Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with serial entrepreneur and reSET veteran Jeremy Szechenyi about his latest startup, Design Swell.
Jeremy has always been interested in elements of design. His entrepreneurial journey began while he was still at college, where he launched his first startup designing ghillie suits for paintball.
“The suits were expensive, so I figured out how to make one for myself,” explains Jeremy. “Everyone loved it and I started selling them on eBay. That was the beginning of my 19-year journey as an entrepreneur.”
His next startup was an import drop shipping business. He sums up the experience: “I made a little money, but I decided it wasn’t really going to work.”
Jeremy found longer-scale success with his next venture, a bootcamp-style personal training company, which he ran for five years before selling it off.
During these initial ventures, Jeremy was still going to school. His original focus was fashion merchandizing. But he quickly realized he was more interested in the business side, so he switched to a business major with an entrepreneurship minor. “I had a good amount of high-level business knowledge and a little of that book-style entrepreneurship,” he says, “but for me, the best education was doing it.
After college, Jeremy worked on developing processes and strategies to help his brother’s business scale. Then he moved to Boston, where he hoped to immerse himself in the tech culture.
After a few other failed ventures, LTHR Supply, the watch company he co-founded with Travis Tyler started to take hold. By then, Jeremy had met his wife and moved to Connecticut to be closer to family.
reSET-Ing, Pivoting, and Seeing A Need
With the watch company running well, Jeremy had time to explore other venues and he knew he wanted to get involved with the community here.
“I wanted to fill my time with something exciting,” he says. “I thought: Let me look around at what’s happening in the startup scene. A friend had gone through the reSET Accelerator a few years prior and suggested I check out the organization.”
Jeremy accepted a Program Manager role, where he spent two years helping to educate entrepreneurs, small business owners, and organizations about innovation, strategy, branding, product development, and growth.
Then it was time to transition back into full-time entrepreneur.
The Latest Startup
Though their business was going well, Travis and Jeremy decided to relaunch the watch company as Lonegrade and move all the manufacturing to the United States.
“It’s a very long and expensive process,” explains Jeremy. Fortunately, he had worked in the retail space and connected with local suppliers.
“As we went through that process and talked to other watch companies, we realized a lot these small brands have great ideas and great value, and we wanted to be able to help them, which is why we came together and formed Design Swell.”
The latest startup launched in February 2019.
“The idea behind DesignSwell tied into some of what I saw at reSET. Many people have great business ideas—and they can be great brands. We want to help these companies turn their ideas into recognizable brands and create brand equity within their markets,” explains Jeremy.
“I love working with the earlier stage companies. They are full of opportunity and also super excited,” he adds. “But, many early-stage companies don’t have a marketing budget. They may have enough of a budget to get started and get their brand formed, but everything they do at an early stage needs to be set up to work well with long-term business strategy.”
In addition to early-stage companies, Design Swell does some corporate consulting and helps with product launches.
Startup Lessons Learned
Jeremy has learned a lot along the way throughout his entrepreneurial journey. His biggest pieces of advice are about spending, knowing your value, targeting your market, and building the right team.
In terms of spending, he says, “You have to invest in yourself or your business. I didn’t do that early in my entrepreneurial ventures, now I think about every dollar going out as either bringing value in or directly correlating to the value this stage in our business.”
He continues, “As you spend more and more money, make sure you figure out how to directly bring value to your stage and your phase of business. And make sure to revisit the process.” He admits, “Those are things I never did in some of my past ventures.”
The flip side of spending is value—and determining whether if your value is worth money. That involves knowing your target market, notes Jeremy.
“Whether you’re just starting out or you’re already established and you’re launching a new product, make sure—before you spend your time and money—to think through each target market and ask: What value do I bring and is it enough value?” he advices.
He encourages businesses to get a good dialogue going with their target market. His other tip?
“Talk to people who don’t know you or are disconnected from you, or someone you trust will give you honest feedback to ensure you’re delivering enough value. You can always add more. You may have a great idea and you may think your value is A and B, but you may be able add C, D, and E.”
Jeremy’s last piece of advice is about team. “Your team is not just who you hire, but the people you’re going to collaborate with. Surround yourself with people who bring value and bring benefit to your company,” he underscores.
“Think of your team as not just those people who are employed by your company, but also those who are partners and collaborators you’re going to work with. Make sure they exist because you’re going to need them as you grow. It will be different for every industry.”
“I failed a bunch, which is normal,” Jeremy admits. “I heard a phrase that says, ‘fail forward,’ which I love.”
He adds, “As a startup and as an entrepreneur, you will fail a ton. But you can use those experiences to learn and push yourself further or avoid those mistakes in the future—and hopefully help the other entrepreneur avoid those same mistakes. That, to me is success.”
Learn more about Design Swell
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