Startup-Smackdown: Your New Apparel Line Is Not Unique.

Smack-Down Part 1It takes a positive perspective to start a new company. And as a lifelong entrepreneur, I’m the very first person to advocate starting your own business. The up-side of being the owner of a successful business is amazing. And even in failure there is a wealth of knowledge to be gained. But, before you cut a check to your favorite designer, you owe yourself a reality check. It would be my pleasure to provide you with a startup-smackdown.

Your product is not special. And your financial projections are funnier than most Adam Sandler movies. And if you don’t build your company properly you’ll destroy your credibility, health, and friendships.

Let’s assume you’ve got it in your head that your new T-Shirt Co will be bigger than TapouT. I know right, you actually believe that. Smack yourself back into reality by asking yourself this simple question. Why would anyone buy your T-Shirt? What makes you special? Does your design contain wings, skulls and chains? Smack yourself harder this time – think Tyler Turden smackdown. Guess what! Your design is not unique, compelling, or special.

First rule of Startup… Get A Story, Get A Life.

Unless YOU have a compelling story to share why anyone should care about your crappy T-Shirt and it’s lame design, you’ve got nothing.

Don’t despair. Think! Do you have something in your past or current life that you can spin into a story? Were you working out at the gym, forgot to paste on the Old Spice and repelled your future girlfriend? Then, after you got home and smacked yourself – your brilliant business idea hit you back. Bake the deodorant into the shirt. (“it’s in the computer” – zoolander) After becoming a bathroom chemist you stumbled onto the perfect scent for your new line of t’s. Thus, SmellyT’s was born. Your first instinct is to run to your local lawyer and whip up a New Co., register trademarks, and maybe even a patent. Don’t! I’ll explain why in a future lesson.

Lesson Summary: You are the story. If you don’t have one, get one.

Happy business people

Now that you have a unique story, you need to start telling it. Continuing with TapouT as our success model, understand these guys sold shirts out of their car trunk at local MMA events. If you own a car you have your storefront. Before we go further, understand selling is your next lesson. Don’t fantasize about selling a million shirts a month at this stage. Sell 100 and that is traction. You’re pretty depressed and isolated so you’ve only got two friends. That means 98 strangers bought your shirt. Success! Do you see why putting together psycho financial projections will ruin your credibility? Your excel file has you selling a million shirts but in the real world you sold 100.

Lesson Summary: Sell first, and then figure out how to scale.

Marketing is a key component to selling. So whom are you going to sell your SmellyT’s to? Make a list of five potential markets that would be interested in smelling good while wearing your shirts. Here’s my fictitious list:

– Bums
– Athletes
– Construction Workers
– Firefighters
– Garbage Men

Okay, so now you have a list of potential markets. Systematically remove each market based on the level of competition in the space. Using the athletes group we can break that into MMA and you’ll find TapouT. And they are first so you will be last. Remove the athlete’s category.

Bums! No money equals no sales. Remove the bums.

Construction workers. Now this is interesting. These guys love t-shirts and work up a killer sweat. Let’s look closer. How do we find these guys? Local unions, yes. But that seems like a lot of red tape. There must be policies about marketing to these folks. Even if you got a foot in the door you’d be spending more time talking than selling. Let’s mark this category as a maybe and circle back.

Firefighters is our next potential market. Hum! Lots of them. They wear shirts with logos and large fonts. They sweat like hell, and they just so happen to be easy to find. I think we have got something here. Long shifts, hot firehouses. They like to workout in their downtime. I bet these guys like wearing the same style shirt day in and day out. That means they will probably be repeat customers.

Let’s skip garbage men and review the lesson: Be king of one hill. Get laser focused on your customer before trying to scale.

Summary Points:

1. Every good company is built on a unique passion that takes the form of a story. Work on crafting your story. It need to be genuine, and resonate with your target market. Tapout is a great example. These guys passionately followed MMA even before it was popular, selling t-shirts out of their trunk. THAT’S a great story.

2. Don’t waste time counting money you haven’t earned yet. Focus on selling. You have a lot to learn. This is real the real work begins. Pack your shirts in your trunk, hit the streets and make one sale. Repeat until you’ve learned what process works very well. Only then should you work on financial projections, get loans and scale rapidly.

3. Mass marketing is expensive and ineffective for a start-up. In order to advertise effectively you need to first identify your market. One piece of major consideration when deciding on a market is the competition. So, you’re going to have to do some research. Once you’ve selected a market you can create compelling marketing that speaks directly to one audience that isn’t being addressed. That’s a recipe for success.

Part Two coming soon will feature:
4. Securing funding
5. Living lean
6. Scaling success

Want to learn more about winning in business? Want to smack around your competitors? Get in touch with the Startup Smackdown team.

About the Author
Mike Greeves is the creator of the Startup Smackdown and the founder of, and Mike built his technology startup using grinding persistence, making it into the leader position in a down market by outsmarting the competition. Mike serves as an advisor to a number of Silicon Valley startups.