Starting a business with total strangers
Jumping into a project with complete strangers may seem foolish and risky, especially during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The side effects of the current situation in the world limit possibilities immensely. The concepts of traveling, social networking, and just simply maintaining the basic image of life are extremely difficult and limited due to the circumstances caused by the ongoing pandemic. The traditional way of living, doing business, and operating in social life is now changed, maybe forever. Maybe this is the new “norm”. Coming up with new ways of working and processing life is necessary. React or be left behind. This effect is continuously happening in front of our eyes. A plenty of businesses are unable to react and end up going out of business. A good example of this is the clothing industry where a lot of businesses are forced to close out their physical stores.
According to the research by Steven Abrams, 2021, as the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic continues, many businesses have been forced to close physical stores. These closings may happen for various reasons, which in the worst case means going out of business.
- Temporary closings: Some stores have closed their brick-and-mortar stores temporarily, sometimes shifting their efforts to their online store. Many stores are estimated to re-open due to the covid-19 restrictions being reduced.
- Permanently reducing locations: Many stores have had to permanently close some parts of their locations while keeping others open.
- Bankruptcy: If a business is in financial trouble and needs to reorganize its debts to continue operations, it can file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In this case, the retailers may have to reduce services, liquidate some assets or even close some locations to cut costs and cover debts.
- Going out of business: Some retailers have had to cease operations entirely. In the worst case possible, depending on the financial situation, a business might have to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which will entail going out of business and selling their assets to repay their debts.
In the clothing industry, temporarily or maybe even permanently closing their brick-and-mortar store locations might be the best possible solution to the ongoing covid-19 situation. People nowadays are more active online than ever before, which means they do not go out as much to physical stores. Also due to the ever-growing digitalization of our society, this might be a good place to re-evaluate the business model of your company. Whether it is profitable or not to go back to the brick-and-mortar stores anymore even when, or if the situation goes back to “normal” again.
The ongoing pandemic and how it’s affecting the business worldwide provides an opportunity. A market gap. A possibility to stand out. We saw this opportunity and took action.
When you’re first thinking about starting a business, most people would either go at it alone or partner with someone they already know, like friends, family members, or former colleagues. Not many people would consider pursuing their entrepreneurial dream with a stranger.
“Without proper due diligence, co-founding a company with a stranger can feel like putting a down payment on a new house without opening the front door.”
(Sam Pillar, 2020)
During the first semester at Proakatemia, just as usual, as a team, everyone was extremely excited to start the studies and came up with crazy business ideas left and right.
Jamie’s view to starting the business:
“I’m passionate about project management and it’s native for me to always think of the big picture and see things from the sales perspective. Personality-wise I’m energetic, innovative and networking is one of my big strengths. I was producing a bunch of ideas continuously and one of them was to buy an embroidery machine and use that as a “money machine”. When I was younger I borrowed my parent’s lawnmower to make some money off of cutting our neighbors’ grass. The embroidery machine would essentially work with the same ideology; we could hand-design shirts for companies, maybe even for other teams at Proakatemia / Tampere University. Perhaps we could even start up our own clothing brand. Starting up a clothing brand as an idea seemed a little bit of a stretch at this point, but as an idea overall there was definitely potential. We together with Ella brainstormed the idea on various occasions.”
Ella’s view to starting the business:
“I have always had a knack for leadership, organization, and paying attention to detail. In my previous work, school, and community experiences I have been able to utilize all of these strengths and now with this constantly developing project, I am glad to be able to apply them. The idea for embroidery and sweatshirt production came from when I discovered brokenplanetmarket last September, and started thinking of how it would be possible to start a small clothing business in Proakatemia. I think a small clothing business can easily reach the youth and community known as gen-z, which I am also a part of. Being able to create something that displays my own personal ideas is a dream and I hope it is possible with this project. In all of my life, I have always been an advocate for environmentalism and keeping our planet healthy. And I do not plan on adding to the problem in any way, in any of my projects. We have one planet, and I hope to keep it as happy as possible for as long as possible :)”
Jamie: “I did a pretty good job at signing myself into a bunch of projects to be involved in such as leading a sales outlet for Rakettitukku and doing a marketing project for a hotel resort in Lapland. For these and also for other reasons, we together decided to push the idea away for now and potentially come back to it later when and if there was to come a better situation to realize it.”
The spring came and Ella was a part of a project team arranging a cooperation week with a team academy from Switzerland. The week would be focused on innovating business ideas and networking with each other – potentially leading up to real-world projects that would be started together after the week. Around the same time, Jamie and Ella both saw a bunch of inspiring stories on social media from small businesses such as Brokenplanetmarket and Toptiermarketing who started off small, but were able to grow explosively during the covid pandemic.
The idea of a clothing brand focused on Gen-Z started to evolve in Jamie’s mind and the conversation about a potential project started to emerge again. It was clear from the start that it was going to be us, Jamie, and Ella. Our values, goals, and just the way we saw this project as a whole aligned perfectly. Our personalities complimented each other perfectly, Jamie’s an extremely innovative personality and came up with the core idea and Ella is this realistic personality, an absolute work-horse and someone who can thrive even without being in a “flow state”. This is exactly the kind of personality that Jamie needs beside him to be able to create a sustainable forward-going project. Ella has experience in embroidery and it was something that she was excited about so the roles in the project were built quite automatically. Ella would be leading the production side and Jamie would focus more on the big picture and whatever goes into it. Business Lead or CEO would describe Jamie’s role well but we didn’t want to give the role a specific name because our biggest value from the beginning was to build an environment where all the decisions are to be made collaboratively.
We together realized from the start that we couldn’t do this just by ourselves and we would need to add more talent to fill up the gaps where we didn’t have a lot of experience in. Once the innovation week with the Swiss team was getting closer, an idea about involving 1 or 2 of them in the project was coming along. How cool would that be? Online dating is a part of modern society and the ongoing covid pandemic has shown that it is possible to react and move business models to online such as events, stores etc. Why couldn’t we start up a business online then? But with 2 strangers, from another country? To some this might be a no-brainer, absolute NO answer, but to us, this idea seemed intriguing. We saw so much potential. It would definitely be a challenge to make this kind of concept happen from the project management standpoint, but at the same time, it would create the kind of richness to the project that no other party could match to.
Specifically, 2 names from the Swiss team came up from the start, Manu and Josh.
Manu is a super outgoing and mature guy who clearly has experience in business and working on real projects. We also knew that Manu has a passion for design and visual thinking. We knew that whoever it was that was going to be involved in the project, had to be socially skilled and reliable and someone who would truly fill a certain technical need. Manu seemed like the perfect fit and we saw him matching our criteria of needing some help in the marketing side and overall business development side.
We also knew that the Swiss team had a videographer/editor who’s passionate about social media content creation and has produced dozens of videos to his own social media and also for business purposes. Our project would be all about storytelling and documenting our journey to social media, so this was definitely the biggest “need” that we had in terms of technical skills.
It was clear to us from the start that if we could get these 2 guys on board with the project and if they would buy into the idea, we would have one heck of a team and something really unique in our hands. Manu and Josh would perfectly complement each other where Manu would be working more on the “big picture” in terms of potentially designing our visual identity for example and working a lot with Jamie on the business development side, where Josh could purely focus on his passion; the content creation and figuring out how to tell our story to the audience.
We booked a zoom video call with both Josh and Manu, and both of them bought 101% into the idea. They were ecstatic that we had picked them specifically. The best part was that both of them had also dreamed about establishing a clothing brand and they didn’t have any projects going on for them at the time either.
That’s how the project was born.
Generation Z is growing and just now arriving at the age where it’s possible to affect and influence the world we live in. The generation Z has a key role in the future development of our planet and society.
Our vision is to work together as a group of 4 strangers, from 2 different countries, who share a common goal – starting up a clothing business. We’re deciding to take action to realize our goals and show the generation that we can really do it. We are proving to the world and to our generation, that regardless of the ongoing covid-19 situation, we can, should and will still pursue our passions and work towards achieving our goals.
We are the future. Create your own future.
We document our journey from the start and one of our biggest values is transparency. We want to show everything from the positives to the negatives. Through this transparency and us sharing our journey, our ultimate mission is to create a movement that encourages to take action. Get out of your comfort zone, find your passions and pursue them. Take action. Shape your own future. Gen-Z, we are the future. We are here.
We are examples of this ideology and we want to show the results of doing so.
We realized from the start that starting up a project like this would be incredibly hard for various reasons. Foremost the obvious challenge is the fact that we truly are 4 strangers starting up a business together. We will have to build our team dynamic from 0, and really get to know each other. The fact that we’re from 2 different countries will mean that everything happens online; team building, communication, meetings, project planning etc. Quite a challenge. However, we were all sold on the core idea and we truly believe in the positive meaning and importance of what we are doing. There is nothing like this out there. This ideology is needed, we are needed. We want to be the pioneers of spreading the Gen-Z ideology. There are so many young people unable to even think about what they are capable of doing. We are grown into a society that makes us believe that to succeed, you must get into the best school, you must have the key connections, you must have that extraordinary skill to put you over the top. However, the reality is that every single one of us is unique. We can all provide value in our own unique way and that way build a sense of meaning to ourselves.
Our brand is all about storytelling and communication. We knew that this area was something where we had to put a lot of focus into to be able to make the project a reality. To be able to communicate this message sustainably and effectively to the outside, would the internal communication have to work to its perfection first.
We started out by just going for it and by trying out a few different communication platforms for different purposes. We quickly learned to realize how it’s better to keep it simple. First of all, having too many communication channels makes the communication chaotic. Also having data stored in too many locations creates stress and confusion. The best solution we have come up with so far is to use WhatsApp for free time chatting and at most for check-ups before meetings.
We also realized that project management is extremely crucial in this kind of project. To be able to maintain a forward-going process, project management has to be on point.
What this basically means is that we have to have a week-cycle that doesn’t change. Currently, our weekly schedule looks like this:
Monday: Manu and Josh meeting (13-15 Swiss time)
Tuesday: (free for additional meetings)
Wednesday: Team meeting 13:15-15:15 (Swiss time)
Thursday: (free for additional meetings)
Friday: Ella and Jamie meeting 13-15 (Finnish time)
This weekly schedule enables an ongoing process that goes forward every week. We decided to use ClickUp as our project management platform to track our tasks and maintain project communication. The project management platform ClickUp is where you can follow the ongoing tasks from each team member. For example, when Manu and Josh take a task forward on Monday, they post an update to the task on the platform enabling Jamie and Ella to read and see the process without having to make an additional call or forcing extra communication. This kind of agile style of working will save a huge amount of time and energy in the long run.
Wednesday the team will address anything that’s on the table at the time and create goals for the upcoming week. Wednesday’s meeting is held to get everyone on the same page and maintain a positive team dynamic and effective communication.
Having the kind of weekly cycle that we have, allows Jamie to be flexible in the “CEO” role and also join Manu’s and Josh’s Monday meeting if necessary. Also having “free days” during the week is important to maintain flexibility and avoid running the team to burnout. We have acknowledged the importance of team building and the meaning in this factor in order to avoid a negative atmosphere. It’s not all about working on the project. We also have to truly have fun and be able to just hang out. This is one of the biggest challenges we have and we keep this in our conscious minds. For this, we have decided to have a “chill night” once a month – every month’s 27th day. This night we will just hang out in zoom, play games, laugh, and maybe drink a couple of alcoholic beverages to help ourselves get out of the work bubble. What we do is important, but so is our team’s health. None of the things we are trying to achieve will become a reality if we don’t take care of ourselves and focus on our own internal processes.
Where are we now and what next
Currently, we have made huge progress and are in the process of planning our summer to ensure that the project continues to develop. Jamie and Ella, who are working on production, made a large move by purchasing an embroidery machine, and have now been learning how it works. This process is essential to a project like this one, because not knowing how the production happens can end the project entirely. The embroidery machine is a large investment, and learning to use it correctly is the first step in production and sales. During the summer, Jamie and Ella will continue to work on production and hopefully secure a supplier as well. This requires intense research and contacting of companies, which may take multiple weeks, but thankfully this project is not being rushed and will continuously develop at the same time.
Manu and Josh have continued to work on the project’s portfolio and social media plan. This technical side is something Jamie and Ella lack, and giving them responsibility is a way of delegating and creating an equal collaboration. In the upcoming months Josh and Manu will continue designing our social media, visual identity, and structure it to ensure that there will be enough content to get the project moving. They will work on strategies to reach as many people as possible and schedule our posts as well, so that there is enough preparation beforehand.
Moving forward, continuous communication through platforms mentioned earlier will be essential since there is not a possibility to see each other in person. Open and honest communication will ensure transparency between the team members and the customers. When we have customers and start selling our sweatshirts more, there is also a goal of partnering with an organization that supports a modern movement. For example, this could be environmental related, fashion industry related, or sustainability related. One thing all members of the project team have in common is the desire to give back to the community and take action. Instead of partnering with an organization or charity and simply donating money, we would hope to assist in the action and make a difference in the world. This could be helping the organization find volunteers to help their efforts or providing them with the resources needed to do so. Either way, there are plenty of opportunities to give back to our community and help our planet thrive.
We are just simply here to take action ourselves to reach our dreams and perhaps inspire others to do so as well. It all starts from you.
The clothing project continues to develop everyday and has a bright future ahead of it. With multiple opportunities and ideas being innovated every week, the project will not run out of things to do for a while. Each member of the project team brings a different strength and set of skills that can be used, which expands our networks and ensures maximum potential. And the commonly agreed upon values gives this project an extra benefit as well, and will help with branding and marketing in the future. Even though we have the extra challenge of being from multiple different countries and not being able to meet each other in person, it gives us strength and the extra push needed to succeed in the competitive business world.
We Are Here.
Essay written in close collaboration with Ella Muja.