When To Make The Call And When To Take The Call, with Iva Pawling
Episode 156: When To Make The Call And When To Take The Call, with Iva Pawling
After studying communication, Iva Pawling, co-founder and CEO of Richer Poorer, found her start in fashion at Kate Spade’s rotational program a young professional. After learning the ins and outs of every department, from answering customer phone calls to working in production, Iva realized she wanted to create a brand that represented her own vision. Her brand Richer Poorer starting out as a sock company, Iva talks about how she entered a business that she knew nothing about. On this episode, Iva shares her tips for new entrepreneurs, how Richer and Poorer grew as a successful brand, tips on time management and being productive, as well as the role of resilience in the start-up world.
00:12 KW: Hello, and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host, Maricella Herrera. Hi, Maricella.
00:21 Maricella Herrera: Hey.
00:22 KW: My voice always goes up an octave every time I say hi to you.
00:25 MH: Hi.
00:26 KW: But I'm very excited right now because you're leaving for a vacation.
00:30 MH: You're excited 'cause I'm leaving?
00:32 KW: Yes, I'm a good person. I get excited when other people get to do fun stuff. My vacation was at an indoor water park.
00:39 MH: Yeah, your vacation sounds amazing.
00:39 KW: And you're going to Mexico, so I do think that maybe there's a little imbalance there, but that's all right.
00:47 MH: I'll bring back some tequila, don't worry.
00:49 KW: Yeah, oh.
00:49 MH: Don't you worry. So last call.
00:50 KW: Oh, why thank you. Fun.
00:53 MH: You could have used that at the indoor water park, probably.
00:57 KW: I could have used that at the indoor water park. No, it was great. We had a really fun time. I'm very fortunate, I have a strong family around me, so lots a good stuff.
01:09 MH: Aw, Good.
01:09 KW: I'm also fortunate because we have a great guest today. Iva Pawling, who is the co-founder and CEO of Richer Poorer, which is this really cool clothing brand, started off making socks. And it's a really funny story and she tells it much better than I do. But really talking about how during the early days of Silicon Valley and everyone was getting into just jeans and t-shirts, ways to show your personality through socks.
01:36 MH: I love socks.
01:37 KW: And then, now the brand has grown and is continuing to grow, and do some really cool things, but it's just interesting how you see that opportunity.
01:45 MH: Yeah.
01:46 KW: And she and her business partner had no experience in actually manufacturing a fashion. And they went for it, and they've created something great.
01:56 MH: Oh, I can't wait to hear.
01:58 KW: Yeah. It's just an exciting story, that inspiration and real talk around what it's like to follow your passions, to see that opportunity and to go for it, but also honesty around how hard it can be.
02:11 MH: I love that. I can't wait to hear. I can't wait to hear her story and learn more about what she said that we...
02:17 KW: So, you're gonna listen to the podcast when you're on the plane, on the beach? Where do you listen to your podcasts?
02:23 MH: Normally, I guess winter is my no podcast time because normally I listen to them when I walk around the park.
02:28 KW: What? That's blasphemy.
02:31 MH: And it's too cold. So, maybe now out on vacation, it's a good plane listening time.
02:39 KW: Okay. Well, to our listeners, we wanna hear from you, where do you listen to the Ellevate Podcast, or other podcasts? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to tweet at us @ellevatentwk. I wanna hear from you and hear where you're listening to the Ellevate Podcast.
03:02 MH: Or snap a picture and post it on Instagram.
03:04 KW: Oh yeah. Yes, of course. Great idea. So, snap a picture and tag us on Instagram.
03:11 MH: Ellevatentwk.
03:13 KW: There you go. All right, we'll see you here next week on the Ellevate Podcast.
03:31 KW: Iva, thank you for joining us on the Ellevate podcast. I'm excited to have you here.
03:36 Iva Pawling: Thank you for having me.
03:38 KW: Your journey is really interesting, and it has led you to being the Co-Founder and CEO of Richer Poorer. And I would really appreciate it if you could share with me and our listeners how you got to this point.
03:53 IP: Of course. So, back to... I was a communications major in college. I went to Arizona State, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I figured that communications generally are, from a degree perspective and from an actual life skills perspective, was a good path to take because whether it was gonna be my personal life or career that those would be helpful along the way. So, that was really the only reason I majored in communications. I ended up taking a PR class, through the end, and realized that that seemed like something that I would be interested in. I was always obsessed with clothing and fashion and just as a point of interest growing up. So, when I graduated from college, I moved to New York and ended up getting my first job at Kate Spade over at corporate, which was a really great time. This was back in 2003, so, Kate and Andy still owned the company and they ran it. It was probably just under 100 people at corporate. They had a great program for people out of college at the time that we were actually a part-time receptionist for half the day, which was the most overwhelming part of the job.
05:00 KW: Sure.
05:01 IP: Not sure if you've ever had to answer 100 phone lines, it's very stressful. And then for the first eight weeks that you're there, they actually run you from department to department. So, you actually spend a week to two weeks in each department and really understanding the entire ecosystem of how a fashion brand operates, which was an incredible experience. I would love to get Richer Poorer to be able to get to that point so we can offer that to people 'cause I think the perception of how a brand works and what the actual realities are, are so different. So, I ended up really gravitating towards the PR department. Loved it there, stayed there as an assistant, and then ended up moving to Hawaii after New York, and I did move into corporate PR there. So, I was at a PR agency. I had about three or four clients. I tried to keep my hand in the fashion space as much as was possible on the island, but worked with Ala Moana Shopping Center, which is one of the best and most incredible shopping centers in the world, and worked with them on some really cool fashion initiatives while there, and then moved to California after that.
06:05 IP: And my sister had started a jewelery brand by the name of Gorjana, it is her name. So her and my brother-in-law run that brand and business together. So, probably about a few years into them doing that, I joined and helped them grow that for about five years, and really had my hand in everything. Primarily in the marketing, PR, sales world, but helped my sister with design, helped my brother-in-law with operational things. And then, after about four years there, I got the real itch to wanna go off and do it on my own. So then, started Richer Poorer.
06:44 KW: Wow, so much of that story is appealing to me. I think a lot about career paths and how we learn, and how we grow as professionals. And when you talk about starting at Kate Spade where there was this rotational program and you really got a sense for all these areas of the business, which is so important, and college and education doesn't really set us up for, "Okay, what is a day in the life gonna be?" But then at Gorjana, you did a secondary rotational program where you had your hand in so many aspects of the business, but at a more senior level. And so, across the spectrum, you were able to learn and to grow by challenging yourself to learn new things, to understand how different areas of the business work and that got you to where you are today, which is a very successful business owner.
07:39 IP: I think that the hard thing I... To my belief, when you start in a very narrow specific path, and specifically, if you're at a huge company, it is really, really hard to have any understanding for how the other functions of the business operate and really understand those co-dependencies from department to department. I always tell people that are in college and are looking to figure out what their first step is gonna be to try and start at the smallest company possible. While, what a small company is certainly lacking in structure and process maybe that is appealing to people, you gain so much in actually understanding how the different areas work and really where you're best suited, and what you really gravitate towards the most. So, in both of those experiences, obviously, very junior level, not having any idea what anything even was when I stepped into Kate Spade and then within my sister's company of being able to actually to grow it and implement the strategies that I saw of like, "Okay, well, let's try this versus this," or if this isn't working, fix the problems.
08:48 IP: They're just incredible experiences I think as an entrepreneur while being really, really focused and really great at one skill set is incredibly valuable if you are very clear as to what that is when you wanna set off on your own. Kind of like the bigger your tool box is, because the world of entrepreneurship is so so hairy and so difficult, I think it's the better off that you will be.
09:11 KW: I agree.
09:11 IP: At least that's what I've found. [chuckle]
09:13 KW: Yeah. I also wanna quickly touch on the customer service aspect of it, 'cause you mentioned answering phones at Kate Spade and I really attached onto that, it's something we do here at Ellevate, just trying to get everyone regardless of your role within the business to play some aspect in customer service or engagement because you really understand at a deeper level who you're working for and who you're building products for and solving problems for. And you can't... Just data or reports doesn't really add the depth of understanding without just getting your hands dirty in customer service.
09:54 IP: I mean, speaking to people on the phone is... I would say arguably as a marketer, as a product developer, anybody that is trying to create something for somebody else or sell something to somebody else is one of the biggest assets and biggest tools that you can use that is so under-utilized.
10:14 KW: I so agree. So then how did all of this lead you to starting your own business? Tell me about Richer Poorer and that journey.
10:24 IP: When I was working for my sister and brother-in-law, I loved the brand building side of it, I loved the strategic side of it, of how we're gonna grow? What direction are we going? What's working, what isn't? All of those things. And I wasn't there at the very beginning. It very much was them that started it, and for some reason, I just had this need that I wanted to build something from scratch on my own, and really build a brand that really embodied my values and my personal taste, and the things that were important to me, and to do that from nothing. So I met my business partner Tim when I had moved to Laguna and he had previously had a few businesses, he was on the tech side. We just would randomly talk about business ideas and he had the idea 10 years previous about starting a sock brand, which is where we started.
11:19 IP: And he mentioned how he was living up in Silicon Valley and the world of socks was something that was really interesting to him because dress started to change. Everyone started to get more casual, as obviously, the entire world of Web 1.0 grew in the Valley and in San Francisco and how nobody was wearing suits and ties anymore, and that socks kinda became this point of differentiation, but there was really no great sock brands that had been built. At the time, we were in the market was these really, really high-end like, Pantherella. and Paul Smith socks that were $30+ per pair, and this is in 2010. So this is just post the economic melt down and consumer habits were really changing, and so we started looking at why is there no brands really in this space?
12:11 IP: And I feel like the last decade has been... From a consumer perspective, has been very much focused on brands coming up with a very specific product, and wanting to solve a category rather than an entire lifestyle, like we've kind of historically had, and that's kind of how we've consumed historically here. So, we really looked at socks and realized nobody was really doing it. The first question was, "Is there a reason nobody's doing it because it's just not a sound business model or are we just really early to something that nobody's really caught on to yet?" So, obviously, with my experience in working with the jewelry and I had kind of understood the entire life cycle of a product supply chain, all the things that we needed to get started. And luckily, we live here in Southern California, and I live in Laguna Beach which is kind of the epicenter of quite a few action sports brands in the surf space. So you had a lot of people that live in Laguna that work in production product development, have factory relationships, designers, all these people.
13:14 IP: So just, I had actually asked one of my neighbors if he had a sock manufacturer that he worked with, because at that time, actually still, it is actually really difficult to learn anything about sock manufacturing and the industry left the US a long long time ago. Our initial idea was to manufacture in the US and there's actually only a handful of factories left here. Primarily in North Carolina, a few in Alabama. So it was a very, very tricky thing to even start having conversations with sock manufacturers 'cause we knew nothing about this world. We just knew that we wanted to do it.
13:46 KW: Yeah. Like, how do you start when when you don't know who to ask or where to start?
13:50 IP: Exactly. [chuckle]
13:50 KW: Can you Google this and say, "Hey, who makes socks?" I mean, I can...
13:54 IP: I would recommend Googling, "How do you make socks?" Because it's actually very complicated and it is... You would think that Google had gotten a hold of this world and that this was something easy to find, and it just simply was not. But we did find the Hosiery Technology Center of America, which actually is a thing that exists in North Carolina and there was a woman there who was the president. My business partner, Tim, is like the consummate sales guy. He has no problem getting on the phone with anybody. Got a few calls put in, and she had connected us to somebody that literally walked us through the entire manufacturing process, the understanding of weights and needle count machines, and the questions we needed to ask and what we were looking for. So he really coached us through this process of vetting factories and understanding what worked. So, we got some samples, we figured out the unit economics and the business model and it had fairly healthy margins for the world of fashion and we just went for it. We started concept in April, and we were in the market and stores in December.
14:58 KW: Oh my goodness.
15:00 IP: Yeah it was a crazy seven months. [chuckle]
15:03 KW: How are the start-up costs with that because... So, you talked first off, about the market opportunity. No one was doing this, so was it because it wasn't an opportunity or because no one had caught on yet. And so, that's the one piece of finding that direction, and going for it. And the second piece is, well, how much money will it take to just even get that product out the door because when we're talking about tangible goods like this, it may be different than building a service, or an app, or a technology. How did you finance that? How did you manage during that time before launch?
15:40 IP: I can tell you that everything we assumed, we were 100% wrong on, which is usually the case but the way that we planned it out was we looked at our cost for actual production and what was it gonna take to get a first run out. We ended up finding a great factoring partner that was in Korea. They were willing to do runs of 1000 units of socks, per skew, which is actually really low. Most places in China is 3000 plus. So we kinda settled on a 20-skew count, first collection. We knew that... Tim, my business partner, was a great salesman. I understood the brand marketing perspective. Neither of us were designers so we knew that that was going to be the number one thing that we had to solve for.
16:28 IP: So we actually found a student, at the time. He was a senior in this incredible fine arts program at Long Beach State University here close by. And he was kind of a renaissance kid, so he was actually a graphic designer, he could product design, he was a photographer. He literally did everything, so it was us two and him. He was still in school. We literally just paid him cash from an hourly basis to develop everything, the logo, the product assortment, our line sheets, our catalogs, every single thing. We figured out the few systems that we needed in order to operate. We didn't even have the e-commerce for the first year and a half, I think, we were in business. So we estimated that it was gonna cost us roughly around $35,000 to get off the ground and that if we could get into 30 accounts out the gates, that we would be able to turn that business and grow it.
17:25 KW: And were your estimates... You felt... You said...
17:27 IP: Completely wrong. [chuckle]
17:28 KW: Yeah, okay. I just think that this is... I love this story, and I am really impressed even... Not even, I'm very impressed with how you tell it, because it's so real, and it's honest, and it's important. One, I'm hearing that you're building a sock business, which now is great clothing brand, and neither of the founders were designers. So it's like you knew what you wanted to do, but it wasn't your core skill set. So, I think that oftentimes is something that holds people back which is, "Oh, I wanna make an app but I'm not a tech person, so do I do that?" Whatever it is.
18:12 IP: Exactly, like, "How do I even know how to get that started?"
18:15 KW: And two, just knowing you're not gonna get it all right, and you can still succeed and you just have to learn how to learn how to roll with the punches.
18:24 IP: I think that there has to be a blind faith to start. I think that you have to fully believe in your abilities even while deep down you are like, "I am so not equipped to do this, and I can't do this, I don't know what I'm doing." And that little voice, never goes away. I think that specifically for women really suffer from that, I mean it's, we've discussed this, ad nauseam but lay around impostor syndrome, and what that means to all of us, because I still deal with that, I still... I've never run a company this size. I've never had 40 employees. I am still dealing with that on a daily basis, but I think once you take that first step and once you go, "Okay, I'm committing to doing this and I'm going to do this and I'm gonna make it work," you figure it out and I think.
19:11 IP: I've heard this said so many times, and I so believe in it at this point, because we've had really turbulent times and have gone through some things that I think would take down most businesses but it really just depends on the actual grit and resilience of the founders. If you are determined to continue to move forward, everything is solvable. Every single problem is solvable. There is always a solution of some kind, you might have to make the hardest decisions you've ever made in your life, and you may get it wrong 100 times, but if you're willing to keep getting up and keep trying you can figure it out.
19:44 KW: Yeah, and so, you and I we were talking before we started recording the podcast about different management... Time management styles and productivity. And do you schedule a day with no meetings? Just to focus on things and how do you do that and also, just carving out time as well to be productive?
20:07 IP: So I will say that the first, probably four years of this business, I never looked up, I never looked up and was thinking multiple years out, I was so heads down and just getting through the day-to-day and getting to the next month and getting through the next quarter and just kind of all hands on deck. Because we had a pretty small team, I was still responsible for so many actionable things in the business on a daily basis that it was really, really tough, and I regret that the most, I think of, I have very few regrets in this business and I think that my inability or I think unawareness of how important that is for Tim and I as the founders to really, whether it's twice a year or every single corner, really step out for a day. Get a true big picture sense as to what's working, what isn't, what's happening right now? 'Cause it's really hard to pull those stories out on a daily basis when you're so close to it and you really need to be able to look at a long scope of, "Hey, let's look at the last 18 months versus the last six months and where is the business trending, what's happening, what direction are we going in?"
21:21 IP: And since we've been doing that, I would say the last three, four years. I feel the team... The team is so much more prepared, we are able to be so much more clear with the, "This is the vision, this is where we're headed, this is how we're gonna get there." And that we can answer most of those questions. And then the team's responsibility is really to execute and form exactly how we're doing those things, whereas before, I think that a lot of, there was a lot of uncertainty of, "Oh this isn't working, we're going in this direction." And then this next season, we're chasing a new thing because this market is working. And for the first five years, we were in... Because of our category of being socks and we developed into women's a few years in, but in the category of men and women's socks. You can actually sell that everywhere. There are a ton of channels, you can sell that to, you can sell that into the gift channel, you can sell that into the fashion space, you can sell it into the surf space, you can sell it into hotels. There are so many places that you can go. So we spent all of this time going, "We can go everywhere," to quickly figure out that, "Well, if we're everywhere, and we're trying to be everything to everybody, we're actually kind of nothing to anybody."
22:28 IP: So we had to very much kind of peel back and go, "Okay, what is our lane that we're staying in? Who are we, what is it that we wanna be and what does this future state look like in a perfect world?" And kinda slowly get there and really get everything on track, and everybody moving in one direction, so that... And that really came from us taking steps back a few times a year, and really looking at the full scope of the business. And where are things headed, compared to where the market's actually headed and what we see happening from a trend perspective, and what we actually wanna believe in. 'Cause to your point, data and science and these pieces are so important, in the business and you have to be looking and reading them. But there's also such an instinct and there's such an art piece to all of it. Because we do work in fashion, this isn't simply a science, you can't simply just use metrics and data to make all of your decisions in a world that is really kind of fundamentally based on emotion, and people liking things. And that's not something that is really a data play, you have to be able to anticipate and see what's next and try and take strategic steps.
23:35 KW: Yeah.
23:35 IP: So stepping away from the world of the every day, you have to go off-site, that's one thing I learned quickly. Trying to do that in the office. You get distracted people come in, there's things that happens. So really getting off-site to really do a good evaluation of where you're at, where you're headed and constantly touching base on that. And then to answer your second question on the actual time management piece. I've been attempting to take a day a week of no meetings, so that I can get through these kinds of larger items that I have on my to-do list that will take me a few hours, the days that I can actually do it, I find that I'm super productive it's... This all stem from me actually starting to work at... We work every so often. I got a membership to WeWork for one day a month just so that I could separate and just be on my own in a single space. I have two kids at home. So that's not an option. For me to do that at home. And I realized how much more I could get done on those days that I was just on my own and getting through my task list and getting through the things that kind of just sit on my desktop for a couple of months that I need to get to. So that's where that's been coming from. I haven't been great at actually sticking to it 'cause there's fires all the time, and say we have to meet, we have to make decisions, we have to close things out. This is only day everybody can do it, so it doesn't always work out that way, but it's been my goal.
25:04 KW: What has surprised you the most about yourself over the past, you said seven years since you've started the company?
25:11 IP: Eight.
25:12 KW: Eight?
25:12 IP: Eight years, yeah. I think that... How resilient I actually am, and I think that this is true for a lot of entrepreneurs. Before you start a business, your actual resilience and ability to withstand really difficult situations is really never tested to the nth degree until you're in this circumstance, and running an organization. So, that piece of it is the most surprising to me, I think for my personality. I always knew that I was very headstrong and if I put my mind to something that I could usually get there, but the actual ability to do so and to keep moving forward and actually not lose the drive to keep doing so, was a surprise. I wasn't a great student. I wasn't somebody that was super into school. It was never something that motivated me that much. So, I think that that's been the biggest surprise to my entire family and everybody around me.
26:20 IP: To be honest.
26:24 KW: That's great. I'd love it if, to close this out, you could share a parting piece of advice for all of our listeners. Many who maybe working in a business but thinking about starting something new, or even thinking about ways that they, as an employee within a company, can drive more innovation and growth. But do you have advice for how to take that leap?
26:52 IP: For people that are actually looking and want to go to take the leap, I would... I always tell people to really, really examine why they wanna do it. I think that there's been a really, really high level of glorifying the world of entrepreneurship the last few years that I very much can't get behind because it is the most challenging and trying things that you will ever do. So, I think that making sure that people are chasing that entrepreneurial dream for the right reasons because they want to create something of their own, because they want to get into the nitty gritty and have control over the whole thing and are willing to fail through the process and figure it all out. Not because they like the idea of the freedom 'cause you really actually have less freedom as an entrepreneur. You are tied to this thing at all hours of every single day, of every single vacation. When you're delivering your children, it does not matter. You are now tied to something in a much larger way.
27:52 IP: So, I always tell people to really test that and if they really believe that they wanna do that and go forward, to simply just bite the bullet and move forward, you're never gonna be fully prepared. You are never gonna feel like you're ready to do it. It's kind of similar to having kids...
28:05 IP: From that regard. You just kinda have to jump in with both feet, and then believe that you will figure it out. And from an employee perspective, I think that we've been around for eight years. We've had an incredible staff, an incredible team come through here, and some of which have been with us for a very long time. What I always am so surprised by is how few people actually come in and have a very specific... After they've been here for a long time and they want a promotion or they want a different set of responsibilities, they make that process to be very much about them, which I totally respect, but so few people actually come forward to their boss or to the owners of the organization or anybody that is really that decision maker and say, "This is how this is gonna better the business. These are the things that I see that aren't getting done that I think that we can do this much better or that we're not paying attention to that we can look at." And I think that that is such a valuable asset to be able to always look at whether it's the organization you're in, or something that you wanna start, of how... What is not getting done that can be better and how can you play a role in that?
29:24 KW: That is excellent advice. Well, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast. It was great to...
29:29 IP: Thank you so much for having me.
29:31 KW: Yeah. I just love your story and everything you're doing. And while we were chatting, I texted my husband the link to the site. I was like, "Check this out, you'll love it."
29:41 IP: That's awesome.
29:41 KW: So, you'll also have a new customer. [chuckle]
29:43 IP: Fantastic. Well, I'll make sure you guys get taken care of.
29:46 KW: Excellent.
29:47 IP: Maybe we'll call both of you.
29:48 KW: Oh, yes.
29:49 IP: The high class club. [chuckle]
29:49 KW: Yeah. We'll give you feedback, lots of feedback. Well, thanks so much. This was great and it was really, really wonderful to chat with you today.
29:56 IP: Thanks. It was great chatting with you, as well.
30:03 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate. If you like what you hear, help a girl out. Subscribe to the Ellevate Podcast on iTunes. Give us five stars and share your review. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter, @ellevatentwk, that's Ellevate Network, and become a member. You can learn all about membership and all the great things that Ellevate Network is doing at our website, www.ellevatenetwork.com, that's E-L-L-E-V-A-T-E-network.com. And special thanks to our producer, Katharine Heller. She rocks. And to our voice-over artist, Rachel Griesinger. Thanks so much and join us next week.
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