I remember the day I decided to take the plunge, quit my corporate life once and for all, and turn all of my attention to my business.
I entered by boss’s office, sat down and handed in my resignation. He congratulated me, said all the things people say when you quit, and then made one comment that has stuck with me since that moment. “I have no idea how people take on the kind of risk it takes to run your own business.”
In some ways that comment shook me a little. Was I really taking on more risk? In some ways, I suppose so. The paycheck no longer came in on Fridays.
But what truly is risk? You see, even as I turned in my resignation, I had already lived through a couple of rounds of cutbacks, and the potential of having our office closed. That would mean either losing my job, or moving from Denver to Washington DC (if the opportunity existed). Within a couple of years, that very thing happened.
I’ve often thought about what I would have done had I stayed with the company and received a pink slip when they moved. What do you do when one day you have a job, and the next day you don’t? I suppose that’s the first thing that caught my eye about Anita Mahaffey; what would happen if you had a great career, worked your way up the corporate ladder to a comfortable level, only to have your company close down your office? As you’ll read, Anita’s pink slip was the best thing for her. The more questions I asked her, the more details she provided, the more I discovered she is a great businesswoman to model! I learned a lot from her, and I think you will too.
I started my career in corporate brand and product development/management working in the marketing offices of Bumble Bee Seafoods, Park City Ski Area, HomeFed Bank and Round Table Restaurants. Then I spent 15 years working in sales for a Turkish Apparel Company. One day they decided to close down our US office, which caused me to start my Second Act in 2007. I’m now 56 and the founder of Cool-jams, a rather quick growing sleep products company.
You might not think the peak of the recession was an auspicious time to start a specialty sleepwear business, but that’s just what I did, launching in 2007 – at a time when a lot more folks than usual may have been suffering from sleepless nights. I discovered a fabric in Turkey just before we closed the Turkish Apparel company office. It was a wicking fabric that felt like cotton and I thought it would make a great pj’s for my menopausal night sweats.
I had a pair of pajamas made and loved them. Then all my friends wanted them, so I had them tested to see just how good they were. As I suspected, they were not only cooling, quick drying and temperature regulating but also antibacterial so they stayed fresh and odor free. This was the start of Cool-jams and of course my a-ha moment! If these pj’s helped me, what about all the other men and women who get overheated at night?
Cool-jams currently serves a niche in the $2.7 billion U.S. sleepwear market, primarily targeting baby boomers, both men and women, with a collection of quick-drying anti-bacterial travel pajamas as well as pajamas for people who become overheated at night due to a variety of causes including menopause, warm climates, chemotherapy, cancer, anxiety, certain medications, obesity, thyroid problems, pregnancy, nursing and basic problems with body-temperature regulation. Today, we sell our products primarily online and to retailers in the US and abroad.
Since its launch, Cool-jams has increased sales and profits every year, and at its current growth rate expects to surpass $1 million in sales this year in the US alone. Additionally, we just signed an International licensing agreement, so our products will soon have distribution in Asia, Europe and Australia. We started with our signature moisture wicking sleepwear and since 2007 have expanded into travel sleepwear and temperature regulating bedding.
I attribute the Cool-jams growing success both to our extensive product development activities, which have produced the best-wicking product and most effective night-sweat pajama solution, and its high-touch customer service, a la Nordstrom, which produces happy customers who, via word-of-mouth, share the magic of Cool-jams.
When you have an idea, it is important to be proactive. I always say…begin with the end in mind and ask yourself three questions…
1. What is the goal?
2. How do I achieve this goal?
3. What steps do I need to take to achieve this goal?
If you are trying to start a business, the academic exercise of writing a detailed business plan is very important. This gives you the road map to success. It is hard to get anywhere without a guide or map. It forces you to do the research required to determine whether or not your idea is a good one. In my case, the research/ product development phase was about 6 months.
What has entrepreneurship done for me? Let me count the ways! 🙂
1. I love being The boss: The freedom is exhilarating. I make my own schedule so I feel that I have great work/ life balance. I work really hard and play hard too but most importantly I make my own hours. As an entrepreneur…I feel that the sky’s the limit to my success.
2. I get to use my creativity everyday: I love being creative in my business. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I have created a business and then later reaping the incredible fruits of my labor.
3. Giving Back to the world in a big way: I have some strong opinions regarding giving back. I believe we are all placed here on this earth to give back in some way. Ultimately we should leave this earth better than when we arrived. Here is how I try to do that on a daily basis….
By creating jobs…since 2007 we have grown dramatically and created many jobs not only in the US, but in developing countries around the world.
Volunteer my time: I like to give back with my time by volunteering for several organizations to include Voices for Children (case assessor for kids in foster homes) and University of San Diego (student mentor and lecturer). As an entrepreneur I have freedom to spend my day how I see fit.
Donations: I’m able to donate a large percentage of our company profits to charity. In 2014, we donated 29% of our profits to women and family centered charities. The other thing we like to do is donate any excess products to battered women’s shelters.
Here are a few important tips that I think every aspiring entrepreneur should know…
1. Pay attention to details and learn from every customer interaction whether it is positive or negative. It is important to listen to customer’s complaints, suggestions and praises. It is not uncommon for me to work one of our customer service lines just to talk to customers…I listen and learn so much.
2. Hire people better than you: Do what you do best, but don’t think you can do everything yourself. If you want to grow quickly and successfully, access your skills and make sure you do the things that you’re good at. Then hire people that are better than you at the other tasks. You can get great freelancers to do almost anything on Guru.com and Elance.com
3. Never underestimate anyone you meet: Make everyone your friend and don’t make enemies. Don’t ever burn a bridge because that person might be instrumental to you in the future for some reason or another.
4. Keep your reputation stellar: This might sound simplistic, but it is so important in this day and age. It is very difficult to clean up a poor online image. I’ve watched so many young companies go under because they haven’t paid attention this issue. Don’t let complaints get out of hand. It is much easier to deal with problems directly and efficiently as soon as they occur.