Top 5 Tips for Startup Success from a Fashion Entrepreneur

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Planning to Wealth recently sat down with Seph Skerritt, founder of online custom shirt retailer Proper Cloth to discuss entrepreneurship, how to get a business off the ground, growing and scaling a business, and how to avoid one of the most common startup mistakes.

Launched in October 2008 and inspired by custom clothing tailors in Asia, Proper Cloth began with a simple mission: make it easy for men to buy custom dress shirts. Today, you can design a shirt to your precise style predilections, and within two weeks, a custom-made and hand-assembled dress shirt will arrive at your doorstep. Skerritt, a graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management and a native of Guam, grew his company from a small brand to one that’s selling well over 100,000 shirts a year. With his business doubling in size every year with no signs of slowing down, read on to learn his secrets to success.

1.  What advice do you have for someone who may have a business idea or passion project they want to pursue but are hesitant to take the leap? 

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the perfect fit.

Proper Cloth's expansive showroom is located in Soho at 495 Broadway, 6th Floor. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you look too far ahead, starting your business will seem insurmountable, and you run the risk of getting discouraged. It’s best to tackle the beginning steps little by little--just take the first step, then take the next step, and continue until you start making progress.

To get started, I recommend doing extensive research. Make sure you explore all of the key players that are already in the space you wish to get into and get to know what they are doing inside and out. Ask yourself: What are they doing well? What can you do better?

When I first started researching businesses in the custom online clothing space for Proper Cloth, I noticed either the quality of the product wasn’t there, or the technology and digital experience was awful. This revealed an opportunity for my business to make an impact by doing both extremely well. Once you do your research, make a business plan, make a prototype, and get frequent feedback along the way.  


2.  What is the one “must-do” thing for someone starting a business?

Become an expert on the product or service you're selling.  Buy from the competitors, recruit industry advisors, read all the books, visit the factories, and study the technologies. Fully-immersing yourself in every aspect of your business will not only make your business or product better, it will better prepare you for any obstacles you encounter while getting your business off the ground.


3.  What are some tips for helping a business scale and grow? What worked best for you?

First of all, make sure your product is great, that your existing customers love what you do, that they want to keep buying from you, and that they can't help but tell their friends how great you are. Don't try to advertise until you have this part down.  And, when you do start marketing, consider all of your early efforts experiments. Make a hypothesis, run a test, measure the response.  Adapt your hypothesis, and try again.  It's all about learning what works and what doesn't work as fast as possible. Being setup to measure things clearly and using a very analytical approach was critical for Proper Cloth. 


4. Is there anything you would do differently if you were back at day one of building your business?

Skip the venture capitalist meetings.

5. What common mistakes do you see business owners make, and what is your advice for avoiding these mistakes?

One of the biggest mistakes I see founders make is trying to use advertising to scale a business before the product or service is truly great. While a tempting tactic to build brand awareness early on, this can lead to trouble and dissatisfied customers. Make sure the quality of your product and service is 100% before investing a large amount of marketing dollars. However, once your product is truly where you’d like it to be, marketing is a great way to build awareness and increase sales.