My First Startup: Printing T-Shirts

I’ve been asked a few hundred times "How did you start your first company?". With so many promising startups failing within their first years, people must think that I have found a secret. Frankly, there are no easy answers or secret recipes, it just takes a good idea and hard work... I started printing T-shirts for my fraternity in 2004. I was 19 at the time and I was doing it mostly for fun. Me and my friend were making screens (stencils) in the shower and using the kitchen to print the T-shirts. At the time, we didn’t think it was a big deal, but my father convinced me to get a business license, create a website and startup a real business.

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Eventually, a year later, my company began printing T-shirts for my university and a couple of local businesses. We came with a clear business plan, based on our niche. Instead of marketing blindly, we focused on finding products that would fit the market and create a customer demand. We started marketing our company on Facebook and as our fan page began to grow, word of mouth spread. I learned that social media marketing is especially important, when it comes to startups. It’s affordable, in some cases completely free, and allows you to build up a client base, before you’ve invested too much in a marketing campaign. Don’t make the mistake of throwing too much money into advertising – have a proof of concept before you scale. We came up with new and creative ways to reach our potential customers and convinced them why our T-shirts were worth it – it’s not always about what you market, but how you do it!

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As my company grew, I started printing licensed apparel for CA state universities. I took on the opportunity to expand and take on new customers. Once I began working with the universities, student organizations, clubs and sports team followed soon. During this period, setting up an efficient infrastructure was essential – I consulted with lawyers, payroll companies, CPA’s and banks to ensure that I was on the right track. Again, I tailored my company’s approach to the current demands of the market. When it comes to startups, it’s all about being flexible and able to adjust to the circumstances, while staying true to your vision. 

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At the age of 21, I had already made my first million dollars. I was witnessing my hobby turning into a real career. Before I turned 25, I made millions of dollars, printing merchandise for artists and athletes alike. As we expanded, I was forced to make some changes and adjust my business plan to fit the constantly changing market of manufacturing and apparel. When you’re starting or running a business, it’s about leveraging your success into bigger and better things – never be satisfied and always be ready to build upon the foundations you already have. 

As my loyal customer base grew, word-of-mouth marketing became one of our most powerful tools. What I learned is that you should never shy away from asking your best clients to refer you. I’ve gained hundreds of clients that way and managed to attract celebrity clientele, as well – simply by providing excellent service and inspiring others to believe in the company. Once you have successfully created an ecosystem of customers, employees, and friends that believe in your vision, you have succeed. It is at that time you will realize it is time to scale and continue building your career. 

At the age of 25, just six years after I found my printing business, I Co-Founed www.flexwatches.com. We managed to hit the one million dollar milestone in just 6 months, after being featured on MTV and creating strategic partnerships with a number of celebrities. We found a product by analyzing the market and then built solid relationships with the right partners and investors, who could make our vision into a reality. I shifted my attention to my most profitable actives and relied on the help of specialists to grow the company. For me there were no easy answers or secret recipes, it just took a good idea and hard work!