Blank-label is a revolutionary start-up that lets men customize their own dress shirts. Blank Label has seen a great response from day one getting daily orders and being featured in things like The New York Times, BusinessWeek and Forbes.
The founders Fan Bi (22) and Danny Wong (19) are not shy about saying they are business guys here to make some money. They are on their way with Blank Label and this is only the start. Fan Bi was kind enough to take some time to shed some light on the business and where the two ambitious entrepreneurs came from…
What were your guys plans before Blank Label?
Coincidentally danny and I both had dreams to go into corporate and get super rich that way. We’re both from first-generation immigrant parents so being super rich was pretty important to us. Neither of us were really clued into what we really wanted to do, just that we really wanted to make bucket-loads of money. That obsession with being rich has been somewhat muted by actually finding something we’re extremely passionate about. But make no mistake, we’re still capitalists.
What is the story behind Blank Label?
Blank Label started as a conversation between two friends. One of them decided to go to Grad School, the other tried to start a revolution. A few years ago, Fan spent a summer in Shanghai, where he played table tennis (clichéd but true), ate a lot of dumplings (more clichéd but more true) and got quite a few custom shirts made. This being able to design from scratch custom men’s dress shirts, choosing different fabrics, various styling components, and being able to do it affordably, Fan thought that there may have been a $257 business to this idea, which would have doubled the money he had at the time.
When Blank Label first started how did you get the word out?
Danny’s very much the PR guy. It sounds old-fashioned, but it was very much as case of block and tackle, and we started from the ground up. We went to any blog that was remotely related to us, fashion, gadgets, start-ups, local press, and sold them the story. Most don’t get back to you, some email with you, and a few write about you. Now it’s a little different with major publications contacting us. There’s an invisible PR threshold and we may have just passed that. We just have to continue being innovative and have interesting stories to talk about.
How were you able to run an efficient/profitable business by letting everyone customize things? You don’t just have 4 colors in 4 sizes in some warehouse…
Everything’s made on-demand. That’s the magic of it, from a production stand-point, it’s so much more efficient than mass-produced, just in a different way. Someone demands something, we make it, there’s no trying to guess the number of pale lavender sweaters in XL to be sold in Ohio this spring. Everything’s individually-made and customers like that personal attention.
What has been the hardest part about running your own company?
All the sacrifices you make, which you’re happy to make, but sometimes still hurt. You spend less time with your friends, you test the patience of your family, your health is cyclical. I used to have hobbies. Danny and I are in the school of startup thought that says founding a startup throws out any semblance of balance you thought you might have.
Are there any major achievements you guys have had?
We don’t announce revenue publicly, we think it’s like telling people how much money you make. It just doesn’t smack right. Suffice it to say we were getting daily orders from the first week, and they’re growing everyday, a lot of them repeat. We’ve received quite a bit of press including NY Times, Forbes, Businessweek, ReadWriteWeb.
Could you talk a little bit about the process of organizing your designers, fabrics, manufactures and all the other resources you needed to put out custom shirts at first? Were there ups and downs? How did you even tackle this task?
We don’t have designers, the designers are the customer. It’s a process of co-creation, our customers design, we source the fabrics, our tailors stitch, DHL and Fedex mail. Naturally connecting the fabric sourcing with tailors was a massive headache and we did decide to go abroad to shanghai. In this Co-Creation Custom Revolution, changing buying from ‘ready-made now’ to ‘design-it-yourself in 3 weeks’ couldn’t be fought with price.
Future plans for the company?
Co-Creation Custom Revolution, #CCCR, where individually-made doesn’t mean slow and few at a time, it means colliding the intersection of fashion, technology and consumer empowerment, exploding to create something awesome. It means fundamentally changing the way men shop for apparel.
Do you have some advice for other young entrepreneurs out there or aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get as much feedback as possible, talk to as many people as possible, especially in the first 100 days. If you’re in a hot start-up city like San Francisco, Boston, NYC or Los Angeles go to start-up events, if you’re not finding interesting events, go to the blogosphere and twitter and interact. Also read a ton. there are so many great ideas and perspectives out there that will you help you move your start-up and you as an entrepreneur along.