John Tabis, founder and CEO of The Bouqs Company, is passionate about disruptive businesses, cool brands, and showing love to the important people in his life. The Bouqs Company is a combination of those things, and he is thrilled to bring it to you and yours. Prior to Founding The Bouqs, John worked in strategy consulting at Bain & Company, followed by marketing strategy for brands including Disney, ESPN, ABC, Marvel, ShoeDazzle and Gerber Baby. John received his BS in Finance from the University of Notre Dame and his MBA from UCLA Anderson. Follow him @j_tabis.
Who is your hero?
Whoever invented the TV show “Dinosaur Train.” HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?
I have no idea who this person is. I only know that he or she took two kid favorites, mashed them together, and now I sing “Dinosaur train, dinosaur train” all day. My son will be addicted forever. Sheer genius!
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
“Be better today than yesterday.”
This was a piece of advice my father gave me when I was in high school, and he wasn’t at all speaking about business. He often saw me dreaming big dreams (and he encouraged the dreaming), but then one day told me this piece of advice. Just be better today than you were yesterday, and you’ll get there.
I’ve adopted this 100 percent into startup life. We all dream big dreams at The Bouqs Company. We want to drastically change a huge and entrenched industry. And we have big ideas whose time will come, and they will absolutely be realized if we’re just better today than we were yesterday: as individuals, as a company, and as a brand. Everyone, including me, wants faster, bigger, better. But trying to cut corners or take the cheapest path, or jumping around from one big idea to the next, can lead to wasted time, resources and energy.
Just be better today, and you’ll get there.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
I started pitching my business when I knew nothing about it.
After we had just launched, I spent six weeks spinning my wheels before I realized that I didn’t even know what I was pitching yet. Some businesses get funded purely on an idea. An e-commerce business in the fall of 2012 wasn’t going to be one of those businesses.
So after a month and a half of pitching a nebulous idea with little clarity, I battened down the hatches and went to work for two months. And the business grew, buzz spread, we made sales, and things started to fall into place. I learned about what it was that we had on our hands: how it might work, a few early metrics (not to be overly relied upon in the first year or two, but important), and results. Revenue. We had our first investor in less than a week with my second round of fundraising early in 2013, and the round was oversubscribed just a few weeks later.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
The first thing I do is check our customer service logs. I answer a few emails myself, and read through many others. Then I check our social channels to see what’s clicking and what isn’t. I identify problems or areas of opportunity, and ping the team members responsible. It helps me better understand what our consumer is thinking and feeling, where there are pain points, and where we have big upside. The feedback in a consumer business is immediate, constant and tends to be fairly consistent.
Customers may not know what they don’t know, but they do know how you’re doing today. They may not be able to draw you a map, but they can point you in the right general direction. Customer Service, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are an endless and free feedback loop. That’s my first hour every day. And it’s making us all better.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Don’t spend money. Heck, don’t get money. Instead, beg; borrow; barter. Sell the vision. Do whatever it takes to get things going with as little capital as possible. You’ll learn about yourself, your business and your team in ways that you just can’t with capital.
If you’re just getting started, the willingness to do these things and the ability to make them work can be huge assets down the line. Early funding is great, but it can also be an Achilles heel for an entrepreneur. It may become a crutch and can squash creativity. When you’re truly lean, your best resource is yourself and your team (if there is one). Fundraising makes you really appreciate capital, so you’ll use it wisely later on in your startup’s life. It helps you identify partners and team members who truly believe in the vision, so you know you can count on them later. Those who come on board when there’s nothing will bleed for the business, because they are as much an owner as you are.
Of course, capital is key. If you have the opportunity, I am not recommending you turn it down. But not having capital can be just as valuable, if not more valuable, at an early stage. Don’t bemoan the lack of capital. Learn from it.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Get your customers to sell for you.
Give them easy-to-use, enticing, effective tools so they can tell your story for you, and put those tools in front of them everywhere they go. PR can build a brand. Paid marketing can scale a brand. But it all comes back to your clients wanting to tell your story for you, and being able to tell your story for you. You have to be a killer storyteller in any startup. You just don’t have enough friends to tell. There is no one better than your fantastic, amazing customers, who took a chance on you and your product. Get ’em going!
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
We will know we have succeeded when we can stand on our own and know we’ve built something that can survive and thrive. That’s success for The Bouqs Company. That will be a magnificent moment for this team, and it’s one I look forward to in the near future. To know that this group of people’s effort, creativity and intellect (plus capital from a great group of investors) led to a place where we can self-sustain? That will be major success.
From there, much more will happen, I am sure. But that’s our start.