Thoughtful Entrepreneur Podcast
Announcer: It's Thoughtful Thursday, welcome to The Thoughtful Entrepreneur. I am Josh Ellich founder and CEO of upmyinfluence.com, where we turn thoughtful entrepreneurs into media celebrities earning them more authority, more influence, and more revenue. See, we believe that every person has a unique message which can positively impact the world. Now, on this podcast, your host veteran radio personality Jennifer Longworth encourages entrepreneurs to share not only their expertise but their stories and their hearts. You're going to love this show, you're going to hear real stories from real people on the Thoughtful Entrepreneur. So let's go!
Rob Kessler: There's always something to give back and that is to me so much stronger. You'll be more selfish giving away and helping others than you will by keeping it all in the bank. I mean helping somebody that can never help you back, there's such a crazy power in that.
Jennifer Longworth: This is Jennifer Longworth, and on this Thoughtful Thursday I'm with Rob Kessler founder and Inventor of Million Dollar Collar. After seeing his wedding pictures Rob was inspired to create Million Dollar Collar for the 80% of men today who rarely wear a tie with their dress shirts. Rob is an inventor and a serial entrepreneur, as well as the buddy his friends always call first when they are looking for a guy who knows a guy. Connecting people with whatever and whomever they need most has just been his thing. Today the connection and the need to serve others is the driving force behind Million Dollar Collar. Welcome to the show Rob.
Rob: Hey how's it going?
Jennifer: Good, now you saw something in your wedding pictures that made you decide to spend 3 years of your life inventing something. What did you see that made you go down this path of your life?
Rob: That's one way to put it I guess. I got married on the beach in Jamaica and I never really liked wearing a tie so I wasn't going to wear one on the biggest day of my life. When I looked at my photos my shirt was just a sloppy mess. It was a brand new freshly pressed shirt, I had the top two buttons undone. I wanted to be the Thomas Crown cool, James Bond look, just chill but good looking. I just remember tugging at my shirt's collar all day long and just never really sat the way that I thought it should.
Jennifer: So just this one moment of your life, which is a very important moment of your life turned into a business for you.
Rob:It did, yeah.
Jennifer: Did you ever see yourself as a business owner? Where you entrepreneurial before?
Rob: Oh totally, yeah. I cannot work for somebody else including my father. I was very successful working for him but there's a personal life that goes along with that and we decided we were better off father and son than employer/employee. So, before this when I was trying to figure this all out I had a screen printing and embroidery business that I had started in a spare bedroom of my house which grew to over a million dollars in sales.
Rob: I was a realtor so that built your own business, basically. I always had that drive and motivation to do my own thing.
Jennifer: So that mindset is not new to you? You've always had that type of motivation?
Rob: No, not a new mindset. That's probably what gave me the confidence to push on, I had a bunch of other ideas that I did not bring to market. With the support of my new bride and this idea, I finally bought this one to market and it's been a crazy, crazy, crazy ride.
Jennifer: How did you go from seeing this picture to being successful with Million Dollar Collar? What did that process look like? How did you even start? Hey, I need to do something about this so then what?
Rob: I looked around on the internet as most people would and I didn't really see what I thought was the solution that needed to be done. Every other solution out there was around the collar. So there are collar stays and there's magnetic collar stays and there' all kinds of collar stays but the collar stay was invented in 1888. That to me was fixed a long time ago. What has come recently is that most men aren't wearing ties anymore. It looked like the problem was lower and so I started cutting open dress shirts and putting collar stay-ish products down the front, where the buttons and the button holes are which is what was actually collapsed on my shirt. I just started with what I knew, I started with what the problem was and then I just took it from there.
Jennifer:You saw a problem and you went out to find a solution.
Rob: Yes, there wasn't anything out there. I looked and I did my Google searching like crazy and there just wasn't anything that I thought was what the solution needed to be and so I just started messing around and got to where I'm at.
Jennifer: Now you're getting these shirts and ripping them open and are you just sticking different things in it, to say hey, does this hold it up? Hey does this hold it up? Hey does this hold it up? What are you doing to figure this out?
Rob: Exactly, 100 percent. Actually, the first thing I shoved down was a piece of cardboard just to kind of show my new bride the concept of what I was thinking and she instantly got it. As soon as she saw it she was like, "Oh my God, I get what you've been complaining about all these years. I totally understand.” I knew that cardboard wasn't going to last, so I went around my house and I looked at every piece of plastic I could find. There were milk cartons and mini blinds and flexible cutting boards and zip ties. I would start and test those, I would run them through the washing machine, run them through the dryer than I'd take them to the dry cleaner and bring it home and that plastic would have melted to the shirt. I threw it in the pile of things that didn't work.
Jennifer: I hope you're getting these from Goodwill or something and not buying new shirts every time.
Rob: I wasn't buying new shirts but I did learn quickly to get the $5 dollar shirts. I had a lot of friends that were willing to, as the process went along further and I was getting closer they were donating their shirts to the cause. They were looking for the solution too, I think everybody who cares about the way that they look notices when the right side of their shirt is sloppy and the left side isn't or vice versa or whatever.
Jennifer: Yeah, it feels like there is a time and place for sloppy and a time and place like where things are not so sloppy.
Rob: Yeah most times, guys don't have a lot of options when it comes to dressing. You have t-shirts, you have dress shirts and you have tank tops and you're not going to wear a t-shirt in a board meeting unless you're some super rich dude.
Jennifer: Who can get away with it, right?
Rob: Only those who own the company, so if you're going in their most guys want to impress. That's if you're putting on a dress shirt you want to impress. To me having it not sit right is not representing me the way that I think my clothing should.
Jennifer: So what did it take for you to ... You're trying it over and over and over and over, ah hah! I found something that works and now what?
Rob: Well it took 3 years to actually develop a material that is lightweight, flexible, soft enough to be sewn through, strong enough to hold up the weight of the collar and heat resistant to double what they use at dry cleaners. Normal commercial plastics on the market melt at 250 degrees. Dry cleaners can hit upwards to 450 degrees so ...
Jennifer: I see your problem.
Rob: Yeah, well you never know what someone is going to do to clean their shirts. I can’t have two different versions and say okay this is a non-dry clean version and of course that guy is going to send his shirt to the dry cleaner and call me that I ruined his shirt. It had to be designed to last against the lowest common denominator or the craziest things people will do with their shirts so that's what we had to design for every possible option.
Jennifer: So did you take this to an engineer or what?
Rob: A friend of mine works at a plastics company and he ended up helping me develop the material that we use. So it's a 100 percent made in America, and distributed here and sold from here so it's a pretty cool process to have designed and built the whole thing.
Jennifer: How do you put this in your shirt? How does the whole thing even work?
Rob: It's insanely easy, every dress shirt is made exactly the same. There are always two layers where the buttons and the button holes are and there are always two layers where the collar band is so there's a couple of stitches that hold those two parts of the shirt together. So a tailor or dry cleaner opens those couple stitches slide it in, sews back together. It takes 3 or 4 minutes to do any shirt and once it's in it lasts for the life of the shirt.
Jennifer: Nice. I have a feeling there's something exciting happening with you these days.
Rob: There is some big, big, big stuff happening which is super exciting. Even at this point, we're 2 1/2 years into the sales, we’ve shipped 160,000 units to 95 countries. I just got an order from Casablanca, Morocco.
Jennifer: Wow, fancy.
Rob: Last week, yeah I was pretty excited about that. So yeah, it's cool, we're all over the world talking to manufacturers and brands and big department stores, just trying to keep getting the word out.
Jennifer: Because you've worked with dry cleaners in the past to promote your product, right?
Rob: Yeah that's our target right now, and we sell to consumers directly. That was our main focus for the first two years. The last 6 months we’ve been really, really talking to dry cleaners. We’re over 500 dry cleaners right now in the U.S. and adding more every single day. We're talking to a few really big ones so you'll see 50, 100, 200 locations pop up at once. It's pretty crazy, the response has been incredible because the dry cleaners just love it. It's easy to upsell for them. To us, the customer is already there, if you care enough about the way you look that you pay somebody else to clean your clothes you're probably going to love our product.
Jennifer: Right, right. Do you say, okay dry cleaners I have this thing I'd like you to pitch to your customers and then someone comes in with dress shirts? Like hey, we have the solution for you.
Rob: Dry cleaners aren't known to be salespeople.
Jennifer: Right, they count my clothes and that's that.
Rob: So we've actually developed all of that promotional materials, we have a point of sale posters, hang tags. We can help design email blasts and whatever information they have to connect with their customers. We can take that information and help develop something around their brand to get it out there. The beauty is once somebody gets it in one shirt they want it in all their shirts. A typical dry cleaning customer has 30 plus dress shirts. Once they get that first one, they get their little taste.
Jennifer:Hey, I look good, wait a minute there's something to this. Now how are you living as a thoughtful entrepreneur? What is it that makes you different?
Rob: Well, I've been very fortunate to have a lot of people around me that have helped me get to where I am, whether it's been with this business or life. I've always appreciated the helping hand, I guess you'd want to call it. When I first moved to Los Angeles I met a guy who turned out to be one of the founders of Expedia.
Jennifer: Oh okay.
Rob: Yeah. That's why I love L.A. you never know who you're going to talk to or meet.
Jennifer:It just happened to be the founder of Expedia.
Rob: Yeah it was kind of crazy. He's a super cool guy, we talk all the time but he's introduced me to some really influential people. I think it's kind of his way to pay it forward, he's had a lot of success in his life. I love that, while I cannot financially invest in a company I do have the ability to look at the business from an outside perspective and maybe being able to offer some advice. I was kind of the guy in Milwaukee that my friends would say I need to do this and I'd be like I got a guy.
Jennifer: Networking guy.
Rob: Yeah, yeah. I want to be that guy for other people and I'm happy to help. If someone's grinding and trying and really trying to make an effort I am absolutely happy to try to connect them and make their lives a little bit easier as people have done for me.
Jennifer: So how have you been able to connect with other people that you can help? Just by being in L.A. and there you are and you reach out?
Rob:Yeah I'm in a networking group so I'm surrounded with people that are in startups and are just coming up with ideas to the guy that invented Atari and Chuckie Cheese and everybody in between and it's really cool to have conversations with people that are all different levels. Even a guy that really has to seem to have made it, sometimes they just don't know a guy that can help them out with something. So you have to be around other people, I work from home and I kind of do it all myself and my partner is in Madison. We have an employee in Colorado, but sitting at home by myself and trying to work is okay but you really have to be around other people. I love those co-working spaces, there's so much more deal flow that happens and so much more inspiration and creativity when you can surround yourself with other people. I highly encourage people to find groups like that or areas where people have liked minded thoughts.
Jennifer: Absolutely. I've been in networking groups before and it's just so tremendous and you also know who to go to for your own stuff. Oh, I need someone in this field, I know her, I've met her at a thing or whatever. I know the Expedia guy, the Atari guy, the Chuckie Cheese guy?
Rob: Nolan Bushnell yeah he invented Atari. Just saw him on Saturday and he's a super, super cool guy.
Jennifer: How do you find these groups like this? You're in L.A. so you have an advantage over this Kentucky girl. We saw really cool people here too just not that caliber of Chuckie Cheese. How do you find these groups?
Rob: It was totally absolutely crazy random. My wife and I got to L.A. in mid-October and the only people that we knew were the leasing guys of the front office of our apartment building. We specifically choose a big property because we wanted to meet people quickly. So those guys were really cool and we were hanging out with them for New Years and there were some girls there that they knew and my wife and one of the girls really hit it off and she's like I'm going on this hike next weekend you should come. And so we literally within 3 months of moving here we were on a hike and I spent the entire 2 or 3 hours talking to this guy and we really hit it off and we became friends instantly. I think instead of being afraid and saying no to things, just being open and saying yes. Who knows what can come out of some of those conversations.
Jennifer: Go on a hike with people we just met, awesome idea.
Rob: It turns out that's kind of the thing to do out here in L.A. People go on hikes all the time and they're really outdoorsy and so there's just tons and tons of trails. It's been cool to see L.A. from a different not so busy city all the time and get up above and away from it all. It's a cool way to connect with other people, especially if there's an organized group that's going out specifically to network and talk and meet people.
Jennifer: Very cool. So what advice do you have for the top entrepreneur who's listening today?
Rob: Definitely, do what you love, everybody can make money and if you need to go and get a job you can make money and if you are starting a business to make money that's the wrong reason. There's always something to give back and that is to me so much stronger. You'd be more selfish giving away than helping others than you will by keeping it all in the bank. Helping somebody that can never help you back, there's such a crazy power in that.
Jennifer:So if people want to learn more about you and Million Dollar Collar how can they find you, Rob?
Rob:Super easy it's www.milliondollarcollar.com. Stays are available on the website and as I said I'm happy to help anybody who's actually out there doing it and trying it that has questions. My email direct is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer:Rob thank you so much for joining me. Good luck, this sounds exciting.
Rob: Yeah if you drop your email in we won't be shy about what's going on. We've worked really hard to get to where we're at so we'd be happy to tell everybody where we're at.
Jennifer: Well keep us in the loop man.
Jennifer: All right, thank you.
Rob: Awesome, thanks.