Ministry of Supply launched in June 2012 to immediate fanfare- garnering 4,000 customers and selling 6,000 dress shirts in our first month. At the time, one of our co-founders, Kit Hickey, described the company as, “an adolescent trapped in a baby’s body, and we had to learn how to sprint before we could learn how to walk.”
Fast-forward one year, and today our company is the proud parent of four beautiful products, with a fifth on the way. The ATLAS performance dress sock is the most technologically advanced and sustainable product we have released to date. Its Kickstarter campaign, that ended recently, raised twice its goal in only 24 hours. So how does the game change between the first and fifth child of a company? Kit wrote an article for Forbes a few months ago entitled “5 Lessons From Managing Our Startup’s Rapid Growth.” Since seven seems like a lucky number, I want to talk about the “7 Lessons for Sustaining Our Startup’s Rapid Growth”
1. Be Thirsty: Keep Learning And Moving.
My father was my high school hockey coach, and he used to have a saying, “Get a little piss and vinegar in your veins when you’re on the ice.” It may not be the most eloquent quote, but it gets the point across. Be thirsty for the next sale, be thirsty for the next investor pitch, be thirsty for the next chance to “wow” someone. But also, don’t get tunnel vision because of this thirst. Be open and learn along the way. The more you go after opportunities and keep moving, the more you learn, the more you fail, and ultimately, the more you succeed.
2. Build Community Through Empathy.
A company is nothing without its customers. Nothing is more important than understanding the woes of a customer, relating with them, and trying to help them out if something goes wrong. Recently, we had a customer email us saying his wedding was coming up soon, and he wanted to buy a CORE undershirt to stay dry and comfortable, but our website showed the item was out-of-stock in his size. So we sent him two of a different size, for free, along with a handwritten note saying these were a wedding present from us. Building a startup isn’t just about profit-loss and customer conversion, it’s about being human and building a community around the products you are passionate about and the values your company holds true.
3. Create Through Design Thinking.
Design Thinking is like the Scientific Method of Product Development. Identify a problem, brainstorm all possible solutions, refine your solutions, and then act on your information. Whether designing enterprise resource planning software or a luxury watch, design thinking asks you to critically analyze exactly what you want to accomplish and use a combination of artistic and scientific thinking to develop an amazing product. Steve Jobs had a quote, “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means who it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” This mindset builds great products.
4. Be Confident.
It’s hard to define beauty. Is it the Golden ratio? Is it an Apple product? Maybe it comes to down to Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it,” (although he wasn’t referring to beauty…). Regardless of how it’s defined, as a fashion company, we are striving for it and we have to be confident in our tastes. It doesn’t matter if Ministry of Supply clothing keeps your body cool, is forever wrinkle-free, or can make you a grilled cheese sandwich if it doesn’t look like stylish clothing that you would feel proud to wear. There are always times of doubt when we wonder “will customers buy this product?” or “Is developing this product a waste of time and resources?” We are all human, and these feelings are natural. Having the self-confidence and conviction to push through the doubt and believe in your abilities will be one of the best qualities you can acquire.
5. Promote An Active Lifestyle.
Promote the lifestyle your brand is built upon. Our apparel is built for an active lifestyle, so we need to be promoting one, or else we become hypocrites. Our belief is that when the body is active, the mind will stay active, too. We challenge ourselves to be active and be our best, even when going on company retreats. Our most memorable retreat included hiking and winter camping in negative degree temperatures, which is certainly no cakewalk along the beach. We want our customers to feel their best and our employees to be their best at all times.
6. Innovate Through Technology.
MIT is our heritage, NASA is our inspiration, and we are changing the way people view their clothing by infusing technology into everything we make. We use thermal imaging, strain analysis, and pressure mapping (processes usually reserved for industries like aerospace and automobile) to ensure our new ATLAS dress socks have the optimal balance of ventilation, durability, and comfort. Innovation doesn’t require a brand new, novel idea. Innovation is about finding new uses for existing technology and making something new and better as a result.
7. Be A Champion.
Yes winning is important, but this isn’t the type of champion I am talking about. There are nine members of our team, and we all champion different areas of the business. Gihan Amarasiriwardena, co-founder and engineer by trade,specializes on product development and new technologies, while AC Ingersoll works tirelessly on social media and marketing communications. Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop Gihan from suggesting a funny idea for a Facebook post, or AC from brainstorming new product features. Be a champion of what you do, but don’t put up fences based on job titles and company tenure. Champions are team players, they better everyone around them, and they attract talent.
BONUS LESSON: Focus.
This one isn’t rocket science (even though our APOLLO dress shirt does use some of that…). Set goals, accomplish goals, set new goals. Know your core strengths, know your core market, and know what you do not know. Concentrate on how to best grow your company, and don’t be distracted when issues arise. Deal with problems in stride, and stay on the course to success.
Derek Switaj works at Ministry of Supply, an e-commerce company that is inventing the future of performance professional apparel. The company has been featured in TechCrunch, Inc., Forbes and Elle Magazine. Derek is also the head of the Boston College Entrepreneur Society and serves as the Boston Regional Director of the Compass Fellowship, a social entrepreneurship program for freshman in college.
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