I recently read an article about Nasty Gal, an eBay clothing retailer with nearly $100m in sales. Whilst those revenues are undoubtedly very impressive, it was this bit from the article that impressed me most:
"Instead, she quit her job and started an eBay page to sell some of the vintage designer items she found rummaging through Goodwill bins. She bought a Chanel jacket at a Salvation Army store for $8 and sold it for $1,000. She found Yves Saint Laurent clothing online on the cheap by Googling misspellings of the designer’s name, reasoning that anyone who didn’t know how to spell Yves Saint Laurent probably didn’t realize his value."
Reading this, I could reminisce about my early days as an entrepreneur, where I tried a whole bunch of really whack ideas:
- I started an alternative music label, mostly because I really wanted to be cool and go to all the shows;
- I convinced female students on university campus to join my girl-next-door modelling agency; and
- I persuaded wine estates to pay me ridiculous amounts of money to be featured on my "wine classifieds"-type website.
Not my proudest moments, but all of these got me from point A to B and made a little money too. I wasn't solving world problems either, but I was working hard trying to build a business. And that's what appealed to me about the Nasty Gal article.
I think that there's some true entrepreneurial character traits, tips & tricks that shines through in the Nasty Gal article:
1. Constraints breeds creativity. Most businesses start out not having the kind of resources to compete against the incumbents. Establishing a new startup is hard work and requires a kind of scrappiness to succeed. It's within those constraints though where entrepreneurs have the kind of creativity to solve a problem in a way that no one else saw.
2. No obstacle is too big. How do you go about creating a $100m clothing business? You start buying $8 garments from the Salvation Army. If that latter bit, creating a $100m company seems an arduous task that most people will never take on, purely because they don't believe that it's possible.
3. Your business only needs one believer. Unlike organized religion (that needs millions of believers for it to gain traction), your business only needs one: you. Other people will think you're crazy for buying $8 garments from the Salvation Army and they'll discount your vision as a result. As an entrepreneur, you just need to believe in your vision and execute accordingly regardless of what others say or think.
4. Leverage the knowledge gap. Never ignore how valuable the knowledge gap (between yourself & your customers) can be. The fact that you know how / where to source something (and your customers don't), means you can sell that onto them at whatever cost. Customers love convenience, so if you're making it easier for them, they'll pay you to bridge that gap.
Entrepreneurs are a different breed altogether. To some it comes easier than others, but the above character traits can be learnt. It just requires a different way of thinking about taking a chance & executing on your vision / passion.