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This is your boy C-Roc and I have one question for you, what are you made of? Join me as I share my stories and past experiences that I use to break through barriers and take things to the next level in my life. Along the way, we will also hear from guests about their stories and hope to help you uncover your past life events that you can use on your journey to answer the question, What are you made of?
Yo, what's going on WAYMO Crew? It's your boy C-Roc on the What Are You Made of Podcast. Thanks for joining us again, we appreciate your support and all of your feedback and we're looking forward to continuing to provide you with content to change your life, help your business, help your relationships, and today's show.... man I'm fired up about this one. I keep getting fired up about every guest but this one is great. I'm going to bring something to you that's really going to help you.
Rob Kessler is joining me, he's got a story to tell about where he's got to where he is and also I'm looking forward to hearing where he's going more importantly. Rob Kessler is the inventor and co-founder of Million Dollar Collar, a relatively simple solution to fix what his company dubs, "Placketitis" the sinking, wrinkling, and folding of the placket of a casually worn dress shirt. Prior to Million Dollar Collar, Rob built a screen printing and embroidery business from a spare bedroom in his house to over 1 million dollars in revenue before selling the company. Even though the company had never intended to be a screen printing company, word soon spread about the high quality, great pricing, and never missing a deadline guarantee. I am going to stop there Rob because I want you to get into some of the story here.
C-Roc: First of all welcome to the show.
Rob Kessler: Hey, how's it going C-Roc good to see you?
C-Roc: Good to see you brother. Listen, you reached out to me about joining the show, you said you have a story to tell so we're looking forward to hearing what you are made of man?
Rob: Currently how the Million Dollar Collar came about on my wedding day. So I never really been a tie guy and my wife and I decided to get married on the beach in Jamaica, it's actually 7 years ago yesterday. So I am standing there freshly pressed shirt and before I can even say I do my shirt was all crumbled, and I was tugging at it all day. The biggest day of my life and my photos to me look like shit because my shirt looked terrible. I came home from Jamaica and started working on what is now Million Dollar Collar. It took my 3 years to develop, it took me 100 ruined shirts, messing up other test shirts until I figured out what it was, the magic formula was to get something in this front part of your shirt so it will never crumble, never fold and always make you look amazing.
C-Roc: Gotcha. So that's how you came up with the Million Dollar Collar, right? I noticed that with my shirts, but I never think about fixing the problem. So I just say, this shirt sucks today, I might not wear this again, I'll deal with it today, I'll move on. I try to fix it the best I can and then I move on. How did you get stuck on that concept and enough to spend 3 years trying to cultivate a solution to the problem?
Rob: Well, like I said my wedding day to me was the biggest day of my life. My wife is way out of my league so standing up there with her with 45 of our friends in Jamaica. I was just a little self-conscious. I always thought when I would go out at night, I'm not really a big dress shirt guy, but when I put one on it's because I want to look good, I want to feel like I fit in, I want to impress and when this sides down... Maybe I got a little OCD I'm not really sure but it just was enough to put me over the edge.
I had other ideas in the past and never really followed through with any of them and I thought let's try this one and see what happens. I literally started with a piece of cardboard in the first shirt and instantly she saw it. She was like oh my God I get what you've been nagging about and bugged about for all these years. Once I knew and saw her reaction instantly I thought maybe I got something. I just kept plugging through.
C-Roc: The support of the spouse is priceless.
Rob: Yes, having her by my side it's made it all worthwhile.
C-Roc: Now before you get into more about the Million Dollar Collar I want to talk to you about that but I want to understand where you came from? So you used to be in real estate sales and automotive sales and even diamonds I understand?
Rob: Yeah I like to say I sold the three biggest things that most people will ever buy houses, cars, and diamonds and now I sell one of the least expensive things. So my dad is in the jewelry industry in the Midwest, one of the largest independent jewelers in the country. I helped him with sales and then I opened up stores and then I did all kinds of things in that business. I loved that.
Cars I always loved cars, so I got into car sales for a while thinking if I could do what my dad did in jewelry which has the stigma maybe I could do it in cars. I learned pretty quickly you probably can but it's such an undertaking with inventory, I was doing that in my early 20's. Then real estate I had my license for 15 years so I did residential real estate in Milwaukee and then I invested and had some commercial properties, my wife and I did it together which we recently sold.
C-Roc: So when they talk about a spring market in real estate in Milwaukee they definitely have a spring market. We live in Maryland here and luckily this year it's been pretty good, the spring market started actually early in January with the weather holding up. I can't imagine up in that part of the country, in the wintertime real estate must really slow down with the weather.
Rob: It's tough and I tell you I was showing a girlfriend house for 3 or 4 years ago but I remember... We were really good friends and so I remember taking her on a 23 home tour in winter, in about 3 or 4 hours. I planned out this whole thing, she was so awesome, we pulled up to a house and be like nope, next. So I was stacking them back to back. When it's winter and you're in a hot car and in the cold and in the hot it's brutal. That's why we moved to LA.
C-Roc: That's why I got in the mortgage business because I hate showing people houses. That's just me.
Rob: Well when I started out in college I thought I wanted to be an architect and then I went and met with my dad's architect and he's like long hours, high stress, low pay don't do it. I was in the #2 architectural schools in the country are not very good, I wasn't very good in school with grades, so I was like there's no way I'm going to make it through this program.
C-Roc: What did you do when you started this mission with the Million Dollar Collar, what were you doing at that time for money?
Rob: So I had the screen printing and embroidery business, I lived in a duplex so I had tenants paying my mortgage, I owned that duplex for 9 years and I never made a mortgage payment, it was the best. I met my wife, she was in a corporate job, we decided to buy this 6000 square foot building because my business was growing and I ended up convincing her to quit her job and become a trainer because she was insanely passionate about it. Within two years in Milwaukee, she went from unknown to the number one rated trainer in the city.
We built this business... We had this 6000 square foot building which we subdivided out and made 8 little offices in half of the building and then we ran our business out of the other half. I was a real estate investor while I was building the screen printing business while she was building her gym, and we had this duplex. We always had a bunch of stuff going on.
C-Roc: Right so... The point with this is to get your main flow solid so that you can explore other things. Too many people are all over the place right? They have a flow of income, their main job or main source of income. They have this idea, this passion they want to chase but they don't solidify their main source so that it can run by itself or during the time that they have and they go out to these other places and they're scrambling all over the place and they're wondering why their money is not right. Why they can't pay their bills, because they're not focusing on that main thing, to make sure it's the main thing for right now until it's up and running. You had that which is a point because when I share this with the audience I don't want my audience thinking you get an idea about the perfect collar, Million Dollar Collar and you run with it and you quit your job.
Rob: No, no I had four other things going. That's part of why it took 3 years because I had the screen printing business, I had the real estate we were doing, I had a duplex we were doing. Also, trying to have a life with my new wife so there was a lot going on. Yeah, definitely, I had a bunch of other things. I screen printed probably 20 + thousand plus shirts in the basement of my house in Wisconsin on a machine that should not handle anywhere near that. So I weighed way behind it was time to move out of the basement, into that 6,000 square foot building.
C-Roc: When you do something like this, I guess you go for a patent because you don't want people taking your idea?
Rob: So the patent process is brutal. Right off the bat, you have them do a patent search which is anywhere from $1500 to $3000. And somebody else will go out and do some digging to see if there is anything else like it. I did a ton of google searching first to do my preliminary but from that moment you're just writing multi-thousand dollar checks on the regular, if you decide to get a patent it's crazy.
C-Roc: So it's super expensive and it takes a long time, how long did it take roughly?
Rob: It was almost 2 1/2 years and close to $100,00. My attorney said it would be about $20,000 and I am about $100,000.
C-Roc: So what?
C-Roc: Is everyone like that or just because it has to do with a garment?
Rob: I think it's the process itself. So your patent attorney is going to write to try to cover as much as possible. So he's going to write this giant broad patent and the patent office is going to say nope way too broad and then he's going to try to write it a little smaller, and a little smaller and a little smaller. And each time you go back and forth it's anywhere between 6 weeks and 6 months for a response.
Every time he does anything at $570 an hour, it just adds up really quick. You want to cover as much as possible and still get the patent. I think we went back and forth 3 or 4 times and then we ended up finding another patent later because that guy's patent attorney wrote it so poorly that it didn't come up on any of our searches. So we had this battle in the middle of it and got rid of that guy.
C-Roc: So how many times did you feel like quitting or thinking to yourself enough is enough I'm not investing any more money in this or then you get to a point where you're pot committed and you're just like I have to stick with this at this point? How did that go?
Rob: I'm pretty bullheaded so there are times when I want to quit because I got this idea that I think is brilliant and I have a lot of people that say it's brilliant but I hear no so much but going through the patent process of we're in let's just keep going. That process, there isn't too much push back on that. It's once you go to market that you get the push back.
C-Roc: Right, right well I mean spending the money. Did you have any idea that you were going to spend that much money on the patent?
Rob: No, I thought $20,000 was a lot so then you expand outside of the U.S. now you have maintenance fees. There's a story, do you know those little fidget spinners? This lady in Florida came up with that for her daughter who had Autism and she filed a patent and a couple of years later when the $1500 maintenance fee came up she lost the patent and that's why those fidget spinners are everywhere because she couldn't afford $1500 bucks to maintain the patent and lost it.
C-Roc: What's it $1500 a year?
Rob: It's like... On the one year than the 3 year, it gets lumped further and further. Times 4 or 5 or 8 or 10 other countries it's $10,000 a year or something when you have those maintenance things.
C-Roc: After you get the patent then at that point the real fun starts right? Now you have to take it to market?
Rob: Actually, the funny story is my wife and I decide to sell everything we have, all the properties, the businesses, everything, and relocate to Los Angeles. We took a 10-day cross-country tour. We're like we're never going to fly to go see Mount Rushmore so let's stop and see that and all this stuff. On that 10 day tour, we got the patent attorney called and said, "It was approved." So immediately my business partner started calling Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis and got us all these meetings in January, February. That was in October, so in January in 2016 we're meeting with the biggest brands in the world about this idea and it was pretty amazing.
C-Roc: How do you go about contacting those brands and pitching your idea? Talk about that.
Rob: You partner with a guy who's been in outside sales for Salesforce for four years and then before that with Rico. He just knows how to work his way through the corporate ladder and who the decision-maker is and get a response, he's tenacious.
C-Roc: Relentless, and tenacious right?
Rob: If it wasn't for him I don't know, I'd still be wondering how to get in there.
C-Roc: Gotcha. So he set up all these appointments so tell me about when you went to pitch the idea to them? Tell me what that was like?
Rob: There was some interest at first. We got the meeting so there had to be some interest. We found out very quickly about the clothing industry which won't ruin anybody's vision of it but those big companies can make stuff for pretty inexpensive. One we didn't have any proof of concept because we were basically just an idea, we just got the patent. Two, we didn't understand how little they could make a dress shirt for and what we thought we should charge and what they actually make a shirt for made zero sense whatsoever. We were kind of blindsided by that, and went in a little too early. We learned and got some conversations going and learned from experience.
C-Roc: That feeling like you're all excited and that blindsided feeling is not fun I've been there before. You think everything figured out and then...
Rob: You think you know
C-Roc: Once you got into where are you now with it? You talked about some of the challenges but what successes have you had?
Rob: So after talking to those guys we said we have to prove the concept and we went directly to the consumer. Honestly, we have one of the few products on the planet that you buy in one place and you have to take somewhere else to use. So Million Dollar Collar is unique in that every dress shirt is made exactly the same and my product actually hides in between these two layers in between the placket. There are always two layers where the buttons and the holes are in a dress shirt.
C-Roc: So it's sewn in?
Rob: It needs to be sewn in and in America, most people just don't do tailoring. It's kind of a foreign concept, you go over to Europe or anywhere else everyone is tailoring their clothes, everything fits really well because people take the time to do it. We had a real challenge to overcome with that so we worked with dry cleaners and tailors, taught them how to do it, and built out a map of installers. We have about 600 people on our map right now and tried to direct people where to go but in the beginning, we knew nobody and nobody knew who we were.
Some customers will be like I went to 5 dry cleaners before someone finally agreed to just try it. Now that I have it I love it, I'm doing my whole closet. So that was a real challenge, we just passed 4 years of online sales, we're at 275,000 units sold, we're in about 600 dry cleaners, 115 countries.
C-Roc: That's awesome man, that's great. How much does one of those cost for retail?
Rob: So our opening pack is for 5 shirts and it's $14 and so about $2 per set and then it takes about $10 to get it installed. IF you go to any one of our current installers most of those guys have them in stock and they charge $10 - $12 installed with the set. You just walk in, have them installed and they'll launder your shirt while you're there. It's a pretty easy process.
We went after dry cleaners because people are used to dropping them off. They care enough about the way they look that they're having somebody else clean their clothes we figured that was our customer.
C-Roc: That makes sense
Rob: We went to dry cleaning trade shows.
C-Roc: I can't even imagine, I can't even imagine.
Rob: Even in Las Vegas they're not wild.
C-Roc: Matter of fact I don't want to imagine. Don't you have a shirt as well now?
Rob: Yes. About a year ago my partner and I and my father who is an investor in the business we got to know of these brands to come on board just because of the dynamic of it. Let's prove we can build a brand around the technology. About a year ago we started with this concept, we decided we were going to make 200 shirts and sell them to friends and people that we know and try to get feedback and say yeah you're right here change this, edit that. So we sold those 200 spots in about 72 hours. Made the shirts, they were better
received than we thought and then late last year we released our 3 new colors. That company is called goTIELESS. It's the first shirt to be designed to be worn without a tie so we don't even have a top button on them.
C-Roc: What's your problem with ties bro?
Rob: I think it was my car salesmen's days. I was 22 years old, forced to shove this tie on and I just hated it. Every time you want to do something, it's in the way. To me, people would use it as a way to try to gain authority but now it's... I just never liked it.
C-Roc: I agree, I agree. Sometimes I wear a tie, it depends on the outfit I wear or how I want to look but it's not something I want to wear every day going to work or something, definitely not. Going into... For the people who are listening who have partners or if they're going to be starting a business and they're thinking of having partners. I have 3 partners right now they just happen to be best friends that I grew up with since I was 10 or 11. We pretty much can say whatever we want to each other and then we get over it really quick. We're not afraid to hammer each other or hold each other accountable. We actually invite that amongst each other. Speak on having a partner and I know you have a partner now, I don't know if you've had partners in the past but what are your experiences with that or what are your thoughts?
Rob: My experience, mostly... Million Dollar Collar and goTIELESS same partner in both businesses. He's great because he's the opposite of me, I'm like we could do this, we could do this, we could do this and he's more we need this and this. He's very detailed, there's a great book called Rocket Fuel that talks about the visionary and the implementer and how those two can work together. Without Wozniak there was no Apple, without Walt Disney's brother Ray there was Disney World. He said famously he'd be bouncing checks.
If you can find the right balance it's great, I love the term if you want to go far go by yourself but if you want to go fast go with a team or the opposite of that. I just now we're going to build something big so I need more than just me so if you can find a great person that counteracts you... If you have somebody that thinks the same way as you, you're going to have a hard time seeing what the opposition is and working through problems. I like having him, he's like a brother now. There are days I just want to wring his neck but...
C-Roc: Now how did you guys meet?
Rob: So my screen printing business started out as a graphic tee shirt line in 2006 when Ed Hardy and all those graphic t-shirts were coming out. He modeled for me in one of my fashion shows and he started telling me he would do these college graphic t-shirts so I started printing for him. We worked together on his stuff and then when he came to my wedding he was an usher at my wedding and saw me there struggling with my shirt. I came home and I was like dude this is what I want to do, he said let's do it, I love this, this is great. So it was built from a weird spot it's been 13 years now.
C-Roc: That's cool, so he's the implementer and you're the visionary?
Rob: Yeah, he's got great ideas as well but he definitely knows how to organize all the thoughts and say here, 1-2-3-4 here's how we do it. Here's the order, let's do it like this.
C-Roc: I like that. I think a lot of times I feel like I'm both, and I feel like I have all these visions myself to get things to a certain point. Sometimes, I don't have the time to implement or the clarity of mind at some point. We talk about this in our mentor group clarity. Clarity and attention you have to have that otherwise you're scattered all over the place. I feel like that sometimes and I always go back to my goals and write down clear visions of what I want to do. Implementation is a big deal dude. The thing is you don't have to be the visionary if you have that implementation skill to be able to organize and put things into work, that's powerful.
Rob: Yeah. Everybody says you can have a dream all day long but until it comes to reality it's still just a dream. The implementation process is critical. In that book, I'll tell you there are very few people that are both visionary and an implementer; it's just not how your mind works. Finding an implementer if you're a visionary is incredibly powerful.
C-Roc: Or vice versa right?
Rob: Yeah exactly. There's actually a network of people like a job board of implementers and visionary's trying to find each other and match up, the book is awesome Rocket Fuel if you ever want...
C-Roc: I'll have to check it out thank you. Where's the network for people that are visionaries and implementers?
Rob: It's in that book I'm not really sure. I feel like I got my implementer so I didn't go digging around. It's like having a dating app when I'm married!
C-Roc: I gotcha. As far as mentors go, who is your mentor or mentors? Do you only have one or multiple since we met in the mentor program?
Rob: We did meet in the mentor program. I listened to a lot of books, I listened to a lot of podcasts. I am very fortunate to have a man in my life that has been insanely successful and that's my father. We've butted heads at different times in life because I think we're so similar. He sees the fiery spot in me but now that he's a pretty intricate part of goTIELESS and Million Dollar Collar I talk to him almost every day.
It's just amazing having somebody that I can have somebody that I can say this is what I'm thinking for him to look at it from what he's done. It's a challenge for him because he's never done the online world. He's been brick and mortar, he had 7 locations, 150 employees. He built quite a big empire and it's totally different. He's still been there and done that and I have an aunt who 's very successful and an uncle. Fortunately, I have some family members that have been very successful.
One of the first guys I met when I got to LA ironically was one of the founders of Expedia. He's become a very, very good friend. I talk to him regularly when I have challenges. I ended up getting into a men's group here in Los Angeles, more about brotherhood than a networking group. I got to meet a ton of amazing people and I can bounce anything off those guys.
C-Roc: That's cool. I was going to ask you about that, when you moved to LA what that was like? Just getting into something... No necessarily networking but some kind of group to support each other and lift each other up and bounce ideas off of others. when you go to a new town... I've done it several times. I picked up my wife and moved to Hartford, Ct one time to open up a business. I have never been to Hartford before just decided this territory is open let's just go there. I'm the type to do that a lot of times, spontaneous and jump and we'll figure it out. It doesn't work all the times we lasted 6 months in Conn. When we hit the wintertime, uh uh. We like warmer weather. When you went to LA how long did it really take you to get settled in there?
Rob: So, we decided to live in a big apartment building so we could meet people. We had a dog so ironically the guys that we hung out to most when we first got here were the leasing guys in the front office. We have a Rottweiler, two of them had German Shepherds so those dogs… we got together, they were way younger but they were fun, they knew what was going on and that's where it started. It's funny how that one guy everything spiraled out of the one person we met. It's been wild.
C-Roc: That's cool. So how can my audience connect with you man?
Rob: So personally my email is firstname.lastname@example.org If there are any patent questions or dealing with that process. I love talking to people about their businesses because sometimes it's easier to observe from the outside than when you're in your own thing looking at it every single day. We have all the social media for both companies, Million Dollar Collar, and goTIELESS so it can be found on all of those. Same with the websites, milliondollarcollar.com or goTIELESS.com.
C-Roc: As I always say to the audience, let's go support Rob Kessler. He's a guest on our show, he's been so kind to join us and drop some information for us to help us out. Please go support him. Rob thank you very much, if there's anything I can do the boys here at C-Roc are here for you so just reach out. I am going to pop out to LA probably in March and I will reach out to you and let you know so we can connect.
Rob:Yeah hook me up we'll go for a boat ride, I'm a captain too so we got a nice 50-foot boat and do some fun stuff out here in LA.
C-Roc: Yeah, I love that man. That probably made getting settled into LA a little bit easier?
Rob: We moved right into the marina so we met a bunch of people with boats and we ended up getting the boat a year and a half ago, we've been here about 5 years. Started that little charter business and like I said we always have a bunch of things going on.