There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Evan Mendelsohn (above, left), the cofounder of Tipsy Elves. After a few years working as a corporate attorney, Evan joined forces with his college buddy Nick Morton (above, right) and in 2011 started Tipsy Elves, a company that specializes in the design, manufacturing and sales (via both retail and wholesale channels) of Christmas sweaters, jumpsuits, T-shirts and more.
Tipsy Elves, known for its array of ugly Christmas sweaters (quite trendy right now), was featured on Shark Tank. Investor Robert Herjavec says Tipsy Elves was his best investment ever, boasting sales growth from $750,000 to more than $6 million for 2014. We asked Evan for his secrets of success.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Evan Mendelsohn: I always wanted to have my own business and do something entrepreneurial. I grew up in a family of doctors, so there was a lot of appeal for me [in doing] something different and less traditional.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Mendelsohn: I started Tipsy Elves with my college friend Nick Morton in 2011. At the time we started, I was working full time as a lawyer at a large law firm (Sheppard Mullin) and Nick was working as an endodontist.
I started the business with Nick because I felt there was a lot of opportunity in what we do and I felt uninspired by my career in law. Even though I was paid well at my law firm, I just couldn’t find excitement in what I was doing there. I believe you should be excited by your job. You’ll spend more time working in a job or career than you will in anything else you do in your life, so it made sense to me that this should be something I’m passionate about and thoroughly enjoy.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Mendelsohn: Appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank in December 2013 was a huge turning point for our business. It gave us a huge burst in website traffic and sales and helped Tipsy Elves become a household name. It also allowed us to partner with Robert Herjavec, which has proved invaluable for our business.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Mendelsohn: Pick your battles wisely and focus your energies on the things that matter most. I see so many small business owners focusing on saving pennies here and there. While margins obviously matter, these same energies are better applied to growing the business rather than pinching pennies and making everyone you deal with think you are incredibly cheap.
I also think hiring the best employees and paying them well is hugely important. I would rather selectively hire fewer employees and pay them well than hire too many poorly paid employees who are not passionate about their work and are likely to leave for better opportunities.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Mendelsohn: Being responsive and setting an example for the employees and consultants you work with is a key “best practice.” Nick and I always do our best to respond quickly to the people we work with, as well as stay at the office for longer hours than our employees. I think this sets a great example and makes people want to work harder for you and see you succeed.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?
Mendelsohn: With the economy being down for so long, I think people have become very resourceful and have found entrepreneurial and self-reliant means to make a living. This emergence of entrepreneurial spirit, combined with an improving economy, will make for a lot of opportunity for small businesses in 2015.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Mendelsohn: I really like Good to Great as well as Robert Herjavec’s The Will to Win. Both offer a lot of great insight and practical business tips that help small businesses become big businesses.
I like reading books that have actionable and practical steps as opposed to more general business advice. Robert’s book also talks about balancing personal life with business life, which I’ve found very helpful.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Mendelsohn: I like the quote “All that arises, passes away.” I read it in a meditation book and I’ve found it particularly helpful when things go wrong in a business setting. It basically stands for the fact that everything that happens (both good and bad) will soon be the past, so don’t stress over things and just find the most practical solution as you encounter the ups and downs of life (and business).
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