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  • Playing the Game Better With Drew Stevens of Margin Skincare

    "You're never going to please everyone" is a phrase that set Drew Stevens, founder of the skincare brand Margin, free. In the era of amplified social judgment, and hundreds of new competitors popping up every week, it is more important now than ever to understand what you're in it for, and if that reason is guided by passion, like it is for Drew, then the only way forward is up. Backed by the creative minds of Benjamin Edgar, Chris Black, Ben Sehl (KOTN) and Sam Jayne, Drew has assembled the creative avengers to release what is currently one of the most exciting science-first, aesthetically beautiful skincare brands on the market. We spoke to Drew about his learnings as an entrepreneur, his tips for assembling a great team and how he deals with the competition; good and bad. Scroll down to read! Hey Drew, for those who aren't too familiar with you and Margin, can you tell us how it came together? Hey guys! My name is Drew Stevens and I'm the founder of Margin. I've always been really into skincare, and prior to starting Margin had the chance to spend a lot of time with with the founders of bootstrapped and venture backed businesses both inside and outside the beauty industry through my work in private equity. I was lucky enough to get to know some of the best skin scientists in the world, and in getting to know them had the chance to share (and confirm) a set of beauty industry observations that I thought left a gap serving me effectively and honouring my interest in skin.. Ultimately, Margin was launched as a way for my to offer myself and my peers a skin solution that incorporated  best-in-class-ingredients, logic-driven formulations, and product design that I could be confident using and displaying in my home. The whole process started in 2020 and from there, we’ve put together a great team and had a lot of fun working on what is now Margin (which we launched in 2022). With all of the R&D and trials to get the product to be what you envisioned it to be, how do you know when it's finally right? It's really hard to figure out when it's right. I think a lot of it has to come down to me being really proud of the product. If I can stand behind it, and I really love it, and we put it out in the world and it bricks, I'm fine with that because this was me and the team's decision. I don't think I would sleep well at night if we conceded based on a product to try and make everyone happy and didn't put out what we loved the most. Realistically, you're not going to make everyone happy. If you go to a major beauty website and look at their top trending products, what you'll find is that for virtually every product in the world that's ever been released, reviews are normally distributed on both ends. You'll have 20% of people that say that they are absolutely obsessed, you'll have a bunch of people in the middle saying it's pretty good and then you'll have 20% to 30% of the audience saying "I wouldn't put this on my worst enemy", and yet it's a best selling product. At the end of the day, there is no such thing as universally loved anything, so I just try and put out what we really like and if it works, great. You have some pretty established names on your board/co-founder table. What was your process to getting in touch with them and getting them on board? From a cold calling perspective, you'd be surprised at how easy it is to get in touch with people. Social media has totally changed that over the years. If you have a tweet that bangs and somebody replies to it and they're an interesting person, boom, be in their DMs immediately. Same with Instagram and then if you're doing something interesting, offer somebody a little bit of value and something tangible they can act on. Meeting Chris the first time, I had never interacted with him, not on a social platform, nothing before. I knew who he was and I thought he'd be an interesting partner in a venture like this. It was literally me just sending him an email and saying, "This is what I do now. This is what's interesting about what I do now. This is an insight that I think I have that I think would be compelling and I'd love to know your take on it because I think of you as x, y, and z". The biggest thing though is just come to them with a good idea. I came to him with "Here's my insight about skincare and here's what I think we can do about it. Tell me I'm crazy". It wasn't just like, "hey, bro, skincare is really hot right now. Want to do something?" because that's not really actionable and that's not like a nutritious little bite for them or a hook in the water that they may find interesting. You've mastered skincare and the art of networking. What is on your list of things to master in 2024? I'm really trying to master my energy output in the most efficient way. My default is to try and move 30 footballs an inch up the field every day and then at the end of the week, I look back and the 30 footballs have only moved a few inches and that's not really that noticeable of an improvement. I think the right way to work is actually for me to run one football ten yards down the field for like a half day, run another one five yards down the field for a part of the day, and, be very focused on trying to really make progress on a few tasks in a given time period versus trying to do so many tasks at once. That's very difficult, as I'm sure many people reading can relate to this when you're running your own thing or have a side project that you're working on too. It becomes easy to feel busy and tired and feel like you spent energy, but not really have a lot to show for it. So this is what I'm trying to focus on and master in 2024. The beauty industry, like many others, has a ton of players that seem to care more about making a quick buck than an impactful product. What do you think about those types of brands? This is very true. The reason I'm doing this is because I care about products so much and I want the product to be the best it can be. I have a visceral reaction to the idea that someone would try and enter the market with a product that's trendy but potentially ineffective or harmful, but I also know that the answer isn't just for me to go around and say "hey,, that's not OK." There's a game being played, right? We're on this giant field and the way for me to make a point is to just eat their lunch, right? The way to do it is to play the game better than them. If in five years or ten years or twenty years, we've played the game better, then we will be rewarded for that and if we didn't play the game well or the game changed on us and people actually didn't care what they put on their skin then, you know what, I wasn't playing the right game and I lost. However, I can lose feeling good, right? This is my passion, but at the end of the day, I try to remember that there's an element of sports or gamesmanship to this and any other business as an entrepreneur, and just focus on what I can do to play the game better. I think that's a healthier attitude and so when I hear about competitors like that, it's like, okay, great, you're playing the game well right now. Let me see if I can't outscore you. Make sure to check out Margin and keep it locked to Pier Five for more founder interviews just like this!

  • Your Number One Resource With Nishal Kumar of No Days Wasted

    "You get out what you put in" is something we all need to remind ourselves of more often. Nishal Kumar, founder of the wellness supplements brand, No Days Wasted, that helps anyone maximize life's moments after a night out, has made a living off of this mantra and his story is an incredible example to emulate. From becoming the sponsor for some of the biggest podcasts in North America, to locking in over 1200  retailer partners, Nish knows a thing or two about making your own opportunities and we got to speak to him to gain some fresh insights that are very applicable for any new founder. Check out the conversation below! Hey Nish! Thanks for taking the time to chat. One of the first things we want to know is how the partnership with Barstool, which was huge for the brand in the early days, got off the ground. Oh ya, that was great! Over 5 years ago, we connected with Paul Bissonnette 'Biz Nasty' who was spending a summer in Vancouver after he retired from the NHL and was working with a couple buddies of mine. There was one night, we're all out, and my buddies told me Biz was going to be there and to come out. I went and I had a couple packets on me and I gave them to him, and that was my first touch point. A couple days later, I saw him at the gym and I gave him a full box of product. He ended up going to an event the next day and calls me, and he tells me he tried the product, had about ten beers and woke up the next day like nothing happened. He mentioned he was joining this podcast called Spittin’ Chiclets and introduced me to Barstool Sports. We started working with them and Spittin’ Chiclets was a home run out of the gate. I asked Barstool if they had any female demo shows and they mentioned Call Her Daddy which was just launching at that time. They were like "it's pretty crazy. It's pretty out there, but it might just work." so we tested with them and saw instant return, like 7-10x right out of the gate. We were the first brand to sponsor Call Her Daddy, which ended up blowing up and becoming the biggest female podcast in North America. The big learning was really, you need to make that investment and take a chance on things early on when and if something works, double down on it. It seems like now there are so many brands doing this? What do you think of the competition? Yes the space got very crowded but in general but between those days and now, my view on competition is very different. Early on, I was actually very averse to competition and I was concerned about what all of our competitors were doing. I would be offended if they did anything too close to us. These days, things have shifted. I really welcome the competition from players that have staying power and are creating a meaningful product and brand. The reason being is because ultimately, this competition drives awareness to a category that's emerging. If we're the only player on shelf, who's going to know about the category? Only the people that know about us. But, if you think about the value that competition provides, it's that they're providing extra eyeballs onto us for free and we are validating a new category together by creating great products with high efficacy, safety and value for consumers. That's a very good attitude to have and regardless of the competition now, it's incredible to hear about how you created that opportunity for yourself. If you're proactive, you're assertive, you are charismatic and personable, good things will happen. That's why I spent quite a bit of time in New York, and continue to do so. It's the epicenter of chaos, and there are a lot of people doing great things out there. My focus is always to meet cool people doing great things. At the very least, I could just make a friend, or on the other end, we could do something meaningful together from a business point of view. If you're not there, if you don't show up, if you're not putting yourself out there, it won't happen. As an emerging brand, use what you have. You may not have tons of capital behind you, but you have your energy that you put out to the world, and the best way to showcase that is by actually going out there and doing it. Would you say that's your big tip for brands, especially ones in the early stage of their business? I have a few tips but the biggest thing is to remember that how you do anything is how you do everything. For me, whether that's going to the gym every day and staying focused or playing ball and putting my best foot forward, I just want to be consistent, I want to care about what I do, and I want to solve problems. That's the same way I treat my business and that's not just work, that's life. Your success and your achievements are going to come from your efforts. So top three things; give a damn about what you do, be consistent and just do it well. We couldn't agree more. Before we finish off, any other advice for new founders? You need to go where you're wanted. For example, maybe you have a dream retailer or dream partner that you want to work with but at the end of the day, make sure it's not a delusion. It's like when you're growing up and there's that girl you see that you're into but turns out they're the most toxic person in the world. You don't want that. You want to go where you're wanted. That's been a big part of our retail strategy. We always want to hear a no from a retailer rather than a maybe, because that will allow us to move on to the yeses and find the places where we're wanted. Make sure to check out No Days Wasted and keep it locked to Pier Five for more founder conversations just like this!

  • Creating Your Identity With Jun Arnaiz of Neutria

    Creating Your Identity With Jun Arnaiz of Neutria It's not uncommon to find creatives venturing out into their own startups but it is a bit more unique to see them dive into the realm of health and natural supplements, a space that is highly competitive with mass-pharma and can take years of R&D and approval. So, what does it take to dive into this world? We sat down with Jun Arnaiz, a longtime friend and man of many talents, to learn a little bit about it. Jun got his start in the Toronto-nightlife scene, rising up as one of the city's best club videographers by night, while experimenting, formulating and testing supplements by day. As he got deeper into the nightlife world, his sights set onto DJ'ing, which has now grown his name even further as a certified nightlife double threat; but he didn't forget about the pharma. In 2023, Jun and his business partner Andrew Daye launched Neutria, an all-natural supplement brand rooted in ancient herbs and remedies to help those eager to excel do so in a clean and sustainable way. Jun has a lot to say about breaking down barriers to follow your passions. Read through the conversation below! Jun, you seem to have your hand in so many pots and never shy away from opportunities. How does someone like yourself approach all of these new things? Naturally, I'm a very curious person and I have a bunch of interests but I'm very careful to ensure if I do something, it's of quality. It can be daunting but anytime I'm exploring a new craft, I know it will require me to put myself out there no matter what because that's how you get new opportunities. It requires you to be vulnerable but it's necessary. Especially for artistic crafts, showing your work is the only way to get booked. If we reverse engineer that to figure out how to build the confidence to put yourself out there, it really comes down to putting in the reps. You have to practice. Once you really commit and practice, you build the competence in the craft and then you build the confidence. That confidence will be the fuel to put yourself out there in the world and that's when opportunities will come to you. Do you ever feel stuck diving into new things? Luckily not so much but it took time. I think the number one thing that stops people from taking on a new craft is imposter syndrome. People think "I'm not this person, so I'm not going to give it my 100%." I realized that the antidote to that is building up enough evidence for yourself that you do embody this person to the point where it can become your identity. For me, it was hard as a nightlife videographer, who's identity was so ingrained in that, when I wanted to start DJ'ing. I knew people might not take me seriously but I was serious. I didn't want to be a videographer that could also DJ. I wanted to be a DJ. In order to do that, I needed to be consistent. I needed to show up every day. I needed to do shows consistently. I try to embody this mindset with every new thing that I do. It wasn't even up until maybe a couple of months ago that I finally was confident enough to call myself a DJ because I felt like I wasn't there yet. I didn't have that identity yet but I was always pushing for it. Just remember, success isn't an overnight thing. You have to work on it every day but the only way to get there is to start. Can you talk about what pushed you to start Neutria? I worked in a pharmacy for five plus years, so I saw firsthand how people are so reliant on pharmaceuticals just to get by. We're at an age, societally, where people are becoming more health conscious. My partner, Andrew, and I have always been obsessed with finding ways to optimize our health, wellbeing and mindset. We were always experimenting with these different ingredients in college and university. So we've been exposed to the world of natural supplements and natural remedies. We never really had the intention when we were in our early twenties of doing this. It was just a passion to help us optimize our businesses at that time but we sensed this paradigm shift of people who want to excel in their careers or their crafts and find remedies to do so without harming themselves in the process by using synthetic drugs, like Adderall, or excessive melatonin or caffeine. So, we started Neutria and all three of our products are a response to a synthetic version. We have an all-natural sleep support product that uses herbs that have been used for thousands of years, melatonin-free and that's kind of like our counter to melatonin. We have a focus blend that's our counter to excessive caffeine or Adderall. We're not doing this to profit off of people. We're doing this to offer a sustainable solution to these specific needs that we saw. Lastly, what is one of the biggest learnings you've discovered so far as a brand owner? As an e-commerce brand, it's easy to dehumanize the business and diminish it to just numbers and digital screens. For the first half of our existence, Andrew and I lived on our screens and we weren't getting any sort of physical feedback from customers. It was all online-everything. So, one thing that we introduced was more events and collaborations with other brands to get out into the physical world and connect with and build our community. We started selling in local markets, sampling with groups and getting actual feedback on our products. The human connection was also important to help remind us of our purpose and why we started the business, which was very motivating. We really learned the importance of that macro view on why you do things and I think going physical, going offline as much as possible does that. Make sure to check out Jun and Neutria on Instagram and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with creatives and entrepreneurs just like this!

  • Doing It Yourself With Carol Pak of Makku

    The canned beverage space is increasingly competitive, with hundreds of new startup brands entering every year. So, if you're going to enter, you better have something unique to say. Therein lies Carol Pak, founder of SOOL, a Korean beverages company and owner of canned makgeolli beverage brand MAKKU, who is using her experience at ZX Ventures - ABinBev's VC arm - and passion for Korean rice alcohol to offer something fresh and exciting to the North American market. Although it hasn't come without its ups, downs and dozens of learnings, Carol had some great insights to share that can be applied to any small business owner, and of course anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of CPG. Check out some of the hot topics from the conversation below. In the summer of 2023, we noticed a big shift in the brand's social presence around Korean culture. Can you talk about that? At first, I didn't know how much I wanted to position ourselves as a Korean drink because I didn't want to isolate non Koreans. I wanted to be very welcoming, very approachable, and I didn't want to pigeonhole ourselves as a Korean drink for Korean occasions and for Korean customers. So I was very vanilla when it came to our marketing because I didn't want to sway too much but I felt like that really left us with no voice. Recently we did some consumer surveys and a resounding sentiment was, we would like to see more Korean stuff from Makku, whether it's in your packaging, your story, your marketing or your branding. That really motivated me to focus more on Korean culture in general. For us, the most natural area to focus on was the Korean drinking culture, which is a huge part of Korean culture. Later we can move into other segments like food or holiday traditions and things like that. As you grow, have you made any other big shifts in how the brand operates? When it comes to our sales, before, I was relying on our distributors to get into retailers, and they put us in any account that would take our product. We were growing in revenue, and it was great in the short term, but we were seeing a lot of turnover as we lost shelf space to new brands and other promotions. If you go down to your local bodega and offer a promotion for them to buy the case, a lot of times they'll say, yes, but it doesn't mean that's the right account for us. I recently realized that while distributors are our partners, the onus is still on us to steer direction and ensure execution. Another consideration is that these smaller accounts don't provide data on the national level. So if a large retailer will put our brand into scan data, nothing will show up, even though we're in over a thousand accounts. So the investment into the smaller accounts don’t build us much credibility for the larger chains. Can you talk about scan data? What does that mean? There are national companies like IRI and Nielsen that manage this. For accounts like Whole Foods and Total Wine and these other large retailers; if your brand is selling in these stores, they'll report the sales data to IRI or Nielsen. So, when you're trying to sell to other national retailers, they can  put in your brand and they can track your growth, sales and all this other data about your brand that these retailers are supplying to them. Since we're mostly selling in smaller accounts or Asian chains that are not providing that kind of data, even though we've been in the market for four years, if an Albertsons or Kroger, looked up our brand in Nielsen or IRI, they wouldn’t be able to find much data. So, it just goes to show that an account is not always equal. I’ve learned we need to rely less heavily on our distributors to be selling on our behalf and instead build a sales team and then get into the retailers that we want to by pitching them directly. Is it daunting pitching to these big retailers? I didn't dare dream of trying to pitch national accounts at first. I just thought it wouldn't be possible without any sales data but I've seen a lot of brands launch after me, like years after me, and their first accounts were like Walmart, Target, Costco. There has been a trend of Asian products in stores and product differentiation is probably helpful there, but at the end of the day, you have to pitch them to know whether you get a yes or no. We just never pitched them. That all gave me confidence though. If you get in front of them, you'll at least be on their radar. You can ask them for information on what they're looking for, what data points they need to see for consideration, when to reach out next. Until you talk to them, you never know so just shoot all your shots. We can definitely see the hustle and passion that you have for the brand. I'm sure that helps when you work on growing the brand with partners? Yes, absolutely. If you're not so passionate about what you're doing and you just think of it as a business opportunity, you're not going to last. Undoubtedly, the best entrepreneurs at every level will still have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and I think the only thing that really keeps you in it is the passion. So, if it's not something that you love and you're happy working 80 hours a week, it's going be really hard. When investors, distributors, retailers and customers are talking to you, they're looking for passion and they can tell if you fake it. That is what makes the difference between the companies that make it and the companies that don't. Make sure to check out Makku's website to find out where you can pick some up and keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews with entrepreneurs and small business owners coming soon!

  • Building Your Own Spaces With Monday Girl

    The job market is a complex one to navigate but if one thing is certain, it's that results won't come without effort. For Rachel Wong & Istiana Bestari, when the market wasn't giving them what they needed to find their next big opportunity, they took matters into their own hands and developed the tools they needed to succeed. Quickly identified as a solution for a major gap in the market, Rachel & Istiana launched Monday Girl, a networking, events and digital platform to help women navigate the workforce and it's been a major success ever since. Now taking their 6-year side hustle full time, we got the chance to speak to the co-founders about their journey and expert tips, from networking to brand partnerships. Read below! Today, Monday Girl has become such an empowering place for women in the workforce. What was the motivation for starting the platform? Istiana: We built the platform that we wished we had, to solve a problem that we were struggling with. When we first met, we were both fresh to Toronto. We didn't know anyone and were trying to get our foot in the door. Rachel: All these rooms that I would walk into, I just felt, wow, I'm very much like the "only", whether it's the only woman, person of colour, or both. I was not getting any shortage of advice but it was a lot of advice that wasn't applicable for myself as a young woman of colour entering the workplace for the very first time. Istiana: For me, I remember attending so many networking events and just very quickly realizing how most networking events were not designed with women in mind. Typically, they were so exhausting. They were awkward. Also, I struggled with connecting with people on LinkedIn and I remember ranting to Rachel when we first met and she felt the same way. Rachel: In that same chat, we came up with the name of Monday Girl. We came up with the next action plans, and then we split up responsibilities. We were at it. You two seem like great business partners. How have you nurtured and grown your own relationship with each other over the years? Istiana: We really are each other's biggest cheerleaders. I don't think either of us could do this by ourselves and every day we're constantly hyping each other up. I think that's really important with having a co-founder is being each other's support systems celebrating our wins together. Rachel: I remember so many times where, for example, Istiana crushes it on a call or nails a presentation and I'm always just so proud of her and it goes both ways when I do things well. We really just hear each other out and hype each other up and that's helped us be such strong business partners. At least on the outside looking in, you seem very busy. Now that you're both in this full time, how do you keep it exciting and fun and not just feeling like a job? Rachel: Every so often, we get this really amazing message from one of our members about something that Monday Girl helped them with, whether that's overcoming a really tricky job situation where they had to deal with micro-aggressions at work or hearing that they used our resources to get a job or a mentor to get a referral. All these things keeps us going. Istiana: Another thing that's really important for us in keeping this excitement and momentum is that what we decide to do is always stuff that we're excited about. We're always planning things that we would love to attend, that we want to go to ourselves, all projects that we're excited about. It definitely is very hard work but it makes it a lot easier when we're building something that we're excited about. You’ve done a really good job working with some major global brands and organizations on events and content for your community. How do you approach getting partnerships like that? Rachel: The first thing I'd say is don't be afraid to get ghosted and constantly reach out. After a certain point, people will get back to you and you just have to be okay with being persistent. Cold emails still work. The second piece is show that you put some level of thought - and it doesn't have to be super comprehensive or a full proposal - into your outreach and articulate how it can help the partner achieve their KPIs. If there's a specific collection or campaign that they're putting out, and you think there's a really strong synergy, talk to that in that very first sentence. People don't have the attention span to read through a long email, so just make that your only point if you have a point. The the third piece of advice is just to keep maintaining and building and give back where you can. Even if it's not always a paid thing, support the brands when you can. I think brands really remember that and that's when they want to work long term with. That's great advice! Lastly, what's a key networking tip you have for anyone that is looking for a new job? Istiana: A lot of people think, when they're starting out, "how can I connect with the CEO of my dream company?" and you're always looking for the most senior person in the room. Later, you'll realize that the most valuable people to network with are your peers. Start with the network that you already have. Tap into the people that you already know because there's a lot of connections there, whether it's your alumni, like clubs, sports teams. Rachel: Those are the people that as you grow, they grow with you and they're going to be able and have much more bandwidth than a CEO to actually help you and connect you with those openings or those roles when they do come up. I'd also say, don't be afraid to do this in an industry agnostic way too. Sometimes we think, "I'm in fashion and I'm only going to network to people in fashion". The reality is they're probably not going to tell you something opens up because they're going to want to go for it. However, if you're networking with people in different industries, there's a little bit more of a gap, so finding open spaces like that can be helpful. Make sure to check out Monday Girl for news about their events and mentor opportunities and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with small business founders.

  • Ready For Anything With Bimma Williams

    For almost any creative, the dream is to be your own boss and turn your side-hustle into your career. It's shiny, there's freedom, more money if it's successful and so many other possible upsides. When Bimma Williams, sneaker professional turned expert conversationalist and host, left his stable career in the footwear industry to pursue his passion project Claima Stories full-time, these were the things he was after; and over time, he's been getting them, but not without some surprises along the way. Now with nearly fifteen years under his belt as an entrepreneur, five of which on Claima working with and interviewing some of the biggest names in the culture, Bimma has some stories of his own to tell and secrets to share with our community. Read the conversation below! Having left your 9-5 for a life as an entrepreneur and freelancer, what's something others thinking about doing the same should know? When most people consider freelance or starting a business, they often fail to realize what they are agreeing to take on. My creative expression is being a host, speaking, holding conversations, and now teaching as well. When I took that on, I'm not just taking that on. I'm also taking on, "how do I market and put myself out there?" Then you're in on finances. "How do I price myself?" Then you're taking on Operations because you need to figure out how to pay expenses and work on taxes and all of that stuff too. You're very involved in a lot of different things. You need to have the ability to harmonize all these different things. One thing to remember though is, yes, it is challenging but it's not impossible and there's also the opportunity for greater reward. You seem to be very humble with money and smart around spending on creativity. Are you thinking about that a lot? With any creative, when you get access to funds, the first thing you probably want to do is the biggest, shiniest thing possible. If you had all the resources in the world, you would leverage them but the interesting thing about that is, it's a mistake. We've seen it time and time again. When folks get too many resources, it actually diminishes their creativity. Some of the most creative projects and some of the best albums, did not have these glorious, gigantic budgets. They were just pure passion. When we did get that funding and that investment, we made some investments and some enhancements to production, but at the same time, we tried not to spend too much of that revenue. We would reach out to a brand and see if they would send us some microphones or some cameras or anything to keep the cost down. That money goes fast and you want to be super cognizant of how you can leverage it to get things to the next place over and over again. You've spoken about this concept of 'being ready' for opportunity. How does one do that? First of all, no one likes to hear this but you're never ready. It doesn't matter what the opportunity is because likely the opportunities are going to come from a place that you couldn't predict. Secondly, the opportunities are likely going to stretch you and so you have to make a decision on if you feel like you can rise to that occasion. One of the things that Will Smith spoke about in his book, that I love, is when you also are determining if you're ready or not, it also comes down to not being overly analytical and not overthinking the opportunity. When it's someone that you trust and they're bringing you an opportunity, to me, that opportunity is the one you need to say yes to and so sometimes being ready is purely just a mindset thing. You have to be ready in your heart. You need to be ready when it comes to how you want to put yourself in that situation. When you think about being ready, those are the things you need to think about. Once the opportunities and the audience come, it can feel tough to keep up with output demand. Have you every struggled with that feeling? All of these major media companies like Hypebeast or Complex, they all have huge content teams. This is why they can execute so much all of the time but as an individual, execute where you can execute. We've seen time and time again, so many different young creatives that may not have those systems, but they cut through with their thing. One of my favorites is Lynae Vanee. She puts out one video a week, and that thing cooks. She does her thing and she's not trying to compete with volume. She's competing with quality. I think when you have quality and you know your audience and you're hitting that sweet spot, people are always going to respond. They're always going to show up. When I came back, folks had missed me. It was clear. The response was there. So if I go away, it's not like I'm being forgotten in this sea of content or storytelling that's going out. So I think it's just important to remember that. Lastly, what do you think is the most important thing for any creative to understand, regardless of the industry? It's really important to develop a 'no bullshit mindset'. We can come up with a number of reasons why we won't do anything but I made an agreement with myself a long time ago was that there's nothing that's going to replace doing the work. That being said, I'm not going to feel 100% every day and it's okay if I decide, like, today I ain't got it. I'm going to take that break. If I can't put out something meaningful, what's the point? The world's not going to end and my audience isn't going to disappear because I needed to make sure I took care of myself. You can't do anything right if you haven't taken care of yourself first. Make sure to follow Bimma's Instagram for news on all of his upcoming projects and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations just like these!

  • Protecting Your Brand With Zak Kurtz of Sneaker Legal

    Almost every creative entrepreneur starts their business out of passion but as time goes on and the business grows, the legal matters of the business become more important but also often fall to the wayside. Zak Kurtz, lawyer and founder of Sneaker & Streetwear Legal Services dba Sneaker Legal, has turned his passion for kicks and coveted streetwear into a business designed to help creative entrepreneurs with all of those legal matters so that they can focus on their passions, while he focuses on his. We got the chance to chat with Zak about how he found an opportunity in a niche legal space, his tips for new creative entrepreneurs and what some of the keys have been to his success. Read the conversation below! Hey Zak! Thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us a bit about you and your firm? Hey guys! So, my name is Zak Kurtz and I'm the founder of Sneaker & Streetwear Legal Services, also known as Sneaker Legal. Sneaker Legal works with clients in the sneakers, fashion, sports and entertainment space to help them protect their brand across a number of legal matters. You've built a very cool career in an admittedly niche space. What was the key to getting there? If you like something, go do it. I read a good book last week, and a line that I remember from it is, "let your joy be your GPS", meaning, whatever brings you passion, whatever brings you joy, do that in your life. Let that guide you. My grandfather was a judge, so I knew I wanted to be a lawyer but I wasn't sure about what in. I played soccer soccer in college overseas, so I thought I wanted to be a sports lawyer but in law school, while I was doing sports law, and I was president of all these things, and I was making a lot of money, I wasn't happy. I would sit on my computer and I would just look at trademarks like drawings of sneakers. Never did I know that one day I'd have a special law firm that's niche was in sneakers and streetwear. If you never giving up and follow your passions, that will definitely lead you to a good career and also a good life. We love that story and the self awareness about what makes you happy. At the end of the day, just be you. Staying true to yourself and what you love is the most important thing. If you're passionate about something, maybe it's sneakers and law or maybe it's something else, that will find a way to shine. If you want to build a brand and you're a good human being, people will come to you. We only live so long and I think it's important to be yourself and that really attracts people and brings good things into your life. You seem to have a great capability at getting clients. Any secrets there? A lot of the time, people don't reach out to legal because they're afraid of legal's answer always being "no". Due to this, most of the time when people come to lawyers, it's reactive. It's after you're getting a cease and desist or after you're getting a lawsuit. So, it's very important just to be upfront and work with your client so that that stuff doesn't happen. If you're releasing a shoe, come to us and we could say, "hey, this looks like an Adidas or a Nike. You might want to change this" or "this name is already trademarked by another company so you might want to change your name". We always take a very open approach because we believe it's important to be proactive with legal and I think that openness has helped create a welcome environment for new clients. Once you get a new client, what's often the first legal item that they might need help with? Starting is the hardest thing for your brand but once you start, you need to start thinking about all the stuff like establishing an LLC, registering trademarks, bringing on a lawyer or having someone around that you can ask those types of questions to. I can't tell you how many questions I get daily about little things like "should I have a contract for this?" or "do I need an NDA for that?". These are simple questions that a lawyer could answer for free or in a few minutes and I think it's good to start building that network and have that team environment. If I was to focus on one thing though, It would be the trademark. Anyone could actually do their own application or do some research but if you take it the next step and actually hire a lawyer, working on the trademark will really help protect your brand. That way you're boxing out the other people from using that name or that logo. Lastly, outside of the legal field, what's one piece of advice you'd give to a new entrepreneur or small business owner? You need to have a great team and be able to rely on other people because you can't do everything yourself. Then, once you find the right people, you need to trust them and let them do their job. I'm very cautious about every micromanaging them. I want my team to know that, as long they get the work done, they can be creative and flexible with their approach and I feel like that's been a key to the success of my team. Make sure to follow Sneaker Legal for all of your sneakers and streetwear legal info and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with creative entrepreneurs and small business owners. Legal Disclaimer: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. Readers of this website should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No reader, user, or browser of this site should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information on this site without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Only your individual attorney can provide assurances that the information contained herein – and your interpretation of it – is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website authors, contributors, contributing law firms, or committee members and their respective employers. The views expressed at, or through, this site are those of the individual authors writing in their individual capacities only – not those of their respective employers, the ABA, or committee/task force as a whole. All liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this site are hereby expressly disclaimed. The content on this posting is provided "as is;" no representations are made that the content is error-free.

  • Embracing Your Community With Sarah Sukumaran of Lilith NYC

    The realities of starting any business always have two things in common. The first is you can't predict your path. There will always be unknowns. The second is that no matter where that path might take you, anything is possible. Sarah Sukumaran, NYC-based tech exec turned sneaker designer and now founder of Lilith NYC has embraced that wholeheartedly and has some great antidotes for anyone looking to turn their creative passions into a business. The learnings that she has acquired over the years with traditional tech roles, a predictive analytics gig at Nike - a natural fit for a sneaker-loving software product director - to now the life of an entrepreneur, have set her up for years of success and are something we could all benefit from. Scroll down for some gems from the conversation with Sarah. Hi Sarah! You're a big advocate of embracing your community. How did that play a part in getting Lilith off the ground? It's amazing. When you put out in the universe that you're doing something, people will naturally gravitate towards you and start making those connections wherever they can. Lean into that. When I started vocalizing and putting it out there that I was starting a footwear company, people all of a sudden had these connections for me and that's how all of my contacts, angel investors and other people I now work with, have come about. What's it like going from the tech world to now being recognized as a sneaker designer and brand owner? I worked in tech and I thought that was my life. I was ready to become a DevOps engineer and I really thought that's where my career was headed. So now, it's so nice to explore this creative side that I didn't know I had. I really love colour theory and working with materials. When I'm in Portugal, going to the leather supplier and looking at the suede that we're going to go with, or looking at the colour swatches; I have such a strong passion for that. People now refer to me as a creative and I'm still getting used to embracing it because I still am this nerdy tech person but now I'm a creative too which is pretty cool. Any advice to someone who was in your position looking to start their own brand while working a 9-5? I am a big proponent of not quitting your job and working on your side hustle when you're getting a nice check at your current employer. The only reason I quit [Nike] was because it was a clear conflict of interest working for a footwear brand and starting my own. If I was working as a tech company I would definitely have done this as a side hustle and just kept collecting a check. You need to be able to financially support yourself or have savings to be able to take that leap on your dream. Work full time and spend more hours after each day building your startup. There are so many little things you can do to get your startup off the ground, especially in footwear. You can source the factory on the internet and spend $200 to get a sample made. Everything is possible. You just need to take those small steps and making it work doesn't have to involve quitting your job and going bankrupt throughout the process. Lilith has done a bunch of pop-ups and is in a few retailers. Is expanding that a big goal of yours? I think for any brand, you always need to have a multi-channel experience. In year one, we started getting approached by retailers but I just felt like I wasn't ready. However, I realize now how important that is and we're definitely working on getting into more and more doors and doing more pop ups. Online is great but getting people to try on the shoes, especially at my price point it key. Just like any portfolio, you need a diversified approach as an entrepreneur. So true! Lastly, has been one of your biggest learnings since starting Lilith? Shifting away from traditional seeding and actually using your customers as the influencer, that's been an interesting shift and learning for me. I was wasting time seeding people who would post once and never wear the shoe again. Now, I'll surprise a customer who's bought two or three pairs and be like, here's a free shoe because I know that they're going to wear the hell out of it and that's probably better marketing at the end of the day. They're the ones who post the authentic photos, wear the shoes and get complimented in person and get way more excited! They're their own ambassadors to the brand. I love it and they love it. Make sure to follow Lilith for news on their pop-ups and releases and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with creative entrepreneurs like Sarah!

  • Pier Five x PUMA: Community Court Day 2023

    Earlier this month, Pier Five proudly hosted its first ‘Community Court Day’ event in Toronto in partnership with PUMA. The event was designed to give entrepreneurs and creatives a new way to connect outside of the office in a space that was conducive to conversation and relationship building. As big proponents of 'breaking up the work week', Pier Five brought out 25 of Toronto's cultural change-makers, including business owners, artists, content creators and brand leads to spend a day on the court, a place that fostered so many relationships for us growing up. The day got started with guests arriving to a care package with some of PUMA's newest basketball gear; of course we had to hook them up in the best. From the beginning, strangers instantly started becoming friends and learning about each other. There's something about trying on new sneakers with others that get spirits high. After some introductions, basketball coach/trainer and founder of Core Basketball, Ali Nizam, started the day with warmups and partner drills designed to get people out of their comfort zone. Regardless of experience, every single person was sweating by the end of it. Spirits were definitely high, and safe to say we were all on an equal playing field after that. The warm ups were followed up refreshments from our friends at Neutria and Barbet who kept us hydrated throughout the day and a good 'ol fashioned 'name game' - of course we had to bring some summer camp memories back - to help everyone learn a bit more about who was in the room. After that, guests were put into teams to put their skills to the test. Every single person was playing hard and throwing it down! Lastly, we wrapped the day with a roundtable-style discussion focused on getting out of your comfort zone, something that is key for entrepreneurs and that every guest of the day demonstrated so well that day. The #1 goal of the day was give creatives and entrepreneurs a unique space to get to know each other and we couldn't be more proud of how much that was accomplished. In an age of social media connections and a non-stop grind to the top, finding time to meet likeminded individuals in-person, even those in our own backyard, can be very difficult but when you find a way to do it, break down all of the walls, and just let people jam, the results are incredible. A major thank you to every single person who came out with an open mind and willingness to learn. We can't wait to see how these conversations turn into incredible things outside of the gym doors. As well, thank you to Neutria and Barbet for the incredible drinks and of course, thank you so much to PUMA for supporting our vision of creating unique spaces for inspiring people to connect and grow. We can't wait until the next one!

  • A Strong Foundation With Carlo Aragon of Salomonology

    If there's something that Carlo Aragon, designer and founder of social gorpcore community, Salomonology, knows, it's the importance of a strong foundation. From URL to IRL, Carlo has taken his childhood loves, from video games to sneakers to outdoors exploration, to build a base for some incredible projects that not only help people dress well, but also care for our planet at the same time. Find out how he does it in our conversation with Carlo below! Hey Carlo! The growth of Salomonolgy has been so incredible over the last few years? What's the goal with the page? To this day, we still get people who are like, "yeah, you wear Salomons, but how many hikes have you done recently?". It's like that"oh, you're wearing the band tee, but do you really listen to that band?" I really try to push the fact that a piece of clothing is meant to be worn, whether it's for its original initial technical purpose or just for casual wear. So the page is really exists to show people that there's nothing wrong with taking something that's meant for something else and just wearing it for a completely different reason. For me, an article of clothing has always been an article of clothing to be enjoyed. Why is it about gorpcore that makes it something you really care about? I want more people to be more conscious about the environment. I think with the way that the the world is projected to look in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, it's not looking great but when people go out and enjoy the outdoors, I think they start to recognize more about how lucky we are to actually have it. If people need to be into a trend for them to finally start hiking to appreciate being outdoors more, then that's awesome. I think gorpcore has really helped people get outdoors more and if Salmonology can be the doorway or that first step in getting people to use that style to be able to get outdoors more and appreciate what we have, it will make people more aware of how we need to be more protective of our world and nature in general. From a strategic standpoint, how do you approach projects longterm to keep your audiences locked in? I think people are always looking for how genuine you are in the work that you produce and how true to yourself you are with what you produce. At the end of the day, if the project stays connected to that one anchor that you started from in the beginning, what you build over time will still be meaningful. Know what your foundation is, stick with that and build off of that so that people can look back at everything that you've produced in the past and to see that you've stayed true to yourself. I think that's what people really recognize and appreciate. Makes so much sense! Lastly, as someone with a fashion brand and a knack for influencing people's style, what tips would you give to someone working on their personal style? When you're trying to find your personal style, I think it's important to focus on silhouettes and fit. That's the best way, because when that becomes your priority, you could go to the thrift store, you could go shopping at the mall, you could go anywhere, and then you could start shopping not for brands, not for labels, but for fit. When you leave the door every day looking like you're wearing the same outfit, but it's actually different clothes, that's when you've kind of achieve the personal style. In addition to that, I feel like it's also important to look back on stuff that make you happy, and then you incorporate that into stuff that interests you. Make sure to check out Salomonology and Carlo's new brand Equipe Works and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with creative entrepreneurs!

  • Embracing Impermanence With Sandro Petrillo of SSSOAPS

    Very few things in life last forever but while many try fiercely to hold on, Sandro Petrillo, Canadian DJ, artist and entrepreneur, has learned to find beauty in the impermanence end enjoy the ride. After a period of burnout and time to reevaluate his work habits, Sandro developed and launched his new venture, SSSOAPS, a premium soap brand that encompassed everything that he loved; shape, colour, smell, tactile experience, and every-changing energy (something he grew fond of with music development). We got the chance to chat with Sandro about his journey with SSSOAPS and pocketed a few gems that he had to share throughout the chat. Check them out below! Sandro on Embracing Impermanence In many of the artworks or the creative practices that I lean into, I love the idea of impermanence. I love the idea that what we encounter in our daily life and beyond is truly impermanent. Everything at a certain time will be here, and then it will not and I think getting to know those things and getting to be comfortable with those things and that sort of measure of time and connection to things is really a beautiful connection to the way that we live. Soap, and the time period in which soap disappears and changes form, is very indicative of that transfer of energy in impermanence. Sandro on Trying New Things I'm a very big believer in that life happens for us, not to us. When we have opportunities in life that are challenging, those are opportunities for us to learn and to grow with. Don't be afraid to learn. Don't be afraid to spend a little bit of money and time to try things out. Sandro on Learning To Let Go In this day and age, you will encounter so many opportunities, so many potential lanes to go down, so many new ideas that take you down a different path. I think while that is the case, further sharpening your non-attachment will be a huge tool in making sure that you can maintain your work and stay focused. Understand that, while it's great to have ideas and new experience things, it's important to consider all of that in your calculation of what is your capacity and what you can get done. Then, on top of that, learn to let go of things and understand that you don't have to do everything. Sandro on Scaling With Intention When the opportunity to scale comes, really lean into your intention behind what you're trying to build. It's something you need to be careful of because you can turn it [the business] into a bit of a monster. Like, you can turn it into this thing that you once loved and now fear and resent. Scaling is the inevitability of a business's trajectory but I think it's something to be really mindful of and really careful with. Think about why are you going there, why do you want to move in that direction and what is it going to take to move in that direction. Make sure to follow SSSOAPS on Instagram to get info on Sandro's latest drops and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with creative entrepreneurs.

  • Doing It His Way With Rae Mendoza of ICYT

    They say that pressure produces diamonds and this definitely shows through with Rae Mendoza and I'll Call You Tomorrow, his clothing brand and artist collective based out of Edmonton, AB that has been working hard to put their city on the map amongst the heavy hitters of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. We got the opportunity to chat with Rae about the growth of his collective, how it opened up new doors with his agency Tomorrow Works and tips he has for creatives looking to get noticed. Read some excerpts from the conversation below! Rae on Building Things His Way Being housed and running everything from our home city of Edmonton, Alberta is really freeing for us. It lets us build our community how we want to do it and not as a reflection of something else. We just love this challenge of building new infrastructure and new opportunities for people that resonate with our platform where they don't typically exist. It also just lets us be a bigger fish in a small pond. Rae on Working With Friends I was very fortunate from the start to just always be around just super talented people, whether it was photography, design, music, now tattooing and illustration. Once I started working with them though, I really quickly realized where now as a business owner working with my best friends, it's up to me to set those boundaries of like, "in this space we're professionals working together and I'm holding you accountable for deliverables, and we have a specific function we need to do, and then we can go back to being friends outside of that space." In terms of finding the right people, a lot of it comes down to that gut feeling of knowing that we see things eye to eye, whether it's like good product, good design, taste levels, community, or you just knowing that this person's honestly just a good person. Rae on Finding New Opportunities Tomorrow Works as an agency has this living portfolio that is always constantly putting out new work in the form of I'll Call You Tomorrow. The bulk of our business just comes from people seeing our brand and then knowing that they can do something similar for their brand and their business. It's such a small circle these days of who is interconnected, putting your work out there and just showing that what you can do and how you deliver it at a very high level is the most important thing. Most of those things will kind of just sort themselves out and come to you. Then as a consultant and on the agency side, it comes down to you being ready for those looks as they come. Rae on Passing The Torch We started noticing it happening now as me and my team, we're getting a little bit older, where young kids will come up to our events and our parties and they'll be like, "I'm 22 or 21 and the first pop up or cool art party that I ever went to was one of your events and now I'm starting my own t-shirt line or I want to do certain things in the streetwear and arts community because of that event" and seeing that grow outside of us is some true 'pass the torch' legacy type shit. That's the stuff that keeps me up at night that I love. Make sure to follow I'll Call You Tomorrow and Tomorrow Works on IG for news on all of their upcoming events, projects and clothing releases and keep it locked to Pier Five for more conversations with entrepreneurs coming soon.

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