Sali Christeson quit a corporate job to pursue the dream of building a fashion brand for ambitious women to look and feel good while breaking barriers.
Counterintuitive to most tips for entrepreneurs, Sali credits her MBA for building her well-rounded set of skills.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Sali Christeson of ARGENT on how to build a fashion brand from the ground up.
I really advocate getting your MBA, especially if you're going to start your own business. It's such an important, just gives you a really great toolbox.
Tune in to learn
- Why you might want to get an MBA before starting your business
- What is a brand book and what needs to go in a brand book
- How do you measure that you are making progress with building your brand
Felix: Team joined by Sali Christeson from ARGENT. ARGENT is on a mission to make clothing that equips women to push the envelope and take their seat at the table. And we started in 2016 and based out of Los Angeles, California. Welcome, Sali.
Sali: Thanks for having me.
Felix: Yeah. You said you mentioned that you experienced the problem firsthand that you wanted to then start to solve with ARGENT. So tell us more about this. What was that going on in your life at the time? What are you seeing that made you inspire to start a business like ARGENT?
Sali: Yeah, so honestly recognition of the fact that no one work where started very early on in my career. I was graduating from school going into my first job. I moved to Chicago, worked in banking. Every woman out there is probably nodding along, but no one has made work wear easy or intuitive or interesting. And so it really dates back to almost like, gosh, over a decade ago. I'm going to age myself.
Sali: This is back in 2007 that I graduated from school. And so I think it's always been this constant pain point throughout my career. I've worked in different cities, I've worked in different industries really bounced around and it's been a pervasive fresh ration for me and it's, we've made this shift towards a more casual workforce. No one's really kept up and so it's almost as if this working has been an afterthought and big part of the population it's a growing demographic.
Sali: And so I think after a little under a decade of being frustrated with the fact that work wear is in such a stale state, I contemplated pursuing this. I was working at Cisco at the time in tech and I read a study that showed that women are judged based on appearance and for the first time they quantify the impact of what you wear, I at them lined up for your lifetime. It ends up being really significant. And so that really was ultimately the catalyst for me to just put in my notice and for starting.
Sali: So ARGENT launch the vision and goal of solving women's work wear through the lens of really redefining what that is and what that looks like. So introducing versatility quality or style and giving women pieces that they actually want to wear and truly like for the first time for some reason, which I know is quite compounding for such a massive category.
Felix: So you mentioned that you worked at Cisco at the time and not necessarily known for given your experience in a woman's fashion. Was it something that you were like pursuing on the side? Like learning about women's fashion and like how did you know how to even begin to design clothing?
Sali: I do not design, I have not designed. I'm the business side of the business, always have been. So I, my career started in finance. I studied in Undergrad, studied business, a heavy focus on accounting. And then as I mentioned, I went back on my MBA, focused on supply chain knowing that would round pretty nicely. I've got a nice, I really advocate getting your MBA, especially if you're going to start your own business. It's such an important, just gives you a really great toolbox going into starting a business.
Sali: And then I got hired at Cisco and a leadership rotational program and their supply chain organization, which is essentially like this post-grad fast track firsthand exposure to all the major functions within the supply chain. And then my last year at Cisco, I was the first person or seventh, sorry, seventh person on a team that grew to 250 people in a year and it was essentially a startup within a large organization. So it gave me really, really great experience as an entrepreneur.
Sali: And so at the end of all of that I just put in my notice and quit cold turkey and decide that the only way that I was going to do this thing and really do, if I, for me knowing I'd started on the side, I wouldn't have actually ever quit my job and fully committed. Quitting forced me to just go for it and the experience and this entirely. My approach to that in to starting a business, I think my mindset was, that'll be a great experience regardless and understanding recognizing that failure is a very likely possible outcome.
Sali: And I think the other piece was recognizing my gaps and the fact that yes, this is it's a business and it will require sort of thing and creative talent, which I did. I have always had a creative partner part that owns the product design and that creative piece in the business.
Sali: No design coming from me.
Felix: Then that makes sense. Definitely want to touch on that because I think that this is a reason a lot of people don't start businesses is that they... For to push cause they care about because they don't have the complete package, complete expertise to execute it. But you obviously did it by partnering correctly. So want to talk about that in a second. But before we get there, I want to talk about your journey because this is an approach that I don't think I hear too often talked about in entrepreneurship world, which is the college to MBA to entrepreneur. Actually more like to work at like a big company then entrepreneur inside the company and eventually becoming an entrepreneur.
Felix: So this is like a I guess a longer path, but it sounded like it gave you the steps along the way so that you could kind of come out into their first game of yours and hit out of the ballpark. So let's talk about this. So you mentioned the MBA was something that you actually got a lot of value out of, which is almost sometimes counter to the advice that you typically hear today about the uselessness of an MBA is what you would, is commonly touted to tell more about this. Like give us the, what you got out of the MBA that you want to convince other aspiring entrepreneurs to consider an MBA.
Sali: Yeah, it is funny this counter, I think anyone's career path has to be tied to how they ultimately tick. And so for me, the way that I thrive in any environment, any role is having like a holistic understanding of whatever it is that I'm trying to do or trying to solve and then from there I like to details. And so from a business perspective, I felt like I was seeing functions within a business but I didn't necessarily have that holistic understanding that I wanted to.
Sali: I don't know that I could've told you what supply chain and ops were beyond maybe a sentence. When I pursued my MBA, which was in 2010, was my first year. I think I was also it just a different level of maturity even I was an undergrad where I really wanted to dig in and learn and commit to this program and so I think I have had a lot of peers, friends that have stayed in the corporate world, friends that have smaller gigs that have also gotten out and haven't necessarily taken as seriously and done it more as a check the box to accelerate their career.
Sali: For me, it was about really, really, really learning business holistically. Getting some more hands on experience, expanding my network and just spending more time in different functions and learning. I mean to me, I find firsthand learning invaluable. And so yeah, it just, it was such an incredible experience as part of it. I actually got to work at Daimler. I went to Germany and lived there for a little shy of a year. I got to work on my German and came close to fluent. Got to work and get exposure to international business firsthand.
Sali: And then came back and through all of that landed this role at Cisco, which is almost an MBA on top of an MBA to be honest. I wanted best in class supply chain experience if there is something very different learning in a classroom and then that applied knowledge. It just, it's never as perfect as it is in a classroom. And so I got to spend six months in planning and manufacturing six months in product operations, six months in manufacturing operations, six months in supplier management and got to work on a joint venture that we did with China.
Sali: I was traveling back and forth to China, seeing all the contract manufacturers locally. So that experience is invaluable, I think from MBA into real-world experience. And then into ARGENT, I just, I developed relationships. I had a sense of command over not only the subject matter but also just myself personally. And I think that understanding your own leadership style and having intimate have been understanding as you can have your own blind spots is critical to be successful as an entrepreneur because it's the most vulnerable thing that you'll do.
Sali: And so taking all of that into ARGENT I think really set me up for success or as much as possible. And that's allowed us I think to get as far as we have and it's not to say that any path is wrong, that's just my path based on how I operate.
Felix: Right. You mentioned that the way you operate is that you like to see the whole picture, in this case, the whole picture of running a business before you can feel comfortable, confident to move forward at full speed. Now if someone out there is on the same path as you and is thinking about pursuing an MBA or maybe it's about to begin one, what kind of advice would you give them on in terms of like how do you get the most out of it if you do plan to become an entrepreneur after leaving the program?
Sali: Yeah, I think just really embracing both learning and diving in because sometimes, I mean it's not always pleasant and there are some projects that really probably aren't worth our time, but I think really like spending the time on learning the material and doing that for yourself. Because why else would you be there at all? And some people really do go there just to get a higher paycheck coming out. And if you're going to be an entrepreneur like you are... That's a cheat that I would not recommend because it was going to bite you in the end.
Sali: I think the other piece is just networking. I think networking is probably one of the most important parts of being a successful entrepreneur. And during your MBA you have, it's a good opportunity to start networking with your classmates, networking beyond that to get internships, to get to potentially get a job. If you take a job coming out of it and then go and start your company, whatever it is. I think that relationships and relationship building is one of the most important aspects of business, no matter which path you take. So those are sort of the two pieces of advice I would have.
Felix: And so you mentioned that with the MBA then also coming out and working at a large company like Cisco, you actually did pick up valuable skills, transferable skills that can be applied to starting a business from scratch and at a much smaller level. How quickly were you able to use those skills sets? I can imagine that some skills are much more applicable or maybe only ever come in handy when you are at a certain scale versus when you're just starting out. But were you able to use certain... What were you able to use I guess from the working in a large corporation from the get-go?
Sali: I think there are a couple of things. So I think the first thing I did I left Cisco and I just printed out a business plan and looked through it and started jotting down notes for what I saw for ARGENT future. And I really like, I think from day one I had a really crisp and clear vision of what ARGENT is and what it is that I envisioned building. And from my days at Cisco and from my days and my MBA program, I think that I should, I moved around, I was asked to do different projects at a really fast pace that I've asked to operate oftentimes which I think is unique in a corporate context in some ways.
Sali: And so I think there's just sort of like a level of expectation that you operate quickly, thoroughly in a way that looks at full picture and you have like a plan and you have your risk mitigation thing, you have your resourcing and you kind of map out whatever it is that you're working on. You kind of map out all of the components of it and then you sort of tick away at whatever it is that you need in order to get something done and executed.
Sali: But throughout, I think I really figured out how to set my sixth self up for success for different one that like different projects that I worked on. I think I got better at that. And so when I started ARGENT whether I knew or not, I think I immediately started applying some of the things that I've learned from doing at Cisco, which is talking to as many people as possible. Recognizing that I'm not the subject matter expert for starting a company. And just mentoring how people are going to fit into what I'm building.
Sali: Two was let me look through every single thing that I can possibly need to think about over the next X years and let me identify what the priorities are within that. Let me just start listing out risks within what I'm building and how to mitigate those risks. Just constantly ensuring that no decision that I make is a fatal misstep. I think that's the biggest watch out for a startup, especially early on. And just coming up with a plan, I think that incorporation you go crazy because you're forced do so many things that are perceived as bureaucratic, but at the same time you're also moving with like a behemoth of a company forward and there's a lot of structure that goes in hand with that.
Sali: So I probably was a bit more structured in my approach in some ways really early on and with afforded the opportunity to do that at ARGENT I think those exercises that I did allowed us to have a lot of success in a lot of ways. I don't know I approached it how I guess a...
Felix: Yes I think that your approach is very methodical, which is going to work, which is great because I think that works for a lot of people and you map it out where you mapped out the path to success and then you just kind of hit the ground. And start knocking out each one thing at a time. Do you remember when you were first starting out, like what are some of the early tasks or early wins that proved the most valuable that you think other entrepreneurs that are just starting out should try to look for?
Sali: Yeah, it's funny because I think I make it sound like really methodical and very math. It's like as an entrepreneur thing, 5,000 things at once. And I think that I was doing that. So just with a goal of progress, like, and today my goal is still progress. How do I make things move forward in the right direction? And so some of the things that proved invaluable that we still leverage and reference today market research we did, like I would say that was one of the things I spent the most time on early on was I wrote a four-question survey.
Sali: Worked with a woman who had done this her entire career. We conducted the survey across a sample size of 400 people and two major markets. And just gleaned so much inside information beyond my gut sense from a, like what I was built to the customer was and just putting hard data against that. Interviewed women that all roughly landed in our target demographic and really just wanted to prove that this was a big problem than just myself and my peers.
Sali: And then come through census data to come up with a go-to-market strategy and identifying which markets we wanted to go into and over what time period. And so those are all things that really proved and valuable. The other piece, which generally surprises me when entrepreneurs don't have it, was taking all the information that I had and then feeding it into a financial model. And that immediately became my roadmap to success. How I build this and how I spend my money and how I make money back, et cetera.
Sali: And so I think I was surprised by how few people had experience building a financial model for a company of our size. And so I ended up building it myself so full of imperfection and mistakes, but it ended up just being this guide for me, Emily and everyone because cash is your life flow blood and so I think to figure out how to create that numerical roadmap early really important. And then obviously the last and maybe the most important piece I think is hopefully applicable to a lot of listeners of this podcast.
Sali: Understanding what I'm building and spending more time than I think people even realize is necessary on the brand side of things we are customer facing. We have a product. The most important thing that we are building is our brand. Obviously, our foundation is our product. And so a lot of our cash early on went towards just creating something that was unique. And I think on the front, on the brand side that's where we really today have our unfair competitive advantage because day one, we were unbelievably thorough and identifying what our mission was, what our values are, what we stand for, like ever.
Sali: And we really flesh that out and how to brand book from day one. And I don't think that you see that in a lot of companies, in my opinion, a lot of the business side you can correct later on the brand side and the product side, it's much harder to correct and trying to get the brand right from day one with something that I spend a lot of time on. We still have regular exercises around that. It's a constant exercise of just improvement again, but being really clear on that vision early on and having spent a lot of time on that is something I'll never regret during those early stages.
Felix: Okay. So a few things I want to touch on. So you mentioned market research to go to market strategy to the financial model and then also brand name. So let's talk about market research. I think this is a the, almost like the raw ingredients that you need to even begin a lot of this stuff. Like why would you even start a business if you don't know if the market is viable or not? So tell us about this and what needs to go into your market research. What are you looking to, to get out of that? The exercise of market research?
Sali: Yeah, I think a lot of things that I touched on honestly are all intended to go into a pitch deck and then attract your first set of potential investors. So market research, what's the market size? So, and I'll mess this up so badly, but it's the total addressable market, the serviceable market and whatever that other one is within there serviceable and addressable. I forget the third one. But essentially what's your market size? What's the... Ours is a 34.9 billion annual spend in the US that's what women's spend on work clothes just in the US.
Sali: Within that, we think we can actually capture a 10 to 12 billion annual spend, which is a massive market. So you want to add that and you want to get as specific as you can with who that whereas, and how you're going to capture it and understand them as you can. The other piece that we used to use in our deck and then just in our, I think internally is we shaped our go-to-market strategy was what's the profile of the customer? Who's our core customer? Who are some fringe customers that we expect to capture, age, buying behavior? Anything that you can possibly know about this person goes into this.
Felix: When you want to figure out who your core customer is. Was that when you were going through this research, did the core customer end up being the core customer that you thought you would go after from the beginning?
Sali: Yes, tweaked a little bit. I think it aligned with my gut go after someone in the prime of their careers that is a bit price insensitive. Yes. I think that I learned a lot about that customer through our market research though that I hadn't necessarily recognized. I think my understanding of customer was quite simple and going through the exercise of doing market research allowed me to expand on my knowledge customer base and then ultimately drove a different set of decision-making criteria.
Sali: It resulted in a different outcome, honestly for our go-to-market strategy. So which is a good thing? And then that understanding of your customer is something that you're always trying to pinpoint. And so keeping a really tight pulse on that and once you launched because you want to see that your product and customer reaction is matching up what you expect and who you expect to sell to.
Felix: Now, when you were trying to understand more about your customer, what are some key questions that you would recommend people ask to learn more about their customer?
Sali: Oh boy, I need to pull up my book, my survey. So for us, it was about buying behavior. So where like, where do you like to buy shopping online or shopping through other retailers or you like being popups and going directly to these new DTC brands that are popping up. So trying to glean how customers like to buy. Other questions would be around I mean a lot of them were work clothing specific. What are you wearing to work? What do you prefer to wear to work?
Sali: Is your workplace shifting? How many days are you going to the office? You know, just trying to understand this customer lens of what their needs are from work perspective. And sometimes you ask things that aren't even remotely related to what you're building or seemingly not related to what you're building, but they do all shape your understanding of this customer. How are they consuming TV? Are they active? What are they eating? What are they breathing? Really everything.
Sali: So you're asking as much info can because you, I mean, the more data you have, the better equipped you are.
Felix: Right. So I think a lot of times when people to do market research, they are very focused on the product, right? What products are they are customers already buying? Like what do you think about your product? What do you think about your offer? But you're saying that was maybe more important is like their behavior. Can you talk more about this? How does their behavior impact your business, your go-to-market strategy, your messaging?
Sali: Yeah, I mean, it chips, everything. I mean, literally briefing, I can speak to it just in terms of where we landed with our product, how it ended up shaping it. So we are customer-led and our design process. So, we understand that this woman wants more out of her clothing and right now she's not getting things out of her clothes. So understanding that she is some times biking to work or commuting to work and needs places to carry her stuff and doesn't necessarily want to carry a bag.
Sali: So we introduced interior pockets and our blazers, we use stretchy fabric products so it allows you to move with the pro. The fabrics are breathing, so if you're working up a sweat on your bike ride to work we've got you, we've got reflectors and when you flip up the color on the blazer, just little subtle things like that. And then in terms of all our copy, I mean our copy is geared really specifically at this certain woman. Everything we do is geared towards certain women where we show up where we sell. Everything is driven based on our knowledge and understanding of our customer base.
Felix: So there's probably different profiles that come out of this, right. Where there's like the woman that you mentioned that's biking to work. So you built it into your product but I'm assuming that your customer base spams more than people that are biking to work. So how do you balance the differences I guess between one profile then my stand out just as equally as strong as another in terms of like a lot of people are saying that they are bikers versus Lapierre's saying, "Oh, I've commuted on a train to work." How do you decide which one to focus on?
Sali: Yeah, that's a really hard one. I think I have been very unapologetic being hyper-focused on a certain audience for ARGENT and that's not, the revenue doesn't always support that decision. We're selling to women that spend a much broader on like audience than who we'd defined as our core customer. But I feel strongly staying around that core customer because you're always going to capture someone out outside of who you've defined your customer to be. And so our approach towards that is it's better to stand for something and it's better to be really focused on someone than it is to try and do too much for too many.
Sali: Because the worst thing that you could do is meet someone that you identify as your core because the second you start doing that, start trying to capture a bigger audience. Second that people start losing interest. Especially nowadays what we learned from our market research is that customers want to buy into more than just a product today, especially millennials. Millennials buy into a brand that they believe in a brand who share values with and so we're really sensitive to that and we're being really, really thoughtful and mindful that customer is not deviating from that too much. I think it's, yeah, sorry, go ahead.
Felix: I was going to say, yeah, I think that a lot of entrepreneurs have this fear that if they become too hyper-focused that they will lose all customers outside of that exact customer. But you're saying that there's still the fringe customers that are going to become your customers because they are maybe aspirational, want to become like the ideal customer. They have shared values. I think Patagonia is a really good example where a lot of people wear their clothing, but not everyone is climbing the mountain every weekend.
Felix: But that's the aspirational lifestyle that they're going for. So I think it's an important point because people do try to serve too many because they think that by being hyper-focused they will completely say that could basically cut off everyone else. But in your experience, that's not the case.
Sali: No, not at all. And I think, I mean, I could even identify areas of the business that we could go into right now, but I just think that that's a risk, especially like when you're in a [inaudible] and I think that we have a long way to go. Like, we're nobody, so few people know about us still. And we're what three years at now. And we've had a ton of success and it absolutely resonated with the audience we want it to resonate with. But it's a really big opportunity and just with our core offering, with our core consumer we still have more people to capture than we've captured, you know? And so just remembering that.
Sali: And not trying to do too much for too many. I've, that's my path towards success. I know everyone takes a different one, but me, I advocate that approach. I think that sets you up for success more than the alternative.
Felix: Right. You said that you're unapologetically hyper-focused, so you don't even have this nagging feeling to try to serve more. Because I think that's the biggest element that entrepreneurs have is that they want to serve more or larger, kind of more general, I guess demographic. But is it that you are just naturally able to focus on a particular, be unapologetically focused on a particular customer? Or did you have to learn how to do this?
Sali: I think I benefit from being our customer. I am our core customer. It helps a lot. And what we're building is almost an extension of myself. And so I think that helps me stay tight. I don't think I had to learn it. It just it almost me living out like my best customer experiences at other brands and recognizing that the ones that have stay focused have been the ones that stayed loyal to. And so I think that's played out here at ARGENT.
Felix: Right. That makes sense. Okay. So let's talk about the financial model. You mentioned that this was one that surprised you, that a lot of businesses that entrepreneurs kind of venture out into the world without having any kind of financial model. So what numbers did you really want to I guess, glean out of creating this model?
Sali: Yeah, so I failed to mention this earlier. This is a very, very, very important part of starting a business are there's a high barrier to entry in our world because we made product and then to market with it. And that's a pretty expensive undertaking required investment. And so early on one of the first things I did was started, I started meeting with advisors that were that could potentially invest. And I think in the back of my mind I wanted to invest. I went ahead and got them involved early, early on way before I had a financial model for, I had any inkling in terms of how much money I'd need to raise or what that process even looks like.
Sali: I established and I probably learned this from Cisco days I established a meeting cadence with them. So I meet once every month. I had quite a few advisors that I did this with and I would just show them progress and I had them bought in on the process. And so I think I was working on really telling and crafting our story and figuring out how we were going to attack this and the financial model ultimately became the last piece of that. My goal with the model was to identify how much money we needed to raise in order to get to our next critical milestone.
Sali: I think that was the biggest thing. And then we actually projected out five years, I think four years is more than appropriate. And what you hope to accomplish is very real ready for the next six months your best guests for the next year. And then, I mean, it's really everybody's best guests the next three years, but you want to map out a believable story that you use to make your day to day decisions as well as to share your story with potential investors.
Sali: So it ended up allowing us to suss out how much money we needed to raise and how much money we needed to put towards certain things and budget for certain things. So we didn't get ahead of ourselves on spending because that's an easy thing to do. And then just to tell our story, which is you're not going to, I mean I guess some people do get money without this, but you're not going to get legitimate investment without being able to show that model.
Felix: I got it. So I think this is also important, which is that you did not wait until you needed the money before you started essentially looking for investors and talk to them. Like the first time they saw you weren't when you were asking them for money. And I think this is a very, I think I like this approach because it's similar to what you mentioned before about, I think you said something about customer-led design. I'm starting to see this more where businesses are including the customers super, super early on to get them to help in investing in the design or maybe even like the branding, the messaging. So that bought into it and you did the same thing with the advisors, you got them involved early on.
Felix: So now they are, they feel like they're more a part of it and they're more invested in that way. So if someone wants to take the same approach where they want to start introducing this idea, sort of, kind of planting the seed essentially with the advisors, how did you get them involved early on? Where were you finding advisors?
Sali: Yeah, so I just reached out to my network. I started meeting with people I was both directly connected with and then, well, I was connected to through other contacts. I would say one of my bigger skills is networking and piecing together the team went. And so I think my goal was to get, I didn't do a friend my around. I wanted money from people who could serve as I informally and represented different parts of the business and had firsthand experience and success within those parts of the business. And so I just reached down, asked more often than not and it ended up working.
Sali: I, you know would land, a meeting with whoever and I would go in and I'd be as buttoned up as possible and say, this is my vision. I'd really like to own women's work wear more over I really see an opportunity to change the conversation on women in the workplace and leverage the power brand to do that. And it's not fully baked yet and here are the steps that I'm anticipating meeting to take next. And I really value your experience within the world of advertising involvement or I really admire your accomplishments within the world of retail and would love your involvement.
Sali: And what that looks like right now to me is just getting the opportunity to meet with you once a month if you'd be willing to carve out the time and just be a funding to me. And so that was the initial conversation. I don't advocate mentioning fundraising ever in any conversation until you're 100% buttoned up and ready. So I didn't even mention that. And I remember in one of those meetings, someone actually said, "Yeah, like I would love to be involved in, I'd actually love to be your first investor when the time comes."
Sali: So that person that ended up end up writing this check but it was really more about building the right team and getting the right players in the corner. And all those individuals who helped us in so many ways because they were really bought in very early on the vision and on me and on us being successful. And I think that's so important from an investment community.
Felix: Right. And you mentioned don't go into this meeting basically with the premise that it is a pitch to raise money. So what is the premise when you are setting this up? If you're reaching out, you're networking, you get to the opportunity to ask an advisor or ask the gatekeeper that books appointments with the advisor to meet with them. Like what is the questions of what is the purpose of this meeting? Like, what's your answer to that?
Sali: Yeah. I'm starting a company and I would love the opportunity to share my idea with so-and-so given his or her background and experience. I feel like it really valuable conversation and it can be just that just love your time for 30 minutes and I just want to share what I'm working on. And more often than not I know that I've fallen into this camp like people just want to forward and people want to be helpful. It was the right kind of people.
Sali: And so 30 minutes isn't a lot to ask and I think sometimes we're too scared to ask if I went inn actuality, I think we're both doing deep, both parties a disservice. I think that people really do want to help where they can.
Felix: Right. That makes sense. So you mentioned this, you were able to do a lot of this because you want to, your strongest skill sets is networking. And you mentioned earlier that you are also good at recognizing your blind spots. So how do you recognize a blind spot? Like what are you looking for to be like, "Okay, yeah, that's something that I can not do I should hire someone to partner with someone to help out with this particular area of the business."
Sali: Yeah. I have a lot of blind spots. One I'm all, I think some of it comes from experience. Like some of it definitely comes from and this is where I think I, my default with let me go into the corporate world, let me take leadership courses and personality tests and this, that and the other. But all of his things coupled with really intense professional experiences helped me learn a ton about myself and a ton about other people and how to move things forward as a team.
Sali: It's not about just you, it's about knowing yourself really well as you possibly can. And also understanding that not everyone is like you. And the most painful collaborative is oftentimes people that are exactly opposite you and drive you crazy. But that's where your output together is the most productive and so I think for me, I immediately recognized the fact that I am our customer, but I am not someone that should be designing clothes because had that been the case, we would have been out of business and before we lunched.
Sali: And so funding and building a design team that can cover that blind spot for me really valuable. Having advisors that ascetically are very elevated has been super important again because I have a gut sense on things, my like visual understanding of what ARGENT is and what it looks like, but I'm still not the expert on. So I think I have blind spots more broadly speaking what we're building. But I also have blind spots within the business as well. That I'm constantly trying to augment with my staff so I can focus on what I am good at.
Sali: And I think the goal is just to hire people that aren't exactly like me. And that's always been the goal. I think that's sort of another flag for me is sometimes I meet entrepreneurs and hey, never say never, but I've met entrepreneurs that are the exact same profile that is starting a company together. And you really want to see the diversity of thought approach and skillset especially with the founding team or with that first couple of hires.
Sali: So that's kind of what I'm always trying to do is hire people that fill the gaps and then constantly seeking feedback and things that maybe that I actually think that I'm good, but being open to like wrongs that speed back and leaving the ego at door. All of those things are really, really important in a startup.
Felix: Yeah. So I think the important thing here is that having blind spots and maybe even a lot of blind spots or are not blind spots, but more like weaknesses or areas that need improvement is not as a death knell for someone that wants to start a business because you can partner or hire in areas that you are weak. I think the challenge that people have is that they don't feel comfortable hiring or directing a partner or a hire because they lack so much in that area. How do you make sure that you can kind of provide the right guidance or input when it is in an area that you are weak at but you've hired for?
Sali: Yeah. A lot of times its trust and giving that person autonomy, creating frameworks where we have advisors that cover blind spots that I have that we're constantly sourcing feedback and input from and then trusting the fact that I'm our customer. And sometimes my reaction isn't a reaction. Even if something's really elevated aesthetically, it may not necessarily work for our customer. It may just be too much and not quite accessible enough.
Sali: So it's a combination of things, but at the end of the day, it really does come down to developing rapport and trust with people that you're putting in these roles. And that does take time. But once that's established, I mean this person is going to be one of the most invaluable resources and you figure out how to bring in what you know and why that's valuable for them, that improves their output. But also, I'm trying to create opportunities for them to get mentorship and support creatively because they need that as well. We may not necessarily have it from me or internally. So just getting creative I think is the way we make our work.
Felix: So you also mentioned that one of the key things that you focused on early on was building and spending time on the brand side. So what does it mean to you to build a brand? I think there's a big kind of undertaking. It involves a lot. So at the end of the day, what are you looking for when you say, okay, I have a brand?
Sali: Oh boy. I think that we all have brands that we know and we love and there's so much more behind the scenes, but it just comes together in a way that makes you just feel some sort of affinity to their product, to their community. You buy into everything that it is that they're saying and doing. I think that it starts with extensive conversation around what's our vision? What's the problem state? How are we solving it? What do we stand for? What are our values? What are our beliefs? And articulating that both verbally and then bringing that to life visually to different things.
Sali: And the world consumes differently. Like everyone, you and I, every single person consumes things differently. So I really react to words more strongly. I do. The experience is an important part to me, but I'm not as visual. So we all just experience things in a different way. And so it's consistent as you possibly can be across every customer touch point and across every internal touchpoint because it's your everything.
Sali: It's who you are. It's why your team shows up, inspire customer shows up to buy. It's what people come to know. And it takes shape in your product. It takes shape in your retail settings. It takes shape on your website. It takes shape in the form of a logo mark and a font that's unique to your company. In copy and in taglines. There's a lot, there were actually, I'm constantly like revisiting everything and just tightening it up and tightening it up at every inflection point at ARGENT it's such an important part of what we're building now.
Sali: I mean, I think to me, one of my favorite brands right now, it'd be Peloton. I think they've done just such an excellent job of building this community, offering a service and something that really adds value to people and it's cohesive and it's consistent and it hasn't really deviated since it launched. And I think that's what consumers are looking for more and more nowadays especially.
Felix: Got it. This reminds you of this I swear this is going to be related. I saw this crazy Japanese game show where these people were playing soccer with binoculars, but everyone feels weren't binoculars and they're trying to obviously score a goal. And I feel like building a brand is similar to that where you are so focused on day to day, but the goal is such a larger transformation for the entire brand as a whole. How do you map it out? How do you map out lay, okay, this is where I want to take the brand and distill it down to, okay, here's what you do. Here's what I do, here's what you do. And kind of break it down into actual tasks. How do you map that out?
Sali: That's so hard and it's so hard. Sometimes there's more redundancy than you probably need. I am more involved in the details and I think people would believe, oh, I think a lot of entrepreneurs, founder entrepreneurs are and I don't know that I have a good answer for that. I mean we hire people on both internally and their agencies to own something and we scope it out and we give out tasks and we give out responsibility and with the goal of some specific output. I guess I don't know. That's how we do it but-
Felix: Yeah, I guess the question I have then is it, do you just kind of live with that is going to be inefficient because you want coverage overlap everywhere, like over message I guess, your brand or do you want to go the other way, which is to try to be more efficient and not have this kind of redundancy like you mentioned?
Sali: Oh God, that's so hard. In an ideal world well, you don't have a ton of redundancy, obviously [inaudible] support it and you have trusted partners that can see things and deliver them to you in a way that requires you're in there and allows you to apply your understanding of the brand, but also allows them to move forward and deliver. So I probably skew more like the direction of less redundancy, which is a really funny way to say that out of the interest of our resourcing, I think that when you get in a place where there is redundancy, it's generally because you don't have the right team members in place.
Sali: And when that happens, it creates friction that does not belong in a startup and you have to quickly address it and just get rid of that. And it is not supposed to be that hard. And sometimes it has been, sometimes we've had the wrong onboard and so it's just a matter of finding the right partners and just holding on.
Felix: Got it. Awesome. So I'll kind of leave you with this last question, which is what was like the biggest lesson that you or that the team, the company learned last year that you want to make sure you apply to the way you do things this year?
Sali: Oh, man. So I don't know if it's a lesson per se. It was somewhat intentional and moving. Those have been a learning for me to have been talking about starting ARGENT we have never marketed actually, so that's been intentional. It's been largely because we want to understand the customer is purely as we can and we want understand organically like how she interacting with our company, with our product, what's working, what isn't, how do we iron out our foundation to make our product as perfect as possible.
Sali: So we've really largely relied on historically we've taken all of that customer information and we've now fed it into what we've crafted our marketing plan. And so there have been a ton of miss we've made just in the last year alone that we feel like we've now corrected that will now come out in a bigger way on the branding side, on the product side and on the go to the market side. So it's not necessarily like, "Oh, we made this mistake. It's more we've spent this time to really learn the market and taking that information and where I'm going to amplify our messaging and in our, what we're building for the first time, which I'm super excited about. So that all happened in the next couple of months.
Felix: Awesome. You're definitely going to scale things to another level. So thank you so much for your time. Sali is the company at Argentwork.com A-R-G-E-N-T-W-O-R-K.com. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story.
Sali: This is super fun. Thank you for having me.