Since becoming friends five years ago, Justin Mezzell and Rogie King had always talked about doing a creative project or starting a small business together. They’re both digital designers and spend a lot of their time online, so they figured it might be fun to create something that was tangible — and maybe even collectible. But after tossing out one idea after another and never settling on one to pursue, they became frustrated and decided to give themselves a deadline. It hindsight, it was more like an ultimatum: “Unless we come up with an idea by August of that year to do it, then we will never again entertain the idea of doing a project,” King says. “So it kind of lit a fire under us.”
The result is Super Team Deluxe, an online shop that’s been selling quirky pins, patches, and stickers for a little more than a year now. Many of the company’s unique wearable products — including enamel pins in several dozen different designs — comment on the Internet and design culture that Mezzell and King know so well. One pin that retails for $10, for example, looks like the pen tool on Photoshop, while another looks like an Internet browser. There’s also one designed to look like the Mac keyboard shortcut “Command Z,” for those who want to wear their computer knowledge on their sleeves.
Follow Your Obsession
“My advice would be, make a big splash, define who your target audience is, and make products for them,” King says of starting a retail business. When it comes to deciding what kinds of products to sell, King recommends starting small. “I really advise, just do the one product type, see where it lands, and you learn lessons.”
His company might be new, but King has been a hardcore pin collector for years. For him, the inspiration behind Super Team Deluxe was highly personal, and maybe even a little embarrassing. “I had been super into the idea of collecting Disney pins. As an adult male, I know that’s probably not too attractive,” he says. “Justin had been mocking me for years and being like, ‘This addiction of yours is getting dark.’”
Market to Your Community
But the niche hobby paid off: Hip, retro pins have been making a serious comeback in the last few years, and Super Team Deluxe entered the market at a time when demand was high. It helps, of course, that the company’s products are clever, well designed, and easy to shop for.
The first day the site launched, it sold out of a good portion of its pins. King attributes the company’s popularity early on to his and Mezzell’s thousands of Twitter followers, their respective presences on the design networking platform Dribbble, and above all, newsletters they sent out to a targeted email list.
Be Aware of the Size of Your Britches…
But despite his company’s successful start, King cautions against becoming overly confident. “Small companies have their ups and downs. You’re going to have really big moments,” he says, and some not not-so-big ones. His advice? “Don’t get too big for your britches. You’ve got [to have] humility and every step needs to be a bit calculated. You still need to treat it like a money-making model, you still need to not get too grandiose. Cut corners where you need to cut corners.”
… But Spend Money on the Brand
The only time you shouldn’t cut a corner financially is if it comes at the expense of your company’s brand, says King. Case in point: He and Mezzell considered cutting the costly holograms they printed on the backs of their business cards, but ultimately decided the holograms were worth the money because they were so much a part of the brand’s identity. “Put out your statement about who you are as a company early on, so you’re like, ‘This is who we are, what we do,’” says King.
Know Thy Partner
But at the end of the day, the people who you choose to work with are just as important — if not more so — than any product you might sell. That’s especially true if, like Mezzell and King, you’re friends before you decide to start a business together. “With as little time as we both have, the reality is, we tried and tested our friendship through a lot of things,” says King.
“When you’re in business with someone, you just have to have a lot of hard conversations. You can’t escape it, and you need someone you’re going to appreciate and respect.”
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