Business Growth Podcast
Intro: Allan has started and grown several multimillion-dollar businesses. His mission is to help you do the same. Welcome to the Business Growth Pod, building the future one entrepreneur at a time.
Allan Draper: Hey everyone, welcome to the show I'm Allan, I'm a family man, an attorney, and an entrepreneur. Each week we provide resources to help build your business. Are you ready then let's go?
Allan: Hey everyone, welcome to the Business Growth Pod. I'm Allan Draper. Today I'm excited to chat with a gentleman who found a problem that a lot of men deal with and he found a great solution. Those are the best business ideas. So I'd like to welcome Rob Kessler, Rob is the inventor of Million Dollar Collar and he's co-founder of goTIELESS. Welcome to the show Rob we're glad to have you.
Rob: Thank you, appreciate it.
Allan: I get this question a lot. I'm an entrepreneur. I want to start a business but I don't know what to do. What would your advice be if they asked you that?
Rob: I've just always followed my passions. I have done real estate, I love cars so I sold cars for a little while. I wasn't really passionate about screen-printing and that but it actually turned into a really great business. I'm passionate about giving really great customer service and exceeding people's expectations even on something as simple as $10 or $12 graphic t-shirts or something that they buy for branding or whatever. In the time we've had Million Dollar Collar my wife and I started a yacht charter business in LA we've grown that to $750,000 dollars in revenue and we're about to sell that but we're passionate about boating and love it. It's crazy, when you're into it, it makes it so much easier in those times when you're thinking what am I doing with my life? I'm on this path and I know what I'm doing and I know what my reason is.
Allan: Gotcha. I like that question because there are people who answer it in different ways. My first non-real estate business was a pest control company. I'm going, to be honest with you Rob, I love the industry but I'm not crazy about bugs. When you got into men's wear, the clothing industry was it something that you were passionate about, or was it you noticed a problem that was affecting you personally, or was it a combination of both?
Rob: Not really overly passionate about clothing. I found a problem when I started my screen printing business which was actually my clothing business. It was called NEWD, it stood for Nothing Else Will Do, N-E-W-D. This is the time when Ed Hardy shirts are coming out and they're selling for $100 graphic t-shirts and I had a little bit of a screen printing background from the soccer and volleyball I worked out. We would do jerseys and little logos and stuff. We subbed it out but I understood the concept. So I said I have a bunch of friends that are artists. I was dating a model at the time and I was like what if we did something with this branding, NEWD clothing, how cool is that we could have a lot of fun with it.
I partnered with these artists. Instead of making a $5000 painting why don't we put that same art and put it on 50 t-shirts, do a limited run, and you can promote yourself and then make a little bit of extra money while you're trying to sell that big piece. The shirts turned out great, they were graphic, and they were on point for the time but artists are terrible self-promoters. They didn't sell any shirts and I had all this inventory, I was paying a ton to get these shirts printed which frustrated me. I'm the kind of guy that's like I can do about anything, show me how and I'll figure it out. I met a guy a two weeks later and we bought all this screen printing equipment, he taught me how to screen print and I grew NEWD custom printing to a million dollars before I sold that from a spare bedroom in my house to my basement to a 6000 square foot building and ended up selling it to one of my clients and he ran with it. The timing just all worked out, it was weird, I was doing real estate and I was looking for something else to do in my spare time and it just happened.
Allan: It's interesting, it sounds like you've had various progressions with your businesses. How do you make those decisions early on whether to get an office or do I start an extra business in my house? Do you create visions, do you create ideas of where you want to take the company, or is it more of a passive thing?
Rob: I always think that everything is a million-dollar idea and I always want it to be something big but I bootstrap everything. I don't have a ton of cash, I just scrap and scrounge and try to make something happen. The screen printing business equipment was $2500 and we ended up splitting it so it was $1250. He knew how to do it, we split it and we started doing it. When it comes to the name of the company I never want to use my name, I always want it to be something bigger that I can sell off to someone else. I never use my name in anything. I have the vision that I want it to be big. Million Dollar Collar I think can be a pretty big exit which is why it's this longer... I'll be an overnight success in 10 years if I can do it in the next 2 years.
Allan: So tell me a little bit about that, what you guys do, where you got the idea and how you executed on the idea and actually turned it into a company?
Rob: Got married in Jamaica on the beach, toes in the sand. I've always been super casual. I hate wearing ties so before I could say “I do” my brand new freshly pressed 1MX dress shirt was terrible, it all crumbled, you could see my undershirt, I was adjusting it all day long. I just hated the way it looked on the biggest day of my life.
I came home from Jamaica. I cut open a shirt, I shoved a piece of cardboard down the front. I always thought that this was the problem, this is what makes you look sloppy. Collar stays were invented in 1888. We didn't need to fix that but everything on the market at that time was around the collar. I came up with this, I took the next 3 years to patent and perfect the material. That was the hardest part because I would wash it, dry it, iron it, all those things were fine. Than I would send it to the dry cleaner and would totally melt whatever plastic I had or material I had would melt to the shirt. It took me 2 years to figure out and develop the material that is Million Dollar Collar because of the high heat that dry cleaners use. It still has to be soft enough so it can be sewn through, it still has to be flexible and lightweight and rigid and it has all these crazy features. It just worked out.
That's what took the longest, we went out and started to make our own shirt. We were going to do a KICKSTARTER. This was at the time there was a sweatshirt company that did $12 million dollars in a KICKSTARTER. We thought we could do a 40,000 dollar KICKSTARTER. We couldn't, we did about $20,000 in sales but the unequivocal feedback is why are you trying to compete with all the other brands and why can't I upgrade the shirts that I already own. I went back to the drawing board and thought instead of us making a whole shirt and competing with a thousand of other dress shirts out there I made an aftermarket piece that is sewn into any dress shirt. It looks insanely simple, super flexible but it's rigid enough, it is just rigid enough to hold up the shirt so it never collapses or never folds. It's sewn into any shirt you already own and costs about $10 to get it sewn in and once it's sewn in it lasts the life of the shirt.
Allan: So you're selling just the actual piece, you're not selling the shirts with it?
Rob: So we've done the pieces, the aftermarket kits for the last several years. Recently I got a wholesale account with a couple of different brands so I have Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, and Michael Kors, really nice brands. So if you know those brands, and know those shirts that fit in your size you can order that with Million Dollar Collar already in. I have a mail-in service where you can mail me 5 shirts and we'll install it in fold them and send them back.
In about a month we're launching our own shirt finally. We've been trying to license this for years. We've gone to brands and said, "Differentiate yourself" 90 percent of shirts are worn without a tie, 90 percent of the time. You have nothing to market to that. While we're doing this these guys are coming out with stretch collars, like who cares about a stretch collar for a tie if nobody is wearing ties. We just said fine if you guys aren't going to take it we're going to make our own shirts.
We've launched, that's what goTIELESS is our own brand, we're going to make our own shirt. We're basing it on one of the best-selling shirts in America. We've made some tweaks and editions and made it even better. It's going to be $40 and it's going to knock your socks off. It's a great shirt, wrinkle-free, stretch, we're starting with black, white, and light blue, XS to 3XL, slim and standard. If you can't find a size that fits then I'm sorry go get a tailor.
Allan: You know what's interesting about your story is all the pivots that you've made over the years it sounds like where you have an idea, you test the waters. You find out what works, and what doesn't. That's something that a lot of early entrepreneurs really struggle with is sometimes they hold on too long to what they think should work as opposed to testing things and being open, being flexible, and having the mindset of evolving and figuring things out because things change. What has allowed you to embrace that? You sound like it's a natural part of your personality. We're doing it in shirts, and then we decided to do this and we shifted gears again. What allows you to do that without holding this death grip onto ideas that you previously had?
Rob: I don't think that I'm that smart so I don't think I have all the answers. I know I don't have all the answers. I've always been one to find the path of least resistance and if I'm going out and saying I'm going to make my own shirt. And people are saying why are you making your own shirt? Okay, I thought that was the way to go.
Another huge thing is we spent $60,000 going to dry cleaner trade shows thinking that if you care enough about the way you look, you dry clean your shirts, you spend $3 bucks a week on that shirt why wouldn't you spend $10 to get this put in and it's a revenue bump for the dry cleaners, you're already dropping the shirt off, most of them have alterations. I thought this was going to take us to 100,000 units a month and $60,000 and dozens of trade shows later... We're in 650 locations which is nothing to squawk at but it's not gotten to what I thought it was. We put in a ton of effort and fine if you don't want to do it I'm not going to force you so let's go find someone else.
Allan: So when you have a pivot you have a different idea? You have a business whether it's a marketing program or a product design, whatever aspect it is about the business and you realize we need to shift gears,, we need to pivot here? Do you go into it with a mentality of, okay I'm going to take one idea and I'm going to put all of my eggs in that basket, we're going to test it to the full extent possible and decide whether it's viable or not? Or do you try a few different techniques and not put all of your eggs in one basket?
Rob: I get pretty hell-bent on an idea. I feel like if I get a vision that something could work better then let's go try it. Let's put one toe in the water is not really going to get you the results. If you go half at it it might take you twice as long to find out that's not going to work. I was telling this story earlier but when my company started as a brand, when NEWD started as a brand, and I started doing all the screen printing.
Well I have the equipment I would tell friends if you need anything let me know and that business picked up and I was like Dad I don't want to be a screen-printer. He said look at your finances, you front out $25 grand in product and hope it sells or someone comes to you and places an order for $1000 worth of product that you are paid 3 days later for that product. Don't be an idiot, the money's there and after fighting that decision now I just let them come to me. If it's going to work it works, if it doesn't it doesn't I'll put all the work to try and make it work but if it doesn't let's move on and try something else.
Allan: I think your personality reflects a little bit about the internal beliefs you have about failure. A lot of entrepreneurs struggle with this, they feel like any mistake they make is going to be detrimental to their business. Like the nail in the proverbial coffin. Am I getting that sense right? You're like hey I'm learning and growing, I'm trying to improve my business by figuring out what nots going to work.
Rob: If you aren't failing, you aren't trying. You can't do anything new in life and not fail. If you don't screw things up you're in your comfort zone and I've gotten so far outside the comfort zone I don't care. Tell me I failed, I don't care, at least I'm doing something. All these negative comments I get on Instagram on our posts and stuff, what are you doing dude? Have you done anything with your life? You're sitting on the computer commenting on somebody else's product that you never even tried. What are we talking about, thank you for helping with the algorithm because you're engaging with my post, and that will make people see it. I appreciate it. But you're an idiot that you spend time commenting on somebody else's thing when you've done nothing with your life.
Nobody above me is telling me that I am idiot doing dumb things. People above me who are way more successful than me, this is the most brilliant idea I've ever seen. I listen to those guys, the guys that are below you that are trying to throw rocks, don't listen to those guys.
Allan: That's a really good point. I always say that if I'm not going to go to somebody for advice then I'm not going to give a damn when they offer it freely. If I am not going to go to this internet troll, i got this money to invest where should I invest it, if I am not going to go to this person then why would I listen to them when they are hating on me. Especially when it comes to making business decisions and one thing a lot of people that aren't entrepreneurs don't understand is how much we put ourselves out personally when we start a business.
I've noticed that with your brand, your image is all over right and so it's not your name right but you're still to some extent putting yourself out there. It's very impressive to be honest with you, you have this cavalier attitude towards failure and making mistakes. I think that's impressive, there's not a lot of people that get that naturally. The common reaction of people is they don't evolve over time. They just dig into their original ideas and there was quote... not sure who this is attributed to I think Jeff Bezos or somebody. The principal holds and that is if you have more than 60 percent of the information about something then you're too late. It seems like you follow that with your business, hey we're going to try this out and see if it works. I like your strategy of if we're trying to move fast we have to both feet in, we're not just dipping our toes in the water. We have to figure this out and the only way to do that is to throw a lot of resources at it. It seems like you have a high risk tolerance.
Rob: I do and I think the big difference even listening to your analysis of me is I focus on the solution. I think most people focus on the problem. Oh I got in a car accident, oh I have a scratch on the car, the refrigerator died. Ok fine that happened it is out of your control, it's done, it's over with. How do we move forward? Why spend an ounce of time thinking about something you cannot control.
My mom is going through some stuff right now and she's like I'm so anxious about this. I'm like, you're making a whole story in your head and you're freaking out about something that you know nothing about. Why would you throw yourself in a tizzy like that you don't even have all the information. Focus on the solution to the problem because problems are going to happen, stuff is going to go wrong. So focus on how you're going to make it right and move forward.
Allan: You know I like that mentality. I shared this analogy before but there was a story once about this white water rafter guide and there was this certain spot on the river that the guide needed to avoid. It was a new guide so he pointed out to his crew to see that area. We have to avoid that because if we don't we'll flip over. For whatever reason they kept going right to that spot. He goes to a more experienced guide. What do you do man? I noticed you always avoid this spot? Well first of all I don't point that out to them, I don't let them focus on that, I show them this big oak tree on the other side of the river. That's our focus, our focus is the oak tree on the opposite side.
That goes to what you're saying a little bit. Don't focus on the problem, focus on the solution because I agree 100 percent. You end up where you're focused, and if you're focused on the problem that it's going to be really hard to get out of it versus having this positive mentality let's just figure it out. It might take some time but we're going to figure it out but let's do that.
Did you go through any... I heard of people going through gratitude practices or positive affirmations or whatever. Did you ever go through any of that? What has been your development coming up with this mentality, let's focus on the solution, let's focus on the things that we can control, and leave everything else behind.
Rob: I got to go see Tony Robbins as a graduation gift and I love his books and I get a lot of inspiration from that. My Dad is a big “7 Habits of Highly Affected People.” In there it says circle of influence, circle of concern, and so I don't know if I consciously ever was trained to do that. I can hit my head on the wall enough times and then eventually learn and say, you know I've gotten so much ahead just focusing on what the solution is then the problem.
My wife, I love her to death but she spends a lot of time on the problem. it's like okay well it's wasted energy to me and I only got so much energy in a day I'm going to put it into the things I can control, and I don't have a lot of time for things I can't control.
Allan: Awesome, I love that. So Rob, tell us where you're headed, where's Million Dollar Collar headed, where's goTIELESS headed, and what's next on the horizon for you?
Rob: So I've got a goal of 1000 shirts, that may not seem like a lot but when you change the duration between those 1000. We want to sell our first 1000 shirts of goTIELESS in a year, then I want to sell them in 6 months, and then I want to sell 1000 in a quarter, and then I want to sell 1000 in a month, I want to sell 1000 in a week, I want to sell 1000 in a day. When all of a sudden you're doing 1000 shirts a day you have a 15 / 20 million dollar company and now we have something real.
We can either take that and finally go to one of these major manufacturers and say, "Look what are you knuckleheads doing." We built this brand out of nothing, out of this technology. Same old shirt, just one technology difference and we built this 10 /12 million dollar company. Than we get into these other brands or sell it to somebody.
One of the other fun things we're doing is I've combined my screen-printing life and that to our shirts where I can actually digitally print any logo onto fabric. This is not sublimation, this is not screen-printing, it's digitally printed in there and we can make shirts. So if you're looking to brand your company, it's a 50 shirt minimum, they're $60 a piece, they're super high quality from Turkey. We've done jewelry, you can see the Citgo shirt, I've got samples made for Champion Porsche, the number one Porsche dealer in the world. Any kind of branding, anything you want to do it's something totally different. Instead of that traditional left chest embroidery.
If you have a hotel, or restaurant and you want to have that upscale look with our technology, Million Dollar Collar inside and a little nice, subtle classy branding we've got that. So that's a fun thing we're doing on the custom side of goTIELESS, our branded shirts. When those come out we'll start moving more and more product so I'm just trying to get it out there as much as we can.
Allan: Very cool. Where do you want to send somebody if they're interested in learning more about what you're doing personally with your businesses or with Million Dollar Collar or goTIELESS. Where do you want them to go to check you out?
Rob: We sell the goTIELESS shirts on Million Dollar Collar because that brand is so much more established. We have gotieless.com if you're interested in custom but milliondollarcollar.com is the best website. We've got the Instagram Million Dollar Collar and I'm pretty active on that you can see me ribbing these knuckleheads back that I try to give it back to them.
Allan: I have to check that out, I have to see that.
Rob: Some people in the comments say you're trying to be professional and you're so not professional in your comments. Million Dollar Collar and goTIELESS those are the best spots.
Allan: Love it. Well thanks for joining us today Rob, wish you nothing but success in the future. Keep killing it man.
Rob: Appreciate it, thanks!