Veteran Entrepreneur Reveals How to Launch a Successful Fashion Company
For most entrepreneurs, the definition of a “dream job” is the same — start that company you’ve always wanted to and then create and build to your heart’s content.
That’s the story of Andres Izquieta: serial entrepreneur, fashion designer and co-star of Esquire Network’s “Weekend Fix” with Omar Miller. Between going on modern adventures in the hottest cities around the world and managing his Los Angeles vegan fast food restaurant Fala Bar, Andres is helping men dress better with Five Four Clothing, his innovative online marketplace that mails stylish clothes right to your door every month.
For someone who’s been around the world and started several successful businesses, he keeps it real by making one point clear for every aspiring entrepreneur:
“Entrepreneurship sucks the majority of the time because you’re up against a massive battle to succeed. Trust me, I’ve seen and lived it.”
Of course, it’s only the ones that can push through the hardship that achieve success. We had the pleasure of catching up with Andres Izquieta through email where he discusses the lessons he learned from one of the best business programs in the world, his advice to young entrepreneurs, and the business wisdom he gained from 10 years of struggling to make a creative company successful.
Izquieta studied entrepreneurship at USC’s Marshall School of Business. “I’ve always seen everything as an opportunity, I was in the best entrepreneurial program in the country at the time, and I was obviously going to seize the network and connections of the school via Five Four,” he says. Here’s what he learned in college.
” … We were applying what we were learning in the classroom to the real world on the spot. We referenced our report based on facts, not on theories like a lot of other students.”
“I think in this day and age, whether it’s through family, friends or credit cards, most people can raise up to $5k for any real business concept and give it a shot … Everything is about doing, not talking.”
Izquieta first started a media company in college with multiple founders. While the company never met lasting success, it served as a great learning opportunity, reinforcing the notion that you have to fail in order to succeed.
“Ultimately the business failed because we were young, inexperienced, and there were too many cooks in the kitchen.”
“I always say that differentiation is critical. It’s important that your business is defensible.”
Izquieta explained that he developed the business plan for Five Four by looking at the weaknesses of other clothing businesses. He designed something very different but went through 10 years of trial and error and coming to the brink of failure before finding success.
“We’re very lucky to have come to where we are at today. We were definitely in the bottom of the ninth, down by 25 runs, with 2 outs, and we were able to come back. I know that one day our comeback story will be written about once we decide to publicly share the minutia of where the business was at before, and where it is at today.”
Andres told us he’s been told many times to give up “by very intelligent people,” but he and his co-founder never lost hope. Here are three pieces of advice he has for aspiring entrepreneurs.
1. “I talk to young entrepreneurs all the time, and I always ask them, ‘What makes your product different?’ “
2. “If you come up with something good, someone is going to try to duplicate you. Hence, always think ahead and constantly pick at what you are doing to make it better.”
4. “Persistence is key. Never give up … I can’t stress that enough … You have to be tough, and always be optimistic.”
Today, more than a decade after starting the company out of college, Izquieta is managing his dream company with Five Four Clothing.
“The one thing I do really want to do is to design other consumer products someday, from interiors to exteriors to everyday items. I’m fascinated with the Japanese retailer Muji, design style of Dieter Rams, and the simplicity of Apple. Hopefully I’ll be able to take all of my interests and create products that make the world better.”
Briefly tell us about your background growing up and becoming an entrepreneur.
“I was born and raised in LA and went to college at USC. My parents were both born in Ecuador, and their ancestry is from Spain and Lebanon. I was raised in a single parent household and was taught to work from a very young age.
I was always trying to think of ideas to be entrepreneurial and did small things around family, friends and neighbors’ houses to make extra money when I was as young as 6 years old. Back then, it was a revenue stream to collect baseball cards. My first job was at Baskin Robbins when I was 16 years old. By that age, my objectives were different — I wanted money so that I could go buy Ralph Lauren clothes at Bloomingdales and Macy’s every weekend.
By the time I hit college, I had a three-year paid internship at Fox and thought I wanted to go into the entertainment business and become a producer or an agent. By the time I got to my junior year in college, I realized I couldn’t ever work for anyone and had to be the boss. My senior year at USC, I wrote a business plan for Five Four, along with my business partner Dee Murthy, and the rest is history. I’ve never had a real 9-5 job in my entire life. I analyze everything I’ve ever been involved in with a perspective of opportunity and innovation. I’m lucky to have grown up in a time where I saw the old world converge into the new world, and I read a lot of books on business as a teenager about old world values. I respect the old world and am a product of that world, but simultaneously I love the vast opportunities in the new world thanks to the breakthroughs of modern technology.”
Tell us about some of your more favorite projects you’re working on right now.
“Five Four Club is a revolutionary concept in men’s fashion, and what we’ve done in 2.5 years is pretty remarkable. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished as a team, and next year, 2015, is going to be the most exciting year in our brand’s history. We are working on about six major collaborations right now (none that I can speak of publicly) and one with one of the largest consumer brands in the world. If it wasn’t for the innovation of the Five Four Club idea, I don’t think any of these things would have been possible. We really went against every fundamental that the clothing business has been built on, have been successful at it, and see a clear path towards much more scale. That’s a very exciting feeling, and the team over at Five Four feels the same way.”
You went to USC’s Marshall School of Business for entrepreneurship. What is the most important business lesson that you learned there?
“I think practice and application to your entrepreneurial concept is the most important thing. During our second semester of our senior year, we actually started Five Four and got it into five stores, and had over 10 media hits by the end of the semester. Albeit the business was very tiny at the time, we were applying what we were learning in the classroom to the real world on the spot. We referenced our report based on facts, not on theories like a lot of other students. I’ve always seen everything as an opportunity, I was in the best entrepreneurial program in the country at the time, and I was obviously going to seize the network and connections of the school via Five Four. A lot of my peers were building plans that were unrealistic for them to do at the time. I thought it would be more interesting to pull off together an idea that could be done for a few hundred to thousands of dollars. I think in this day and age, whether it’s through family, friends, or credit cards, most people can raise up to $5k for any real business concept and give it a shot.There’s clearly some sort of due diligence that needs to be done before heading into executing the business concept, but everything is about doing, not talking.”
What was your first company? What was the most difficult obstacle in starting a business that you have ever faced?
“My first company was a media company that I put together in college along with my current Five Four partner, Dee Murthy, and a few other friends. We basically did online marketing for studios and record labels. Due to hustle, luck and savvy, we were able to line up a few paying clients. Ultimately the business failed because we were young, inexperienced, and there were too many cooks in the kitchen. I’m very thankful for that experience, and that’s what led Dee and I to create Five Four.”
Can you tell us about the craziest experience you’ve had filming “Weekend Fix”?
“I had so many first experiences during ‘Weekend Fix.’ Shooting a gun for the first time on camera was definitely a crazy experience. Truthfully, I’ve never really had a desire to shoot a gun but was up for the moment. The first gun I shot was a MP7, and I’m glad I did it. I was definitely a bit nervous at first, but I got the hang of it after a few seconds.”
What is your outfit of choice for business?
“It all depends on the season. I live in LA, so it never gets that cold. And I like to adapt a lot of styles, so it really depends on the mood I’m in that morning. It usually takes me about five minutes to get dressed, and for me it usually starts with my shirt of choice. Since that is the thing that is most visible, it’s easier for me. The shoes are usually last. I wear beanies a lot b/c I’m not a big fan of combing my hair. If I had to pick one outfit, it’s usually black jeans, white shirt, gray sweater, black jacket, gray beanie and dark color shoes in the fall/winter. During the spring/summer months, I like to wear white a lot with some pop colors.”
You have co-founded or partnered for several companies in various industries now. Is there one factor about starting a successful company that’s true no matter what the industry?
“I always say that differentiation is critical. It’s important that your business is defensible. Case in point, Five Four, for its first 10 years of operation, was a wholesale and retail brand. Business was tough from 2009-2012, as the business wasn’t defensible to change because of the competition and the difficulties of the traditional clothing business model. When conceiving the idea of Five Four Club, I looked at every weakness in the traditional clothing model and tried to address it in the design of the new business model. After some weeks of thinking, and seeing what the pain points were in the consumer markets, I came up with the exact model of Five Four Club that I felt differentiated itself from others, and was defensible. We completely re-wrote the rules of a clothing business and have been on a wild growth run ever since. We’re very lucky to have come to where we are at today. We were definitely in the bottom of the ninth, down by 25 runs, with 2 outs, and we were able to come back. I know that one day our comeback story will be written about once we decide to publicly share the minutia of where the business was at before and where it is at today. But if it wasn’t for those first 10 years of trial and error, we wouldn’t have been able to differentiate like we have now.
Same in theory can be applied to ‘Weekend Fix.’ My co-star Omar Miller and I created the show concept. He is an established actor who is a very creative guy, and I have been creative in other industries. Sometimes it takes a combination of two people to think outside the box: one with experience in one industry and another with experience in a different industry, to come together and think of a new idea. We felt like travel television was lacking something that was more relevant to the traveler of today. The show is a lot of fun, innovative, informative and inspirational to others to go do their own ‘Weekend Fix.’ ”
If you had to give some rapid–fire advice to a young entrepreneur on starting and running a successful business, what would they be?
“I talk to young entrepreneurs all the time, and I always ask them, ‘What makes your product different?’ Back to what I said above, you have to be different. Secondly, when you do come up with your differentiation point, make sure your business is always evolving. If you come up with something good, someone is going to try to duplicate you. Hence, always think ahead and constantly pick at what you are doing to make it better. Persistence is key. Never give up … I can’t stress that enough. Entrepreneurship sucks the majority of the time because you’re up against a massive battle to succeed. You have to be tough and always be optimistic. I know it’s hard when so many negatives are attacking you at once, but if you really believe in yourself and your product, you will persevere if you have the right attitude. Trust me, I’ve seen and lived it. I was told many times to give up by very intelligent people, but my business partner and I believed in our vision and ourselves. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get through it all.”
Do you have a dream company you’d like to start someday?
“I’m finally building my dream company with Five Four Club. It was always a goal of mine to help men dress better, and that’s exactly what we are doing. We’re doing innovative things in terms of customer experience, distribution, and style.
The one thing I do really want to do is to design other consumer products someday, from interiors to exteriors to everyday items. Fashion is what excites me today, but over time we all evolve and expand our horizons. I’m fascinated with the Japanese retailer Muji, design style of Dieter Rams, and the simplicity of Apple. Hopefully I’ll be able to take all of my interests and create products that make the world better.”
Other than the “Weekend Fix,” do you have any other projects on the horizon?
“I’m pretty busy right now. Where we are taking Five Four Club for 2015 is to new heights that will keep me very active. I’ve never been more excited.
Hopefully we do more ‘Weekend Fix’s,’ and continue to share our vision of travel, fun and learning.
Lastly, I own a vegan fast food restaurant in LA called Fala Bar that has been open for six months now. We’re diving deep next year into the concept of the next generation fast food restaurant. Since I do eat meat, and traditional vegan food has been perceived as bad by meat eaters, we approach everything as having to be good to a meat eater. At the very least, I get to try some cool stuff out and eat well.”
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