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April 28, 2020

Gen Z Founders: "Grind and Put In the Work"

Gen Z founders Lesley De La Uz of LDLU, Madison Semarjian of Mada, and Chris Meade of Crossnet join the show to discuss their journeys as some of the first Gen Z founders in the retail world.

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Gen Z founders Lesley De La Uz of LDLU, Madison Semarjian of Mada, and Chris Meade of Crossnet join the show to discuss their journeys as some of the first Gen Z founders in the retail world.

Phillip: [00:00:00] Welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about cutting edge and next generation commerce. And four episodes I've sort of like made some sort of fun over that intro and I refuse to now. Hi, Brian.

Brian: [00:00:13] Hey, how's it going, Phillip?

Phillip: [00:00:14] Pretty good.

Brian: [00:00:15] We're here.

Phillip: [00:00:15] We have some guests. We have a whole panel with us today.

Brian: [00:00:18] We do. It's a panel today. A really cool panel. Actually I can't imagine a cooler panel.

Phillip: [00:00:23] It's true. It's true. And this makes you and I the old guys now.

Brian: [00:00:27] Yeah. Actually should we be saying the word cool? Is that something that people still say?

Phillip: [00:00:31] We're hip. We're with it. Brian, we're hep cats.

Brian: [00:00:38] {laughter}

Phillip: [00:00:38] I do want to introduce a few folks who I've gotten to know over... Well for... I don't know, the last year I feel like I've met the coolest founders and have forged some really cool relationships with people who I think are, you know, in this new generation of founder who is going to be successful despite the odds. And I'm so excited to have a sort of a Gen Z focused panel here today. So I want to introduce a few folks. Chris Meade, who's founder of CROSSNET. Welcome to Future Commerce.

Chris: [00:01:11] Thank you. Appreciate it.

Phillip: [00:01:12] Yeah. And you're calling in from Miami?

Chris: [00:01:15] I actually just got on a flight, sadly, last night to Connecticut. So I'm back in Connecticut where I grew up. Yes.

Phillip: [00:01:21] Okay.

Chris: [00:01:21] Safe and sound in the quiet corner of Connecticut.

Phillip: [00:01:24] What was a flight like in the era of coronavirus?

Chris: [00:01:28] There's eight people on the flight. So I had like... It was pretty good. It was definitely nerve wracking. But it's better up here. I'm back in the woods where I grew up instead of being in downtown Miami surrounded by everybody. So it'll be good for isolation for a few weeks.

Brian: [00:01:44] Nice.

Phillip: [00:01:44] Well, welcome to the show. And Lesley De La Uz from LDLU. Welcome to Future Commerce.

Lesley: [00:01:51] Hi, guys. Glad to be here.

Phillip: [00:01:53] Where in the world are you right now?

Lesley: [00:01:55] I am in West Palm Beach in my downtown apartment, and it's a freaking ghost town down here.

Phillip: [00:02:03] It is. And we'll get more into what your businesses do. And Madison... Is it Samaragin?

Madison: [00:02:12] Semarjian. Close.

Phillip: [00:02:12] Thank you. My gosh. Usually I let Brian murder the names and then I just look like a genius.

Brian: [00:02:18] Now I get to look like a genius.

Phillip: [00:02:21] From the the Mada app. Is that how you pronounce it?

Madison: [00:02:24] Yes. Mada.

Phillip: [00:02:26] What is Mada?

Madison: [00:02:28] Moda is "fashion" in Italian. My name's Madison. So my mom kind of threw the two together. And here we are.

Brian: [00:02:36] Nice.

Phillip: [00:02:36] An app that's connecting consumers with what I would describe as like visual merchandising for retail and apparel.

Madison: [00:02:43] Yeah, we're kind of like a Tinder for outfits, we joke around. And so we use artificial intelligence to match people with customized outfits instantaneously. And then we built up a universal shopping cart so you can buy basically any brand straight through us.

Phillip: [00:02:58] Awesome.

Chris: [00:02:59] Sweet.

Brian: [00:02:59] So cool.

Phillip: [00:03:00] Really happy to have you all on the show. I thought we would be remiss if we didn't recognize the current environment and climate of the things that are happening in the world right now. We've already touched on that, but you're all also in different phases of business. And so I thought I'd sort of start at the sort of just kind of ask you all like where you are in your business in your business plan and sort of go to market and sort of where you sit. Maybe give us like a a two minute what it is you do and what your brand is. So maybe let's start with you, Chris.

Chris: [00:03:34] Yeah, of course. So I invented the world's first four way volleyball game called CROSSNET. So it's two volleyball nets intersecting. It's a brand new sport. You play to eleven, win by two. So it combines Foursquare and volleyball rules. We started it self-funded, my brother and our childhood best friend in 2017 in Connecticut. We quit our jobs, moved to Miami, started with 10,000 bucks and fifty units. Went to the beach every day and just kind of played and attracted people to come buy the game. And then eventually we've scaled the company from 87 grand in 2018 to over two and a half million dollars last year. This year probably about 10, maybe 15 million if we keep running at the rate we're running. So a lot of challenges as a young 27 year old entrepreneurs and self-funding the whole thing, never went to a bank. Nobody owns anything besides us in this company. So I living and learning, and we work with some of the biggest big box stores in the world's... Academy, Walmart, Dick's, Target, everywhere.

Brian: [00:04:37] Congrats, man. That's so cool.

Phillip: [00:04:39] Yeah. Madison, give us give us a little brief on you and your business.

Madison: [00:04:45] Yeah. So I started this freshman year of college, so about four or five years ago now and we just soft launched late January. So right now we're kind of in our move fast, break fast, fix fast stage. And we're finally starting to play around with a little bit of media here and there. But we're kind of making our entrance to the world in the middle of this pandemic. So it's definitely an interesting time to grow the company when everyone is scaling back at the moment.

Phillip: [00:05:14] Yeah. Not a bad time to be in eCommerce, as they say. So, yeah. And Leslie, to you, you and I knew each other. Full disclosure. And I have at times tried to be advisor to you in some way, shape or form through 1909, which is a nonprofit startup accelerator and creative community in West Palm Beach. But tell us a little bit about LDLU and sort of your scale to launch, because I think you're still prelaunch, right?

Lesley: [00:05:44] Yes, I am. So prelaunch and corona is not helping that, obviously, but it's giving me more time to really develop the brand and making sure that everything is ready. So I am grateful for that. So LDLU, it's... I've just recently have been more open about my story and where I came from. Basically, I'm a very avid person that talks about mental illness. And so the story of LDLU started when... I have OCD. And I was in the hospital. And while I was there, I really just saw so many injustices in the world. And like, I kind of created, like this escapist universe. I call it the LDL Universe. And I always wanted to create my own business as well. And I figured, like, is there a way I could do this? So the LDL Universe is a place where, like the darkness is embraced. You can be as dark as you want, as intelligent as you want. Very femme fatale focused. And like every product around that, I'm starting with makeup, is like a kind of view into this universe, parallel universe. And in this universe I created, it's for all ages, gender identities, and races. Like everybody is allowed there. It's also like, there're no injustices in the world, in the sense of all my products are cruelty free and vegan and clean. And at the same time, you're still getting that's really high fashion because I feel like what's missing the makeup industry today, other than the fact of having all these vegan and cruelty free and stuff like that option, there are those options available. But the problem is they're marketed towards, what I've told Phillip before, the crunchy granola community. It's very much that people who are in Whole Foods and that's the type of makeup they go for. So I wanted something a little bit more like sexy and sultry and like something that you can feel good about and feel fashionable, but still like giving good to the world and yourself. So there's like a lot there. But that's basically where it started.

Brian: [00:07:51] Each of you are in very distinct places, very different places in your businesses. And I'd be really curious... Chris, that the challenges you're facing I think are probably very, very different. So I'd be really curious to hear about the challenges you're facing in this environment right now. And we could just go through the panel, again, starting with you, Chris.

Chris: [00:08:14] Yeah of course. So, I mean, as a one product company, you live and die by your inventory, right? So we have a forecast. We're a young company. So every month my job is to outsell the previous month. So then something like COVID, you only can prepare for so many months worth of inventory as somebody who is self-funded. We don't have a million dollars like an investor who just says, "Hey, buy a million dollars worth of inventory." That doesn't happen. You buy for a quarter at a time, maybe six months at a time. But what happened was we were selling one hundred units a day. And that was still very good for us. And now this happened. So for the last 90 days, give or take, we've been selling close to four or five hundred units a day. So that's put a huge, huge, huge stress on our supply chain, which is then made us to go out, rush deliver new product, find a new supplier who could actually keep up with the demand. So it's all problems that we never thought we'd have at this level of the game that we're at. But now that we're burning through inventory, so so fast. I mean, we're selling almost fifteen thousand units a month, which is like what we used to do in a year. So it's all great problems, but they're all like... You can only react so fast. And then China has its own problems with manufacturers. So it's tough.

Brian: [00:09:27] Yeah, those are still problems. They're good products, but they're challenges. Tell us a little bit more about some of the mitigation strategies that you have right now. Are you just working harder and longer? Are you looking at other places to source inventory?

Chris: [00:09:43] Yes.

Brian: [00:09:44] Tell us a little bit about that.

Phillip: [00:09:45] So what we've been doing is we've just been very transparent and honest with all our customers and we used to do a very poor job of like customer service around the clock. Like we've overstaffed for customer service. If anyone sends an email, they should get a response within like five minutes. That's our goal. But on the website, we're doing a very good job when you actually place your order all the way down to the funnels that are built. You'll be receiving your order on this date. So if you order now, you get your order on June 15th. So people are preordering the game and we're sold out nationwide everywhere else. So people know that this is the only place you're going to get the game. You're gonna have to be patient and wait. And if not, then you're not going to CROSSNET for the summer. So it's kind of a good position that we're in as long as we're leading with good communication. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, we're working to source a new supplier. We've been really doing our best to find somebody that we could trust, because on a manufacturing level, not only do you have to get them to make a product, make the perfect product all over again, but then you have to wait for it to come get delivered here in the United States, test it out, and then you can go cut them a check for $100K and say, "Hey, get to work," and hopefully nothing screws up. So it's a lot of trust that you have to put in place. But over the last six weeks, we've locked in a new supplier, which I'm pumped about. They're about to start working and we'll have... Right now we have 5000 on a boat. We'll have another twenty thousand on a boat in like six weeks. So it's growing pains.

Brian: [00:11:09] Interesting. Are you having to compete with anyone else for those manufacturers' time? I think that there's certain categories... You're nodding your head already. Yeah.

Chris: [00:11:19] Yeah. Of course.

Brian: [00:11:19] Have you found that people are like outbidding supply capacity at different factories and such?

Chris: [00:11:27] Yes, it's that and it's twofold. So, one, there's a shortage of some product. So if somebody wants a volleyball that we use, somebody is going to outbid for it. Maybe we have to overpay for it. And then on the supply side, like our manufacturing that we're working at, we didn't really know their capacity until we hit that capacity. So they were making it as much as we thought, "All right. We're prepared for a few months at a time," and then we're like, "Yo, we need 10000 overnight." And they were like, "We simply can't work that fast." So you never knew it was an issue until it became an issue. And now we're just working on our feet as much as possible to find somebody who could keep up with our demand. So we're going to have diversification. We'll have factories in different cities. That way, if anything ever happens like this again, we'll be kind of protected, hopefully.

Brian: [00:12:11] Nice. Madison, how about you? What have you been facing during this period?

Madison: [00:12:17] Yeah. So opposite of Chris. We don't any of our inventory. So we have millions of products on our app. But once the order's placed the rest is up to the retailers to fulfill that. And so as soon as someone hit "Checkout..." Retail is in a tricky position right now. So we've definitely had to become a little bit more selective and strategic with the brands that we're partnering with. You know, when I was first starting this out, I was so set on building up that universal checkout experience. And I just tried to get as many brands as I possibly could. And then I woke up one day and it was like three thousand. And all of a sudden it became, you know, almost too many. And so now we're actually working on scaling back and making sure that we're choosing quality over quantity.

Brian: [00:13:06] That's smart. Yeah. I think that right now you really do kind of have your pick of who you want to work with. Have you found that retailers or brands are looking kind of like more engaged or less engaged as a result of this crisis?

Madison: [00:13:22] Yeah, we've definitely seen a huge increase in engagement from brands right now. I think they're really looking at innovative solutions and kind of the old conservative retail model is kind of being thrown out the door. We're really in unprecedented times. But I think that even before all of this, retail, you know, they were looking for new solutions to keep up with the modern customer anyways. So I think everything going on right now kind of just sped up the process. And I think that, you know, the position that we're in, we were going to be in anyways.

Brian: [00:13:54] Very good point. So effectively, we've been in this, you know, quote unquote "retailpocalypse" for the past three years or whatever it's been. You're basically saying that, you know, the reality is retailers were already sort of on the brink and like sort of desperate for new solutions to reach customers. And so that's why you've been able to have the success that you've had already and have a soft launch in January. But now going into this year, are you thinking about accelerating a more hard launch as a result of this or what do you think about what's next?

Madison: [00:14:28] Yeah, is just on the phone with Ingrid before this. We were chatting about that.

Brian: [00:14:33] Oh Ingrid. That's amazing.

Madison: [00:14:34] Yeah, well, we definitely are going to start playing around with media a little bit more and seeing I think that with tech companies it can be very tempting to just raise a bunch of money and then grow way too quickly. And I think that we really are trying to take a steady approach to growth to make sure that we actually like our building a platform that the customers are really looking at. But I think with everyone glued on their phones right now, too, I think it is a really interesting time to be able to be right in front of the customer more.

Brian: [00:15:08] That's awesome.

Phillip: [00:15:08] There's a challenge in retail that you only have so many channels where customers are already engaged and getting them to engage in a new channel seems to be a really hard because customers are fairly loyal to a channel when they have a great experience. In the last decade, Amazon's been providing those pretty good experiences, but now we're sort of seeing a lot of things reset. One thing that hasn't come up on the show yet is that just I guess two weeks ago, Amazon announced that they going to be rolling back their last mile delivery service. And they're going to be pulling back from that sort of last mile handling of delivery, the Amazon Prime vans that are running around. So they're pulling back on that a bit. And so that whole of Amazon being the standard bearer for consumer experience and the default channel that people shop at, I think it's starting to crumble. One prediction that Brian, you and I had made with our Vision 2020 report is that Amazon Prime would start to lose some steam, especially in the United States. And I think that consumers right now are trying to find alternatives to Amazon and alternatives for discovery, because Amazon is just not great for discovery. So creating a brand new channel that is app based, that's fun, that reaches a new generation in a clever way, and then sort of like repeat some contexts that they're familiar with in other ways... Like kudos because those things are hard to come by. And I can see why retailers would be lining up for it. And it's just like perfect time to capitalize on this moment.

Brian: [00:16:57] It really is. People love shopping in stores, and they just literally can't right now. So what a great time to introduce a new way for them to be able to think about discovery and shopping. And I think that adversity can absolutely breed innovation and makes opportunity for innovative solutions to come in, just like yours, Madison. So very, very, very excited to see where things go with your app. Lesley, how about you? You were in prelaunch. You were going to launch this spring. How are you feeling about that? What are you going to do? You're going to launch now or are you looking at postponing? What's the plan?

Lesley: [00:17:45] Definitely postponing. So obviously, makeup, it's very like it goes into your mouth, right. So my labs are closed. Yeah. So that is really such a shame. But honestly, I don't think now is a good time to launch any ways for makeup. A lot of people aren't really wearing makeup at the moment, mostly because we are stuck at home. I think this is actually giving me a very good time to really figure out how to hone in on my message because of the fact that my formula has so many buzz words. It's kind of too much. I've noticed like for a consumer to really take in and understand things. It's like vegan, cruelty free, gluten free, clean... The list goes on. And it's just a lot. So right now, I'm really just honing in on the message and trying to figure out how I'm going to market this. So, yeah, I do feel like there is a blessing in disguise here.

Phillip: [00:18:41] There is something that I know from my conversations with you that had come up around the way you've had to adapt to challenges, even pre-COVID, around packaging and sort of your standards for what your packaging and your manufacturing was going to look like. I'm curious if you could touch on that a little bit, because I find that to be sort of the striking, the compromise between the ideals of the founder and sort of what's actually feasible financially. Or, you know, what has to be sort of postponed for later. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that decision making?

Lesley: [00:19:16] I would love to. Yeah. I feel like we can all agree on this. There's a lot of times that you can't be stubborn and you just kind of have to do the best that you can with what you're given and for a long time, I had this idea of like an all metal recyclable tube, and it's never been done before. And I wanted it to be done so badly. But it is so expensive that it's kind of impossible. But I really tried. I don't have a degree in engineering, but I still learned how to, like learning about die casting anodizing and stuff like that. So it was after a certain time period, I realized I couldn't do that. The only way is maybe doing recyclable plastic, but then you lose that luxurious type of feeling, which I really feel is what's missing in the clean makeup environments. And I just did a lot of research and I finally found a factory that already does already recycled metal lipstick tubes. So it is also recyclable, but it's already recycled. So it takes away the element of... It's already helping with the leaving a good footprint on this world. So I'm very excited about that. But it did take a long time and a lot of conversations, including with Phillip who told me that I should probably rethink this because it was going to cost a lot.

Phillip: [00:20:39] And so watching the path to producing a physical product and the sort of that striking of a balance... Compromise can be a dirty word. But, you know, sort of having to figure out how you fit your ideals and your vision into the realm of what's possible rather than the realm of the arc of all that is possible, I think is such an interesting challenge to meet when you're, you know, bootstrapped and you have limited funds available. Chris, that sounds like something I'm sure you've had to encounter at some point.

Chris: [00:21:18] Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely. I mean, I remember back in the day we had a, so we had the four way volleyball net, right? We had a zipper that would zip down on each side of the net. So for like six months we tested this like super souped up net that you could make it a three way or just a normal volleyball net if you want. So we put it out into the market, and it cost us a lot more, kind of like what you were trying to do. But we just realized the customer didn't even end up wanting it. And it ended up having product defects. We put about five hundred of them out into the world. We realized it was nothing but just more buzz words like, "Oh, you could detach it," but like nobody wants to detach it. They want to four way net. And we learned the hard way. We put 500 into the world and all 500 zippers ended up breaking. We had to send them the real net anyway, so it was like just lessons that you learn. And we ate a lot of cash, but they're learning lessons. And sometimes you're stubborn and you wanna do something different, but you end up that was the wrong way in the first place. And if you're self-funding, like build up your brand, build up, build that those consumers who trust you and then, hey, you might have enough money in the bank where you can go do that design and it may be worth it, and somebody pays premium price for that.

Brian: [00:22:27] It's a really, really good lesson. {laughter} One thing that I think is really interesting to me is that each of you are from Gen Z, you know, coming in to start... You're probably some of the first Gen Z businesses out there. You're some of the first crop of Gen Z founders. This is so exciting, and it's super cool to see a new generation start building businesses right now. It's amazing. And props to all of you for the work that you're putting in here and the risks that you're taking. Tell me a little bit about what you feel like, you know, starting a business in this environment and like as you're kind of seeing some generational differences, a lot of businesses that are still being started by millennials and even Gen Xers, Gen Y/Gen X... How are you feeling about the environment of startup as Gen Z right now?

Chris: [00:23:27] Sucks. I feel like everybody just wants to like have it the next day. Nobody knows patience anymore. And just like Instagram is rotting people's brains to think like they're going to get a Lamborghini like in six months. That's not going to happen. That will not happen ever. Like unless you have like Kim Kardashian sponsoring your product, and you had enough money to get her in the first place, that's not the reality. And like Twitter and Instagram kind of really ruined that for me. That's why I like doing stuff like this and like actually talking about real world situations, so that when you run a business like that's not how life works. Like you need to invest your money. You need to keep doubling down. I don't come from money at all. But like I know the money I make, I'm investing in myself to make my company something in 10 years from now. So you got to double down. So it's tougher. It's really tough to get the good resources. So I always try to network and meet with people who are actually doing real business, not just tutorials.

Brian: [00:24:25] That's awesome. Madison, how about you?

Madison: [00:24:26] Yeah, I think for Gen Zers, starting in companies seems really sexy. And then you realize that 90% of your day is sending emails and then the other 10% is in Ubers bouncing around in meetings. And so, you know, I think I sent like at least four thousand, like no joke, four thousand cold emails trying to get brands on board. I spent like three years literally just asking anyone for help and all of that. And then, you know, one day it eventually worked. But I think that, you know, it definitely isn't what it seems. And every day I feel every single emotion about starting a company. One second I'm like, "Yeah, I can do this." And then the next I'm like, "Oh, my God, why did I do this?" So it's a constant back and forth.

Lesley: [00:25:13] I think the one thing about Gen Z that is super different than any other generation, maybe millennials a little bit, is that they have this idea that social media presence comes first. Like they feel like you need to build your own brands, have your own name recognized out there and then you can build a brand top of that. I've noticed that a lot. So like they say, "Oh, I'm not going to launch a company or whatever until I get like fifty thousand followers on Instagram. And then people will listen to me and then I can make my own brand." So they want to self brand first. I don't think that's really like I mean, it's obviously not the traditional way. And I feel like that's not completely true. You can do it that way. But yeah, I think that's one thing. I think Gen Z is trying to figure out right now.

Phillip: [00:26:05] I was going to also kind of ask the question... Do you feel like you have more fire and more like... Do you feel like you have something to prove? Because that's the thing that I have taken away, is that, you know, age can come into a factor when talking to investors, when talking to advisors, and in some ways having been turned down and failure being the greatest teacher, you're getting that right at the beginning of your career arc and you're starting out on day one with, you know, it seems like you have a lot of ambition. But I'm curious if being more successful than your peers or being more successful than a prior generation who, you know, was hamstrung in some way by whatever environment they grew up in, do you feel like that that powers you or others around you in your founders set?

Madison: [00:27:00] Yeah, I feel like, at least for me, because I came straight out of college and started this, that I didn't have the experience that a lot of people already had in the industry. So the red tape that a lot of people saw, I just didn't see. So I wasn't afraid to you know, if there was a brand I want it or if there was someone I wanted to talk to you for advice, I wasn't afraid to reach out to them. But because of that also that once when you do get that meeting, then they expect you to perform even higher. So I think it's kind of a double edged sword where, you know, at least in my case, I guess I'm not as afraid as some people that have a lot experience. But then there are also higher expectations with that. I would be interested to hear from Chris and Lesley about what you think.

Chris: [00:27:45] Yeah, I think for me, like I had a real job for three years outside of school before I quit my job. So there's definitely some competition there. There always is. I left Uber, and I was making a lot of money at Uber headquarters in New York City. And I left to go start that stupid volleyball game. That's like what my friends said. "Oh you left your real job to just play volleyball?" And now it's like it worked. But I had to grind and put in the work for two, three years until I actually became something where now I had that freedom and independence. So I'm more hungry than ever. Like getting into all these big box stores, growing the brand. I'm more competitive now than I was like two years ago. I want to grind. If I'm not putting out like new good stuff and building my brand every day like I'm wasting a day.

Lesley: [00:28:30] Yeah, I feel like the problems I've had is more, which is very surprising in the makeup industry, but it's being a young woman, especially. Because the makeup industry is actually very male dominated. So that has been pretty difficult. They don't take you very seriously, but you just have to... I feel like I have to learn double the amount and then come in there prepared and then everything is OK. The good thing is, the only good thing I see of this is, they don't really see you sometimes as a threat. So like they're more sometimes open to mentoring, which is actually very nice. Like they see something which I do appreciate. So it is like a double edged sword. I definitely feel like there's more problems being a young woman in this industry for sure.

Brian: [00:29:22] You said something there that kind of caught me attention, which was that they're interested in mentoring. Do you feel like there are people, you know, that you've come along... For all three of you, again. I may be going backwards, so we'll start with you, Lesley. Do you feel like there's been people that have come alongside you and helped support you through the process of starting your business? Do you feel like prior generations or people with prior experience have actually been there to help you and guide you and be your advocates? Or do you feel like it's been kind of you versus the world and you haven't had the kind of support that you would hope to have seen?

Lesley: [00:30:02] I feel like I've actually... I'm very surprised that I've gotten so much support. I do have a great community at 1909, as we talked about, and I did go through an accelerated program, so there was a lot of mentorship and such through there. I have gone through the past where I have opened up to a mentor and then they backstab me. That's definitely happened. But you just you can't. It's just like what in the beginning, I'm sure you guys remember, like in the idea stage. You know, when you're scared of telling people your idea because they might take it, but at the same time, you have to speak about it to like really progress. So I feel like the same with mentoring. It's like you go in there not knowing what would happen, but you just have to trust. And then if something bad happens, you just learn and move on. So that's definitely happened to me.

Brian: [00:30:55] Madison, what you think?

Madison: [00:30:57] So when I was first starting out, one of my professors at the time, Victor Lee...

Brian: [00:31:04] Victor!

Phillip: [00:31:04] RXBAR Victor? Oh wait. We had this conversation.

Madison: [00:31:09] Yes, we have.

Phillip: [00:31:09] Victor is one of our alumni.

Madison: [00:31:12] Hi, Victor. But he was like, "Build up your team both professionally and personally, that, you know, if there is a problem at 2 a.m., they'll have solutions for you when you wake up in the morning." And so I think I've always kept that in mind. And so I have built up a really strong team of mentors and advisors that have opened doors. And I know that Mada wouldn't be where we've been able to get it today without them. But I think when I was working on building up that team, you definitely come across people that think they know the formula to entrepreneurship. And if you follow X, Y and Z, you're going to make a million dollars in a year. And I learned that as soon as anyone says that they have a formula or that they know how to do it or if they seem a little too confident, then that's normally, you know, not the best route to go.

Chris: [00:32:04] I agree. Yeah. I mean, we built our team like the three core founders. We all have core strengths that we bring to the table. My other founder, he's into engineering and blue printing. I have no idea what he even does, but like he makes the product happen. And who am I to tell him what to do in that front? I don't know, AutoCAD. I don't know how to engineer a blueprint, but he gets it done and I have complete trust in him. My brother is like social media whiz. I have no idea why we have ten thousand page views a day, but we do. And so we all just have complete autonomy and trust. So it's really good where we're kind of learning together. We grew up in a small, I mean, super small farm town in Connecticut. There's like three kids that went to college. We have no advisors or anybody that we really trust or lean on. We're just learning to go with the flow. I don't know why the big box stores trusted us, but the product just keeps moving off the shelves. The brand keeps growing, and we're learning every day. And now that like I'm trying to build up my own personal following on LinkedIn and reaching out to smarter and better.. Like Phillip. You've been a cool dude over the last month that I've been getting to know you. I'm meeting more and more people that I could trust rather than the beginning where everyone's like, "Oh, yeah, I could help you out for 10% equity." It's like not a chance. I'd rather not talk to you. So learning a lot now.

Phillip: [00:33:23] There's an interesting thing that you've all mentioned indirectly, which is that you've, as you founded your business in this moment, there are elements of technology where you're not technologists. I mean, I think Lesley was a physicist at one point. But you're not all technologists per se, but technology is so core to what you do that you're having to be technologists. I'm curious what the jumping in with both feet and having to just figure out your way through platforms and technology adoption feels like right now. And I will disrupt the order and go to Madison first.

Madison: [00:34:11] Yeah. So I was actually an English major in school. I spent all of college studying poetry, besides, like the random digital commerce classes, I took with Victor. So all of a sudden, being thrown into the world of technology was really new to me. But we're the first generation to grow up with the world in our pockets on an iPhone. So I think that the way that we do things, technology is just a part of that. And so even when I'm talking to my developers and people that, you know, are way smarter than I am, I think that because I've grown up with technology, I can find solutions to a problem that they necessarily can't see. And normally they're more simple solutions because it's not something I ever had to learn. It was just something that was always there.

Chris: [00:34:57] Have you learned, like building the app? Are you actually in the day to day weeds of like how the app's actually programed to designed or you more on the breading side?

Madison: [00:35:05] Yeah. So I do have my developers and everything. I'm slowly learning. I mean, I don't fully know how to code yet. I'm definitely working on it. But I like to kind of have a hand in everything and make sure that I'm learning all aspects of the business, so that when we are having those conversations, I actually know what's going on.

Chris: [00:35:26] Cool. Cool. Yeah. I mean, I went to film school, so I graduated film school and I got a film degree. Thought I was going to be a movie director growing up. That was my way out of Connecticut into New York. And granted, I mean, we made a volleyball net. So it's not too technological, but we have to have a Shopify website. So I've learned Shopify. It is super easy to use, but you could definitely get more and more into the weeds with it to make a more beautiful site. I'll tell you our site today, compared to what it looks like when we launched it is just way better. And it just comes from me learning. And hey, what Shopify apps can I do here? What code can I do here? Just make the whole process is much smoother. So, yeah, we've learned how to use Shopify. We've learned how to build a brand through Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and just it's all about getting people to the site at the end of the day because without people to the site, you don't make money.

Lesley: [00:36:17] I agree. Yeah. I am a super big, avid person of like Google University. I left college early because I didn't want to be in the lab for the rest of my life. I did study physics with a minor in astro, and it was great. But I realized like what I wanted to do, there was no real degree for it. And I just I learned to just Google things and learn on your own to the point where you understand enough to hire somebody and have like an actual conversation with them. So like when I was learning steps about engineering. And so I can have a conversation with my engineer and be like, "Hey, what if we sulfuric anodized this?" Or whatever. Or like I made the formula. I obviously wasn't chemistry major, but I just did. I remember one day I went to Sephora, and I bought like 50 lipsticks. And I literally sat there was like, "What are some common ingredients? Which are my favorite ones? What's going on? What is like a substitute for this that is vegan?" And just sitting there for like days and hours. And I highly recommend to anybody listening, if you want to start a brand, and you don't think that you are qualified enough to do it, you can find a way. You can definitely find a way. So, yeah, I don't think it should stop you.

Phillip: [00:37:38] As we are coming up on time, and I seriously could talk with you three forever. But, you know, as we're coming up on time, I'm curious what do you think the next few weeks hold for you? We used to ask what the next three to five years hold. But, you know, the next few weeks will feel like three to five years. So let's just go with that. But what do the next few weeks hold? And maybe you could kind of give us two alternate realities. Like what is probably the best thing that could happen for you in your business and brand? And what's one of the worst things that could happen? I don't want to take it too dark, but, you know, I'm just curious, like it could go either way, I think, for anyone in any one's business right now. But Lesley, let's start with you and hear a little bit about that.

Lesley: [00:38:31] Sure. So the best thing possible, obviously, so I am going through my go to market strategy. I'm really honing in on that, so if I can have like a really good strategy for that and to get ready I have like the PR list done, like all of that's done, but like to really get like ads done and figure this out. How I'm going to market this. That would be the best. The second like the worst that could happen... So if anybody's listening... Hi and you have like a mental illness, and you want to start a business like, hey, I'm there. I have OCD. I am proud. And the fact that, like, I am standing where I am today and I think what's the hardest, being most honest, is dealing with mental illness during quarantine because you are stuck home. It's hard to get out of bed sometimes, you know. But if you just stick to a routine, you can do it. But the worst would be like my mental illness getting worse. But I really don't think that will happen. I think the go to market strategy is going to happen. And I'm really excited for it.

Brian: [00:39:34] Awesome.

Lesley: [00:39:36] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:39:36] Madison.

Madison: [00:39:37] At the end of the day, we are an ecosystem, so we're relying on both our retailers and our customers. So in order for the customers to have a fantastic experience, then the retailers also need to help provide that. So, you know, right now we are doing the best that we can to support our retailers in any way and help them drive traffic, which we've actually seen. But I think worst case scenario would be the retailers not being able to fulfill the orders like they need. And we have had some difficulties with certain ones. But then, you know, my team's... There were these tie-dye sweat pants that went out of stock everywhere. And like twenty five customers wanted these pink tie dyed sweat pants. So I think my team and I spent like four hours trying to track them down from a random boutique in Europe that was able to send some of them. So it's about like making sure that, you know, the retailers can fulfill those orders for us and then making sure that we can support them and bring the customers to them.

Chris: [00:40:39] And my side, I think the worst thing would be we have give or take seventy five hundred people waiting for preorders. So they've placed their order, they sent their money in, and inventories on a boat ready to go. But for whatever reason, if it got delayed by two weeks or three weeks, we're going to have a lot of unhappy customers and a lot of customer service to do. So that would be a nightmare. I mean, we've been importing for three years now and no big issues. But you never know these days. If something slows it down by two or three weeks that could be a really bad problem for me. But we'll figure it out. Just by being honest. I mean, I can't really control unchartered waters out in Asia, but on a good side, everyone goes back outside, everyone's playing and happy, the world safe and people are playing CROSSNET four way volleyball every single where, every single  neighborhood, at the beach, the park. They'd be great.

Phillip: [00:41:28] That's awesome. Brian, bring it home. And thanks to all three of you. You guys are amazing. I myself am proud to have had you on the show. But just to know each of you in some regard and to have met each of you, it's really inspiring. And we wish you the best of luck. What an awesome journey you're on. And hope to have you back to check in with you in a few months and see how things are going.

Madison: [00:41:50] Yeah thank you guys.

Chris: [00:41:50] Thank you.

Lesley: [00:41:51] Thank you.

Brian: [00:41:51] Thank you so much. Thank you to our listeners who are engaged in this conversation as well. We always want to hear your feedback on these conversations. If you're a Gen Z founder or you have thoughts on what's happening in the world today, right now, as a founder, we would love to hear from you, and you can engage in this conversation as well. Don't be afraid to hit us up. Hello@FutureCommerce.fm. And of course, we always love your feedback and your ratings on iTunes and Spotify and all of that as well. So appreciate you listening. And in this dark time, having a panel like this on the show actually makes me super excited about the future. So thank you guys so much again. And we're looking forward to shaping a better future with you. Thanks for listening.

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