Interview from 5 June 2018
Host: Hello and welcome back to Tuff Love my name is Rob Kandell this is Show 139 with Rob Kessler inventor of Million Dollar Collar. Excited to have him tell the story about him as an entrepreneur, what he's learned, how he's done it and really his inspiration to keep creating, keep innovating and really how to bring a product to market. So Rob is a really interesting guy, please enjoy the interview. I hope you feel so inclined please subscribe via your favorite podcast app, Stitcher, iTunes, and the like. Now let's join the show in progress.
Greetings and citations to all, this is Rob Kandell it is 10 am PST live here from Woodland Hills, California and very happy to be back yet again with Tuff Love, another amazing guest, a man named Rob Kessler. Will be on in a couple minutes talking about his process of being an entrepreneur and he's had a very interesting career that I'm really excited to dive into and talk about. As an example, really moving from what I call the creative end to reality and so I am really looking forward to seeing where this one goes. As always with Tuff Love interviews there are no scripts, there are few questions, but we'll definitely improvise. So I'm glad as always to have you on the show with the live audience.
All right so I am going to introduce Rob Kessler, who is the inventor and the co-founder of Million Dollar Collar a relatively simple solution to fix to what his company calls Placketitis which is “the shrinking, wrinkling and folding of the placket of a casually worn dress shirt” which I don't quite get but we'll work that out. Prior to Million Dollar Collar, Rob built a screen printing and embroidery business in a spare bedroom to over a million dollar business.
Although this company was never intended to be a screen printing company work soon got out and around due to high quality, great pricing, and his "never miss a deadline guarantee." Rob has sales experiences in a number of high dollar industries including diamonds, real estate, and automotive sales. Providing a unique blend of backgrounds to transition to the fashion world. So welcome Rob it's really great to have you on the show.
Rob:Hey, how are you?
Host: So you know I found you through a system called podcastguests.com which I think you listed or your PR Company listed. I look through probably 10, 15, 20 per week. There is just something about you that caught my eye and I was just really intrigued by your process of a go-getter as an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur myself, I know the challenges in terms of relationship and intimacy and myself as a man, my self-worth and you definitely look like you keep inventing new challenges to live your life so I'm really excited to talk to you about your life history and your process so welcome to the show.
Rob: Yeah, well thanks. I get bored easily so that's why [chuckles]. That's why I’ve been so all over the board but it all makes sense in the end I guess.
Host: You know there's this ADD, ADHD, I don't even know what those damn acronyms are these days and all of these things are people saying that you have attention deficit disorder. I think there are people like us who just need constant stimulation. Have you been like that your entire life, just needing new toys and concepts?
Rob: Yeah, I mean I remember getting a new job and it would be like the most exciting time because I am absorbing all this new information. It's scary as hell because there are all these people that you don't know. You don't want to do things wrong but at the same time, it was always so stimulating to get in and learn how to sell a car and going to that training and real estate getting my license. I actually was one of the fastest people in the state of Wisconsin to ever get their license. From opening the book to passing my test in 10 days. So when I find something I love I just dive all in. I am like a total emersion guy. If I get into something and it turns out I hate it then it will just get pushed aside and I'll never think about it again. Stuff that I love, I just, find something I love ... I just got my captain's license for boating.
Host: That's cool.
Rob: Add that to the list of crazy things I've done I guess. [chuckles]
Host: So let's sit there for a second. There are obviously positive attributes to this virtue of you. Success and emotion, 10 days to get your real estate ... I think that sounds ridiculously fast for the little that I know about real estate. So, do you feel like there's detriments or parts of you that this behavior has a negative impact?
Rob: I don't think it's negative. It came from my Dad, my Dad owns jewelry stores in Wisconsin. I was working for him in college and he sat me down one day and said, "Look if you're ever going to run this company, you can't do it from the inside out. You can't have only done this thing and expect to be able to revolutionize and grow as things change."
So he was the one that really encouraged me to go out and do other things so I can bring back to the table different ideas and outside thoughts other than what he had built in his company. It was a really great inspiration, it helped me to really spread my wings and do some different, random things. I loved all of them for different reasons.
Host: Are you heading back to the jewelry business at some point?
Rob: I did, I did in college and for two years after college and then I left, I did cars right away and then I did real estate, then I did the screen printing business. As real estate market was tanking in 2008/09 he had a long-term employee retiring, the timing was really good, so I actually came back and worked for another couple years, became one of the top salespeople. It turns out that we are better father and son than we are employer and employee. I think I am probably a little too much like him which made him ... I think I was a little bit stubborn and frustrating for him.
So, we decided to be father and son instead of employer/employee and so that's when I went off and really grew the screen printing business. I kept my real estate license on the side and while I was doing the real estate and screen printing I met my wife, my shirt was a mess at our wedding and that's when Million Dollar Collar came about. So I had three things going at once when I started Million Dollar Collar.
Host:That's excellent. Being aware of the father/son relationship, being healthier than being employer/employee ... I think some men or some people would just wanna follow with the setup of the jewelry and live a life that doesn't quite work for them. How did you come to that conclusion and was it a tough decision or was it really mutually easy?
Rob: No, it wasn't easy at all. His company is his baby and I understand that now with Million Dollar Collar cause my wife and I sometimes don't always agree. When we don't I tend to take it personally, it's not her fault, it's my baby. It's everything I work for and so ... I didn't approach my Dad typically always right so when I had an idea I'd be like, “your thing sucks and my idea is great.” He was like dude, “you don't know what you're talking about.” Yeah, we battled pretty hard for a while and it was really getting taxing and there were times when we wouldn't speak for weeks or months which is tough when he's in the same building and we're working together. It got to a head and we were like let's not do this anymore and so I went off and did my own thing. Then a few years later I ended up moving here to Los Angeles so it's not really an option anymore since he's in Wisconsin and I am not going back to the cold.
Host:You love Los Angeles?
Host: So what do you think makes a good salesperson? What do you think attributes or how did you achieve success with the jewelry and the car and the real estate? What factors inside of you typically came out and developed to be successful?
Rob:Sales, anybody will tell you, it's not about selling, it's about listening. I remember in real estate, I would have friends ... This is the style house I want, I want this and I want this. I remember this one couple, I'm still dear friends with them. I probably showed them 20 or 30 houses that they thought they liked. Finally, I said screw this it's my turn, we're going to do a tour of homes that I picked that I think you guys will make money on, I think you'd like. They ended up fighting over two houses from that list. It was really listening to what they really wanted. They'd see a picture and they were like, we want this, and I knew as soon as we got to a house it wouldn't be something they wanted.
Same thing with diamonds. My Dad's company is focused exclusively on diamonds and diamond engagement rings. So that's a real relationship thing. I’d find out about how they met, how he was going to propose, what style she liked. It's about trust, there's a lot of distrust in the jewelry industry and in the car industry and to overcome that you really have to build the relationship with somebody and that takes listening to get there.
Host: Sounds like it takes time and patience and waiting for the right time for that bottom trust to be built.
Rob:Yeah, you can't rush it, I mean I have a good friend of mine I probably showed her 50 houses for two years before she finally bought something. Some processes are longer than others but there's always stuff going on so you don't have to have that one sale that day. Everything I have done has been a longer process sale. Million Dollar Collar is the same way so it takes time.
Host: My real estate agent when I bought my house in San Francisco about 150 years ago she was a casting director and worked in theatre and she said we're going to cast you into the house. We're going find the right set for you for your next part of your action movie. She did a good job, she really found the right house.
Rob: It's so funny being in real estate a lot of people think that it's just I show you houses. It takes a little bit of selling, it takes a little bit of here's what's good about this, no house is perfect and honestly, if I walked into a house that I didn't want to change a thing it would freak me out that there was somebody else out there was exactly like me. So even if it looked perfect I would paint a wall or change a flooring or do something. Buyers always tend to find the craziest random reason to try to not buy something and sometimes it's like come on let's be serious here and let's get you down the road.
Host: More of a buyer’s remorse problem?
Host: So, Million Dollar Collar. The story goes that you got married or you were getting married and your shirt was a mess. Did I perceive that right in the pictures?
Rob: Yeah, so I ... Met my wife on the beach in Milwaukee and we got married on the beach in Jamaica.
Rob: I've never really been a tie guy, it probably comes from my car sales days when I was forced to wear one all the time. I never liked wearing them, I think they're restrictive and style is away from the tie. Studies show that 90% of dress shirts will rarely if ever be worn with a necktie. That's just how I am, I just own one just in case. I actually went to Magic Castle recently and I had to dig through a bin to find a tie because it's required there.
So, I wasn't going to wear a tie on my wedding day, it's just not who I am. I had on a brand new freshly pressed shirt, similar to this one, it's an Express 1MX. Before I even said I do it was tucked under my lapel, I looked terrible and so I'm looking at the wedding photos from the biggest day of my life and I thought I looked like a bum, I hated the way that I looked. The way that my shirt looked. I remember tugging at it all day just trying to get it sit where it was supposed to sit and it wouldn't do what I needed it to do.
So, as soon as I came home I cut open a dress shirt, I took a piece of cardboard and shoved it down into the placket, which is this part of the shirt where the buttons and buttonholes are. To me, that's the part that crumbles and folds and so I shoved this cardboard down. As much as I explained it to my new bride when she saw it she was like "Oh my God I get it. Finally, I understand what you're talking about."
It started with cardboard and then I went through my house trying every piece of plastic I could find; milk cartons, mini blinds, zip ties, flexible cutting boards. Any plastic I could find in my house I was testing and I would wash and dry a shirt and I took it to the dry cleaner and it would just get trashed. I probably ruined a 100 shirts just figuring it out, which is why it took 3 years to get right. Yeah, it just progressed down the line of... I knew it had to go in here because this is what was broken. Collar stays were invented in 1888, that was fixed 150 years ago. That wasn't the problem, it's down here.
Host: So some people bluntly would think you got a little obsessive about this thing, working three years and cutting up shirts. I don't know if your wife ever thought you were a madman trying to figure this piece out? It must have felt like I need to figure this thing out and so how did you handle the critic either internally or externally to keep going, to figure this out?
Rob: Well, I think anybody successful is obsessive. If you look at Jeff Bezos or anyone that's highly successful and I am by no means highly successful, but if you want to make something work you have to be obsessive about it. Like I said earlier, when I find something I'm in to, I dive, I'm all in, I want full immersion.
It took 3 years because I was running 2 other companies at the time, I was doing the screen printing, I was still doing real estate. My wife and I owned a commercial building and our duplex so there is always stuff to do there. By the way, you should probably have a social life a little bit. It took time but if you saw the prototypes and the designs over these 3 years you're like how did you get there and ... What was the thought in that process we had made some pre-production dress shirts in India? So I was dealing with overseas shipping stuff. You have to be obsessive if you're going to find the right solution. With as many dress shirt brands and designs available, to come up with a universal design I had to ask every friend I could for a shirt that I could play with and test. It takes time.
Host: It sounds that way. Yeah, I understand the obsessive compulsive, I have a similar feel to it. I think, when it comes to clothes I think I'm a little more lazy, a little more absent-minded professor. My wife Morgan is often fixing things. I can feel it, I can feel the passion behind it. You wanted to solve a problem, you needed to solve the problem but in solving the problem did you see it as a business? Did you see it as you just wanted to do something? What was the flavor? Especially the initial point.
Rob: I've had other ideas that I haven't pursued and I've regretted that I haven't pursued those ideas. I just felt like ... I'll start with myself. I have shirts in my closet let's get those fixed first and then I have a circle of friends and we'll talk to them and see what they like. Ironically enough my business partner Steve was the one I had the hardest time convincing that this was something that could be something a lot bigger. He recently left a really high paying job to do this full time, so I finally convinced all the way.
It's tough, it's challenging when you're in that process and you make a little bit of progress, you're like that's good enough. My wife would be my biggest critic because if you're going to put something out you want it to be right. I was trying, I put so much energy in I was trying to just make something work a couple of times. Thank God her and my partner were like this isn't good enough let's keep going. That contributed to the time frame as well.
Host: It was smart of you to listen to the woman. Always smart to listen to the woman.
Rob: [chuckles] It's hard but it's smart.
Host: Okay so when did you come up with your final product? Was it 3 years into it?
Rob:Yeah so we did a Kickstarter about 3 years ago...I was like let's go full board ahead, let's jam and let's get this thing going. So we had had these pre-production samples. We hadn't even totally finalized but we ran the Kickstarter like a lot of Kickstarters do. So we thought we're going to make dress shirts and we're going to offer this unique selling proposition. It's going to be our differentiator, but we didn't get funded. We raised about $16,000 of the $40,000 goal we had and it turned out to be the biggest blessing in disguise. Unequivocally the feedback was: Why are you trying to compete with every other brand and Why can't I upgrade the shirts I already own. So, basically, after we had done that it was back to the drawing board to redesign the thing all over again.
As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to pivot and listen to what the market is telling you. If you get such tunnel vision that this is my idea, I'm going to go through and I going to do it my way, your chances of being successful are minimized because you're not actually listening to what your customers are telling you. We pivoted, I totally redesigned it, simplified it, streamlined it and then I was checking every dress shirt I could to try to make sure it would fit. It took, by that time, it was about two and a half years. My wife and I then sold everything we had. We sold the screen printing business, we sold our second car, we sold our furniture, like everything we had and moved to Los Angeles and went all in. On our 10 day, cross-country move is when the patent attorney called and said it was approved. We were going to go all in, and we got the confirmation that we were on the right path, which was pretty awesome.
Host: Awesome. These questions just popped into my head. Were you thinking like a Shark Tank? Do you ever think about going in that direction?
Rob: Oh hell yeah, I would totally do Shark Tank. The problem is 60,000 people apply every year and 225 are filmed and only 150 air. So the odds are just massively stacked against you and we've applied, we've done video applications, we've gotten far into the process. To me it's like a lottery ticket, you get the amazing, ridiculous exposure and you better be ready to handle it. When we did our last round of interviews we were newly launched, a couple of months old. We weren't ready, we would get slaughtered. It would end up hurting us more than anything. If they came calling now, you bet I would definitely jump on board.
Host: Sounds cool. So let's talk about the patent process. I think that might be interesting. What was the motivation to get it patented? What was your process behind it?
Rob: I knew it was something different. I searched the internet, it wasn't out there, shockingly. I hear all the time, “seriously, nobody has thought of this?” I wanted to make sure I was protected. If I was going to throw my whole life behind this protect, this idea, this company I wanted to have at least some protection. A friend of mine from high school is an attorney he referred me to a patent attorney in town and we started that process. It is expensive as hell and it's super frustrating. The first question, the first thing you'll do is a patent search and it's probably anywhere from $1500 to $3000 for them to do a deep search.
You can Google all you want but those guys will dig deep into reading patents, seeing if you're going to infringe on anyone before you even progress. You're writing a huge check to start and it seemed like every single month, it didn't matter what I did or said there was another $1000 or $2000 bill in the mailbox. We did the patent search first, you kind of write it and do a provisional patent which sort of protects you and gets you in line. Patent pending is next and then the final patent approval.
After you write that first check the next one is to the government saying would you like to expedite this service? And expediting means they respond to you in 6 weeks instead of 6 months, and that costs an extra $3500 right up front. So it took us almost 3 years to get, with the patent expedited. The challenge is your attorney is going to write it big [broad] and the government wants to see it small [focused]. Then they say we'll do it this big and they say this big and then it's just back and forth and back and forth. You want to protect as much as possible and they want it to be as specific as possible.
Holy cow, every time that it goes back and forth it's how many thousands, how many zeros on that check. It's expensive and time-consuming.
Host: Interesting. So switching topics in terms of do you feel like this, your project, this shirt, does it have a social implication for you? A concept, did you want to solve a problem? All of us want to serve the world and want to make things better. Do you have an underlining something in terms of your product?
Rob: Well, personal image is a big thing. Anyone who says they don't judge a person when they see them 10 feet away walking towards them is lying to themselves. So if you are in that world and care about the way that you look which I do enough. I wanted it to, that's where it started. I don't typically wear dress shirts, I don't wear them every day because I love wearing dress shirts. I wear dress shirt when I want to step up and look a little bit nicer.
Typically you'll see me in a V-neck, I wear t-shirts and I sit at my desk which is 5 feet away in my living room. So I don't even dress up daily, but if I'm going to a meeting I want to put on a dress shirt. To me, if this side is down like this and this side is up it's not a good representation of me. It doesn't represent me who I am and that's where it started. Beyond that, when you have success and you can be financially more independent and flexible, then you can be more supportive of other people, you can help other people. To me, that's where the real success comes, when I get a chance to lend a helping hand that I wasn't able to or can now.
Host: Beautiful, thank you. I think there's a lot of folks out there, there's a lot of articles out there, really impression matters first. As much as we don't want to think we're visually orientated we really are and the human eye picks up all these little details, all the little things we don't pay attention to. It is a service and it is good to look good if that's the impression you want to make out there in the world.
Rob:Everybody's different, some people don't care and that's fine. If you do care and you're going to put on a dress shirt you want to dress up a little this is the one little accent. A lot of our customers comment back and this final little detail makes such a difference, it's the craziest thing. Once you experience it then you totally get it. Just like my wife sitting on the couch looking at me with that piece of cardboard in my shirt, she got it because she could visually see what the difference is.
Host:Excellent. What's your wife think about this project now that after all the rig-a-marole and the 3 years and the R & D what's her impression?
Rob:We're still growing, it never happens quite as fast as you like it to. But we're at a tipping point, we've had some great sales to this point. We shipped 155,000 units to people in 92 countries which I never thought I would be doing that. We're talking to some big retailers, we're talking to tons of dry cleaners to help them grow their business. We're at that tipping point, we live in an 800 square foot apartment so we're not like, killing it. She's a stunt-woman so she gets to do what she loves and it's pretty amazing and we're making it work. So she's supportive.
Host:That's beautiful. And then is this your project, do you have another one coming down the line that you can imagine?
Rob: Yeah, I've got an idea for another patent but I need to get this one going, I haven't even filed the provisional for that one because I just really want to stay focused. But yeah, my mind is always going, I'm always sitting in a situation and oh God if it was this way that would work better. Or why don't they make it like this? That's just how my mind works.
Host: Excellent. Well thank you so much for coming on Tuff Love and I think you have a special offer for people listening and maybe you can give the website and how people can order your product and the discount code.
Rob: Yeah, for sure. It is easy to order we're on milliondollarcollar.com super easy. If you use TF, Tuff love 15, you'll get 15% off your order we'll add that discount code in. So TF15, super easy. We ship internationally obviously you already saw, Amazon if you need it quick you won't get the discount code but we're available on Amazon US, UK Canada, Japan rolling out to the other ones. Yeah, super easy to get a hold of, we're on social media as @MillionDollarCollar so that's easy to find as well.
Host: Excellent, we'll definitely put your website and the discount code in the show notes you can find it at tufflove.live and thank you so much, Rob, for coming on the show.
Rob: Absolutely, thanks for having me.
Host: Okay have a great day.
Well, that's it, folks, thanks so much for joining us at Tuff Love. A different kind of show, I like to keep things up and coming and I’m just really grateful to Rob for sharing his story and to all the entrepreneurs out there and the salespeople. I like the concept of taking time, patience. It's never gonna to be as fast as you think it is and in the end following your dreams and taking those risks are really the key to life. Thank you so much we'll be back next week. Until then take care of yourself, thanks so much for joining us. Take care, Bye.
Thank you so much for joining us for Tuff Love. Thank you, Rob, for being on the show. I enjoyed listening to your story. Much success to you and your new product. For more shows please visit Tufflove.live We'd love if you'd subscribe via your favorite podcast app and for the double triple bonus please give us a review, send us some stars we'd much appreciate it. Thanks so much, enjoy the day and I'll talk to you soon. Bye.
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