Featured Entrepreneur : Brian Smith
You Can't Birth An Adult
Brian Smith, founder of UGG, the brand, was 29 years old when he ventured into the entrepreneurial world. Because he didn't like to study, but hated to quit more, Brian spent ten years studying to be and working as an accountant, but he knew for years that was not the right career for him.
Immediately after graduating, he quit his job and hit the high seas to California.
Brian felt all the cool trends were coming out of California – Levi's, waterbeds, surf brands, etc., so he set sail to find his big thing and bring it back to Australia.
Brian spent about three months surfing in Malibu while searching for his big thing. It was October/November when the water was starting to get cold and the wind was chilly. Brian was finishing up surfing and standing on the beach, he reached to pull on his sheepskin boots he had brought with him from Australia and that's when he had a “goosebumps moment” – there were no sheepskin boots in America.
Instead of coming to America and taking his big thing back to Australia, Brian wound up staying here and bringing sheepskin boots to America – that's when UGG, the brand, was birthed.
It was about 10‑15 years before the UGG boot sensation caught on and it was paying for itself. It was so long, in fact, Brian tried quitting several times. He realized he had all the worst elements of any business – huge, costly inventory, horrendous imagery costs, upfront payment for product, and retailers that took 60‑90 days to pay.
Brian also discovered there was a real big education component coupled with the bad elements for a business. Americans didn't get the beauty of sheepskin. It was thought to be hot and prickly. So he decided it was time to get out and give up.
But then he caught a break. It was October and the first storm was hitting the coast and it was windy and raining and Brian got back soaking wet from the golf course one afternoon to find 15 to 20 messages on his answering machine from retailers screaming for product. At this point Brian decided that if he was going to stay in, he was going to raise some capital and make it into a real business.
Although he was an accountant, he found raising capital difficult because he didn't have any real understanding of finance. Brian knew how to write business plans and do forecasts, but didn't know that investors only wanted answers to three questions ‑ how do I get my money out, when will I get my money out, and will I make a profit when I get my money out. He thought investors should see the greatness of his idea and be thrilled to be on the ride with him.
Brian learned that being in the accounting field didn't mean he was in the money field. As an accountant, he figured out what happened last year. In business you forecast your money needs. The two are very different.
Brian says every entrepreneur needs to learn that first before they ever start a business. Looking where the depths and cash flow are going to be is really important.
In the beginning, Brian decided to do some magazine advertising and started by using models and posing them on the beach like a product shot. He did this for two or three years, but sales remained flat.
Eventually, he asked a surf shop buddy what he was doing wrong. His buddy asked some surf kids in the shop what they thought of UGGs and the kids responded with, "Oh, those things are so fake. Those models in the ads, they can't surf." That's when Brian realized he was sending the wrong message to his target market.
After switching up his marketing and reaching his target market more, Brian reaped an increase in sales – all because he matched the image of what he was trying to get across – how cool the boots really were – with his target market.
When asked about beginners utilizing marketing and branding experts, Brian reminds us of what he learned the hard way – our brands are not our logos, our products, or any trademark registrations. Our brands are what people think of us. You can utilize all the marketing and branding experts you want, but if you don't get out there and build a following around it, it's a useless brand – a useless graphic art.
Brian also reminds us that it takes time to build a brand, to build a business. It takes time again and again of consistently showing up and putting forth the effort and creating your following. It's not an overnight success system. It takes years of time and energy and sacrifices to build the momentum needed to turn your vision into success.
In order to develop a strong foundation with deep roots, you must go through the growth phases. As Brian states, "You can't give birth to adults."
Not understanding the importance of the financial side of business – the forecasting needed – is Brian's biggest failure in starting out. He feels his success made it harder and the more successful he got the harder the business was to run because he didn't have the cash flow to handle it. He knows he threw away over a million dollars' worth of orders because he couldn't finance the production.
Brian's advice is to understand the money aspect of business before you get too far into starting your business.
"Just get started," is what Brian tells others who want to start their own business. Once you start, the universe will conspire to work with you. This means the universe is absolutely perfect and everything you could possibly want already exists somewhere in this universe, but until you start to take action, you'll never see the evidence of what's out there.
JANINE L. HOLMAN
Janine Holman is a freelance writer, photographer, and travel blogger - founder of Life Beyond Awesome – a site of travel journeys for adventurers, foodies, and lovers of luxurious things. Her stories cover both local and international travel and focus on diving into cultures and communities and the people who make them thrive. She invests time in learning how to best travel on a dime – being money smart and maximizing travel dollars while still enjoying the luxurious side of life (spas, restaurants, quaint places to stay, etc.). Janine covers all kinds of topics and is known for being adventurous, enjoying the outdoors, and embarking down the path less traveled. Most of all Janine enjoys sharing her life’s adventures and showing others how they too can design a Life Beyond Awesome.