My approach to business stems from a place of deep insecurity. My single mother raised me to be solvent and self-sufficient. Therefore, I always felt that I had nothing to lose. At age 16, after only being in the United States for a few years, I began my journey as an entrepreneur. I always had an eye for clothing and used to buy them used in bulk. I would go to Melrose Ave., a famous shopping and tourist destination in Los Angeles, and sell to people walking by. I went anywhere I felt I could make a profit.
Know Who to Trust With Your Ambitions
After a few years, I saved up enough money to start my own label: a high-end men’s clothing line. I hired a full-time pattern maker and seamstresses to turn my dream into a reality. When looking for the right candidates, I made sure to ask for referrals and make connections through friends and family. I usually looked beyond resumes: Identifying passion and reliability is key during the interview process.
I took my samples, crammed them in a suitcase and walked from store to store marketing my clothing line to whoever would listen. I got kicked out of almost all of them. My last hope was MAGIC, the biggest fashion trade show in the U.S. I couldn’t afford a booth so I created a catchy slogan, made a big sign and paraded it throughout the conference. I handed as many of my catalogs to everyone I could before getting kicked out.
I arrived back at LA feeling like a failure. I hadn’t secured any requests for my clothing after approaching every buyer. But within a few days, the phone started to ring. I got sample requests from Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and Macy’s. At age 20, I couldn’t keep up with the orders that were coming in. I sold out everything I had at first to Bloomingdales, then to Nordstrom and then to Macy’s. I was shipping nationally and internationally. After three years, I was doing $500,000 in sales and making 30,000 pieces per year at a high markup.
Take Calculated Risks
At 21, my youth showed. I couldn’t hold onto as much money as I needed to accommodate the changing buyers in the industry. The cost of manufacturing increased and I expanded too quickly. Orders were canceled, sales declined and I saw the writing on the wall. I sold my company. Take risks with creative thinking and not working capital. I became more measured and calculating with my risks as time went on, especially with changing market trends and personnel.
I took the proceeds and started a new venture in relocation. I was doing so well selling moving jobs over the phone for other companies that I decided to start my own moving company. I bought moving leads from a lead generator, built a website, bought a truck, opened a warehouse, hired my own sales people and was back in business. I was up to one million in sales by the first year. Once again, I was able to channel my passion for what I was doing and apply it to a market need.
Then, the financial crisis happened. Companies stopped relocating, high-end clients couldn’t pay their storage bills and sales dropped. Once again, I adapted, learned from my experience and switched gears to junk removal and freight, where I was able to secure payment up front. I came out of the recession and sold that company in 2011.
I began to change again. I wanted to be less hands-on. I took the money I had accumulated and started a tech company. This business was all online — something I hadn’t done before. In 2015, I sold that company and became an investor. I now invest in three different applications and provided seed money to grow them into profitable businesses.
Pursue Your Passion
I am fulfilling a lifelong dream of helping others achieve the success I have made. I can now take a break from the hands-on, day-to-day operations of running a company. I have come a long way from selling blue jeans on the street. I have always used that same tenacity as a young, insecure teen to achieve great success as an entrepreneur.
Be passionate about what you do. The drive and excitement are infectious to those around you and will carry you through tough times. Most of my success is due to hard work and perseverance. I gave myself three months to succeed in each endeavor. If I didn’t see progress within three months, I would tweak my approach. If nothing changed, I would move on.
Listen to what the customer is telling you. If you don’t get anything back from them, then it’s not working. I decided what my next move would be usually out of frustration. I was annoyed that the “high” fashion I used to see selling for a lot of money lacked a lot of substance. I decided to change that myself. When I got into the relocation industry, I talked to clients and I carved a niche. Find what works for you, be passionate and always be open minded about where you are going to end up.
John Daniel is a serial entrepreneur and expert in strategic partners, business development and marketing. He has more than 20 years of business experience in technology, fashion and transportation.