By Ted Vadakan
When we started Poketo in 2003, it wasn’t meant to be a business. We just wanted to get our friends together, have an art show, and make something awesome. That “something awesome” became our very first product, the artist wallet. This simple idea of taking art off the gallery walls and making it accessible is what drove us to take Poketo further. First wallets, then tees, then stationery, housewares and whatever else would make our everyday even more fulfilling. Art and the creative process, the act of building something from scratch, is what drove us to keep growing.
We did not come from a business background. We learned things along the way. The entrepreneurial, DIY spirit kept pushing us, kept us busy, and kept us curious. We loved working with people, we loved making things, and we loved the inspiration we received from collaborating with other artists and designers. Our motivation has been about doing what we’re passionate about and promoting a creative lifestyle. As of October this year, Poketo is now 14 years old. In those years, we’ve grown our business from a small online shop into the three brick-and-mortar stores that form the home base, hub and anchor of our LA community, and we couldn’t be prouder of who we’ve become.
If you’re just getting to know Poketo, our success may seem sudden. But in reality, growing our brand has been far from an overnight process. Running a creative business has its ups and downs–it’s not always fun and games. We’ve learned so much through trial and error over the years, and we’re often asked to meditate on how we’ve grown and what is to come. If I were to give advice to any budding entrepreneur, what would it be? After reflecting over the past 14 years, here are 14 things we’ve learned:
14. Put people first. Whether it’s your employees, customers or partners, always put the people that support you first in all of your decisions. Without your team and your customers, how can you thrive?
13. Diversify. Finding different ways to reach our community, whether online, in-store, or our hundreds of retail partners, has helped us through the inherent ups and downs in business.
12. Look people in the eyes. Show that you care. Life and business is so much more meaningful when you make connections.
11. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Learning to brush off the minor things helps prevent them from becoming major.
10. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Not only is it more fun to learn and explore, but new experiences often lead to new opportunities.
9. Give Thanks. In our team meetings, I have our employees acknowledge each other. This can be something they helped each other with, something that stood out to them, or even something as simple as a smile. It’s a reminder that we’re a team and that we need to support each other.
8. Keep moving. Every Monday, I lead our team through what we call “Monday Movement,” where I ask one our team members to play a song while we move, dance, and jump. Not only is it fun, but movement gets the blood pumping and keeps your mind active.
7. Always be gracious, always be kind. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and sometimes it may feel selfish to be singly focused. Always be grateful for what you have, especially the people around you.
6. Rest. Starting your own business is non-stop. You work all day, and then you go home and think about it all night. Emails, late night phone calls, and constant thinking can be draining. It is necessary in the beginning of any business to put in 200%, but finding time to rest, unplug, and recharge is essential.
5. Be nimble. I like to compare small business to a speedboat. A speedboat can go fast, turn quickly, and navigate perfectly through rough waters. It was a scary time, but, we survived the recession in 2008. We witnessed businesses dissolve left and right. We have always been a nimble, independent business, always finding ways to be resourceful and doing more with less.
4. Things happen for a reason. I believe in this. Like life, things often don’t go your way, or so it may seem. In time, however, you may realize that what you thought was a setback turned out to be just what you needed.
3. Be patient. Things take time. We didn’t open our first brick and mortar store until 9 years after we started Poketo. We grew first online, then our wholesale division, and gradually one store, then two and now three retail locations. Genuine, organic growth sometimes feels slow, but going slow and steady will provide longevity to your brand and business.
2. Clear your mind. I know it’s hard to not stop, but rest and a clear mind is important to not burn out. Meditate, take a bike ride, a long walk, get outside, hang out with friends. Simple things keep you clearheaded and focused.
1. Remember, you can’t do it alone. When Angie and I started, it was just the two of us. We did everything from A to Z. It’s great, and even necessary, to do it all at the onset of building something, but eventually you’ll hit a ceiling. To keep growing, you’ll have to learn to trust in others.
Featured photo: Poketo on the cover of the LA Times, Business section, 2010.