You read Nic Haralambous’ Advice To My 20 Year Old Self.
This is the story of how he got into selling socks…
“My career since leaving university has been a mish-mash of industries, media companies, technology roles and experimentation.
I began as a junior journalist for some of the largest media companies in South Africa. I moved to startups that it’s probably best to forget and before taking the leap into full time technology entrepreneurship I ended my corporate career at Vodacom SA. The reason that this history lesson is relevant is to illustrate my complete lack of relevant experience that I had when I started my subscription sock business called NicSocks.com.
I learned a very simple lesson while building NicSocks; It’s easy to break rules that you don’t know exist. Let me sum this up for your convenience: I’m a technology entrepreneur in the mobile industry that also happens to run an online sock company. Socks as a Service (SaaS) thankyouverymuch.
Textiles, manufacturing, distribution, ecommerce, online payments, stock management, MOQs (minimum order quantities), colour choices, ink dying and many more new things baffled me when I really started to dig into socks. I wanted a product that was easy to explain, simple to show people and locally made. Easy. I wanted to move away from the nothingness of selling software to consumers. I wanted something I could put on my feet.
The truth is that for me it was easy enough to move from technology to sock-ology. It was easy because I had no idea what the rules were meant to be. I’m not a fashion designer. I’m certainly not “qualified” to do what I am doing in terms of fashion and textiles but I’m doing it nonetheless and doing it the only way I know how to.
Don’t be ashamed to ask about what you don’t know and don’t follow the rules.
Rules exist in places where there is an established norm. Norms exist because there is an established way of doing things and a system in place that “works” for the people who are profiting from the system. These people generally don’t like things to change or for their profit centers to be challenged.
I built my sock company on the premise that I wanted everything to happen online. The fashion industry in South Africa isn’t too familiar with this approach. A company like Bonobos is unknown and a model that has never been tried here (Bonobos will send you multiple pairs of pants to try on and you send back the ones you don’t buy). So meeting with people entrenched in the fashion industry who think they “get it” is always fun for me.
One particular meeting was with a young and vibrant self-proclaimed fashionista who owns her own boutique store. She wanted to stock my socks in her real-life store. She kept pushing me to lower my prices to suit her needs and when I refused she lost it. She called me an amateur; she was stunned at my aggressive approach to business and refused to engage with me. She ended up asking me to leave the meeting. So I did.
I decided there and then that this whole fashion thing was going to be fun and could work for me. I didn’t even realise that I was breaking the rules until that meeting and I found that fact to be exhilarating. Breaking the rules and succeeding could be the most fun I’ll ever have.
Now I’m actively trying to disrupt and unhinge the established norms. This way, the established companies are playing catch-up with the smaller contender in the market.
Whether I succeed or not remains to be seen but I’m definitely going to have fun trying.”