Kalen Emsley, 24, is a Co-Founder and the Chief Marketing Officer at tentree. Kalen graduated from the Richard Ivey School of Business in early 2011. During his time in university he gained experience in forestry while running a company called Greenfield Carbon Offsetters Inc.
Q: You have spoken about the big leap that your organization took after appearing on Dragon's Den. How were you able to manage such large growth in such a short timespan and still maintain your "culture"? What did you learn about yourself and your company during that period?
A: Through my parents (who are entrepreneurs), school, and some trial and error I learned three things about managing this remarkable growth:
(1) Stick to what you're good at - We used to pack every online order and every store order. Eventually we thought about starting our own fulfillment facility and making money on shipping. The fact is we are a clothing company, not a fulfillment centre, so we shouldn't try to be. All of our time and focus should be on growing the tentree brand.
(2) Keep your financials in order. You need to keep good financials from day one in order to know how healthy your company is. If you don't know how you're doing today, you can't make goals for tomorrow.
(3) Focus on your competitive advantage. We are an environmental clothing company. We have to maintain our focus on trees and the environment first, and then on high quality apparel; and everything else comes after.
Q: What new and unexpected challenges have you experienced now that you are an established and expanding company?
A: There are three main challenges we've faced now that we're becoming more established:
(1) Capital requirements: At the beginning it was easy to acquire financing from family and friends, but as you become more established, you need substantially more money. We needed to spend significantly more time building relationships with banks and other financial institutions.
(2) Space: As you grow, you begin to bring on more people and you inevitably require more space. Going from a small office to a large area is exciting but also expensive and difficult to plan.
(3) Processes: Being a fast-growing company, we are used to allowing everyone the freedom to make their own decisions and get things done quickly. As you grow and hire more people, instituting processes to make sure the right decisions are made requires a significant adjustment.
Q: How did you set goals during that growth period and how were you able to keep staff focused and engaged?
A: Setting goals during a growth period is only doable if you have up-to-date financial statements. We made a financial model and were able to make measureable goals and targets. We then split up roles so that people could be held accountable. As a team, we have a number of goals and celebrate each win. The bigger the target, the bigger the reward.
Q: In your opinion what are the three most important things to consider as you get ready to take the next leap forward?
A: We are still growing quickly, so we need to:
(1) Stay focused. We need to stay focused on the brand and not forget our mission statement.
(2) Stay motivated. With more happening, people can either become more motivated and work harder or they can become less motivated and let the team carry them. We have to keep everyone accountable.
(3) Stay organized. There is a lot of information running through our database so we make sure to keep everything very organized and easy to find.
The most important thing though is to have fun doing it. Running a business isn't a 9 to 5 job; it is on your mind 24/7. Because of this, you have to make sure that you compensate yourself appropriately and enjoy working.
Q: If you had the chance to do it over again, what would you do differently?
A: If we could do it over, I think there are three things I would do differently:
(1) Problems are relative. We used to look at every issue as "do or die," which caused a ton of stress. As we grew, we realized there will always be issues and you can't freak out. Everyone has roadblocks, and suppliers, customers, etc. will understand and work with you.
(2) Keep track of your financials. Most of the time when you start a business, you're so busy selling that you forget to keep close track of things like receipts, invoicing, taxes, etc. This is important to do from day one.
(3) Hire sooner. When you start a new company you try to do as much as you can, and will most likely feel like you can do it all. We got to the point where we were burning out before we brought on help, we should have done this sooner.