Note: This post is the first in a new series called “Entrepreneur Profiles.” These posts will focus on an interesting entrepreneur who I’ve gotten to know and hopefully provide a window into their business that you might not otherwise find in a newspaper or magazine.
Bryon Shannon is the founder of Wisconsin Relic, an apparel company that he started in January 2009. Bryon graduated with a degree in Management and Real Estate from the University of Wisconsin‘s business school and started Wisconsin Relic while he was still a student. He describes Wisconsin Relic as:
Wisconsin Relic is an apparel company that I started in January 2009. It is a creative, colorful brand centered on shirt slogans that resonate with young people in Wisconsin. We sell clothing on our website, www.wisconsinrelic.com, as well as through stores such as the University Bookstore in Madison and Milwaukee. Wisconsin Relic is a lifestyle brand providing premium quality apparel that celebrates the Midwest and its young pioneers. We sell vintage, organic and Wisconsin Relic original tees at numerous outlets, as well as on WisconsinRelic.com.
Here are a few of Bryon’s shirts:
Nathan Lustig: How did you come up with the idea for Wisconsin Relic and why did you start the business?
Bryon Shannon: I got sick of walking around campus and seeing red and white Wisconsin t-shirts. I knew I could design some pretty cool tees for kids in the state that would be more interesting than the traditional red and white Wisconsin shirts. I’d consider myself a very creative and trend-savvy person and keep up to date on social culture through print media and online blogs, so I thought that I could do something based around Wisconsin.
NL: Did you have any experience before you started Wisconsin Relic?
BS: I didn’t have much experience starting a business, but during school, I had attended case study training at the Harvard Business School and competed in an entrepreneurship competition at the London School of Economics. I got to travel to London and compete alongside other people interested in entrepreneurship and it was a good learning experience.
I had also worked at Abercrombie & Fitch and was a consultant to Fair Indigo Clothing Company and had done some graphic design and marketing for brands and had done a some modeling as well. Earlier in college, I was the branch manager for a college focused magazine and newspaper that was just breaking into the UW market and I was a founding member of my frat. Overall, I had a good foundation before I started Wisconsin Relic.
NL: Many founders of startups have some sort of an “ah-ha moment” either when they first get the idea for their company or after they’ve been in business that makes the business work. Did yo have one and what was it?
BS: My biggest ah-ha moment was during Mifflin! (NL note: The Mifflin Street Block Party is an alcohol-fueled campus-wide block party that occurs each spring right before finals) Imagine an intelligent revelation coming from Mifflin, suprising!
Tons of people were coming to our website to buy Mifflin Street Block Party tees and that really helped raise awareness for our company and brand.
NL: So you had some initial success, what was the biggest challenge you had to overcome starting Wisconsin Relic?
BS: Managing money. You always assume that when you get a big sale you’ll make alot of money. When the University Bookstore ordered 300+ shirts, we got really excited, and then realized we needed to print and give them 300 shirts, and we weren’t going to get paid for a month, so cash flow all of a sudden became an issue. The hardest thing is having enough free cash on the side for the company and knowing what is a good investment for the company and what isn’t.
NL: Do you have any funny stories or amusing anecdotes about starting or running the company? Do people ask you “when are you going to get a real job?”
BS: Haha, that question is most frequent question I hear these days. My great uncle owned his own sign company and said people always think being your own boss is easy because you can get away working just half a day. To that he said, “yes and I have to pick out what 12 hours that’s going to be.” Just shows that owning your own company is way more difficult than getting a “real job” which sometimes makes real jobs tempting, but sometimes not as rewarding in the end.
Funniest anectdote is getting called by Pabst Blue Ribbon’s Legal Deptartment with a threat to sue if we do not stop selling our Mifflin tee (It was inspired by the PBR logo). They laid off once they found out we were a student company, but it did make for a fun “limited edition” shirt.
NL: What is the most fun part of running your company? The least?
BS: Being your own boss and being your own boss. You can do whatever you want, and make your business something you are really proud of and connect with, but also, there is no paycheck and no one above you telling you to get up and do something when it gets rough, so there is alot of responsibility.
NL: What/who has been the biggest help to you and your company?
BS: Financially Allen Dines at the University’s Office of Corporate Relations, and the Student Business Incubator for grants and office space respectively. Also my parents for helping fulfill online orders and supporting my ideas.
NL: What are three websites you check everyday?
BS: nyt.com, concreteloop.com, everyoneisfamous.com, hypem.com
NL: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a startup?
BS: As Richard Branson said, “Screw it, just do it,” and then stick with it. It is so difficult to actually bring yourself to action, and then once you do, you will encounter so much opposition, so many obsticles that you want to toss the business sometimes, so you’ll need alot of determination.
NL: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Do you have any other interesting stories, facts, advice to share?
BS: No problem. I’d tell people to join networks, ie. Capital Entrepreneurs, and share ideas and resources. It makes business easier and more interesting.