Summer 2016 Entrepreneurial Experiences

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Internship Conclusion

Tuesday, August 2, 2016 4:00 pm

My eight week internship at Loopey Laces has concluded, meaning an end to my two main projects as well. Starting out, I had little idea at the scope that my work would cover or the audience that it would reach. My first project, a massive compilation of contact information for potential customers of the Loopey Laces sorority line, wrapped up nicely with a comprehensive calendar of fall semester Panhellenic bid days for over 75 colleges and universities. Information I collected also included chapter size and contact information for close to a thousand individual organizations. And I did not merely store this information for later use by the company, but instead individually contacted each and every chapter president or executive member on that list with hyper-targeted sales pitches. Both the volume and quality of the information that I spent much of my summer researching supplies an invaluable resource for the company, for both initial and future sales. During this process, I also learned the value of understanding the target customer, putting this to use with personalized messages and descriptions for each sorority or university. Understanding Loopey Laces customers also allows for more focused and directed advertising approaches by the company.

My second big project from the past eight weeks was a series of blog posts meant to drive traffic to the Loopey Laces website and optimize search engine results in the process. The peak of success in this endeavor was an article that put common marketing strategies to use: piggybacking on current trends to grab readers’ attention and sparking the sort of ideas that drive heated conversation. The title of the blog post was “Gotta Rush ‘Em All: Which Pokemon Represents Your Sorority?” and it was read by over 45,000 people! Many loved it, some were unhappy with their sorority’s result, but all of them read a piece of my writing that I never expected to be so popular. A vast majority of this traffic to the article was organic, meaning that social media likes and shares moved into the line of vision of friends-of-friends of each reader. This led to many more hits on the Loopey Laces websites and social media pages than ever before. Yet no other blog post in the series reached a fraction of this success; even articles that were promoted via paid advertisement reached less than 5,000 readers. I do not know how many of those article hits translated directly into sales (nor do I know if it is possible to accurately calculate such a thing), but it has worked wonders for SEO. Loopey Laces is now a top result for anyone searching for Greek apparel, particularly in regards to shoelaces. The blog also supplied Loopey Laces with a platform from which to promote other products in return for their endorsements or partnerships, expanding valuable contact routes. My work on the blog far exceeded any expectations I had for it.

My time at Loopey Laces has been a roller coaster. I am relieved to be able to look back on it all with a new perspective, knowing that my work made a difference.

Week Seven: Loopey Laces

Sunday, July 24, 2016 8:26 pm

Turning a product into a genuine brand name takes quite a bit of work; the act of building a company from the ground up requires serious leadership. Yet while there are classes for learning start-up business basics, accounting, marketing, and the like for the entrepreneurial-minded, mastering leadership takes experience and practice. In this regard, every start-up is a bit of an experiment. Loopey Laces is no different.

To some, the start-up environment is appealing because budding leadership seems to mean flexibility in the business model and an overall more creative experience. But this comes at the expense of tried and true expectations, roles, and business methods. Lack of experienced leadership can quickly become a problem when professionalism and employee morale get overlooked; while incessantly working to make sales and expand a new company, sometimes product sales get valued more than the people who do the leg work to make them. And employee satisfaction falls by the wayside. Leaders who make extremely clear that their time is more valuable than that of those supporting their endeavor send a painfully clear message about their company values. While this sort of practice may potentially benefit a company in the short-term, as it means greater revenue when start-up costs are still quite high, it is certainly not sustainable. Leadership must be developed and scaled to fit a growing business just like any other form of capital. Granted, every aspect of an entrepreneurial endeavor is a process and it is not expected of every person to be a perfect visionary, businessman, and leader at all times. The act of being an entrepreneur means taking action without any clearly set examples for guidance. Yet it seems a sad fact that sometimes working for young entrepreneurs means working with them before they’ve truly discovered how to professionally lead a company.

Given this major growing pain, I have realized a bit about my own professional preferences. As a personality trait, I seem to prefer structure and clear objectives to motivate me throughout my daily work. I find that I am at my most productive when working roles are clearly defined and demonstrated through strong leadership that I can adopt myself, rather than tasks simply being delegated in a way that makes them seem undervalued or unimportant. While I enjoy taking part in the crafting of a company from the ground up and being able to look back on how far it has come and the variety of roles I played in shaping it, I am perhaps more suited to join in a bit later in an entrepreneurial endeavor, when leadership has become more fine-tuned and there is a hierarchy beyond just “CEO” and “intern”. This being said, every experience is valuable. Learning what I do not like is just as important to me as learning what I do prefer. And this is important to keep in mind as I wrap up my time interning at Loopey Laces.

Week Six: Loopey Laces

Sunday, July 17, 2016 6:34 pm

Like all businesses, Loopey Laces has its fair share of difficulties, generated both from within and without. As Loopey Laces grows and expands, it is becoming increasingly harder for it to stay in its own shell, so to speak. That is, the capital and human resources available for the company cannot grow as quickly as would be necessary to ensure the same amount of efficiency the company had at its conception. We are all working from our own laptops and phones simultaneously, limited by physical space in our make-shift office (and limited power outlet availability) and the capacity of our aging machines. There are very few of us doing many different jobs in a day. And since the company lacks a professional office space, it is often virtually impossible to eliminate distractions around us. This can sometimes lead to certain tensions in the workplace that would likely not arise should Loopey Laces upgrade to a new space.

Yet the hardships generated from without are much tougher to tackle. The collegiate line, although progressing now past the design phase, is lacking a few key schools that the company ideally wanted to create, as they would likely be fast sellers. Although the process was expedited for LL, licensing rights for each school individually is still an ongoing process that requires constant negotiation. And, unfortunately, a lot of waiting and futile attempts to get into contact with many influential players at once. While conference calls seem like a simple task, the orchestration of busy schedules from all across the board is truly an art form.

Quality concerns have also come to the forefront, as Loopey Laces gets into the market of other items, like sticky wallets and nylon bracelets. The company’s goal is to provide the best possible product for the consumer, which means choosing the best possible manufacturer to produce them at the lowest possible cost. This is another area that requires frequent negotiation.

Luckily there is little direct competition for the specific items we provide. Instead, we simply have to convince customers of the merit of our products compared to generic Greek apparel and accessories available from the many large players who dominate the sorority and fraternity market. We continue to do so with hard work put into advertising campaigns and brand awareness work. Although there are bound to be yet more growing pains for Loopey Laces, that will not stop us from moving forward anyway.

Week Five: Loopey Laces

Monday, July 11, 2016 4:02 pm

Working at Loopey Laces is certainly a unique experience. The team here has fewer people than you would find behind even the smallest business venture. As a result, it is vitally important for all of us to be working together and following the same set of ultimate goals; we must divide up tasks among us that other companies would likely have separate personnel for. It also puts more emphasis on peer-review. Since there are no levels of command between the CEOs and the interns, our opinions are shared openly and honestly so that we can all stay in check and keep moving the company forward. Decisions typically start at the top of this small chain of command, but there is constant feedback that allows any suggestions I may have to be considered with equal deliberation as well. We are loosely divided into respective areas of design, production, sales, and marketing, but these roles are fluid as the needs of the company change throughout the summer. Having these roles allows us to focus on ongoing projects of our own during times where there are no pressing matters to be promptly addressed. For example, as the collegiate lace line is in its design phase, I assist in reviewing brand and logo standards to ensure that all qualifications are met. In between these reviews, I can autonomously continue working on sales and promotions through our social media channels, particularly the Loopey Laces blog, so as to allow Tommy (the CEO and main lace designer) to continue his work without feeling that he needs to oversee me. While this is happening, Tim (the other CEO) is able to review financial records of the company and keep it running smoothly. Certain parts of the work day are put aside for the group to come together and step back as a unit to review the big picture of everything we are working on. This often includes touching base with the other intern, who works only part-time at LL and must periodically be filled in on the happenings.

Luckily, we have yet to experience any devastating failure that would set Loopey Laces back too far. Yet small disappointments are inevitable. When promotions are less effective than expected or channels of contact do not pan out profitably, the blow is felt by the entire team. It is often the case in these instances that another member of the team will take over a project and turn it in another direction, or the group will brainstorm new tactics. But when things do go well (like when the CEOs return from a sorority convention with some large group orders), praise is actively given where it is due. While there are no office parties or official company celebrations, phrases like “thank you!” and “that looks great!” are thrown about without hesitation.

While Loopey Laces is a professional company committed to selling its products, it is important to remember that, at the same time, we are peers. Every member of the team is a college student, making us both friends and colleagues. While Tim and Tommy are my bosses and I respect them and their opinions, I am also able to be frank with them when I feel something the company is doing is not a productive use of time. Our office climate is in many ways highly unconventional, but in a time where technological progress and accessible resources have created a shift in who is “allowed” to be an entrepreneur, we may very well be a model for many other start-ups to follow in the future.

Week Four: Loopey Laces

Monday, July 4, 2016 11:25 pm

It is hard to believe that I have just passed the halfway point of my time at Loopey Laces. While the small team at LL has been working hard on product development, marketing, and sales, there is still much to be done to put the company in the best possible position before my internship is over. In terms of one of my two main projects, this benchmark means I have written eight total blog posts for the Loopey Laces website. Although I am currently the main contributor to the blog and will clearly not be continuing to produce original content after the end of my internship, at this stage I am setting up resources to ease this transition. Much of my original content development is now structured in a way that will make it applicable later in the year with minimal changes or even direct reposting of the articles through Loopey Lace’s many social media platforms. I am also creating unreleased content targeting specific marketing campaigns for later use. This will allow the blog to continue driving traffic to the website and boosting SEO, translating in greater brand awareness and sales.

On the data side of things, I have also made great progress on the resource folder that allows us to maintain contact with hundreds of vendors and individual sorority chapters at over 50 universities across the country. This folder has now expanded to include a calendar of key marketing opportunities at each university (i.e., Panhellenic Bid Days), brand ambassador contacts, and research about each chapter to be used in targeted social media campaigns, as well. This contact folder has already proven its value, as I have spent much of the last week efficiently reaching out to individuals in our market to spread brand awareness and set up sales.

While I was admittedly skeptical at first at the correlation between a “Lifestyle blog”, a massive database of contact information, and actual Loopey Laces recognition and sales, these past few weeks have proved me wrong. The articles I have contributed to the website alone have brought thousands of new viewers to the Loopey Laces social media sites, creating a domino effect that brings our products into sight of viewers well outside our initial contact pool. It is somewhat exciting to think that a product I saw launch on Wake’s own campus just a few months ago is now confidently worn by sorority women from Texas to Connecticut. With a start up like Loopey Laces, the value of these connections and advertising opportunities can not be underestimated.

In the next few weeks, I hope to be able to look at the broad picture of my work at Loopey Laces and understand more comprehensively how each part fits together to further the company’s success. While the transition in focus from our sorority line to our new products may somewhat change the course of my main projects before my internship is over, I nonetheless embrace the challenge of adapting in the face of such growth.

Week Three: Loopey Laces

Monday, June 27, 2016 12:08 am

The idea for Loopey Laces spurred quite naturally from the social climate at Wake Forest. In the fall of 2015, Tommy Worcester and Tim Collis were both junior finance majors who noticed an opening in the footwear fashion market. Their initial idea was actually pretty different from the product they sell now: socks that could be worn with Sperry Topsiders, one of the most common types of shoes found around campus on any given day. Yet logistical issues ultimately led to the failure of this idea and, fortunately, the birth of an even better and more original one: custom shoelaces designed to be worn with Chuck Taylors (another facet of the WFU footwear fashion market). Their target consumer was the sorority woman, based both on the custom of wearing color-coordinated converse sneakers decorated with Greek letters and the potential profitability of such a market.

With the great help of the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at Wake Forest, the two CEOs were able to acquire the licensing necessary to turn Worcester’s shoelace designs into a tangible and desirable product. They started with our own campus, suffering the cold as they manned tables of merchandise during Panhellenic Bid Day in January of 2016. Very quickly afterwards, the pair expanded the company into e-commerce and began carrying the letters of large chapters not found at Wake. The goal was that Chucks donning Loopey Laces would be worn far outside the Wake bubble, to tailgates and sorority occasions even at schools not so typically known for Greek distinguished footwear.

Since then, the small start-up has been rapidly expanding. Through extensive advertising, a brand ambassador program, and connections made at trade shows and national sorority conventions, Loopey Laces has now been sold in several states and at many universities across the country. At least one sorority has even purchased laces to be sold at their official store. Yet what has been even more exciting has been the transition into collegiate laces, made possible by a partnership with Glass U, another start-up best know for their collegiate sunglasses. This partnership has allowed the company to work around the high up front cost and long wait time of licensing collegiate apparel. They are now around 18 months ahead of schedule on this new collection. Yet since Loopey Laces is still a very small company with few employees, this new project will mean far less focus on the sorority collection. In anticipation of that, the LL team has been front-loading much of the leg work in advertising and making personal connections for the sorority laces (as well as the bracelets and sticky wallets that have recently become available for pre-order). It will be a big struggle for the company come fall, when the CEOs start their senior year and will have to divide their focus between the company and their school work, but much of the foundation for future sales and re-orders will be laid by that point.

 

Week Two: Loopey Laces

Monday, June 20, 2016 3:25 pm

All those that I have told about my work at Loopey Laces have been quick to point out that sorority shoelaces are a bit of a niche market. In response to that, the LL team has been immersed in work to expand the brand. I have spent every day of these last two weeks literally working side-by-side with the founders of the company in our own make-shift office space, with the exception of a few days of trade shows and conventions that have taken the two CEOs across the country and left me in charge of operations back home. Being young members of a new start-up has not slowed us down in the least. We are all deeply invested in the company and constantly working towards its success. In fact, mutual respect and freedom from judgement have allowed the three of us to constantly be brainstorming new ideas for the present and future of Loopey Laces, as we are unconstrained by a strict business model or disillusioned by failure. Proof of that resides on our giant whiteboard with a constantly changing to-do list and list of products to consider producing. Currently up on our docket are Loopey Laces sticky wallets and nylon bracelets in all nineteen sorority lines that we now carry (if you’re keeping score, that’s two more licenses approved since last week!). This involves serious e-mail communication with manufacturers, assistance in the design process, and market research that will impact pricing and advertising. Coming soon will be collegiate lines from over 50 universities across the country, expanding our market of consumers and shifting focus from current product promotions to a completely new re-branding of the Loopey Laces name. This is certainly an exciting time for the company!

Meanwhile, my work as an intern keeps the company running smoothly, even as projects rapidly evolve and expand and the to-do list on the board turns into more of a to-do web. This past week, one day was dedicated entirely to promotional campaigns of the sorority laces line. Among other elements, this involved staging the product, considering and demonstrating alternate uses for the laces, re-writing more personal and interesting product descriptions on the Loopey Laces website, and writing thoughtful blog posts to draw more online traffic to our social media pages. It is amazing to see the immediate impact that this work has on sales and recognition.

Over the next few weeks, focus will start to shift away from the sorority line of shoelaces and instead, onto our new products and collegiate lace line. By the end of my time working for Loopey Laces this summer, I hope to be able to step back and re-trace the incredible progress that this niche product idea has inspired.

Week One: Loopey Laces

Sunday, June 12, 2016 10:42 pm

In the most succinct terms, Loopey Laces is a Greek apparel retailer. Yet the focus of their sales is an item previously overlooked in this market: sorority-lettered shoelaces. The idea, and soon thereafter the company, was created less than a year ago by two of my fellow Wake Forest University students, Tom Worcester and Tim Collis, at the start of their junior year. The two found instant success selling the laces in Wake’s own Greek community and have since expanded the brand to many other campuses and organizations country-wide. Their inventory currently includes 17 different sorority lines which are being sold via their website to buyers well outside the Wake Forest bubble. Loopey Laces is still in the early stages of start-up development and is thus rapidly expanding, recently joining forces with Glass U to reach a much wider audience with a greater selection of items for sale. Future plans for the company are greatly ambitious and suggest constant growth and evolution of the Loopey Laces brand.

My involvement with the company is slightly outside my comfort zone, as an economics and statistical mathematics major who is much more comfortable crunching numbers than demonstrating any form of convincing salesmanship. Yet technically, I have been given the opportunity to serve Loopey Laces as their marketing and operations intern. The title of which, I must say, does little to capture the entire nature of my position. As an integral part of a fledgling start-up with only three other employees (the two CEOs/ co-founders and one other social media intern), I have already gotten a glimpse as to what they meant when they warned me I would be “wearing a lot of hats.”

My major on-going projects include driving traffic to the Loopey Laces website via its blog and building an extensive database of information on possible businesses and organizations who may have interest in partnering with or purchasing from the company. The latter is much more within my realm of expertise; extensive research is a much more straightforward tactic that varies very little by topic. The former project, however, requires a whole new approach. Even in just the first week of my employment at Loopey Laces, I have learned more about Google algorithms, the science behind the different types of free advertising on the web, and the psychology of turning attention grabbing content into direct sales than any introductory business class would have taught me. A whole new language exists for a start-up company, which has to worry about much more than simply selling products from a table on the quad.

On top of my main projects are the day-to-day tasks that incorporate me into the very heart of what drives Loopey Laces. Few, if any, other internships would have granted me the opportunity to work side-by-side with the two founders of a company and be walked through the process of their voyage to success. I look forward to seeing what the next 5 weeks hold in store for me.

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