This October will mark Yea.Nice’s 5th year as a company. This is a major milestone for our brand, and I wanted to share some thoughts on how we got here. I think there are 6 key topics that can explain why Yea.Nice has grown from 0 to 1,700 stores, while operating with an unproven team in an overly saturated and competitive market, and that started from 2 founders who had little capital and minimal experience in business. (The below is not in any specific order).
Creating purpose for your organization is critical to survival, and there are two simple ways to think about this.
1. Are you making the quality of life better?
2. Are you solving a problem that needs solving?
At Yea.Nice, we feel we are making the quality of life better through our Beanies4Life program. Years ago when JJ and I were snowboarding for a living, we would fly out of Denver, CO and see homeless people outside in freezing temperatures and wonder, “How are these guys making it through the night?” After some research, we discovered many weren’t. In fact, in 2013, AHAR reported that 31,000 homeless people died from hypothermia. Many homeless people die without a funeral or obituary. Why? Well some homeless people are suffering from mental issues, drug addiction, or just going through a very difficult financial period in their life. Even though homeless shelters are doing everything they can to protect the homeless, they sometimes reach capacity, and people are forced to bare harsh winter conditions. When we discovered this information, we decided we were going to provide adequate clothing. That was going to be our way to help people and build a brand around our ability to “Spread The Warmth”. So we set up homeless shelter partners all across the country, and we partnered with 3 major retailers who started matching every sale we made on our website with a 1-for-1 donation of a polar fleece-lined beanie to these shelters. In Q4 of 2014, we partnered with Mike Smith and launched Beanies4Life. That quarter, we donated over 24,000 beanies to homeless shelters across the U.S, and this year, we plan on doing a lot more. Starting a brand with the sole purpose of making money is more likely to fail than succeed, and creating purpose is a key component to us getting here. Make purpose your focus vs making money, and the money will follow.
2. Quality Products Matter:
A great quote I once heard was, “Character is to a man, what quality is to a product.” I think in the beginning, a brand can get away with a lackluster product, but it’s only a matter of time before the consumer starts to see through the brand’s marketing and the celebrities endorsing the product and say, “Hey, this is dog crap, and I want better,” or something to that effect.
We saw an opportunity to create a better beanie and took it. We work hard to ensure every component of our beanies is customized, every fabric is premium or has a premium hand, and the list continues in our efforts with one simple goal – to make a better beanie. It wasn’t until we met our current business partner that we really started to focus on quality. I’ll keep his name out of this blog, but his influence was critical to our thought process in creating a better product. In turn, he gave us a great gift, which was the understanding that quality matters. We’re thankful the customers who adopted our brand early on stuck with us. Yea.Nice is now selling in 1,700 stores in the United States, including retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Lids, Zumiez, Tillys, FootAction, Active Ride Shop, and Sun Diego. Why are these retailers selling our brand well? Why do we continue to grow? I’d like to think a big reason is because we have a quality product. Asking questions like, “What is your brands legacy? What will people know you for? Were you the best at it?” Those are thoughts that pass my mind every day. What will Yea.Nice be known for? I hope that answer is, “Making the best quality beanie.”
3. Grinding It Out:
Starting a business is a grind in every aspect. When you’re making slow progress in sales and marketing and creating costly mistakes, you will have to work through your issues, and grind it out. Or if you’re successful and you’re growing fast, it requires more work to execute all of the new and exciting opportunities coming your way. Either way you look at it, good or bad, you’re going to have to grind. Nothing will solve your problems faster than putting your head down and working. For us, it’s a key ingredient to how we got here, because we started Yea.Nice out of a 300 square foot studio that was next to a half way house, we had $2,000 in our mid 20’s, and we had zero experience at running a brand before. We have made mistakes in almost every imaginable way, and the big thing that solved those mistakes was working through them and “grinding it out”.
Ideas are great, but they may not really matter if you don’t have the ability to execute. Execution is the ability to efficiently articulate your ideas, and from day one, that’s been our secret sauce. In our first year of Yea.Nice, I was working as a waiter during the day and working on the brand at nights and on weekends. Year 2 I got a sales job selling trade show and advertising space, and I continued working on Y.N at nights and on weekends. Year 3 I went full time for the brand. Those first 2 years leading up to the opportunity to go full time were through endless hours of executing big to-do lists. To this day, I thrive off of executing my to-do lists, and so does our team. If it weren’t for our ability to execute at the level we do, it would be tough to believe we’d still be here.
5. Common Sense:
This sounds like a simple thought, but you’d be surprised (or not) as to how many people make irrational decisions with their brands. I’ve always said you should never underestimate your own ability to make a poor decision. So be calm, think it through, and simply use a common practice of common sense, and you’ll go far. Personally, one trait I’ve picked up is I take my most difficult challenges I have for my day and tackle them within my first 4 hours of work. Then I slowly integrate tasks that require less critical thinking. I also don’t make any major decisions at night. I think waiting until the following morning to pull the trigger on big career or personal decisions eliminates a lot of your ability to make irrational decisions; therefore, giving you a better chance to make decisions with common sense.
So now you’ve heard about grinding it out, executing, creating purpose, using common sense, and quality products. But I think there is a strong case that says none of those may matter if you don’t have the ability to persevere. I’ve always said, “There’s nothing a good cry in the shower can’t fix,” and I promise you that if you start your own brand, there will be a time (or many times) you will want to quit. Even if you are an employee at a great company with a comfortable salary, you’ll want to quit. The work load becomes too much, you realize you don’t have much of a personal life, the sacrifices you’re making are no longer worth it, and the only way you or your brand survives those times is to persevere through it. The first year I went full time for Yea.Nice, I had to quit my well paying sales job in advertising with my then, girlfriend and now fiancé, who also had a great job as a 1st grade teacher, and who I was comfortably splitting the bills with. I was working for a 1/4 of the salary, with an unemployed girlfriend, while also living in a state with a 36% living expense increase in a home that was half the square footage from my previous home, and we had to leave many of our dear friends behind. That year was our year to prove we had the ability to persevere, and by digging deep and pushing through tough times, we were able to get to where we are now.
So where will Yea.Nice be in another 5 years? It’s tough to say, but I’m willing to bet if we continue to do the 6 topics above to the best of our ability, we’ll be a very difficult company to compete with. I can envision a company that helps hundreds of thousands of people in need, operates as category leader, and has a family of employees that fight just as hard as the owners do to make the brand successful. In addition, it didn’t take an MBA to figure out any of the above. One thing that’s not mentioned is how fun it can be, and this industry allows you to meet a lot of unique and passionate people, which is a huge bonus along our journey.
I think by analyzing your history and understanding the path that got you to where you are is critical to you being able to do your life’s best work. And for the record, I don’t think that anything I’ve mentioned above may apply to anyone else with the same effect. These are just a few things I’ve noticed over the last 5 years that got us here.