Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur“ we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonny Kemp.
Jonny Kemp is the director of Thrifted, an online vintage clothing retailer founded in late 2018. With exponential growth in the sustainable fashion sector and a continued rise in the consumer understanding of the environmental impacts of fast fashion, Jonny & his team are well placed to move the vintage business into range of the 8 figure revenue targets they have set.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Jonny Kemp: The starting point was in the early days of Depop – (now the biggest resell app out there). Whilst at University I had set up a simple website & Depop page and was selling stock to help fund being a student. It was a real bootleg affair back then – from the basement of a student house with very grainy photographs, it is a surprise I even sold anything. I sold vintage 80s shell suits first, my first lot of them sold in 2 weeks.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Jonny Kemp: There wasn’t an Aha moment as such. There was a turning point though after University where it went from being this side business / part time thing into something more real and substantial – where I thought yep ok I can avoid getting a ‘proper’ job doing this.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Jonny Kemp: I have always been keen on running my own business and have had various other ventures before vintage. I don’t think aptitude comes into it really. It has been very much learn by doing throughout.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Jonny Kemp: Both my parents ran their own businesses. I think that made it very accessible, making it easy to realise for me that running my own business was an option. Throughout my education, with teachers / tutors and my peer group, the understanding is that you should pursue a career. Breaking from that path I think is actually quite tricky to break unless you have someone you know who has done it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Jonny Kemp: We want to be synonymous with vintage clothing. The Thrifted name & brand is well positioned for that. By rebranding to Thrifted when the business went full time, that sent our web traffic soaring and it hasn’t stopped since. That showed me the importance of choosing the right name early on.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Jonny Kemp: A large part of the success the business has enjoyed over the last 12 months, has been a result of the understanding gained in the first 2 years. We had to have a lot of things go wrong to actually understand how to get it right. I don’t want to pin anything on character traits, but if I had to name three things: perseverance, luck and time.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Jonny Kemp: Not so much advice. There are a number of people who cast doubt over what you are doing, when you are starting and in the early years of your business. This definitely influences you and changes the path your business follows. I think without that doubt, the jump between the business stages would have been a lot quicker – particularly at the start.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Jonny Kemp: We may find it easier than some other industries, as what we do has an intrinsic positive value. By working in vintage, you are working with a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. I think a ‘do good’ element, or if your business aligns with some positive impact does help drive and motivate the team. Performance targets & rewards built into the day to day is also important. That keeps everyone focused on what’s important at that time. It is a challenge though. If a lot of changes occur in the business, to keep making targets and monitoring performance may become irrelevant or more work than its worth
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Jonny Kemp: Knowledge base is important. You can’t build any of those things without fully understanding how your industry works, what the differentiators are between competitors, and having some foresight on where things are going in that industry. How do you advertise your knowledge base? You need to be the best in class for those key things within your industry. For us, in ecommerce, making sure product photography is a step above everyone else has been really important. Demonstrate your specific knowledge. With vintage we are working towards being the standard for vintage sizing and aging products.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Jonny Kemp: A lot of companies start now online or are having to move online as their industry changes. Having a respected voice & presence online is not dissimilar to having a prime position on the high street. It proves to your customers & industry that you are a leader. Alongside trust & credibility being key drivers for e-commerce conversion rate. So it needs to be a part of your strategy to build those things with your customers.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Jonny Kemp: There are a few common things you see when someone is starting out. A lot of it boils down to perseverance. What is common is you see the early steps being taken – the first website, the social presence, the sharing among friends. Then it stops. Its failed before its begun. Is it that it wasn’t instantly a success? Or did other things get in the way? You can’t be sure, but what is clear is that you do need to keep moving forward even if just small steps, instant success is incredibly rare.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Jonny Kemp: As you grow your business, you are very connected to what you are doing. You take risks with stock, costs, marketing etc. It’s on you if it goes wrong. I think the exposure to that risk is what can make the lows & the highs so dramatic. You hit it right with the stock and it sells out in a couple of weeks. Or you get it drastically wrong on the costs, and you have to make difficult decisions as a result. You are constantly involved, that is what makes it different from a regular job I think.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Jonny Kemp: Every Black Friday. It is the busiest day of the year by far. If you sell online you will likely have experienced it. We really build towards that date for months. A lot of preparation goes into it. Then on the day itself you hope to see your hard work really come good. Watching the sales start to role in makes it worth it!
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Jonny Kemp: Early on in the Covid pandemic, it wasn’t clear where things were going to go. Our shop was closed, and the online side hadn’t taken off yet. We were down to just a few staff at the warehouse to keep things ticking over. It felt like a massive step back. There was a week where it was just 2 of us running the show trying to do 6/7 peoples jobs.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Jonny Kemp: Going backwards & having to change how we did basic processes to accommodate the changes brought about by the pandemic, was in retrospect incredibly valuable. Not only did we come out of it with a more efficient & cost effective way to run the process, we actually sold more. That massively surpassed our expectations.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Strong Team: you need to have a strong team who enjoy working for the business and get what you are trying to do. You add to the team only when it is really necessary. What we did with a small team at the beginning of the pandemic was over & above what we were doing with a team twice the size 4-5 months before.
Numbers: you need to know your margins, costs etc. It’s important. You need to be sure you are making money so that you can afford to keep growing the business. Get a good accountant on early – it may seem expensive, but the benefit is really there.
Calculated Risk: you have to take risks to grow your business. The more thoroughly you plan next steps the better you can understand the risk. However, your first instinct on it will usually be right.
Time Off: you are going to have to work hard, but for it to be sustainable you really need to make time off for yourself as well as your team. Returning to a new week after a weekend off work, will let you refocus and start afresh. Early on I worked long hours & it does affect your health, sleep and eating habits. It’s not good. Be more efficient, automate tasks where possible, take on part time help.
Hard work / Perseverance: I think particularly in the early stages, you need to be comfortable doing all jobs and understand that you might not be an overnight success. Continued success, comes from hard work & perseverance. Sometimes it might take 10 months to get something right, sometimes it could just be a couple of days. You will only get that realisation through continuing to move forward.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Jonny Kemp: Resilience, in terms of what it is as a young business, is the ability to change and adapt to what is happening. You have to make decisions for the long-term benefit of the team & the business. You need to be resilient to make those changes.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Jonny Kemp: Sure. Trying to stay calm and measured is important. It helps you reach the right decision.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Jonny Kemp: Belief in what you are doing and looking at a situation positively, or even making light of a negative situation that has occurred. These are important characteristics to lead a team with.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Jonny Kemp: I am sorry ! I am not really into quotes!
How can our readers further follow you online?
Jonny Kemp: Follow our main business pages. Our website: www.thrifted.com. Our Instagram: @thrifted_com.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!