Intro: Welcome to this episode of The Big Possible Show. This is Noah Scott signing on with another incredible guest today. Our guest today Rob Kessler is the inventor and co-founder of Million Dollar Collar and goTIELESS a relatively simple solution to fix what his company dubs Placketitis. To fix what his company dubs Placketitis the sinking, wrinkling, and folding of the placket of a casually worn dress shirt. goTIELESS is the first shirt designed to be worn tieless featuring Million Dollar Collar.
Noah Scott: Rob welcome to the show. This is exciting. As a traveler I always want to bring dress shirts with me but they always get wrinkled. Good to have you on the show brother, how's it going?
Rob Kessler: Good man good. It's been a wild little ride here so I love to talk about it.
Noah: Fantastic, just for the listeners outside of the bio do you want to give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?
Rob: I just did another podcast right before this. They titled me serial entrepreneur. I don't know if I have had a dozen or two LLCs over my lifetime. I'm not a big fan of titles so it's kind of weird to me. It's funny when I'm out with my wife and I meet one of her friends or something and they're like, "What do you do?" I'm a business guy. I do business. I don't know how to define it. I find things that I like and I see if there's an opportunity and I build a little business around it, have some fun and see how it goes.
I've sold houses, cars, and diamonds so the three biggest things most people will buy, I invented a product, I've started multiple companies, I'm a 50 ton master captain, I have a charter business, I had a screen-printing business, I had a clothing company, I've done real estate, all kinds of stuff. I love finding something that I enjoy and digging in and seeing what the opportunities are.
Noah: You can see why I really wanted to have Rob on the show, it epitomizes the attitude of sinking your teeth in and getting it done. Rob, share with the listeners a story of a time that you went out and reached for a dream? You saw an impossible task and you set yourself up to just go for it.
Rob: I'm in it right now, Million Dollar Collar is... I patented it, it took 2 1/2 years and a little over $100,000 to do so that was insanely expensive and I'm in the middle of this process. We've been selling online for just over 6 years now, and we've sold half a million units to people in 125 countries so that's been super exciting. We've had 30,000 customers or something like that. It's a really different world for me, everything else has been a really person-to-person relationship, house cards and diamonds like I said. You don't just walk in and spend half a million dollars on a house and I guess in certain markets you do. If you're going to propose to someone you love you want to make sure that diamond looks right. Everything I've done so far has been relationship-based and so this being an eCommerce thing is a little bit more challenging to try to get my point across and my personality across. We're in the middle of it, we're trying to license it to some major brands and just get it built-in at production.
Noah: Let's take us to a story of a time when it was particularly challenging? Maybe there was a moment that as you're growing this business, you're faced with something like whoa this is hard? What was that moment?
Rob: Every day, I hear no thousands and thousands of times, when I first got the patent and my partner and I got meetings with every major brand in New York so we flew out there and spent a week and we met with every company, talked to everybody, and got a little bit of interest and got a lot of I don't know if our customer cares, I'm not really sure if your this or that. Okay, we'll go prove it. So we've been selling direct to consumers for the last 5 or 6 years. Obviously, the last 2 years have been a little bit challenging as people have moved into more of a home office and a little bit more casual but sales are up and we continue to grind through.
So the focus this year, now that we've got close to half a million units in sales is really talking to the factories and talking to these big brands and saying let's make this a staple thing in your shirts and really set your shirts apart. Statistics say that 90% of men wear a dress shirt without a tie most of the time. So you're talking 80, 90% of the time, 80, 90% of the dress shirts are worn without a tie and no one has the technology addressing the front of shirt like I do, nobody does. It's frustrating that those brands aren't seeing it, and they're like the Titanic and they're taking forever to pivot where I'm ready to go and I'm itching. Let's go man, let's go, let's do it.
We got really close back in October 2019, this all came about if you can see over my shoulder here, that's my wedding day my shirt fell apart on my wedding day just made me look terrible just before I can say I do and that was an Express MMX which is the number one selling dress shirt in America, 30 million dollars a year I think they sell something like that. We had a meeting with Express, they invited us out, we were talking with them. We go through this whole meeting and all these different departments are like yes cool. If you want to see something cool, I'll give you marketing gold right there is my wedding shirt, sitting right there on the counter, I flipped it around and slid it across the table and they were like oh my God. And then it turned out the owner of Express was like the main guy that funded Jeffrey Epstein and then COVID hit and their other company was struggling so...
Noah: Wow it's pretty wild that... go ahead.
Rob: No, you just keep fighting man.
Noah: It's pretty wild how you just put something in motion and then you start talking to other people and then the wheels start turning, the flywheel starts going. Really if we can kind of bring it back to the listeners. Maybe they're just at the beginning stage of that. What are some practical tips that you can suggest for people to start getting that momentum in their dreams?
Rob: Well, I've had success in the things that I was passionate about. If I was just chasing a dollar and thinking there was some opportunity to make some money it's easy to fall off and when you hear no for the thousandth time, or you get a door slammed in your face it's easy to say, "Man screw this it's not worth it." I passionately believe that my product will change dress shirts forever. I want to be ubiquitous and it should be in every single dress shirt that is made, with a small minority that aren't because I'm passionate about what I'm doing. It's easier to fight through those times. Trust me, there are days I sit on the coach and think what am I doing with my life, I'm 44 years old, we didn't make any sales today online, what the hell is happening?
Fortunately, I have a partner in life, my wife. On the days that I'm down she's crushing life and the days when she's questioning things and not knowing where she's going to go. She's a badass Hollywood stunt woman so she's been in Captain Marvel and a ton of huge movies and TV shows and music videos and has done all kinds of crazy stuff. Even after all that there are days I don't know what I'm doing, she's a little insecure and I'm always there to boost her back up and push her through.
Having that support team is really, really important for us at least and we live in Atlanta, we didn't know anybody when we moved here, we didn't know anyone when we moved to Los Angeles so we rely on each other to get through those times.
Noah: It's very fascinating. I would love to hear some of the thoughts that you have around where we're headed in the future? I know you have a great mission to really revolutionize the dress shirt but let's zoom out in Rob's world. What are you really excited about in the future? What do you see in trends happening that are particularly noteworthy? You can answer this with your industry or just in life in general.
Rob: I really loved working in an office setting, not that I had a cubicle but when I was in real estate when I was in my early 20s, mid-20s I loved the atmosphere of being around other people and having that synergy and that stuff happening. I feel like as people ran away from the offices over the last few years in the next certain amount of time people are going to be running back to those types of spaces. Especially the creative people who really know... That's one of the things I loved about LA. Almost everything I met there knew they couldn't do it on their own and it was so much help between each other and people trying to help each other out. I loved that synergy and that working together and you just don't get that working from home. I've done it for so long but I really want to be in a space where I can be around other people and shoot ideas off of them and see what their thoughts are and have more of a relationship again. It's so hard to do for me over a camera, over a phone.
Noah: Absolutely, that in-person connection that I'm really excited to see that starts to come back. I have been using WeWork's for the last year. You need that, at least I do, a lot of people need that.
Going through your businesses I'm sure you've had the opportunity to really think about the way that you approach problems, the way you approach decisions. That's one of the things I really like to geek out about on this show. How do people make good decisions? How do people look at the things they are doing in their life and come up with the best framework in which to approach them? Do you have a decision making framework or mental model or just a general life philosophy that you like to lean on?
Rob: Yeah, you know my dad I learned a lot from him he started with nothing. He borrowed $700 from my grandpa, moved from Detroit to Milwaukee and 2 years ago he retired from his 7 location jewelry store with 115 employees and $35 million in revenue.
Having watched him grow that business, I worked for him twice, once in college and once after the crash in real estate in 2008. He always said it goes in the order of customer first, team second, and the company third. If you really focus on the customer and the customer's needs and make them happy , you can't go wrong. I am a big customer service guy because most of the sales I've done are relationship-based. Even in this, somebody has a problem, #1 I want to figure out what the problem is, see if there is something I can do and if I can't then I'm going to refund them and I'm going to do everything I can. Not everybody is... there is not one product for everybody so I get that.
I am very, very customer-centric and I try to respond to emails as fast as possible. I always say sorry for the delay if it's been like 6 or 8 hours. Delay? It's the weekend dude Sunday I didn't think I was going to be hearing from anybody till Monday. I'm really fast at getting on it, it's really nice to hear when people are not thinking they are going to hear from somebody and then i get back to them quickly, customer first.
Noah: What do you do in terms of really making your customers feel special? What are some of the approaches that you take, what's the experience like from their side? I think that's an important part of everything that we do, building that community aspect into a brand. So often it gets neglected and I think that separates that winning experience from somebody. We'd love to hear your approach.
Rob: The simple thing that we start with... We do online sales so we don't do a lot of interaction so my mom actually does all of my daily orders. If you order from my website or Walmart or one of these places my mom's going to do it. Just handwrite their name on it and then sign your name. The smallest little personal touch, at least there was a human on the other side of this. If someone is bitching that something is wrong I can be like my mom must have missed that...
We're people, we're humans, problems happen, for us my wife and I built a charter business in Los Angeles it's called Bella Boating and for us, we've been on boats for a long time, you just want to show up and have a good time. That business we supply almost everything so we've got towels, we've got a charcuterie board and bottled water and ice and cups. You see some of these other charter boats and people are lugging a week's worth of camp gear and coolers and all this crap. No show up with a couple of bottles and we got everything else taken care of, have a great time, we'll take care of it, and then go home. We're always thinking of customers in that way, we've always had for all of our businesses we can. We're always doing all-inclusive pricing because I hate being nickel and dimed, I don't want to do the math, just tell me how much the freakin' thing costs so I can mentally put it together.
We owned 2 commercial buildings with 32 offices and they were similar to how WeWork except it was an all-inclusive office and it included your internet, your electricity. It was your own space that you could lock up and leave. All-inclusive we had offices from $350 a month up to $900 a month and we just included the internet. You just wrote one check every month and the name of that company was getoffyourkitchentable.com. It was the first office you have when you were leaving the house, you know the kid's stuff is everywhere so you want to look professional so you have this little office. They were 100, 125 square foot offices, they weren't very big but it was someplace for somebody to go. We put ourselves in the customer's shoes first and then we start building the company around that.
Noah: I love hearing the amount of impact that you're able to have over so many different industries. When you get an idea it sounds like you just go out and start to create it.
The thing that I would love to see if we can explore a little bit is this concept of leverage. When you create a business you need a lot of power, there's a lot of things, moving pieces that need to go into place. Sometimes people might not have enough leverage to make that happen. We'd love to hear your thoughts about that concept of leverage and utilizing the assets that you have to create something new.
Rob: So to me leverage is two points. It's money and it's time and one of the things we spend and invest a lot of money in for us... If you think about a stock you can get a free website from Wix for nothing or $29 a month for Shopify.
Million Dollar Collar, I think we spend around 13, or $1400 a month just on the website and the automation within it. To me that is a really, really cheap employee, for $1400 a month I've got somebody to follow up if you abandon the cart, it's going to say thank you for ordering, and it's going to ask you for a review, and it does the work of maybe one or two people. For us on leveraging time it's making sure we have this automation and systems in place so that when someone does get into that funnel and does make a purchase or doesn't make a purchase there's some interaction and there's a chance to close them at some point. That ends up becoming very inexpensive over the course of life.
Our charter business we probably don't talk to probably 80-85% of our customers, never even speak to them. We dialed in the website to answer all the questions. You can go on there to book, pick your date, your time, how many people, the contract automatically bills out. Everything is just done and a lot of people might look at 2 or $3000 to set that up as really expensive. I got 80% of my clients that I haven't even talked to. I just answer phone calls, and answer a couple of questions here and there and the rest of it is taken care of, leveraging time is huge.
Leveraging money, I'm learning more and more about that. The second real estate deal that we bought had $5000 in the deal. We paid $160,000 for a 16,000 square foot building, we spent the money to refurbish it, we put a new roof on, some HVAC, painted, updated this old forgotten building and filled it and sold it 13 months later for $450,000. So, to me real estate is where you learn to leverage because you put down 20% on something and it's worth 5 times more than what you have. To understand that concept of leverage is real estate, there's good money, there's good debt and there's bad debt. We're very heavy into... We have credit cards but we pay them off at the end of the month and we leverage real estate to accumulate wealth and things like that.
Noah: It is the ultimate ability to multiply your impact. When you think about trying to live a big, bold life you've got. You can only do so much with your time but once you start to multiply that time you're able to do so much more. It's really personified in things that you're doing here.
As we're working toward wrapping up here, I'd love to just see if we can summarize one of your most impactful life lessons. This can also be some advice that you've heard from somebody along your journey.
Rob: Impactful life lesson. I've always have thought to do more than you're asked. I remember when I was 12, 13 years old cutting lawns. I started cutting my dad's lawn and I got my $5 from him and then the neighbor's were paying me $10, and $12 and $15 to cut their lawns. I remember being 12 years old and walking behind my lawnmower so good that someone is going to drive by and say I want you to cut my lawn. Nobody ever did, I am going to cut this lawn and people are going to be impressed with the lawn. I had no reason to think that, I don't know why I thought that.
I have always thought to deliver more than most people expect. My screen-printing business we folded, we got one of those flip and folds, I did 100,000 shirts over the years. Every single shirt was individually folded and stacked by size. We also cut out the stock label and screen printed in the beginning and then heat transferred my own label inside, so every single one of those shirts became a marketing piece. They were all stacked, if you've ever ordered 100 shirts you pull one small out and then they're bundled in a dozen then it's a big pile that explodes. Here's smalls, mediums, larges, everything can be pulled off and you can hand and you look great because everything is individually folded and you appreciate it.
The best was my mom was retired and she would watch my nieces and nephews for a few hours and then come work with me and I used to work with her for 5 days a week. My mom would come over and fold the shirts and do Quickbooks and help out like that and it was a nice little touch and everybody loved it. I always try to do more than people expect. That's served me well.
Noah: That attention to detail really shows in the collars too. That's carrying it through, great. So Rob this has been incredible having you on the show. How do our listeners support you, how do they get the shirts, and all that?
Rob: So we're at milliondollarcollar.com is our website, we're also on Amazon worldwide so if you're out of the country you can certainly order there.
The quick synopsis is Million Dollar Collar is like a collar stay except for its 9 inches long and it goes down the front of your shirt with the buttons and the holes so it prevents that front from collapsing and then goTIELESS we recently pivoted the company. We were making our own shirts for a little bit, we're still making our own shirts but now it's the classiest logoed shirt ever. What we can do is digitally print your logo into the contrast of the shirt. So inside the cuff, inside the color band, and inside the placket is your logo printed in the fabric and those pieces of the fabric are cut and sewn into the shirt. Really, really cool so if you got a business that you want your employees to wear a uniform but not that old school left chest trade show looking embroidered thing these shirts are for you, they're amazing, they're made in Turkey, they're super high quality. goTIELESS is that company, Million Dollar Collar is the technology that can be added to any shirt. We've also got a huge marketplace full of shirts that already have Million Dollar Collar installed.
We're on Instagram and Facebook and we're always posting pictures of goofy celebrities with the shirts all sloppy and trying to have some fun with it.
Noah: Fantastic, awesome Rob thank you so much for being on the show. It's great stories here.
Rob: Yeah, it's been a blast. Thanks.