Town Hall with Ariela Suster, Brian Smith, Jenni Hogan, Steve Strauss, Melissa and Philip Niu and Thig Gishuru
- [Jason] A marathon of panels trying to do the part that we can to inspire you, to give you tactical, actionable insights around building your small business, around kicking yourself off, or kicking off your career as an entrepreneur. I want to, again, welcome everyone back to the…this is the final panel. This is the big Town Hall blow up. - [Scott] This is it. This is like the grand finale, the wham boom bombed. - We're out of chairs. There's no more guests as possible. We've got all the chairs on stage. I wanted to, again, if we could just go around and take a second, introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you care about, what you're working on, so the folks here and the in-studio audience and at home have something to reference, please. - [Ariela] Sure. My name is Ariela Suster, I'm from El Salvador. I have a company with the mission to disrupt the cycle of violence that limits at-risk youths. And we do this by creating cool handcrafted products. You're we...
aring the very same. - Incredible, yes. - Yeah. That generate employment but also focus on the personal and professional development. It's mostly young men that we employ. - Incredible, thank you. - [Brian] Hi. I'm Brian Smith. I'm best known as the founder of UGG, as in those cool sheepskin boots. And I've written a book about, it's called
The Birth of a Brand which is about building that business. And that's led me into being a keynote speaker all over the world. So my passion is to help entrepreneurs breakthrough into getting a real business going. - Excellent. - [Steve] And my name is Steve Strauss. And all my daughters give our money to Brian Smith. I'm the USA Today Small Business columnist and author of
The Small Business Bible, and entrepreneur. And I also run a website. I'm the editor-in-chief of a site called Small Business Connection, which is one of the co-sponsors of the National Entrepreneurship Week. - Great. Jenni? - [Jenni] Hey, Jason. - Hello. - I'm Jenni Hogan. And I'm the co-founder of a company called Tagboard. We believe that we're all better together. And we create technology to empower all people like you too. We'll listen to your community on social media, find their posts, photos, videos, just anything they're writing and put a spotlight on the best voices through social displays at events or on your website too. We really believe that your community should be a big part of the storytelling of your journey. I used to be a journalist, jumped out to be an entrepreneur. A scary jump, but I've never looked back. - Amazing. Thank you for being here. Thig. - [Thig] My name is Thig Gishuru. I'm a senior content producer for Nordstrom. More relevant to this panel is I own a clothing line called SELANY. We create travel-inspired basics. In addition to that, I'm also an artist, an independent artists. I've been a part of a group called The Physics for over 10 years. - Amazing. Amazing hip hop group with its roots here in Seattle. He's played on many stages, he's a treat to watch. And you, please. - [Melissa] My name is Melissa Niu. And we're a husband wife team. I actually, it's so fun to come back to Seattle, I used to do marketing for the Seahawks. So thank you for bringing me back. This is so exciting. We started a company called Parachut where it's a subscription model for camera and gear. So a lot of small businesses, that's why we love what Microsoft is doing for small business owners, we're trying to do the same. We have people come in and pay a monthly subscription and they have endless swaps of camera gear. So content is keen right now. YouTube videos, Instagram, Twitter, and it's eaten up. And so we really want to help small businesses and creators to have that platform to really be able to create some. - Great. Anything to add or she does the speech? She's gotten your pitch down. - [Philip] I'm Philip and I just try to keep up. - The keeper-upper. Awesome. Well, one of the things that I wanted to start off today's panel with before I pass to Scott who's got some questions that he's taking online and that he's worked up in addition, in advance to this panel is, just generally speaking, why did you start your business? What was the moment of inspiration when you realized that, "I've got to do this," because I think there are a handful of things that are keeping most of the spirits down, most of the spirits that I hear from around the world, in the country like, there's just one or two things that are keeping me from starting my business. And it's my hope that just if we had a couple of stories from you all about what the turn key moment was where you just realize that you had to do it, maybe that can unlock the next step for folks at home. So I want to start off, Jenni, I knew you as a journalist for a long time, an Emmy-winning journalist here in the Seattle area. And you took a… - A traffic anchor. - Yeah. And you were a TV traffic anchor, and then next thing I knew you had co-founded a company. - Yes. I had an amazing online community of people that would tweet me their accidents and things like that. And in the commercial breaks I really wanted to get it on air. And they would say, you know, the anchors would say, "If you see something, call this number, call the assignment desk." And I'm like, "Oh, my goodness. I have all this amazing information here." But the way to get on air was broken, I had to wait till the commercial break because I was miked up. Told my producer I have this great picture. Then they would be telling the graphics person create a graphic of their tweet or post, and they tell the director. Everyone's yelling because now I'm disrupting live TV. I thought, "There has to be a better way." So then I went to coffee with just another local person. And this is why I really believe in, you just need to tell your idea and your passion and your problem. He happened to be the CEO of a founder of an app company that does backends of apps. And he said, "What's your dream app?" And I was like, "Easy, is just this where I press this, put this on and it goes to air next to me. I cut out this work flow." And he was like, "Let's build it." And that was the moment that I was like, "Yes. Something is off in the media space, there's a barge going the wrong way. I need to jump into a little kayak." And I needed to see if I can do this. - I think if I was to summarize or underpin what I just heard, it's about sharing your idea, about getting other people excited, about having something that you're passionate about. Those are some of the jump-off points, right? - Yes. - What about you? Tell us about UGG. That's an amazing company. - Okay. How I got started was… - I see everybody, my girls, everybody's wearing these UGG. It must have been easy, right? - So easy, yeah, so easy. I was an accountant, hated it. And I graduated after 10 years of study and quit the same day. So I was, believe it or not, influenced by Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon, with the words, "No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun." And I went, "Oh my God. I have to get on a plane to come to America." Because all the trends were coming out of California. And I came here to find the next big trend. And after several months I hadn't found it. But I did notice there's no sheepskin boots in America. And so I stayed and started importing some samples. So that was the birth of UGG. - It's sort of like recognizing opportunity and it's that Venn diagram of things that you know about and care about and what you see missing from the world. - Yes, yes. - Others…maybe at least one of…Thig? - Yeah. I mean, you spoke about it earlier, scratching your own itch. For me it was doing months of rigorous travel and realizing that I didn't have a good carry-on bag. One that I could throw my laptop, shoes, cameras in, that was also stylish and looked really good. And so I wanted to create that for myself. And so I went through the process of designing it and creating it, doing the prototypes and all that. And in doing that and sort of talking to other people and doing my research, I realized that other people have this itch too. And other people wanted the same thing. So from that point on I kind of decided to create more pieces that were in line with this theme of being stylish, being versatile, you know, different ways to carry your bag, clothes being unisex, so that you could wear them, your girlfriend or wife can wear them. And in doing that you give great value to people because of the versatility in these garments. So that's kind of how SELANY came about. - Beautiful, beautiful. - Ariela I have a question, when you started your business or when you described it today, you started with a purpose and then you went into the product, is that how you got started or how did you come up with the product? - I mean, there's something that the most important thing about my business is that the why was really clear, always, but the how was really flexible and it continues to be. And I think the purpose was there and for me was turning a personal mission into a business. So, you know, the product was sort of the output. But before I even got to the product I had to build a career and a platform in order to launch my business. So I worked in the fashion industry for almost eight, nine years before I launched my business because I knew I needed something so that I could then come out and sell a product. Or I needed to prepare myself before I even went, like went for my purpose. - Yeah, that was some advice we'd seen from some other panelists in previous panels in today's presentation for National Entrepreneurship Week is this idea that if you don't actually have the idea or the means right now, sort of keep working in and around the field such that you can learn and get close and prepare yourself to take that next step. - You know, I think entrepreneurship runs in families. I know it did in mine, my dad was an entrepreneur, a small business person. True for a lot of people, I've heard that up on the panel today. I practiced law for a couple of years, right, you were an accountant. I was a very mediocre lawyer. And so I realized I needed to start my own law firm, my own business when I found out that I was a very bad employee, I was kind of a crappy employee, I didn't like taking orders and things like that. And I had ideas. And so the idea of entrepreneurship, I think is, that you come up with an idea and you have this passion for it and it just won't let go of you. You know, if it lets go of you that's not the idea for you, but if that idea, that thing won't let go of you then you are an entrepreneur, probably. - Jason. - Yeah. Please. - So, I grew up like totally against entrepreneurialism. I swore I would never do it. I had a father who was a serial entrepreneur. We had struggled hugely financially. We were homeless twice growing up. And so I said, "I will never do this." So I was a job guy for 10 years. And so for people listening around, if you're sitting around in the same position that I was in, you're wondering, "Is this enough for you? Is there more for you? Can I be more?" You have to face those questions. And when you're faced with those questions, unfortunately for me, I have a wonderful wife who just looked at me and said, "There is more for you. Are you going to be man enough to go do something about it?" - Are you going to man up? - And so it was really about, "Are you going to take that step and do something about it?" So that was really the why for me, it was I finally just got to the point where I said, "It doesn't matter what I experience growing up with failed entrepreneurialism. It's you've got to do something about it, you can't just sit around complaining. You got to actually do something." So. - I can honestly tell you guys both, I've never seen him so alive. The minute that he decided to take that step to be an entrepreneur, and I looked at him and I said, "I don't care if we live by debt, like by down the river, whatever the…" - Van down by the river. - Van down by the river. I don't care. You know, our girls are with us, they love Parachut. They get to be involved and go into the warehouse and overlooking some of our Parachut pros and get to…They're involved with this. We're all in this together. And I look at him every day and I say, "You got this." Like, "You lead this company. I'm by your side and we're doing this together." And now we're both having the time of our life, meeting other people that are doing the same thing. And it's alive, it's amazing. So take that step. Take it. - Brian. Talk to us about the trajectory of the business when you first got started. - Okay. When we started… - Which today is a billion dollar brand. - Yeah, one and a half billion, yeah. - Just a billion. That's with a B, folks, a B. - Sorry about that. But it started with a six pairs of samples and got shut out by the retail footwear industry but like, "You're crazy trying to sell sheepskin in California." But I knew all the surfers were aware of UGG because they've seen it in Australia on their surf trips. So we started, we had a pivoting this morning, you know, pivoted to the surf market. And we did a test market of, you know, we're thinking of bringing these in, everybody said, "Fantastic, you'll be millionaires." So we raised $20,000 and bought in 500 pairs of boots. And… - Where did you put them? - In my third bedroom in Santa Monica. The international headquarters. And so we loaded up the van and headed back to the same surf shops. And every one of them just goes, "Oh, fantastic. But we couldn't sell them in our store. We just sell surfboards and trunks and sandals." And this happened all the way down the coast. And all through Southern California. So the first year sales of UGG, 28 pairs. - Wow. First year. - One year, 28 pairs. - Yeah. And then for three or four years, I was doing swap meets and selling out of the back of the van at Malibu, which was a good little business. But I was stuck on this $15,000, $20,000 range. And I'd been running ads in the Surfing Magazine and Actions Sports Magazines of these beautiful models on the beach with wind and sea with the perfect boots and hair and everything. And I could never get any traction. And one day I was having a beer with one of my retailers in Ocean Beach. And in explaining this problem and he goes, "Oh, shut up, Brian." He calls to these little grommets in the back room, the 12, 13 year old kids. He says, "What do you guys think of UGGs?" And every one of them came and like, "Oh, those UGGs, man, they're so fake. Have you ever seen their ads? Those models, they can't surf." And instantly I realize I'm sending the wrong message to my target market. And so I quickly pivoted it again, called up a guy who was running all these young surfers in the scholastic situation that were about to turn pro. So I got two guys and I just followed them on a walk to Black's Beach, and another one to Trestles, which are two iconic surf walks. And I just ran ads with those guys in the Surfer Magazine and sells went to $200,000 just because I matched the image that the surfers wanted to see with what I had. - Wow. - Incredible story. - Guys, what advice would you give to husband-wife teams about running the business? - You know what, I think we're annoying because we actually really enjoy hanging out with each other. I mean, he's handsome. And he's buff and so, you know, everyone's come up, and just got a good strong arm. But honestly, I mean, you can answer this. We really just get along really well. Like when my girlfriends are like, "Oh, my gosh, we could just go to Vegas. We could have a girl's night." I'm like, "Can my husband come?" So I just really enjoy being around him. But the other…yeah. - I was going to say, I think for guys, at least for me, I can only speak for me, I can't speak for all men across the planet, but I like to think I'm tough. I like to think I can do everything. But at some point you have to recognize that you can't do everything. You're not good at everything. Be good at what you can be good at and then you need to sit back and let your wife, who's usually better at most things than you are, let her do it. And let her be a player at the table because at least I've been so programmed that I need to sit at the table, I'm the man, I'm supposed to be the provider. But once you realize that you have a helpmate in a, not just a spouse but in a best friend that you can leverage, I mean, the synergy that you can have together. You sit back and you let her show you the ropes in so many different ways. It's amazing. So to have that humility just to sit back and say, "You're amazing at this." - You spoke about that from a spousal relationship. But the same is true with partners, like the finding folks that are complementary to what their individual or independent strengths are. I think the more self-aware we can all be about that, I think the better businesses we can build. I'm having my ear pull over here. We got some questions from the in-studio audience. I'd like to pass a mic and tell us who you are and go ahead and ask these fine folks a question. - [Dylan] So my name is Dylan and I'm a photographer. And it seems like all of you the point of success was due to the self-awareness, like Philip you just said, you know, kind of making that switch. So the point I've gotten too has been a lot due to beginner's mind. And I was just wondering if you guys had any tips on like how do you build and continue that kind of self-awareness? - Very smart question. How do we remain self-aware through growing our business? Yeah, Steve, you talked to so many small business owners. - Yeah. Let me say this, so I get to speak to small business people and entrepreneurs all over the world or in the country. And what I ask you is, you see a lot of photographers out there, right? Or some of us have started businesses and some people out there have not started businesses and what I would say is, why not you? If you haven't started your business yet, if you're not an entrepreneur yet, well, look at how many businesses there are, going down the street. Every one of those people who is running that store down that street, at one point worked for someone else and thought, "Oh, I don't know if I can do it." But they took a risk on themselves. And they figured out how to get the money. And they found the right teammates and all those things that came together. But they said, "Why not me?" And what I would say is, to any of us who haven't started and become an entrepreneur yet, why not you? You can do it. How do you know if you're an entrepreneur? Well, here's my handy-dandy-quiz, think about your job and your benefits and your pay and all those things, and if leaving that to start your own thing gets you more excited than scared, then you're probably an entrepreneur. - You know, when it comes to self-awareness, I've always felt that it is the most important quality to have when starting a business. Because I really think that there's three types of entrepreneurs. I think there is those entrepreneurs that are visionary. They've got the big vision, they can see on the road, they're really inspiring, they get people behind them. - Laveine, just in a couple of panels ago, wants everyone to go to the moon, of course. - Exactly. And then you have operators. And these people they can lock onto that vision. But what they really are best at is operating the day-to-day of the business, putting the systems and the teams and the day-to-day management in place. And then you have what I call a sharp shooter. And that's somebody that's like absolutely awesome at doing one thing, like coding or sales or whatever it is. And so I think that one of the keys to success as a business owner is deciding which one you are. And then that helps you to put the right people around you. So again, it always starts with self-awareness. - Agree, agree. I think that's a fantastic question. Well, I'm going to go to the panelist with a separate question. Feel free, we've only got about five minutes left in this panel. So think of another question, we'll go to you guys one more time before we wrap. In the meantime, we haven't really talked about struggle. It's only been what I think Brene Brown would call gold plated grit, when you talk about failures but then you quickly, we all quickly move on to the next success story. You all are nodding. And what that makes me realize or think or want to hear from you guys about more importantly is, talk about some of the struggles. Talk about when you came up against something that you thought was insurmountable and what you did to break on through. And I'll ask you first, Thig, give us a story around struggling and maybe even failure. - Yeah. I mean, I think you come up with this idea and you spend so much time planning, and talking to different people and coming up with a plan. And you finally get to a point to where you launch your big idea or your company or whatever it is. And there's so much excitement behind that, you know, people are rallying behind you and things are going good, your business is taking off. And then at some point maybe you plateau and then you reach a point where I think everybody has self-doubt. And you wonder, "Is there longevity behind this?" Like, "Is this going to last? Am I going to fail?" And I think, you know, and I've personally got to that point with my clothing line and with music also. And I think at that point you really have to look inside yourself and say, "Okay, how am I going to evolve? How am I going to continue to tell this story? How am I going to step up?" And, you know, I think everybody gets to that point and that's part of the journey, honestly. - I think it's in those tough times that some of the best ideas, we talk at CreativeLive and in the creative community generally that constraints create creativity. So if you don't have money, how can you leverage your network or friends or if you don't have technology, you know, what is available to you that might otherwise not be with this new day and age and access to technology use? - And bringing your team together too. So in the struggle in the tough times, it's all about being authentic and being honest with your team and telling them, "You're going into a storm, together. But we're going to get through the storm and shoot to the moon." Or, "We're going to be in this together as we go through those tough times too." So, I really feel like, at Tagboard we believe in innovating. And to innovate you have to fail, right? You have to go big or not. And the quicker you're going to fail, the quicker you can turn and try for something else. And we really learned that being honest with our clients is the best way to do that. And to let them know, "We're going to try for you but we're raw and we're going to have cracks and that's us. So come with us on this journey too." - And when it comes to failure, going back to something you said earlier, don't bet the farm. It's about making small bets and allowing yourself to fail if that's what happens. But not risking everything in the process. - Yeah, I've heard a great quote a couple of times from a couple other folks that failure is just another data point. And if you can fail often and small, you're able to sort of navigate the, say, Failure. You can find your way around, over or through it. I wanted to go back to you Brian, you talked about 28 pairs. Now I feel way better about myself. But, how have you broken through and what are some of the struggles that you found along building your business? - Well, there's too many list, they're in my book. People tell me it's a page turner. I'm sure it's because they're not sure I'll be around next chapter. But when I speak from the stage I ask people, "How many of you have had a disaster in the last 12 months that happened to you? And you look back now and think that was the best thing that happened." I would say 90% of people raise their hands. And so I've developed a thing that the most disappointing disappointments will nearly always become your greatest blessings. And I've got so blasé now, if things just explode in front of me, I go, "Damn. Okay, that's good. Now, what's good about it?" And within 24 or 48 hours I've figured out a way around it and I go, "Thank God. If I had stayed on that path I wouldn't be near as far as I'm going to be on this next path." - Ariela, I'm dying to hear about yours, you were the first person shaking your head the most. Does that mean you have something to share with us? - Yeah. I think when I first launched my business it was my biggest failure too, because I launched it like a fashion brand. And I went out with the product, was selling it like a fashion brand and it failed miserably. There was no sell through, the story didn't go the way that I wanted. And literally I was like, "Well, what am I going to do now? There's no stores that are going to pick up my product. And I'm a fashion company." So thankfully, I had a really good mentor at the time. And she's like, "This is a great time, this is a great opportunity that you failed." I'm like, "What? How is this a great opportunity?" But it did bring, like changing the strategy [crosstalk] - It's always people not going through it that tell you that, right? - She's like, "It's great. And now you could do something different." I'm like, "Well, how?" But it opened the door to many other collaborations and partnerships that are now fueling my business. - Fantastic. Philip and Melissa, I'm curious, how do you guys use technology to drive your company? - Oh, gosh. - So, first of all it's never been easier to start a business because of the technology boom. And being able to access tools, and Chase, I think you said it earlier, either for free or at a very discounted rate. For small business owners like us it's how could we have started a business without it? So specifically, using Microsoft Office 365, for all of you bigger businesses out there, you know, a billion and a half business out there. I'm sure your tools look a little different than what we're using today. But just to use Excel, as an example, it's like when you're running your entire CRM off of an Excel spreadsheet, you know, you kind of look at those tools and say, "What would I do without this? I would have my pen and paper out here trying to scratch things out or on a whiteboard." So being able to have tools today from a technological standpoint allows us to extend our ability to 10 or 20 people. - To build off that. So we feel that we're not in the camera business, we're not in a creative business, we're in a relationship business. And I can almost probably look at each of us and say, we're all in a relationship business, not just with our partners, not just with our customers but that relationship is huge. So we actually use something where our customers, we want our members to be able to contact us anytime and so they're out on a shoot. You know, you talked about you being a photographer. You know, imagine being on a shoot and your camera breaks down, "Oh, my gosh. Who do I call?" So we have that access any time. Relationships are so huge. So technology has given that doorway, not just with Microsoft 365, but with our partner Skipio that allows us to text back and forth. And so there's so many things out there that allows us to build that relationship with our members and our employees. And with people like you, like this is so cool that you have created this relationship platform. It's awesome. - Well, what we have, that's the foundation of CreativeLive is helping other people live their dreams and career, hobby in life. And the platform couldn't have been built for what we've built it for today without all kinds of this technology that we've spoken about, about tools to connect us socially to millions of people around the world. We reach every country on the planet every month. Because we have tools that other people have made available to us. So thank you for thanking me but I'm thanking you back. - Let's hug, let's hug. - That's right, big on camera hug. I think we're actually out of time on this panel. I would kind of want to…after this we got one more amazing thing to wrap with but I want to make sure to pick all your brains in the next room before you all go home today. But I don't know, Scott, wrap us up a little bit and prepare the folks at home for a dose of inspiration before we go home today. - Awesome. Well, we want to thank all of you for joining us today and building amazing companies and really just inspiring all of us. A big hand for our panel. - Let's go.