ENTREPRENEURS
How Two Young Entrepreneurs Created A Million-Dollar Streetwear Brand

Nothing beats wearing the color black if you want to simplify your wardrobe. By making that task easier for their stylish customers, Julian O’hayon, 28, and Tomas Johnston, 20, have grown their luxury streetwear brand Blvck Paris to $1 million in annual revenue.

The brand’s latest collection, BLVCK01, sold out when it was released recently, thanks in part to a robust Instagram following. Blvck Paris has also collaborated on a premium accessories product line for Hugo Boss. The owners, who have no employees, are now considering raising outside funds to grow the brand further.

Blvck Paris’s founders are an interesting example of how it’s possible for a tiny business on an ultra-lean budget to make a mark in a competitive industry like fashion. Its founders live on different continents—O’hayon, originally from France, is now based in Belgium, while Johnston is based in Australia—and use video chat to talk with each other everyday.

Julian O'hayon and his business partner Thomas Johnston built a million-dollar, two-man fashion brand, Blvck Paris.

Julian O’hayon turned his passion for black clothes and accessories into a fast-growing brand.

BLVCK PARIS

In the U.S., a growing number of nonemployer firms—those with no paid employees but the owners—have hit $1 million to $2.49 million in annual revenue. Their numbers hit 36,984 in 2017, a 2% increase from 36,161 in 2016 and a 38% increase from 26,744 in 20111. Most are solo businesses but some are partnerships and family businesses. Not all countries keep similar statistics, but recently, I’ve heard from more entrepreneurs around the world who are hitting $1 million in non employer firms, so this could be a trend worth watching.

Here is how these two bold entrepreneurs reached the $1 million mark.

Chart your own path. One of the biggest obstacles to becoming an entrepreneur is the mindset many of us learn in school and from traditional jobs. We’re taught to wait for someone in a position of authority, like a teacher or boss, to tell us what to do.

Both O’hayon and Johnston discovered at a young age that they were perfectly capable of figuring out what to do on their own—and did just that.

After teaching himself web design and development, O’hayon—also a child piano prodigy—began offering his services to clients when he was 13. By the time he was 20, he had more than 100 clients around the world at the agency, Anckor, formally owned by his father. Along the way, he built a large community at his account @Anckor, where he shared his ideas on entrepreneurship and design.

Meanwhile, Johnston was 14 when a web design job he did for a client led to work doing social media marketing. He soon found himself doing projects for larger brands that sold products online and built a strong social media presence himself.

In sharing similar content on social media, they got to know each other and soon developed a friendship. O’hayon suggested they partner after starting his “Blvckout” project. In that initiative, he created blacked out versions of well-known products, such as iPhone cases and even M&Ms. The posts were shared widely, particularly in the U.S. and Asia.

O’hayon’s goal was to develop the Blvck brand to embody a minimalist lifestyle built around the color black. The two formed a partnership in 2017. O’hayon is the majority owner, with a 65% share, and Thompson owns the rest of the company.

One secret to their success has been establishing clear lines of responsibility. O’hayon oversees the image and design of the collection, as well as business development, social media and management of collaborative ventures. Johnston handles operations and fulfillment. “We’re a perfect match,” says O’hayon, who’d been involved in a previous partnership that didn’t work out.

Keep spending to a minimum. Although there is risk to setting up any business, being disciplined about testing ideas before you invest in them can increase your chances of eventual success. “It takes patience to get the first projects done—and then you have to be consistent and regular,” says O’hayon.

The duo started the company with an initial investment of about $8,000 to cover things like R&D and setting up an ecommerce store. They kept costs down by operating the brand from within O’hayon’s existing company at first.

During the early months, the co-founders focused on creating a “minimum viable product” – black MacBook cases – and then branched out to other tech products, like cables, all available in black. They promoted these products on Instagram, getting a quick response from customers.

Six months into those experiments, they formed an LLC. “We validated the concept,  then we set up the company,” says O’hayon. “We didn’t want to create a company without being sure it will work.”

Another key to keeping the business lean was finding a fulfillment partner that did drop shipping. When customers bought products through their web store on Shopify, the order would automatically go to the fulfillment partner, which, in turn, drop shipped it to the customer. “We don’t touch any of the inventory,” says Johnston. Even better, Blvck Paris paid for each order after it was shipped, which conserved cash.

Simplify the payment process. If it is too hard for customers to buy from you, they will go elsewhere. To make sure its international customers could make transactions on its site, Blvck Paris decided to accept payments via PayPal and Stripe, which are widely accepted. Using these systems made other types of transactions easier as well. For instance, Blvck Paris uses PayPal to pay its contractors.

Stay flexible. Thanks to successful Facebook and Instagram campaign, Blvck Paris was bringing $40,000 to $50,000 a month in revenue by early 2018. By the end of the year, average monthly revenue had more than doubled.

That success led to a problem: They sold out quickly. “We didn’t invest in inventory as we should,” says Johnston. Although they took inspiration from brands like Yeezy sneakers, which have an exclusivity factor because they are made in limited quantities, Blvck Paris’s founders realized they were focusing too much on low-profit, high-volume orders.

They soon shifted their emphasis from items such as $40 computer cases to streetwear items such as $120 sweatshirts, which are more profitable. These products resonated with their audience, made up primarily of young adult men.

Sell more to existing customers. Once a customer bought one product, the duo focused intensively on deepening the relationship, emailing them coupons, free shipping offers, discounts and other incentives to buy more. They used the Klaviyo CRM, designed for online businesses.

Their email marketing paid off. “Now that we’re really focused on the customer experience, we see more customers returning than before,” says Johnston. “They fall in love with the brand and keep picking up more items.”

To stay focused on their “North Star”—creating an outstanding customer experience—they have brought on a couple of freelancers, trained in the customer support software Zendesk, to help with customer service.

That investment is paying off. Blvck Paris brought in the equivalent of $ 1 million U.S. dollars in the 12 months between May 2018 and May 2019 and turned a profit, according to its founders.

Know when to hand it off. Although they are committed to running a lean business, O’hayon and Johnston don’t do everything in the business themselves. In addition to customer service, they outsource tasks such as logistics.

“When you’re starting any business, you can get caught up in the day-to-day operations,” says Johnston. “You can get burned out working 14 and 16 hours a day on mundane tasks. “You have to keep the vision for the business and where you want it to go in five years. Delegate and outsource all of the uninspiring tasks so you can keep going toward that vision.”

Thomas Johnston, based in Australia, works with business partner Julian O'hayon, based in Belgium, by using technology such as videoconferencing.

Thomas Johnston teamed up with Julian O’hayon to build Blvck Paris into a viral brand.

BLVCK PARIS

Commit to constant learning. No matter how busy they have gotten, O’hayon and Johnston make time for educating themselves about entrepreneurship.

O’hayon, who studied business engineering in college, kept in touch with a professor, Olivier Witmer, who led the entrepreneurs group at his college and had started companies of his own. His professor became a trusted mentor. “He gave me good advice in the beginning—like not burning all of the money in the beginning,” says O’hayon.

The founders have also participated in mastermind groups. “They teach you the best ways to stay motivated and set goals properly,” says Johnston. One group that they have gotten a lot out of is Lewis Mocker’s monthly mastermind.

“It’s like-minded people who come together and share knowledge,” says Johnson.

As O’hayon and Johnston have discovered, there’s nothing like community when you’re building an ultra-lean business.

[“source=forbes”]

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