How does being your own employee running your own business out of your basement with only a MacBook Pro and a couple of printers sound? If you answered impressive that’s expected but if you answered with cool that would best describe this hustle. Owner and founder of this cool and cutting edge company (that makes concepts for funny t-shirts) called Rizzo Tees has only been in business for a little over a year and has received both good profitability and even better buzz.
The Trendaholic recently had a chat with this entrepreneur from the Midwest and great state of Missouri about business (of course), Twitter, Beer, and yes Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan among other things.
“One hint to small businesses – treat your employees better, and they’ll not only celebrate your success – they’ll work their asses off for you”
Take me back and tell me what you were thinking when you came up with this idea of creating funny t shirts?
It was October 2007, and my birthday was approaching. I had been surfing sites like Busted Tees and Snorg Tees, and I wanted to take the burden of buying a birthday present off my wife’s shoulders. So I asked her if I could just buy 3 or 4 shirts off the sites and have that be my present. She agrees, so I order the tees, and they arrive. I open them up, and they have these tags that say “American Apparel” on them, and I say to myself, “What’s American Apparel, I’ve never even heard of them.” (How weird is that now? At least I’m a fast learner ) I end up liking the tees a lot, and at that point the light bulb sorta went off in my head. I said, “I could do this.” I have so many random thoughts, observations on the world, on current events, I’m kind of weird that way, so to my mind, it was a business that made a lot of sense.
I immediately began planning. I started an Excel spreadsheet containing a few tabs – budget, and tee ideas. I started pulling numbers and putting the budget together, and I started populating the other tab with every t-shirt idea I could come up with. I did exhaustive research on every tee company I could find on the Internet. I am a serial planner, and I created a mound of research and budgets, lists, plans, etc. I was going to be spending a significant portion of my family’s money, so I wanted to know what the hell I was doing!
What made you think about networking with your local businesses in your area? And what resources did you already have that you incorporated in the beginning stages of building the company?
That’s a good question. It’s actually something I’m not doing enough of yet. I’m doing a lot of networking on Twitter and Facebook, and that networking spilled over into the Social Media Club of St. Louis, of which I am now a board member. So electronic relationships turned into face-to-face relationships. And some of those people have businesses. However, I have a fine line I need to walk between the potential for massive local marketing, networking, and notoriety, and my day job. This is sometimes hard to articulate, and hard for some people to understand, but my day job is what feeds the family, and frankly it feeds Rizzo, too. My wife has two jobs, I essentially have two jobs, we have a house and two daughters…. There are a lot of things to consider here. The main thing I try to keep focus on is keeping my day job. I’m very good at what I do, but Rizzo Tees is an entirely different ball of wax. To get to the point, I don’t feel like taking the time to explain to my day job that I have a nighttime hobby, per se, that frankly isn’t actually a hobby at all, but my real passion. In this economy, why take the chance here and hope that understanding people will understand? Does that make sense? I work my butt off at my day job, I work my butt off x 50 at Rizzo Tees, and where does that leave me? My day job gets done well, Rizzo Tees hopefully spreads its wings and takes off, but man, sometimes I’m just tired. I get 4-5 hours of sleep, I’m up at 4:30am every day… it can take its toll. I don’t need our CEO telling me, “You gotta quit this tee thing, because you’re a mess at work.” To channel Ghostbusters here, I am not “crossing the streams” of these two jobs until forced to.
Back to actually answering your question. Once the cat is out of the bag, or I’m able to take Rizzo Tees to a full time job, I will begin really networking with businesses. Until then, I sort of lead this double life. It’s what anyone does when they start a business on the side in their basement.
As far as resources go, I’ve been the Chief Financial Officer for several companies around town, so I have a lot of business experience. Many people have great ideas but no business sense whatsoever. Sometimes the power of great ideas can overcome this lack of knowledge and direction, but sometimes it cannot. Having worked for a lot of different businesses, from manufacturing to catalog sales company to construction to marketing to distribution (including a t-shirt distributor) has really given me a great deal of experience that I can draw on.
Knowing how difficult it is in starting your own business where risk levels are extremely high, what was your family’s reaction when you told them you were going to start your own tee shirt business?
My wife was completely supportive. As I am a serial planner, she was able to gain a reasonable assurance that I wasn’t about to piss away our money! Plus, this entrepreneurial scheme seemed way more palatable than some of my other ideas (like starting a mobile shredding business – where would I have parked that truck?).
The other super-supportive person was my Uncle Pat. He insisted on being my first customer, which I thought was so cool. He’s a banker and I ended up banking at his bank – his people helped me set up my bank account and my merchant services account (accepting credit cards). Then on opening day, he bought $240 of eGift Certificates and emailed them to all of my cousins. It was pretty damn cool – he sent notes with each one saying “Cousin Chris’ tee biz opened today, let’s support him in any way we can.” He really wanted them to wear the tees and spread the word. I can tell you, I needed that $240 really badly!!!
Now that your business is off and running, what has been your favorite tee shirt design since you’ve started the business? And more importantly what has been your most profitable design to date?
Props To My Tweeps is the #1 all time design – it just really struck a nerve on Twitter, and I’ve sold a lot of them. Plus, it was kind of cool… I sent one to Internet Superstar Julia Roy and she wore it and gave me a cool pic to use for my site. Someone even saw her wearing it in New York City and messaged me on Facebook about it. So I messaged Julia and said, “Are you wearing the tee today?” She was like, “Yeah, and how the hell do you know that?” She thought I was pretty creepy until I explained how!
You’ve said in your blog that there are three types of users on twitter those being individuals, businesses, and individuals who have businesses. You also mentioned how individuals hate the presence of businesses on twitter. My questions are: what is this anger that people have towards businesses on twitter? Shouldn’t people be more mindful toward entrepreneurship and good business?
It’s not everyone, so I want to be careful not to over-generalize. Some people can’t stand being marketed to. You’d be surprised how many people that order from me do not sign up for my mailing list. I quite literally hand out the biggest discounts to my email subscribers, and I tell them that, and … people still don’t want to be emailed. My email is spam to them, and I get that. But on Twitter, I have witnessed debates between people over the presence of marketing tweets. I suppose, like anything, it’s all in the packaging. If you were on TV, you could slap together a seriously sleazy infomercial, and it wouldn’t come across as anything but sleazy and shameful. If you are a business tweeting, or you’re a business that’s hired a Social Media agency to handle your tweeting, you just have to be sure to respect the people of Twitter. There are probably times when I haven’t done that, but I’ve learned from each of my mistakes.
One thing you have to keep in mind, not to sound preachy, but not everyone cares about entrepreneurship. In fact, I’d say a majority of people don’t. Most people have jobs, not businesses. It’s perfectly OK to work for others – I’ve done it my whole life, my mom and dad did it their whole life. Now, those people that have jobs… it doesn’t mean they don’t have dreams. But circumstances keep them from executing on those dreams. I wish entrepreneurship was more celebrated in our society, much like athletic achievements are. One hint to small businesses – treat your employees better, and they’ll not only celebrate your success – they’ll work their asses off for you.
Now speaking of twitter we had a small “debate” about past actors who’ve played James Bond. You indicated how you thought Roger Moore was an extremely underrated Bond and I believe I shot that down by saying Sean Connery was the best Bond of that era. Seeing that you are presumably an action junkie I’ll ask you a simple question Chuck Norris or Jackie Chan? (For the record, I think Jackie Chan would kick Chuck Norris’ ass)
It’s just so easy to say, “Connery was the best.” Who would argue with that? Just punks that are too young or naïve to watch a Connery Bond movie. But it’s a copout. Connery was awesome, but Roger Moore gets so little respect from the older generation – it completely sucks! Have they even bothered to watch For Your Eyes Only? Hugo Drax in Moonraker was an incredible villain. And if you can’t get people to listen to arguments about Moore, forget about Pierce Brosnan. But dude, he was good too! Tomorrow Never Dies is probably my favorite Bond movie. The opening where he gets that fighter jet outta there before the cruise missle hits the nukes – that scene still gives me chills, and it had the humor thing going too. And now Daniel Craig is doing very well with the role. This is telling to me – I’m hearing some older people like my parents, who swear by Connery, that say that Craig is good. They have nothing nice to say about Moore or Brosnan, but they’re digging on Craig. Very interesting.
However, all of that being said, Goldfinger was probably the best Bond movie ever made. It just was.
Chuck Norris beats Jackie Chan, Santa Claus, and the Dalai Lama – get that line of questioning outta here. Although, Jackie Chan was so freakin awesome in The Cannonball Run. Funny story about Jackie Chan – I once lived in a two family apartment building that was sold to a Vietnamese family. Their young son was adjusting to school here, and needed help with his homework. Li the dad asked me if I could help him with his math homework – fractions. So I said sure. I go down to their apartment, and the walls had two things – a statue of Ganesh, and tons of Jackie Chan paintings. What a cool apartment!
Are you a wine guy or a beer guy? And what’s your favorite choice brand?
Wine. I drink red wine almost every night, unless I’ve run out. Then I debate whether or not to head down into Rizzo World HQ (my basement) and pull out one of the good bottles. This usually forces a trip to Trader Joes for some cheap stuff. I used to drink beer a lot, but now I’m mostly about the wine. I drink mostly cheap stuff, but my favorite bottle of late is Cape d’Estaing that I scored off Gary Vaynerchuk’s new wine site Cinderella Wine. Wow it’s good.
I’ve noticed that you have a soft spot for good will and you are a contributor to Food For The Poor. If you had the money or power to change something in the world what would that be?
I have indeed committed 5% of profits to Food for the Poor, and I hope to God someday I am writing them big checks! Your question actually gives me a headache – my God, I don’t even know where I’d begin. Fix our schools, end war, at least have less wars, encourage entrepreneurship across the globe, end hunger, racism, the building of cars like the Pontiac Aztek. We have a lot of work to do in this world.
Something to think about, and this is not a liberal or conservative issue, I ain’t talking about any of that. Bad people do bad things, and sometimes you gotta go to war, I guess. But can you name the last decade that we weren’t fighting in a war somewhere? Literally how many centuries do you have to go back? That really sucks. And while we’re bringing the fight to others across the globe, we’re so incredibly generous too. I just wonder where we and the world would be if we cared about our own country more.
Well cool, I think that’s it! The interrogation is over (laughing), I must say what has intrigued me about you is the fact of how cool and grounded you are. With over 35,000 followers on twitter and over 3500 fans on Facebook you’ve remained humble through it all. Most people in your position in this social media develop a big head and become almost self absorbed and lose touch of what got them where they are and that is to be commended. I would like to thank you for giving The Trendaholic an interview and taking the time to shoot the breeze with me about your personal life and business.
Dude, my pleasure, and about that big head… I really do have a huge head, I don’t even know if they make hats my size. But seriously, I think I’d like Rizzo to be huge and successful, self-sustaining, and my 24/7 job, but even if it gets to that point, I’ll never be able to forget all the people along the way that cheered me on, bought tees, helped me for free, and listened to me vent when it seemed like a mountain too high to climb. Let’s keep helping each other out like family should!