The Growth Execution Podcast
"Go for it, I talked myself out of business ideas when I was young because I just thought I was too young. The beauty now of the internet is you can be anybody you want and look like a professional business. Back then I had to call somebody and hear my squeaky little 16-year-old voice or something. You don't have to do that anymore. "
Mal McCallion: Rob Kessler talking about whatever you want to be as an entrepreneur using the beauty of the internet around you. Hi, It's Mal McCallion here lead consultant of Growtion.co and your Growth Execution Podcast host. Here we obsess not just what it is about what makes businesses grow but how that's achieved through practical steps rather than pure theory. This week I'm joined by Rob Kessler, inventor and co-founder of Million Dollar Collar. After his brand new freshly pressed Express shirt let him down on his wedding day Rob came home from the honeymoon with a passionate drive so no other man had to suffer a similar wardrobe malfunction. We spoke about Placketitis, listening to your customers, and the beauty of the world wide web. But first I started asking him how he got the idea from Million Dollar Collar?
Rob Kessler: So it came about on my wedding day and if you're on the video you can see that this is an actual photo from my wedding day. Brand new, freshly pressed shirt, we got married on the beach in Jamaica so I didn't wear a tie. Before I could even say I do my shirt was really crumbled you can see my undershirt underneath and I just hated the way it looked on the biggest day of my life.
It was a problem that followed me up until that point. It was the breaking point on the biggest day of my life so I came home from Jamaica, cut open a shirt, and stuck a piece of cardboard down the front and it just gave structure to this part of the shirt that did not have it before. Dress shirts are designed to be worn with a tie so I think they just got totally forgotten, the style changed over the last few years the ties have really gone to the wayside and they really have never addressed the problems.
Everybody else had the solution around the collar itself and I felt it was the buttons and the holes in the front part of the shirt that's collapsing under the weight of the collar that's the problem, I don't care about the collar that was done. It took about 3 years to patent the process, the product itself. I tested every plastic that I could find and started with milk cartons and mini blinds and any plastic I could find around my house and I would send it to the dry cleaner and it would just melt to the shirt. I ruined about 100 shirts trying to figure this out. That 3 years process, that's been a crazy drive. I've had a lot of ideas but this is the first one that I've really brought to market.
Mal: Congratulations on it. I've learned so much in this process to lead up to this interview. It has a name, doesn't it? That V that goes where the buttons are, what's it called?
Rob: So this part of the shirt is called the placket. But no one knows that so that's why we're not Perfect Placket or something like that. Million Dollar Collar tries to put you in the right place because who doesn't want to look like a million bucks. My wife came up with the name Placketitis so it's a disease that is curable. Anyone can get the disease but anyone can get the cure. We cure Placketitits.
Mal: That's brilliant. We talk constantly about how you have to solve the problem and people don't buy things. People don't buy medicine if they don't know they're sick so you have now identified the illness and you have the medicine for it.
Rob: I can't tell you how many people have said you made me acutely aware of a problem that I never knew I had. Once you see the difference between a sloppy shirt and I shirt with Million Dollar Collar it's night and day. Every other shirt you see out there, Dude what's wrong with you? We get reviews and comments all the time and people are like, "People look at me and they're trying to figure out why I look so put together but they can't really figure out why."
It's really cool that they don't really know, it's not this really obvious thing, it's just a subtle little touch, everything is in place, everything is where it should be, you don't have to have a tie on to be put together.
Mal: I love how you've gone about this. Obviously, I love the concept of how you go about it and know you are out and selling in multiple countries, right Rob, and not just where you are? What's that journey been like? So you've had the idea, you have the patent, you are there, you and your colleagues are out there pitching it. What's your growth story from then on? How would those listeners be able to pick up some ideas from you?
Rob: Well, we were originally going to make our own dress shirt. We did a Kickstarter in 2014 about a year before our launch and we were trying to raise $40,000 dollars. I hear your accent and I say pounds because my brother lives in Europe too. We were going to raise $40,000 and we only got to about 16 or $18,000 but the unequivocal feedback from that was... Why can't I upgrade the shirts I already own and why not license the technology to brands that already make shirts that I already love.
So we took a really hard look and said well damn we didn't get our goal and we felt crushed at first. Look these people put up their money and are willing to buy this product and they said I would rather it be this way or this way. We retooled everything and I made it a universal design that can go into any shirt and so within that time from 2014 to 2015 we totally pivoted the company based on customer feedback and now we launched in January of 2016. We're over 400,000 units sold in 121 or 122 countries.
We really just had to listen to the customers and you can think you have the greatest product in the world which I thought I did but the difference right now is... Its 20,000 inventory of shirts take up this whole room, I can fit $20,000 worth of inventory in a shoebox. It's a whole different, the shipping... All of these different dynamics came into play when we pivoted to just the aftermarket upgradable product.
Mal: We spend a lot of time talking about sales collaboration and partnerships. Some of the businesses, some of the shirt makers that you are working with are huge right?
Rob: We are in some major conversations. I'll tell you what these guys are really stubborn about. I said, Just offer the regular old shirt that you always sell and offer ours for $5 more, $10 more and see what the difference is? Well, we don't want to say this one is of poorer quality. I am like, Apple comes out with a new phone every single year. Every car manufacturer is like this is our greatest car ever. Well, yeah it better be I don't want the 5-year-old model to be better than this one. Why do they say that in every ad, you have to continually improve and listen to customers and these guys just want to include it in and they don't want to add to the cost.
It's been a challenge but we'll cross that bridge soon and it should be ubiquitous. There's no reason not to have this product in every single shirt because you can still button all the way up and wear a tie, you can go one button undone, you can go two buttons undone. If you wear a tie all day, you can go out after work. If you wear the tie you get a gap between the first and second hole this prevents that too because you have a little structure there. There's no reason it shouldn't be in every single shirt and that is what we're working for.
Mal: Wow, I love it! I love that goal, I love that scale. And you're obviously right it is a problem that is increasing. People are now in lock down and have peeled the tie off. Nowadays, when I see people wearing a tie it freaks me out a little bit and I feel that's a little [?]. I guess you are seeing more and more people starting to wake up to it.
Rob: You get the people that are just stuck in their ways and they say, what about starch, or haven't you ever heard of an iron? I am like, yeah I have and I spend 3, 4, $5 to have my shirts laundered, and 45 minutes after I put it on it's already starting to crumble, starting to break down. You wash a shirt once or twice. A lot of people also say buy better shirts well the better the shirt, the softer the fabric, the less structure it has so you're going in the wrong direction.
Rob: It's the $12 shirt, the H & M shirts that aren't that bad because they're rough material. That's my other thing you can go buy a $13 H & M shirt and put $10 of Million Dollar Collar in it and if you had to you could tailor it and for under $30 you have a custom shirt that looks ridiculously amazing.
Mal: Yeah, and well over $100 that you would pay for a real nice shirt.
Rob: I've gotten H & M shirts, $12.50 and I put my product in it and people say, "Damn that shirt looks good." This was a $13 shirt before I touched it.
Mal: And again when you're thinking about people who are looking up and creating their own business this adaptation that you've done A looking at what the market is and B looking at what others are giving you feedback on and that really is a key way that you've made this successful.
Rob: Yeah, and you have to... I always look at things from the customer's perspective and it's been a bit of my downfall because the one biggest challenge we have with this product is it has to be sewn into your shirt. The beauty is it has to be sewn in and most people around the world are used to tailoring their clothes and it's not a big deal. In the US people are lazy as all get out so if the shirt doesn't fit off the rack they won't buy it and they're not going to buy a shirt and go and have it tailored. It's just not a thing here.
We have had to look at it from that perspective and say if they're not into tailoring let's talk to dry cleaners and tailors directly and say offer this to your customers because they're already coming to you. We have built that relationship, we have 650 dry cleaners and tailors that we're in right now. We also have a mail-in service where you can send 5 shirts and we'll install Million Dollar Collar and send them back to you which I think is absolutely insane because if you search for alterations near me you'll be shocked at how many tailors are around the corner from your house. We have to continually offer those types of products.
The final thing we have is we're buying wholesale Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, all the biggest brand name shirts installing Million Dollar Collar in them and selling the shirt so it's a brand you know, a size you know, color you know. It already has the product in so trying to eliminate all the objections for people is where I spend most of my time thinking.
Mal: Great advice for anybody else out there as you've done thinking about it from the viewpoint of those who you are looking to sell to. Whatever objections come up, how are you going to fix them? This is really useful and thank you so much for sharing it. I am going to run through some quick final questions with you, the kind of things we ask everyone. When you look back at when you launched, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?
Rob: We worked with YouTube Fashion Influencers early. It started to take off and we pivoted from that and I wish I would have stuck with that and wish... What I did learn is the smaller they are the better they are because the audience actually cares what they have to say. We went to a guy who had 225,000 followers, insanely impactful, then he had 4.5 million subscribers with very little impact because he became popular and people just followed him and he was putting out a video every single day and it was way too much. I like to look for the guys that have 50-250,000 followers because those people are really engaging, really care what they have to say but they're early enough on that it is an actual relationship.
Mal: Really good advice and from somebody who has been there. Do you have anybody who is an inspiration? Anybody, you look up to?
Rob: I look up to my dad, he started from absolutely nothing and borrowed $700 from my grandpa, didn't know what he was going to do with his life, and became the 3rd largest independent jeweler in the U.S, Kesslers Diamonds. I love talking to him and hearing his advice and counterbalance from my mom. She is just the opposite, they filled in each other's gap and for me, as parents, they're two totally different people. My mom is very, very conservative and cautious in her decisions, and very leery about things. My dad is just go figure it out. I got both of those roles so that was awesome.
Mal: Wow that must have been a great contrast and guess you pick the conversations you want to have with them.
Rob: It's just... My mom always freaks out. I'm 43 years old and when I went on this trip she's like, "Be safe." Okay.
Mal: Millions of people do this. What advice would you give your younger self?
Rob: Go for it. I talked myself out of business ideas when I was young because I thought I was too young. Now with the internet, you can be anybody you want and you can be any age you want and have any persona out there. I can build a website right now that looks very professional with Wix or something free and put myself out there without being me at 16 years old or 17 years old when I was coming up with my first ideas and look like a professional business. Back then I had to call somebody and they hear my 16-year-old squeaky voice or I would have to go face them face to face and you don't have to do that anymore.
I have several ideas that I wish I would have pursued from then up until now. You only have one shot at this life and... People always ask me what I do and I have a hard time answering that because I'm a 50 TON Master Captain, I'm an inventor, I'm a businessman, I'm a real estate investor. I do all this stuff because it's interesting to me and I really think of it as work and I don't know I guess I'm a businessman but it's a weird thing to say. I don't know how to answer it, it's just a weird question but we followed our passions and we've been able to make money doing it there's no path anymore. It's not to get a job and you're 22 right out of college and you work until you retire. That's very, very rare anymore. We've lived several lives in just a few years my wife and I have been together. It's been insane. We've moved across the country twice and who knows what's next.
Mal: That's so exciting. I think a lot of people will resonate with so many people that are listening because of that choice of entrepreneurship of doing the thing you were here to do in this particular moment in time. That is such a strong draw for so many people.
Rob: Well my own father fired me so I knew I couldn't work for anybody else.
Mal: There are so many people who realize that as well. Is there anything you would do very differently if you had to do it again?
Rob: No, the decisions I made led me to right now and I couldn't be happier with where I am right now. I don't want to look back with regrets, people sit there and say I wish I had done this or done that I don't do that. I've been on a horse 5 times before I did this trip and we went for 4 days, 8 hours a day in 110-degree heat blistering brutally. You know what, I've just done a 100-mile horse drive in 4 days. That's pretty freakin' rad! We just like to say yes and we do all kinds of stuff and no regrets, no time to look back. You know if you interview older people? I love listening to Gary Vee and he talks about it a lot. People on their deathbed sit there and talk about all the things they wish they had done. People can come up with all the excuses in the world, just do it.
Mal: I was going to ask you what your advice would be to somebody who is starting out. I imagine I just heard it.
Rob: If you're starting out you have to have your income. Make sure that you have some stability, don't be a maniac. I started several businesses while I was working at another job. I worked that to pay my bills and then I would come home at night and work until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. If I could work all day and go to college all day and bars all night then I figured I could find something else I was passionate about other than drinking and hooking up with girls then you can find a business and stick to it.
Mal: You've built the resilience, you've built the ability.
Rob: You have the energy, it's something you truly care about, you have the energy to do it. I'm running 3 businesses right now. I'm pretty much by myself. My wife helps with the boat business, I have partners in the other two but I have my hands in 3 different things. We just bought a 5-acre property so I have that to handle as well.
Mal: And you're driving horses as well.
Rob: Well, we're getting horses here so that was my throw into do you like horses or not? Because we're going to basically live with them for the next 4 days.
Mal: And now you know.
Rob: We're getting horses.
Mal: Fantastic. What's next for Million Dollar Collar?
Rob: The big goal is licensing the technology to a bigger brand. They all say they're the first to do this or the first to do that. It's all a crock, no one wants to be first but nobody wants to be last. So if somebody would come out and .... We've got some conversations going. The first guy every domino will follow right after. Licensing is a big deal, that's what we're working on right now and then we did a spin-off company because we're always trying to make it easier.
So we did get into the dress shirt game eventually and that's called goTIELESS. This is really a challenging business because there are so many aspects of every dress shirt from the cut to the color to the fit it's just crazy. What we did come up with is that we're just launching, which I'm super excited about.
I can digitally print any logo on fabric so instead of your traditional I can see it on your shirt, left chest embroidery... So instead of that imagine it printed right and built into the shirt, so now you have your shirt that is very good looking, it's in the cuffs, it's in the collar, it's inside the placket but the print quality is insane. The shirt quality is insane. If you need promo shirts for your restaurant, hotel, bar, car dealership. Anybody who has a logo that they have some type of uniform they're just such an endless opportunity that we're going to be working on so I'm super, super excited about that.
Mal: That was Rob Kessler, inventor and co-founder of Million Dollar Collar. Talking about what's next and the endless opportunities that he's working on within his business. If you'd like to get in touch with Rob you can find him on LinkedIn or look for @milliondollarcollar on Instagram or Facebook. You can email him Rob@milliondollarcollar.com