Launching a Business Against All Odds: 3 Tips for Startup Success

Launching a business is somewhat formulaic. You need four things at a minimum to be successful: a great product, a solid team, proper marketing and paying customers.

But even with this simple blueprint, you can’t expect to copy someone else’s system and grow your business. There has to be an it factor separating your brand from the rest.

Larry and Garrett Leight are proof of this concept. Larry founded Oliver Peoples, a luxury eyewear brand with a glamorous Hollywood aesthetic. His son, Garrett, started a self-named eyewear company (Garrett Leight) with a different charm and purpose for its community.

In this episode of Brilliant Thoughts, Larry and Garrett chat with co-hosts Paul Morris and Tristan Ahumada, SUCCESS people editor, about what it takes to start a successful business. 

No matter which industry you’re in, here are three actionable ways to stand out and create a legacy.    

Find creative ways to meet your business goals.

When Larry opened his first eyewear store, he resold frames from other brands. It wasn’t ideal, but he was biding his time. The end goal was to sell vintage Americana designs—metal frames with gold accents you might see James Dean wearing in the ’50s.

With that in mind, Larry was on the hunt for rare deals and opportunities. He eventually met someone selling an estate of never-worn glasses, and the entire collection was an optical goldmine.

“It was everything to do with eyewear,” Larry says. “Catalogues, machines, lenses, clip-ons and other companies that made beautiful handmade eyewear in America. Metal frames. 14-karat gold fills…. I said, ‘What do you want for everything in this room?’ He said $6,000.”

Six thousand dollars was a lot of money to invest in the ‘80s, Larry says. But buying those vintage frames helped to create the aesthetic of his business.

If you’re building a company from the ground up, get scrappy in your quest for new opportunities. For Larry, that meant flying to New York for an estate sale. What would a bold, calculated move look like for you and your brand?

Network. Team up with industry underdogs.

Larry could have kept things simple when he started Oliver Peoples. He could have partnered with American designers and launched a 100% U.S.-based operation. After all, that was the convenient thing to do. The only problem was that the aesthetic for his company wasn’t exclusive to America. So he traveled. 

Larry’s most impactful, life-changing trip was to a trade show in Japan. There, he spotted two designers falling asleep at their booth, which had been fairly unsuccessful.

“They couldn’t sell one frame the whole show,” Larry says. “Nobody was interested, but we were.”

The Japanese designers were selling frames similar to Larry’s dream design. So he decided to purchase from them and build a long-term relationship.

“Five days later, I called back saying I needed 500 [frames],” Larry says. “A week later, I needed 1,000. These were similar frames to what our idea was. And then I asked them, ‘Could you do the designs we want?’”

Those designers became ambassadors and manufacturers all at once, helping to grow the Oliver Peoples brand in Japan.

The lesson? Partner with people—especially the underdogs—who share your vision. Sometimes networking laterally instead of up the ladder of influence is powerful.

Meet your customers where they are.

Once you have the perfect product for your business, the next challenge is finding your ideal customers. These are people who understand your brand’s culture because they see a part of themselves in your story.

Larry and Garrett have learned that these customers don’t find you. It’s better to meet them where they are and be a constant presence in their lives. 

In a world with no email or social media, Larry met his customers by: 

  • Flying to Germany, London, Japan and France to pitch eyewear kits to magazines. That’s how he got Oliver Peoples into publications like Vogue, Elle and even the Wall Street Journal.
  • Selling his kits on the go wherever he traveled
  • Getting his sunglasses into the coolest, most popular stores overseas

For Garrett, technology made things a tad easier.

“I work in the same medium as my father but in a different era of distributing your message and brand through digital,” Garrett says.

Garrett promoted his company by blogging, launching a magazine and networking with prospective buyers in Europe—a tried-and-true strategy he learned from his dad. His brand represents the Venice Beach lifestyle, so he sold to people who identified with that, regardless of where they lived.

“I was glamorous Hollywood,” Larry says. “Garrett was more youthful, grungy, gritty.”

Selling your story to the right customer is about showing up where they gather: social media, print publications, in-person events or other mediums. No place is the wrong place if that’s where your community hangs out.

When you put these three strategies together—finding creative opportunities, networking and meeting your customers where they are—it’s only a matter of time before your business takes off.

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Lydia Sweatt is a freelance writer, bookworm, and bass guitar enthusiast. When she goes outside, a bicycle goes with her.

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