“Don’t be afraid to take chances,” says Richard Henne, BBA ’15. “You have to try something new even if you fail, because you can learn from failure.”
Henne is the co-founder of Ivory Ella, an apparel company that donates 10% of its net profits to Save the Elephants and other charitable organizations. Along with five friends, Henne launched the company in 2015. Now they have nearly 100 employees, a 40,000 square foot office space, and have donated over $1 million to important causes.
On Saturday, Henne gave the keynote address during Temple University Alumni Weekend’s Lead and Learn Summit. Hosted at the Fox School, the topic was failure, namely how a series of alumni entrepreneurs have been able to spin their failures into victories.
We asked Henne to share with us a few of the mistakes he made along the way to Ivory Ella’s success. From overseas raids on intellectual property pirates to driving a U-Haul truck around the country seeking inventory, here are some of the ways Henne learned from his mistakes.
1. Not Having a Business Plan
“We had no business plan, no customer service strategy, no idea what we were going to do. We took a T-shirt design, put it online, and it went viral. We were chasing our tail the entire time. It was hectic. We didn’t lockdown supplies, printers, employees, anything. We sold out 500 shirts in 15 minutes, so once we hit that preorder button, we were chasing demand for the next year. I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way, but it was a good problem to have. Definitely have a plan in place before you launch.”
2. Not Having a Talent Hiring Plan
“When you’re in a situation like we were, we were desperate for help. We hired friends, family members, and pretty much anyone who would come work for us. We didn’t have a talent scout, we didn’t have people looking for experienced managers, we just brought in anyone we knew who worked hard and was willing. Things worked out, but it wasn’t the most effective approach. You have to be careful when you bring in talent; it shouldn’t just be a shotgun spread kind of approach.”
3. Trusting Everyone
“Not being in the industry for long, and not knowing how big business worked, we went from a company that started in a basement to shipping our millionth order last month. It’s stressful and you’re put in situations you aren’t prepared for. We would have a lot of suppliers tell us, “We’re going to get this to you, it’s going to be perfect, don’t worry about it.” And nine times out of 10, those promises were fake. People will tell you what you want to hear, then won’t deliver. With our company, we started off wanting to do the exact opposite: We set goals, then we try to blow them out of the water, and never come up short. Various suppliers promised us shirts, and that fell through, so I spent the first few months driving around the country in a U-Haul truck buying shirts and driving them back to our factory. It was crazy.”
4. Underestimating Scale
“When we started, we were in a basement. We quickly rented out a storage space, and outgrew that. Then we moved to a section in a strip mall, where we bought two printers, hired a big staff, and a had big front room. That lasted three months, then we rented out the car dealership across the street, which we used for storage. That only lasted three months before we outgrew it. Then we moved to Mystic, Conn., where we shared a building with Aqua Massage International, so on the other side of the building, these guys were making aqua massage beds. From there we finally found a 40,000 square foot warehouse in Westerly, R.I. I can’t imagine we’ll have to grow again, but having a plan in place for growth and space would’ve initially saved us a lot of time and money. Our new location is huge. We only use about half the space right now; the other half is a basketball court and recreation area for our employees. We have a lot of space to grow. And we’ve learned how to manage our inventory, so as long as we stay on top of that, we shouldn’t have to expand again. Who knows, maybe an international office is in the future.”
5. Not Preparing for Intellectual Property Issues
“We have counterfeits all over. We take down about 100 a week. We even conducted a raid on Chinese soil to shut down a factory, but when we got there it was abandoned. It’s been an interesting process, and it wasn’t something I knew about going in. Like with so much else, we’ve had to learn fast. Other manufacturers steal our designs, so if we sell a shirt for $31.99, they sell it for $9.99. We donate 10%, they don’t donate anything. It’s people who want to wear the brand but not pay the cost. Big brands deal with this every day, but not knowing from the beginning this was going to be such a huge epidemic for us, it left us unprepared out of the gate. IP is huge, so think about it and have a plan before you jump in.”