The Underdog Company — a personal project that began during my undergraduate studies at Georgia Southern University — has developed into a fully operational lifestyle apparel brand with a national consumer base. What started as a conversation in my living room with my best friend circa 2009 has become a means to share tokens of wisdom, as well as an expression of my personal style with people I’ve never met. It’s been four years of trial and error, and the usual tango between ups and downs. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way, but those obstacles and failures challenged me to think and perform on a higher level. The mishaps and lows helped refine my character, and the successes gave me the confidence and incentive I needed to keep pushing myself to be a stronger artist, designer and business owner. The wise say experience is the best teacher and I endorse that statement. Here’s a second helping of the lessons I’ve learned in Entrepreneurship:
- Trust. Your. Instincts. In my efforts to cater to what I thought would get more people interested in the brand, I lost sight of why I started it. I spent a good bit of time trying to figure out what people want, which turned out to be a huge waste of time. Desire is fleeting. Tastes are fickle. They change at random and are rarely consistent which is why it is unwise to try and predict what they will be. I learned this lesson the hard way, but it was an extremely valuable one.
- Don’t internalize your failures. Anybody who knows me knows how hard I am on myself. When The Underdog Company took a few hits this year, my initial reflex was to beat myself up about all the things that had gone wrong and lament over the things I could’ve and should’ve done differently. That’s the worst reaction possible. Sometimes, you just have to take the punch and get back to swinging. Spending too much time replaying what you can’t change takes your focus off of what is ahead. Take the failures in stride. Learn as much as you can from them, and keep moving forward.
- Everybody isn’t a “good guy.” I took a $600+ hit in 2014, after being screwed by a company I’d paid to do embroidery work. I had done my research, checked out other brands’ pieces, established consistent communication, requested samples, etc. This is also wasn’t a cheap job I’d settled on for the sake of being cheap and cutting corners. Everything went smoothly in the beginning, but things had quickly begun to go left after the sample run. Communication broke down, calls weren’t answered, terms we’d agreed upon weren’t upheld and I ended up with a batch of half-ass product that I couldn’t do anything with. Even though I’d paid through Paypal, the company had found loopholes that basically made them untouchable. Ouch. That may not seem like a big loss but for a small and independent brand partially funded out of pocket, that was a major hit. It was like taking 3 blocks from the base of the tower in a game of Jenga. I was frustrated, angry, disheartened and upset. There was nothing I could do legally, and obviously no way to get the company to simply reproduce the batch according to the outlined specs. This was the second blow The Underdog Company suffered within a span of 4 months. However, I had to push through the discouragement and use that experience to make even better decisions with future vendors and manufacturers.
- Be Patient. You know that feeling you get when you’ve come up with an awesome idea or concept? The one that gets you so excited that you can’t wait to share? The kind that makes you feel like you have to do it right then and there? Yeah. The best way to kill a great idea is to rush it. Even if you’ve perfected it, sometimes you’ve just got to let it sit before pulling the trigger. Timing is everything. If the idea is as great as you believe it is, it won’t be any less awesome when the time is right.
- Brands don’t build themselves. When you’ve finally gained momentum, it is comfortable to keep cruising at that pace. If you ride a bike up a hill, you don’t really have to pedal your way back down. You can rest your legs and coast, using the momentum you’ve gained. However, the bike will reach the bottom of the hill and eventually stop if you don’t start pedaling again. Anybody who’s ever ridden a bike knows what happens when you sit on a bike that isn’t go anywhere; you’re guaranteed to fall. I learned the bike riding lesson with marketing. You can post a photo of what you’re doing and the people who support what you’re doing will be excited about it. They may even share it, but we all have tons of things going on in our lives. Once that post falls off your feed, it is usually forgotten. Even if social media is a reliable means for marketing, you’ve got to be intentional and consistent for it to actually work. A lot of us use the “I have so much going on that I forgot” line to justify inconsistency. And while that may be true for a lot of us, it doesn’t shield us from the domino effects of downhill dependency. Devise a strategy and be intentional about it. See it through and if need be, make adjustments along the way.
- Networking is underrated. Most of us know how valuable networking is when we’re trying to find jobs or navigate career fields. For some reason, it doesn’t always click that it’s just as vital (if not more) when it comes to building your dream. I don’t think I’d still be standing if it weren’t for the valuable assets in my network of people here in Seattle. In my first Lessons I’ve Learned as Entrepreneur post, I dispelled the myth that you can do it all yourself. That’s one of the ways networking helps. Another benefit of networking is talking to people who don’t think like you. Yes, you’re good at what you do. You may even be great at it, but fresh perspectives provide invaluable insight and inspiration. Sometimes, the easiest way to break through a plateau is to open yourself up to those new perspectives an use them to make effective adjustments.
- Move at your own pace. Don’t get distracted by other people’s processes and growth. Focus on yours. It may be human nature to want to compare your apples to the apples the person sitting next to you has. But you’ve got to rid yourself of that bad habit if you’re going to make it. You cannot measure your success or progress by looking at what other people are doing; it’s not ever going to be an accurate measurement. You can see where other people are in relation to where you are, but you will never know how long it took them to get there. You don’t how what it took for them to get to that point. You also don’t know what lies beneath that surface appearance. Often, what you see is not what you actually believe it is. Be aware of what is going on around you, but not consumed or obsessed with it. Even if you were to settle for plagiarizing someone’s process, your result will not measure up to theirs. You can’t do what they do because you aren’t them. You don’t think or function like them. Keep your eyes on the road ahead. Stay in your lane and move at the pace that works best for you.
Thanks for reading!
-Jessica Rycheal, Founder
The Underdog Company