Frank & Oak: the men’s brand founded by Ethan Song & Hicham Ratnani

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Frank & Oak is an online-only clothing store for men built exclusively on memberships. The company was founded by Ethan Song and  Hicham Ratnani in 2012 out of Montreal.

The shop offers a collection of handpicked styles curated specifically to each member’s individual taste. Though the concept might not seem incredibly original today it was in 2012. On that cold February Song and Ratnani launched their dream journey ahead of the  e-commerce wave.

Today Frank & Oak caters to over 500,000 members with over 15% of sales being accumulated through a mobile app.

I had a chance to chat with Ethan on the phone a little while back about the challenges they faced while starting up.

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“I would say that when we first started it felt like the world was against us: we couldn’t get the right product or get it in time, we couldn’t control the entire supply chain, and the website kept on malfunctioning. As a result, first thing we learned is that we simply couldn’t control everything.

“The biggest challenge was that we were both, a digital and a manufacturing company. People couldn’t understand that at the time so they didn’t want to work with us. They’d ask us how many stores we have and we’d say “none, we’re a website” and that was hard for people to grasp in 2012.”

Song also talked about the difficulties they faced trying to put out the right  product at the right price point without sacrificing quality but within 3 months of the launch they saw a community coming together:

“It wasn’t as much about the product as it was about shared values,”  Ethan recalled, “the brand took a life of its’ own; the product now stood for something.”

The brand is still growing but Song and Ratnani learned a lot of useful lessons during the tough times. Today the Frank & Oak is a team of  technologists and product designers working on becoming the brand of the new generation while reshaping the perception of lifestyle brands within the context of technology.

AWSC: Setting Priorities is Half of the Battle

If I was to be the queen of anything it will have to be distraction. My biggest problem is that I have way more ideas than I can physically handle so learning how to prioritize is an ongoing issue. When I was in university I was able to concentrate on a stack of 10 books and sit without a break typing for 10 hours.

And then social media happened.

But looking back I think the ADD really kicked in when I started working in Advertising. I’m not sure if it was the advertising part or working full time but finally knowing how to execute projects combined with the desire to share and learn life became overwhelming and I did not even notice. While doing research for this column I was reading an article by Tomasz Tunguz titled “Startup Best Practices #5: Effectiveness, Not Productivity” and in it was a “Priority Matrix.”

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What a great idea! I thought to myself and immediately proceeded to draw my own version of the illustration to put up above the desk. Whilst coloring in the circles the irony of the situation dawned on me. But I’m not a quitter, so I finished the drawing.

The internet is full of advice on how to stay on point and how to be productive but the important part is that not all of those methods will work for you. We are all different, no snowflake is the same so you can read all you want but it is important to pay attention to what works for you. Here are the things that work for me:

Lists: having a list gives you a visual reminder of what you have to do, sometimes it looks terrifying but I found that crossing off things off that list with a thick marker is more satisfying than it is terrifying to look at it.

Calendars: For two reasons: to avoid double booking and to remind myself of the urgency of a certain task like doing the taxes.

Worst things comes first: Brian Tracy calls this process Eating The Frog, he wrote a book about it. There are 21 different ways to stop procrastinating in this book but my favorite is finishing things you are least excited about first thing in the morning. The logic is basic, once they are done your sky is clear blue for the day.

Web and Social blackouts: Staying on tasks is only possible when there are no distractions and I think we can all agree that the Internet is the biggest distraction of them all. For me the easiest way to black out and lock in is music, different kinds for different tasks, but it gives me a concentrated distraction from everything else in the room and on the web enough to look in one direction.

Draw a finish line: during her panel at Advertising Week last year Arianna Huffington held a panel on work-life balance and one of my favorite take aways from that was realizing our desire for conclusion. Whatever you are doing imagine a finish line, it might not be fully finishing the project, it could just be deciding to work till turn of the hour, even deciding not to finish a task is a conclusion and conclusions help us sleep at night.

Organization: whatever organization method works for you, stacks, flow charts, folders, find it and stick to it. You shouldn’t waste your time looking for things and phone numbers. I have all of those things and can find anything I need in no time, unless it was written on a bar napkin, though some of those are in folders too. The important and challenging thing in this case is putting things in the right place right away but that step eliminates future mess and once it becomes a habit it stops being a pain in the ass.

What helps you stay concentrated?

 
Originally published on theawsc.com

Mark Bowles: Green value in EcoATM

EcoATM is a San Diego-based nationwide network for automated electronics recycling. The concept is pretty basic: you see one of the 800 kiosks, you put your phone (tablet,MP3 player) in it, get some cash in return and walk away with a feeling of some small environmental contribution.

The idea immediately caught attention of the press and investors. With all of the new funding, awards, media support, and America’s new found interest in recycling for cash EcoATM proudly announced last April that they have recycled 2 million devices on that mark. Soon after EcoATM was acquired by Outerwall for $350M. Clearly a good, green idea is one that does not go by unnoticed.

Mark Bowles founded EcoATM in 2008 inspired by the fact that only 3 percent of people worldwide recycle their mobile devices. But it wasn’t his first startup. By the time EcoATM launched Bowles already had over 25 years of experience in the semiconductor, wireless and tech industries.

I asked Mark to think back to the first few years:

“The first year was hardest because there was only my belief that the product would work and that the company would be successful. I had no tangible proof of either. 

“The hardest part of that year was coming home after having pitched the fiftieth potential investor and my wife asking “How did the meeting go”. To which I replied, “They think it will never work and encouraged me to pursue something else. And by the way, we need to sell the house, pull the kids out of private school, and sell the 401ks because we will need to fund this thing ourselves for longer than I thought.” We sold the house, the 401k’s, the kids college funds, and put the kids in public school, and somehow managed to keep it going with no funding and without having a pay check for 2 years. But in the end it all worked out for the better. There is a fine line between being a persevering entrepreneur and a completely irresponsible knucklehead and I think I skated right up to that line in the first year.  

“The second year was better because we built prototypes that began to prove that the product would work in the real world. We needed that proof not only for potential investors but for ourselves too. The initial product trials were off-the-charts successful which was gratifying after so much sacrifice but also gave hope that getting the company finally financed were good. The original vision that only myself and a few other co-founders saw in the beginning was now a vision shared and understood by hundreds of people. That felt good.

“I knew we had a great opportunity right from the very first moment the idea occurred to me. But I had previously started 5 companies and knew that the finish line was a long way away. The 4th or 5th day of our first product trial in retail I knew consumers would respond well to the product when by 9am there were 4 or 5 customers waiting outside of the store for the door to unlock. When the manager unlocked the door they all rushed back to the kiosk. It was clear then that we had something. But I didn’t really know we had made it until Outerwall agreed to buy ecoATM in our 5thyear (July’13). Because as an entrepreneur who had built many companies before, I knew that sometimes value can be temporary in a start-up. With Outerwall’s acquisition, they brought the resources, capital, scale, and expertise to grow our business to a sustainable, global enterprise that would realize its full potential.”

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Jean-François Bouchard: reinventing the ad agency model

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Jean-François Bouchard is the CEO & co-founder of Sid Lee, a global creative agency with headquarters in Montreal. What originally started as a boutique agency by two people in 1993 is now a team of 600 with offices in New York, Toronto, Paris, and Amsterdam.

Sid Lee stretches their talents from traditional advertising to multimedia experiences  and architecture. The agency was named “Agency of the Year” and one of the most performing agencies in the world by Forbes and has won multiple notable industry awards worldwide working on internationally recognized brands like Adidas, Cirque du Soleil, Ubisoft, Red Bull, and Absolut Vodka.

Two years ago, in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, Bouchard launched C2-MTL, a three-day interactive multimedia business event that explores the intersection between creativity and commerce through speakers like Richard Branson, Philippe Starck, and Arianna Huffington, just to name a few.

The agency has had its ups and downs and has grown exponentially over the years, but Jean-François still remembers where it all started:

“I can’t really remember the low points vividly, an entrepreneur’s mind seems designed to forget most of those. The one tough moment I can remember is sitting down with my partner after a few months of intense work and attending to things as varied as fixing the copier, doing collection from shitty clients (like a greasy spoon restaurant), and writing a TV spot to discuss how we needed to get more partners onboard to avoid going insane. We did recruit numerous new partners over the year but many still think we’ve gone insane regardless.

In the second year, with new partners and new employees, the agency begun facing more mundane business tasks (like payroll) but today they run like a well oiled machine. Regardless of all the awards, the impressive client list, and the unstoppable innovation seeping through the windows and doors of their offices Jean-François has not yet committed to the idea that he’s made it.