They’ve been best friends since they were six. What happens when they start a business together?
This week we sat down with Mickey, one of the two founders of Balitello, a subscription sock company that specializes in what they call “performance dress socks.”
Mickey was happy to share some of the most valuable business learnings he’s acquired since beginning his entrepreneurial journey — and how business lessons so often seem to overlap with life lessons.
Shortly after graduating from college — Mickey with a degree in finance and Rob with a degree in marketing — were thrust into the “real world”. These two lifelong friends quickly realized that the real world required a lot of things — including having to dress up everyday to go to work.
With their careers now underway in the financial and marketing worlds, the guys found themselves wearing the same suit everyday.
It was boring.
It was uncomfortable.
And, above all, it made them feel like zombies. They were no longer able to dress in a way that expressed their personality or individuality.
Eventually Rob approached his friend Mickey and asked him if he’d like to start a business. Both guys had an interest fashion and recognized the need for men to accessorize and personalize their daily outfits.
So they got to work. They spent an ample amount of time researching men’s fashion and trying to find the perfect niche. It became clear to them that an accessory like socks would be perfect.
Socks, they reasoned, allowed guy to be as goofy or expressive as they wanted in their day-to-day work lives — because socks are essentially out of sight.
Guys would be able to wear fashionable (or funky) dress socks and feel like they were injecting personality into their outfits in the morning, all without drawing any disapproving looks from their bosses or raised eyebrows from their co-workers.
Also, Mickey explained, it was far easier business-wise to focus on a single accessory rather than an entire fashion ensemble for a company that was just starting out.
“A lot of people make the mistake of taking on too much, too early,” he said.
And so “performance dress socks” were born. The concept and term were based on the fact that the products are designed like dress socks but with the comfort of an athletic sock.
Mickey and Rob both played sports in college and said that experience helped them recognize the need for comfort when they started wearing dress socks.
They also came to the conclusion that a subscription delivery model was the best avenue for their business.
“Let’s be real: guys don’t like shopping,” joked Mickey.
Besides Balitello’s fascinating origin story, Mickey was happy to share all of the entrepreneurial lessons he’s learned.
His favorite part about being an entrepreneur is being able to handle a bit of everything.
“Coming from the corporate world, I know that you tend to get put into a very specific role and you only do the same couple of tasks. Entrepreneurs handle every part of the business.”
He admitted that the learning curve is high, but emphasized that what makes it worth it is developing a large skill set that can translate into your real life.
“Running your own business gives you a sense of skill that you just can’t get anywhere else,” he explained.
But that’s not to say that being your own boss doesn’t have some downsides.
When asked about his least favorite part about being an entrepreneur, Mickey expressed how sometimes you can get to the point of not knowing what to do next. It can get tough when your job is to keep figuring out ways to get behind closed doors.
“You’re the one everyone is looking towards for answer,” he said. “You think some things will work — and they don’t. So you can be thrown for a loop.”
The key, he said, is to take a deep breath and stay motivated.
Another crucial lesson Mickey has learned since launching Balitello as a co-founder, has been that people often underestimate how much they’re capable of.
“When you get outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised how much you can take on,” he said.
His main advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to “just go for it”.
“Everybody always has a big idea, but the problem is nobody acts on it,” he said. “No matter how big or small it is, go through with it. Be realistic, but go for it!”
While he believes that having the courage to put yourself out there is half the battle, he was determined to stress that you still need to have a good plan and be serious about it. Taking the time to research and plan things out is an important preliminary step.
“Test everything on small scale. Gather emails, make a prototype, gauge interest first. Be prepared with a plan, take a step forward, and
see if any interest is sparked.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the Balitello business is that the co-founders have been best friends since the first grade.
“Being best friends with your co-founder is a fine line,” Mickey explained. “You both need to understand who’s responsible for what — creating a communication process is key.”
Since Rob is the marketing guy and Mickey is the finance guy, the two had a tendency to clash over what they should be spending on.
One way they managed to rectify this was by creating a discretionary budget. Both Mickey and Rob each have an allocated monthly budget which they can use to test on anything they want to try.
This method frees them up to to try new things instead of debating and having a back-and-forth.
“A lot of people don’t establish roles, so you share tasks. That leads to too much checking up on each other rather than actually doing the things you want to try,” said Mickey.
This is why they started assigning tasks, drew a line and “that was that.”
“Every so often we update each other on what we’re working on, but that’s it. We don’t micromanage each other.”
The benefits of working with a lifelong buddy definitely add up though, according to Mickey.
Arguments and disagreements don’t jeopardize anything, since the guys have known each other for so long. They understand each other’s background and recognize each other’s unique skill set. This allows them to know when one of them is going to be great with handling a particular task.
“We joke around a lot and give each other a lot of crap, but at the end of the day we have each other’s back and we know what our ultimate goal is.”