Advice for Entrepreneurs From the TrunkClub/Bonobos Founder

The eighth annual Online Retailer Conference and Expo kicked off in Sydney yesterday to a packed house, with international keynote speaker, Brian Spaly — founder of TrunkClub and co-founder of Bonobos — unearthing a treasure trove of entrepreneurial gold.

Our very own Grant Arnott, publisher of Power Retail, kicked off proceedings.

“You have a competitive advantage over the folks who aren’t here!” he told the assembled crowd of retailers and industry leaders.

He then welcomed Arthur Sinodinos — the Cabinet Secretary and Liberal Senator for New South Wales — to the stage to officially launch the conference.

“In Australia, we no longer want to match best practice,” Sinodinos told the crowd, “we want to lead best practice.

He discussed the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship to Australia’s future.

“Being an innovator is a hard job because you have to think of every angle.

“We want this country to be a hub for innovation, for design, for entrepreneurship.”

Sinodinos touted the government’s innovation and science initiatives designed to help retail start-ups, as well as the easing of regulations aimed at enabling retail start-ups to take risks.

He highlighted how new retail has focused on learning what customers want, then delivering it to them — something that politicians can learn from.

Returning to the stage, Arnott proceeded to introduce Spaly as the international keynote speaker.

A serial entrepreneur but self-confessed poor leader and manager, Spaly outlined his journey from idea to exit and offered a range of golden advice for entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Spaly detailed his struggle to find pants to fit his “rugby player” posterior and his adventures as a 20-something Boston equity analyst who spent his spare time at a sewing machine learning how to alter trousers.

He talked about how, at the age of 32, his friend and business partner asked him to leave Bonobos, the company he co-founded. From there he was invited to take over the fledgling TrunkClub, which Nordstrom acquired for US$350 million in 2014.

“The magical thing about being an entrepreneur is that you can solve the problems that bug you,” he said

“Make a list of the stuff that bothers, then ask yourself: can I fix this?”

In the start-up world, where failure is all too often blindly celebrated, Spaly had this to say:

“Fail fast; fail cheaply.”

But if things are working, he went on to say, don’t get carried away. He advised start-ups to beware of the lures of the capital they can raise.

“Don’t make money at a high price. Be disciplined, be frugal with your capital,” he said.

Beware of valuations so high that you can never monetise what you’ve built, he advised.

“Don’t over-inflate yourself. Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.”

Spaly also discussed the Nordstrom acquisition, offering this advice:

“If you think you might sell your company, get to know the companies that might be your acquirers.”

Talk to the big brands that you’re taking sales from, he said. They may not even be aware you’re taking revenue from them, but the smart ones will soon work it out.


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