Step 1: Ding ding—I have an idea!
Featuring Rachel Nilsson—founder of the incredibly trendy Rags to Raches, a baby clothing company, which was recently featured on Shark Tank.
We all have them. Ideas. Little nagging feelings that maybe, just maybe, we could be on to something.
But how do you know if your business idea is “the one”? How do you know if it’s a boom or a bust?
There’s intuition, there’s know-how, and then there’s sheer pig-headed determination. For an idea to work, you need all three. It’s not a magic formula by any means, but it’s an excellent place to start.
No one knows more about those three things than Rachel. Her brand, which was already blowing up in popularity before Shark Tank, has reached incredible levels of success thanks to their feature and subsequent deal with Robert Herjavec. Her big idea? That moms and dads want stylish baby clothes that are easy to put on and off (see: no snaps). She had an idea, and the feedback was tremendous.
Rachel’s business has been named one of the fastest-growing in Utah (where she lives) and her brand was deemed by The Huffington Post to be one of the “top 15 coolest kid brands in America.”
And we so agree.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down (via Skype) with Rachel to find out how she got her million dollar idea.
Looking more like an MTV rock star than baby brand CEO, Rachel has lilac hair and wicked smoked-out eyes. But who looks like the stereotypical CEO these days anyways? Being a successful lady boss is all about being true to yourself, rocking your confidence and owning your awesomeness. (Truth be told, she’s got that rock star quality, sure, but in speaking with her there’s not an ounce of arrogance or an air of superiority.)
The entrepreneur is more than happy to share how she first had the idea for Rags, and what has made it soar.
How did you get the idea for Rags to Raches?
It started originally by selling my kids hand me down clothes online, and that’s where the name came from. But as far as the romper, which I feel is our main focus now, that came about after I had a baby.
I found my husbands t-shirt and I thought, “I’m going to cut into this ‘cause the fabric is so soft,” and I tried making a romper with no snaps. My husband would always put the baby in an outfit with snaps and then just never do them up. So I decided to try to make something with a really stretchy neck that you can just pull on and off, and still have it look cool and stylish. That’s how the romper was born.
Then, I posted it on Instagram where I’d been selling my kid’s clothes, and the reaction was so crazy that I realized I was on to something.
Other moms were in the same boat in terms of being over the snaps.
What motivated you to pursue this idea?
We were literally broke. It’s a great motivator.
I wanted to make us a little extra money while my husband was studying for the bar all summer.
And then, before I started baby clothing, I worked in adult clothing, right after I graduated high school. I created clothes for a retail shop in Utah that had five locations. I was hand sewing those for almost a year, and it became so crazy busy. I got so burnt out and I just ended up walking away from it.
When that happened I realized that the reason people loved what I was making was the fit. They liked the way it fit, and it was really unique. I remember when I walked away I learned that the next time I come on to an idea like that, I need to take action quick. I learned I’m best NOT sewing and being stuck all day behind my sewing machine.
So when Rags happened, I knew I needed to manufacture to be able to scale up from the start. It’s so worth it, even in the beginning when you find it’s not necessary completely. That saved my butt.
Did you have moments of doubt?
Of course! Everybody’s a hater! There’s so much doubt.
When you’re running your own business and when you’re an entrepreneur, you’re constantly on the edge of a cliff. You have to decide, “Do I want to jump off this cliff and make my life a little bit busier and a little bit more stressful and take this huge risk? ‘Cause this could fail tomorrow.”
All the money you’re putting into it, and the time. I mean, I have a family. And I’m constantly doubting whether I should take this to the next level. At this point, I always jump. Because, why not? So far it’s worked out.
I’ve had someone tell me, at the beginning when I was still working out of my garage, that I wasn’t legit because I wasn’t working out of a warehouse. She actually said, “Why are you so deceiving, you’re not a real company! You’re not legit because you’re still doing it out of your house.” It caught me off guard because it was so blatant. And at that point we were still doing really well. We’d been approached by Vogue and we’ve had all these major publications come to us.
I don’t blame the haters.
I’m the kind of person that their doubt fuels me.
I need to prove to myself and to everybody else that I can do this.
I can’t believe that she said that. It’s how everybody starts! It’s all a façade at the beginning!
I know! I mean, Apple computers started out of their garage. The coolest part about being a business owner is that you realize 90% of people, maybe 100% actually, have no idea what they’re doing!
Everybody’s just doing their best and hopefully it’s panning out and working. And for some people it’s working out better than others. But if you can realize that right off the bat, early on, it’s so much less intimidating. Most everyone else started out not knowing anything.
And when you’re pitching big companies you can walk in and realize that they were all just like you!
I feel like that’s why Shark Tank was really unintimidating. Somehow I had it in my brain that these guys all started somewhere, and that they can at least appreciate hard work. And they commented on that at the end. They asked how I was so laid back. I just imagined them as normal people; they started somewhere just like I did!
Did your experience of being a mother contribute to your drive to make Rags work?
I think the multi-tasking aspect of being a mom is a benefit for any woman that goes into business. Being a mom you’re always cleaning the counter, while on the phone, while you’re feeding your baby with your foot. It’s constant! It’s like that all day long.
And business is the same. You learn how to prioritize and multi-task. I actually think that’s one thing that women have an upper hand in over men. And a lot of that is because you were trained to do that as a mom.
How important is confidence in starting your own company – whatever industry you may be in?
Having confidence is crazy important, but also really hard to have. I look at anybody that says, “I want to start a business” and I always tell them now is the time.
It’s never been this accessible. It’s so easy. I mean, it’s not easy, but it’s so much more accessible than when I was 19 and sewing shirts and banking on someone to walk into a brick and mortar store and choose my shirt out of all the other brands.
But it’s hard to put yourself out there.
When I first started I was on Instagram and all my friends and family followed Rags. I would tell my husband, who was in law school at the time, that it’s so scary because if I fail, everybody sees that. You have to be so sure of yourself. If he failed the bar, nobody sees that. But for me, I felt like I needed to have so much confidence because I was literally putting myself out there for the whole world to see.
Keep your head down and always stay focused. There’s so much that you can get wrapped up with. We are constantly getting emails of people copying us. If you spend your time and energy on stuff like that, rather than focusing on the brand and what’s next, you just really plummet. That’s a huge lesson I’ve learned.
At the time you had the idea, did you ever imagine it was going to be as big as it has gotten?
No, never. I felt like it was 100% a dream. It’s so surreal. It hasn’t gotten old, still. I can’t believe it.
How has life changed since Shark Tank, other than the obvious? I mean, selling out in two minutes? That has to be surreal.
We’ve had a lot more exposure. Somehow I feel like I’m still in the Shark Tank tornado. I mean, I get recognized out in public—it’s on steroids. It’s awesome; it’s fun!
The growth of the company has been really exciting. It’s a confidence boost for me, and for the brand. Now I can approach bigger vendors and have bigger opportunities. Shark Tank is such a huge deal—it holds so much clout.
How has it changed your personal life?
Getting ready for filming Shark Tank—I was so stressed out. I don’t think people understand how crazy that is and how much time and energy goes into the show.
I told my husband I always want to keep perspective on quality of life.
It’s always my priority. So throughout this whole crazy time I’ve tried to keep a relaxed sense about everything. Because getting so wrapped up and stressed out about it does me no good.
And I value the life that I have. If I can keep my priorities straight and keep my kids and my family first, then everything else will fall into place.
I’ve also hired the coolest team. I could never do what I do without the people who work with me. We don’t have a ton, but what we do have is crazy quality people. That has been a huge game changer. I feel like if I didn’t come to work for a month that these guys could keep things going and running. I feel like that’s invaluable.
Remember what your priorities are, and remember what makes you the very most happy. What makes me the happiest is my family, and then my time. My quality of life is so important. I could never put that aside for money. If you keep your view of money in check, you’ll have a good life.
? Words to live by!