Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

During August 2014...

Week 8

Monday, August 25, 2014 4:00 pm

Ten weeks went too fast. Instead of having a completed project or something tangible to measure my time here by, I’m just looking at the company’s progress on a bunch of different issues that my bosses tasked me with when I started. I think the best part, if I have to be specific, would be the chance I got to travel with the founders to Atlanta to meet with our creative agency. We are consistently complimented on our paper presentation, and as someone who loves photography and is aesthetically-opinionated, I loved being able to see what a creative agency was all about. Furthermore, the way they attack issues is just so different from most of what we learn in business school. I’m not going to pull a Kanye West and call myself a creative genius, but I do love the thought process that goes into the more abstract side of building a company and a brand. As a result, the round table conversation we had for a couple hours in Atlanta was an unforgettable experience that made me realize that if business feels like it’s driving me into the ground in a few years, something on the more creative side would be even more up my alley than finance.

Overall, I couldn’t be more pleased with my experience at Fulton & Roark. I was lucky enough to become friends as well as colleagues with Allen and Kevin, and they were nice enough to keep me on the team in the coming year and hopefully beyond. Things are looking up for Fulton & Roark, with the launch of the shaving cream just a couple months away. That whole project is what I see as a crossroads for the company, but the difficult part is that we won’t be driving the car when we get there. The best way I can put it is that it’s like more of a remote control car with a serious lag between input and output, so the work we have and continue to put in before the launch are really going to determine whether F&R heads down the path of a sharp increase in revenue and value, or sees their profits stagnate and become more of a little side project than a potential cash cow in the coming years. Either way, the company would be deemed a success by an outsider, but why settle for merely ‘success’.

Week 7

Monday, August 25, 2014 3:38 pm

It’s tough for me to talk about leadership since no one worked under me and my bosses did all they could to make our relationship seem horizontal. As far as entrepreneurial management however, I learned quite a bit. Being in such a young company, all the aspects of the business were magnified. I think the biggest thing this microscope brought to the light was how much every decision matters. This sounds kind of self-explanatory, but it’s more than just recognizing the fact that less total decisions makes each one more important (in a small company). I find it more to be about the awareness that I had to have that, for example, a seemingly meaningless phone call I might have with a store owner about inventory could leave either a great or compromising taste in his mouth. Because of our size, this interaction could be just one interaction away from getting (or not getting) a big piece of press from a noted local publication. That jump might seem a little drastic, but my point is that there’s only so many impressions of Fulton & Roark out there. As a face, or voice, of the company, it’s vital that people leave a phone call or whatever it might be wanting to tell other people about what we do and why they think we’re awesome. Selling a unique spin on a well-known product makes it easy for us to end up in conversations, so it’s on us to take advantage of the niche we’ve created.

Week 6

Monday, August 25, 2014 3:19 pm

The biggest challenge I see for Fulton & Roark is one of expansion. We burst onto the scene with a unique product that made it easy for us to get press. In turn, we basically got free advertising. This was vital to build the customer base we have, as well as the variety of retailers we were able to get into. When we come out with our shaving cream product in the coming months, we will learn a lot about the future of the company. Within 2 or 3 months, I think the company will have either taken off or stagnated, and the challenge is to make the situation play out more like the former.

There’s no blueprint for the best way to do this, so ‘how we are handling’ it a daunting question. To be honest, it’s a bit of a guessing game. The quality of our product and the packaging is something we have never compromised on. If we do succeed with our new products, this will have to be at the crux of our consumer loyalty and ability to spread the word. Travel-friendly is a perk, but it can’t be the selling point for a brand. At least not our brand as we envision it. Keeping up good relationships with out retailers and returning customers will help create an initial push when products hit market, but we will need some buzz beyond that in order to really make a jump in revenue.

As far as competitors, Fulton & Roark appears to be in a favorable spot for the time being. None of the big players in men’s grooming have come out with a solid cologne, so its tough to consider any of them a direct competitor. There are fewer small companies like us doing solid colognes than you would think, and most of them seem to have a crunchy, nature-first approach to the product. While respectable, we believe function and form are more important when it comes to making an awesome product that we can build a company around. As a result, none of these companies, many from California, really threaten us long term. Our biggest enemies our ourselves and our own decisions about how to grow. There’s a few great indy-type men’s grooming companies that our good role models for us, like Baxter of California and Ursa Major, but neither carry a solid cologne. While we eventually would like to carry all the bathroom products those companies do, for now we just need to see what they did to expand so successfully while building a unique brand focused more on our travel friendly and innovative products.

Final Transformation

Friday, August 22, 2014 1:29 pm

I’ve officially wrapped up my time at Transformed Minds, and in a way, it was a transformative experience. I went into it not knowing what to expect and knowing that I would have to be going out on a limb to contact leaders of prison and jail ministries and programs that emphasized mental health services. I didn’t know whether I would acquire any useful data and commentary from these leaders.

Thankfully, at least toward the end of my internship, people started responding to my inquiries, and I had some really informative and enlightening phone interviews that helped shed light on the U.S. prison system in general, but especially how it pertains to the mental health services offered to inmates and people re-entering society from prison.

The best part was definitely actually getting to talk to the people who were doing the work I spent the majority of the summer reading about and getting a better idea of how the system works in action. The worst part of my internship was probably the fact that I did it without any peers. I definitely think that for certain types of research, it is more fun to work with other people who share the interest and can possibly look at the work you’re doing from another angle. Don’t get me wrong, I collaborated with my boss a lot, which was really helpful, but with a staff of 3, the office environment was at times a little slow for me. But, such is the not-for-profit way of doing things sometimes.

The major reason this experience was transformative is because I learned something about myself that I guess I already knew but needed confirmed. This was that I really need to improve my mode of communication with others. By this, I mean that I have a tendency to assume that I don’t need to keep people updated about what’s going on in my life or that I don’t have to be frequent in relaying my work progress to my superiors.

I was lucky this summer in that my work environment was extremely relaxed, so I was able to work from home or not in the office and was not penalized when life got in the way of working, which it especially did this summer. I realized toward the end of my time, though, that this behavior left my boss kind of “in the dark” about how I was doing, and that wasn’t fair to me. Again, I was lucky because my boss and I have a close relationship and the environment was lax, so it wasn’t a big deal. However, he warned me that in a more high-stakes environment, I can’t keep people out of the loop because they won’t be as empathetic and supportive when I keep things from them until the last minute.

So, if there’s anything I took away from this summer, it was that communication is key. It was key to the success of my research, and it will be key to my professional success, as well.

My last week at CST

Friday, August 15, 2014 2:32 pm

I wrapped up my internship this week. I was truly really sad to leave. It became clear to me this morning, as I didn’t head in to work, that there was never a morning I dreaded work or didn’t want to go in. I looked forward to work every day. Not many people can say that and I feel very lucky to have felt that way about my summer internship. At the end of the day, I’m not sure casting is my chosen career path. However, if I ever open my own theatre, the skills and lessons I learned at Chicago Shakespeare will aid me immensely. Most small theatres do not have in-house casting departments; it is a luxury for the larger houses. If I were to open a theatre, my partners and I would have to do everything. My knowledge of how to organize and run a casting session would help us in running a professional company. I am also leaving with a much larger sense of who the actors are in this city, as well as what theatres are doing what kind of work here. Before I started working here, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to move to New York City or come to Chicago after graduation. At the end of this summer, I am pretty confident I will come back to Chicago. It seems silly to not come back here and make use of the connections I have made and the knowledge of the theatre landscape here that I have gained.

I am so grateful to have worked with and met such incredible people at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. They welcomed me as part of the team for the summer and I can’t imagine having worked anywhere else. I saw twenty-two plays this summer, for free. I am so thankful for the ability to have done this internship!

Week 5

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 7:43 pm

Ahh ‘culture’. What a word. I can’t say it applies in the traditional ‘professional’ or ‘corporate’ culture sense to Fulton & Roark, but it’s an interesting topic nonetheless. Loose is the first word that comes to mind. Not on the opposite side of the spectrum to ‘structured’, but just not tense. Every idea is welcomed, debated, and then either improved on, branched off of, or dismissed. And all three of us (the two founders and me) have all three types of idea often, and this really makes for a culture that pushes creativity.

When it comes to decisions, obviously not much gets done without the approval of Allen and Kevin. This way I can’t mess anything up too bad. In all honesty though, it’s nice to feel appreciated on an even plane with your superiors when brainstorming is going on, and then to have decisions be made by people with more experience and foresight for the company and brand. It has been an opportunity to really let me brain flow free and not be afraid to blurt out anything, and then see what sorts of my ideas are practical and good for the company. Furthermore, when one thought turns into a ten minute session on perfecting said thought, I do my best to take it all in. Those types of productive idea building sessions are what the most successful business men can do with themselves. Obviously this is not to say that running a company or department relies on one person’s vision, but the farther you can advance an idea on your own, the more a group can get out of a brainstorming session with you present. an internship where I can work on this skill will hopefully prove invaluable to my future.


Week 4

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 6:59 pm

Reflecting on the half way point of my summer is a little weird because to be honest, it feels like I just started. The unpredictability of my daily work makes the weeks never seem to drag on. As a company we’ve accomplished a lot in these last four weeks, from getting into seven new stores, being featured in GQ, as well as two lifestyle blogs that have helped share the brand. On a personal note, I’d say I’m most proud of our work towards international expansion. Both in Ireland and Australia, strides have been made to be selling product before the end of the summer. Logistically, the process has been a little more complicated than we first expected. International regulations on imports through customs vary by country, and with a product that contains alcohol, we find ourselves a little more ‘investigated’ than would be convenient. It has been a good learning process for us though, and it will serve as great experience if we reach our goal of shipping enough internationally that we can hire a company and train them ourselves.

As far as what has been surprising, I can’t really think of much. Sure some small things can be funny or ridiculous when dealing with such a broad range of local and national partners, but all in all the process has been very manageable when you really break it down. It might not make for a great writing prompt, but I have enjoyed handling so many small pieces that individually are little more than a simple relationship through a computer or telephone line requiring good communication and transparency. When you put all of these different relationships and the fruits together, you have what it takes to run a small company and get what you need done when you need it. TO be perfectly honest, if I had to pick the single most surprising thing it would be how unorganized some small business owners seem. Maybe it just manifests itself on the communication side of things, but it can be extremely frustrating. I’m pretty much always available to talk 9-5, so when it takes someone two days to get back to me it can really hinder things. Oftentimes, getting something set up could be a 3 hour process but it instead takes three days. For example, we needed to get 100 of the tubes we ordered from a metal tube company to the previous owners of a filling and crimping machine in order for them to calibrate it for us. Sounds simple enough, but nothing ever runs that smoothly. I won’t go through the entire process, but I ended up talking on the phone with 6 or 7 people in 3 different companies just to get some extra tubes similar to ours shipped to me personally (which I then had to turn around and get to the machine holders). Good lessons in dealing with people and getting ish done I suppose, but damn can it be frustrating.


Week 8

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 3:35 pm

My summer at EquityZen has been quite an experience. Even though I learned a lot about the startup world prior to the start of my internship through methods like reading and talking to others, I have learned an even greater amount by showing up to work everyday and immersing myself in the startup scene. The internship as a whole has been an extremely rewarding experience as it has taught me things that could not be learned in a traditional learning environment- things like networking, how to speak up in a respectful way, and how to collaborate with others with completely different professional backgrounds.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been a part of a number of projects over the course of my internship. However, the most rewarding project was by far the “Companies Trending Page”, a separate section of EquityZen’s website that contained a database of what companies clients had an interest in. This project was more design and technical oriented, which ultimately forced me to go outside my comfort zone of topics like finance and business. Although this project had a lot of ups and downs, it was very satisfying to see the finished product live on the website, which helped drive a significant amount of additional traffic to the website.

Overall, my internship experience this summer was not only fulfilling, but also challenging. The various challenges I faced this summer have been wonderful learning experiences. I look forward to sharing some of these experiences beyond these posts in a few weeks.

Week 3

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 7:00 am

The roots, inspiration, growing pains and solutions. Got it.

The founders (Allen and Kevin) met while getting their MBA’s from Wake. One day, Kevin realized the solid women’s perfume he had been using for an undisclosed period of time was actually such a better product to market towards men. You can take it with you anywhere, guys are more prone to putting on way too much cologne, it doesn’t break. The benefits seemed endless. Most importantly, no one was doing it. An idea was born, and the process seemed simple enough, even if some parts were a little tedious.

The duo went to work trying to create scents they liked out of essential oils, a process that yielded over 100 recorded concoctions and countless crappy ones. Meanwhile, a lot of research and experimentation led Allen and Kevin to a serasin-based wax formula that could mix with an alcohol-diluted mix of essential oils (and smell all day, disappear into skin, etc.) Next came the biggest creative hurdle, as well as the most risky step of the process, designing a container and package. F&R linked up with MetaLeap, a creative agency out of Atlanta that I was lucky enough to meet with a couple weeks ago. They took care of all of our paper goods, from packaging to instructional post cards to put next to our POS display. The actual shatterproof metal casing was done by a designer out of Atlanta as well, Brandon Pakula.

That’s how to make the process sound simple, but growing pains certainly have occurred along the way. Being a small company has made everything require persistence on our end, whether it be hiring a company to make the metal container or getting a quote for a F&R custom shipping box. This has meant little more than a delay on expected timetables which while frustrating, is a pretty good outcome from our biggest growing pain to date.

Week 2

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 6:39 am

With Fulton & Roark being a 3 person operation, communication is a constant, A necessity even, at least to be efficient. As a result, I’ve gotten to know Kevin and Allen (bosses/founders) really well, and it could not be going better. They’re two easy going guys with a plan; they make it super easy to be productive while not giving off any sort of boss to employee aura. They’re still young guys (30 and 28, respectively), and in an environment so demanding of creativity there is something to be said for that youthful ambition that comes with a young idea.

As far as the company as a whole, I probably already mentioned we are just over a year since first revenue with product line expansion on the horizon. Moving from just a solid cologne product to first a shaving cream, then an aftershave, has been the overarching ‘state of the union’, if you will, while I’ve been interning. The process has proved to be more expensive and time consuming than initially anticipated, but we’re expecting the shave cream before Christmas and then the aftershave a few months later. People love our solid cologne product, the success is undeniable, but without some sense of brand to give us staying power, our chances of growing at all are slim. That’s why the first part of my description of my relationship with my bosses was about creativity, it’s vital.

As far as the ‘brand’ that we are pushing, it starts and stops with men’s grooming. It’s a growing industry that we believe lacks a whole tier of products, and in turn, companies. “Built for the way men operate” is our company motto, and we try to infuse as much practicality and function into our products and their roles in the daily routine of men. Our solid cologne product redefined the game, plain and simple. And I say that with my tongue only partially in my cheek. A cologne solution chemically guaranteed to give you a more consistent smell all day and its portable and unbreakable? That’s something that, in theory, you could convince hundreds of thousands of Americans that they need. That challenge is at the crux of the company’s direction, as well as my professional relationship with Kevin and Allen.

On a more daily basis, it all gets back to communication. Oftentimes, a chunk of my day’s workload will come in on the morning of. I won’t bore you with a list of the random type stuff this could be, but most of it stems from relationships with international business partners or our shipping company (who only does domestic). I’ll save the int’l stuff for a later blog but expansion overseas has been a goal of Kevin and Allen in recent months. A feature in GQ Australia is a good way to kick that off. I spend most of my day juggling the few things I have to run out and do with calls and emails. (And projects, different blog). F&R discussions and planning usually happen over dinner, creating a nice balance of independence and sense of involvement. Damn that was corny but it’s the truth.

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