It was early 2016 and I had heard the buzz about Sheryl Sandbergs book: Lean In, which actually came out 2013, it just took a while to reach Germany.
Tom had gifted it to his mother and once she had read it, she took the promotion they had been offering her for while.
When I heard that, I went to buy the book immediately. I read it cover to cover and one sentence resinated with me.
At the time, I was in management consulting and I wanted to start my own business. I wanted to do and learn more, outside of my daily job. In consulting it is frowned upon to have a side hustle, because the little time left on the weekends are supposed to be for relaxing, so that the average 60 hour week was doable without collapsing.
I had an idea, it was vague and so far away, I didn't even know where to start. I was afraid. I was afraid of what people might think of me if I fail? I was afraid of what happens if I run out of money? What if I'm not good enough? What if I couldn’t manage?
Then I read the words: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?”
It gave me courage and I felt relieved, it reminded me that I am doing this for myself and for no one else. Life is not a race, it is a journey and each one of us has to find out where they want to go and how they want to get there, no matter how long it takes.
I was ready to take the first step and in my mind, I had already taken it, but in reality, it took me another 2 years to sell my first product. My first challenge was actually sitting down and doing something. It took me 6 months, until I sent out the first email to a supplier. Every day during those 6 months I told myself: "This weekend, I will sit down for 3 hours and I will start." When the weekend came, I was too tired, or I was too lazy to do anything. After 6 months I realised, that I had to use every free moment I had during the week otherwise nothing was ever going to happen. Another thing I noticed was that I had to get organized. I opened a new email account, just for Corner Office related things.
I started writing to suppliers during dinners with my colleagues, on car rides, on the potty or even during extremely boring meetings.
I had done the first step.
However, I was still poking around in fog at that point.
Then came a list of successes and failures, which had taught me so much about myself and the business world.
1) I was at the Jacobs University Start-Up Competition with Tom. The girlfriend of the co-founder of the Start-Up he was mentoring, was a designer. We connected and by chance, I met a wonderful designer, who designed my very first collection. I went to visit her in Copenhagen and low-budget style, stayed on her couch. We spent a weekend browsing shops, eating well and deciding what key pieces should be in the collection. Our motto was Mafia and I still love all the pieces she created. (2 tops, 3 3-piece suits, 3 Shirts)
2) I googled and contacted a lot of suppliers and asked how much it would cost to produce these garments, their minimums were extremely high (100 per design) and I really could not afford it, money wise, or space wise. Where in my appartment was I going to put 100 suits? In my bedroom room? Didn’t think so.
3) In order to produce a garment, I needed patterns. They are stencils that are laid on the fabric and cut around to determine what sizes the pieces need to be. The suppliers asked for patterns from me, as their internal pattern maker apparently was too busy to make them. I thought, this must be normal, so I googled and found a pattern maker in Germany. She made all the patterns for the collection, including samples. Now I had all my patterns and my samples, but I still had to find a supplier.
4) I tried to find a production company to produce my collection in small batches and flew to London with a suitcase full of my samples, to show them to the London office correspondent of a factory located in Lisbon. It was a tiny office, on the 3rd floor, on a small side street near the center. I remember being late and having to call her, because I couldn’t find it. I went and showed her all my designs, but somehow she was not convinced. We didn’t end up working together.
5) I had eventually found a supplier in Poland, but I didn't know how many pieces to order, so I created a Kickstarter Campaign. I took 3 months off of work, (It was paid because I had accumulated so much vacation and overtime) and I prepared my Kickstarter Campaign. I shot, cut and starred in the videos, I organized a photoshoot in which I asked my friends to model and another friend to shoot it.
I sent around the link of the campaign, to my work colleagues and someone reported me to HR. I then proceeded to close the campaign, because I really got into trouble at work.
After this I felt like I wanted to dig a hole and burry myself in it, when Tom said to me: "Well, I guess that is the life of an entrepreneur, you try something, you fail, you dust yourself off, and then you try something else."
I have constantly worked more and harder on Corner Office. I am self taught in many topics and every day I learn something new.
Starting a business is tough, will cost nerves, and will cost money, which I could have probably spent on a nice vacation.
Only when looking back, will it be clear what all the effort, money and persistence was worth.
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