds for our first production run. It made sense for us to crowd-source the concept as a way to simultaneously validate the need and establish a presence. It has been a great learning experience in utilizing our networks, creating digital reach and virality, and building relationships with our consumers.

A month from now our campaign closes, and we hope to hit the ground running with our first production run shipping out in June! It's going to be a whirlwind for a few months, but I, for one, am ready to take on the challenges and the roller coaster that is entrepreneurship. I've missed it.