As part of my series about “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Lim.
Brian Lim is a serial entrepreneur who has bootstrapped three eCommerce businesses that include iHeartRaves, INTO THE AM, and Emazing Lights which collectively gross over $30M per year. He started out with $100 selling out of the trunk of his car, and was able to grow that into a 65+ person company called the EmazingGroup. Brian was on Season Six of ABC’s Shark Tank where he received offers from all five sharks. On the show, Robert Herjavec said Brian was “one of, if not the best entrepreneur we’ve had here”. He took a deal from Mark Cuban for $650,000 in exchange for 5% equity in the company, and a licensing deal from Daymond John for 20% of profits. His companies have also been featured in the annual “Inc 5000” list for the past six years in a row.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?
My girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, fell in love by going to music festivals. What you wear and how you express yourself at these events is a key part of the overall experience. We would always customize our outfits and wear items you couldn’t find in the local mall. We got compliments all the time and people were always asking where we got our clothing. We felt like there was a huge need in the marketplace that no professional companies were filling and thus we started iHeartRaves.com. I love it because it’s something that I’m truly passionate about. I started out with $100 selling out of the trunk of my car and was able to grow that into a 65+ person company worth over $30M.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we first started selling lights out of the trunk of my car at the local In N Out Burger, we started off with five people and then it grew to 10, then 20, 40, and then to 100s of people. After a few months we got chased out of the parking lot by the police and had to hop to different parking lots in other plazas! This gave us the confidence to open up our first retail store and start our eCommerce website.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I really enjoyed reading EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey. In the book, he’s very straightforward and to the point with a wealth of valuable knowledge, and as a busy entrepreneur, I appreciate that.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
iHeartRaves’ mission is to inspire individual creativity and self-expression through rave clothing and festival fashion at EDM events, music festivals, EDC, and beyond.
All of our brands started because of my personal passions. When you selfishly create better products for yourself and share them with the community, great things happen!
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
We focus on our core values, which include:
- TRANSPARENT COMPANY
Information is open between all teams. We communicate with a mind for what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.
2. DON’T #@!% THE CUSTOMER
Customers are our lifeblood. Operational decisions are often made by asking, what’s best for the customer?
4. TEAM PLAYERS ONLY
Work hard and play hard with people who’ve got your back.
5. BE PASSIONATE & DETERMINED
Love what you do and stay hungry.
6. BE HUMBLE
No one likes a douche, be grateful for your talents and blessings. Check your ego at the door.
Balance your health, work, relationships and have fun while doing it. Balanced you = happier you.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m proud of being ahead of the curve and putting our team members’ health above all. We were early to start working from home and for our warehouse we’ve provided the best PPE gear we possibly can. We have also been paying regular bonuses for being on the front lines.
Adjusting to working from home has been very interesting. As a company we didn’t allow too much remote work before the pandemic, but we have changed our perspective completely. I anticipate us being a lot more flexible with remote work even after we get through COVID-19.
Working from home has personally helped me stay more connected with my family. Saving a couple of hours each day (getting ready, commuting, etc.) allows me to spend that time a lot more wisely with the people that matter the most.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Our eCommerce store is in a very challenging position because we sell fashion items to attendees of music festivals. These events are being canceled or postponed all around the country and even throughout the world as the Corona virus spreads. We have been preparing for a potential recession for multiple years now, and thus have cash built up to withstand a huge revenue hit. But we did not plan for a health crisis on top of a financial crisis.
As a result, we are pivoting in a couple of ways. First, we are shifting our marketing from mostly festival clothing to focus now on other uses of our clothing such as lingerie or lounge wear. Second, we’ve started designing face masks and for each mask that is purchased, we will be donating one non-printed face mask to nonprofits supporting those on the front lines. We are receiving thousands of orders and are excited to help anyone we can!
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
History shows us to not bet against America. Winston Churchill once famously observed that “Americans will always do the right thing, only after they have tried everything else.”
I live by the motto “Change what you can, accept the rest”. Basically it means to focus on what you can actually affect and change. Understand there is a lot that is out of our hands but there is plenty you can do in almost every situation to improve your odds of success. For example, you could take better care of your body by exercising and eating healthier during the pandemic, which could potentially give you a better shot at surviving the virus.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Working from home is going to be huge and I’m excited about expanding our team outside of the SoCal region. Having a more flexible schedule such as a few days in the office and a few days working from home is going to produce the best overall balance.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Our office setup will change drastically as we need to spread people out more.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Taking each day one at a time and not getting too far ahead of ourselves during this period of uncertainty has helped tremendously. We are going on the offensive now during the pandemic and taking advantage of lower marketing costs. We have had success in pivoting into different product lines that are more appropriate for the COVID-19 world. We plan to take those profits and invest into more long term sustainable product lines and opportunities.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would challenge all business owners to ask themselves how their brand is adding value in a post-Covid economy. Are you doing the same things as before or have you evolved with this new era?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Free up time to work on the business, instead of in the business.” As a bootstrapped founder with $0 of outside investor money, I got caught up in the weeds very easily. I’ve had the mindset of firing myself from every position in the company from the early days and replacing myself with smarter and more specialized team members to continuously improve the company.
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