Geoffrey Edwards [gdotmoda]
What is the business idea that you are working on right now? How did you come up with it?
I am developing a line of "transformable" or "reconfigurable" clothes for women. These are clothes that may be readily transformed through several variations into different clothes for different occasions. I am a scientist developing a second career as a fashion designer - the idea came from thinking about how to make clothes functionally more useful for women.
Is there a website, blog or social media link where we can see more about your project and/or yourself?
I have a website that describes, in general terms, the philosophy and design principles upon which my company is operating - http://www.gdotmoda.com . In addition, the site includes a series of blog postings which have begun to explore the diverse world of fashion from a scientific and engineering perspective, the fruit of decades of my own research into the relationships between body and space.
What is your professional background? What were you doing before?
I have been a career scientist for the past 25 years, first as an astronomer and later in the field of surveying, today called "geomatics". However, over the course of the years I have developed an unusual focus for a scientist - along with a team including artists, psychologists and computer scientists, I have been instrumental in developing immersive environments that challenge our understanding of our own relationships with our surrounding space. These immersive environments are being used to explore the process of "physical rehabilitation" among people who have been injured or who have a congenital disability or incapacity.
How did the entrepreneurial spirit rise up in you? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship in your family or your social environment when you were a child?
Not in my family, no. I have been exposed to entrepreneurs over the course of my professional life - as a research scientist, I have often partnered with businesses, and have long admired the intelligence of people in private industry. I think I have been interested in starting a business for a long time - it just took me time to figure out the area I wanted to work in.
Do you have partners working with you on this? How do you split the work with them?
Currently I am developing the business on my own, and there is a certain amount of freedom in that. One of my brothers is in the process of becoming a major shareholder in my company, and he brings a lot of business savvy to the endeavour, and I have several friends who run their own businesses, who have been very supportive of this initiative. I will be developing strategic partnerships over the course of the next year or so, but do not expect to partner on the internal operation of the business itself.
Describe your business plan as briefly and simply as possible.
My business plan is focused towards developing a production process that draws on local manufacturing and a hybrid marketing approach that combines a range of local sales outlets with an internet sales point. Initial development is planned for the Quebec City region (home base), with expansion in the coming years in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and broadening to an international focus.
What have you achieved up to now? What have you yet to achieve?
I am finalizing the first set of designs, I have obtained start-up funding and am just in the process of setting up the company in terms of employees and production arrangements. I have also been developing a marketing strategy. My next steps will be to implement the marketing plans as production ramps up, and to complete a second set of designs that are still under development.
Are you looking for investors? What are you offering in exchange for what?
I am not looking for investors at this time - I have the funding I need to move the company forward into production and marketing and to begin to develop a brand name and reputation.
Do you have employees or people that you outsource tasks to? What do they do?
I am in the process of hiring an assistant to do a lot of the ongoing work of the company. One of the challenges I face is that I am still a senior scientist with an active research and teaching schedule at the university - I am simply not available all the time to take care of the million details of running the company. Therefore, hiring an assistant is a necessity. I will also be outsourcing the manufacturing process to businesses in the area.
Entrepreneurs have a reputation as "control freaks." How do you avoid that?
Interesting question. I actually see this as a "problem" that I have to solve. Before I got the financing for the business, I was both excited about the project and cool about the execution. Now that the business is running, I'm finding the stress to be tremendous - there are so many uncertainties when you are just starting out, and there's only so much I can do to drive the uncertainties down. Hiring an assistant is part of this, and doing the research to fill in the knowledge gaps, but I also have to learn to emotionally manage my double career better. Ask me later how I achieve this!
How do you balance work with relaxation?
It's a very good question. I'm single, and my relaxation for the past several years has been my sewing and fashion design activities. Now these have become my business! However, I do find sewing to be very relaxing, and I have a number of projects that are not directly related to the business, so I plan to put some time into these. I bought some "massage coupons" on the weekend, another way to relax! I used to cross-country ski, and I'm thinking I should get outside more...
What is your main motivation: being your own boss, adventure and discovery, getting rich, doing good for others, or is there something else?
My immediate motivation is that I have a product that I am convinced will be popular and which serves a need that is not well filled in the current marketplace. Over the longer term, I have a whole slew of creative ideas which I really enjoy turning into tangible products and getting them "out there" so that they are used. Making money is important, but for me it is not the primary goal, beyond generating a life-sustaining salary that will keep me in perks and allow me to leave the university.
What do you think of big corporations? Would you work for one?
No, I'm not that interested in working for a big corporation. In a way, a university is a bit like a corporation, and I've had enough of working in a large organisation over the past thirty years.
Describe two moments of maximum fear and maximum satisfaction that you have lived through in your business adventure.
I get a huge level of satisfaction whenever I get a design to a major new level of innovation, with the prototype constructed, and I can see how interesting the product is. I got a big scare when I revealed some of my designs to a person in the fashion industry without having taken the precaution to have him sign a non-disclosure agreement. I won't do that again. And I've spent a frustrating time trying to find out where the local manufacturers are. For a while, I thought I might have to go out to China or somewhere to do the manufacturing. It is still an option, but I don't like being forced into a single mode of operation, without any margin for manoeuvring. This has worked itself out, now, however, as I've identified dozens of manufacturers in the region who will be able to do the work.
When you need guidance or advice, where do you find it?
I have some very business savvy friends in my entourage - currently I get a lot of guidance from them. I do have a lot of personal knowledge about running a production team from my years developing immersive environments, so I'm not entirely at a loss. I am in the process of developing alliances with business assocations, especially in the fashion industry, with the hopes of further developing my pool of resources. I also look to the web a lot.
Up to what point is luck is important? How do you attract it?
I think you have to make your luck - that is, you have to put your company into such a position that good luck will drive it forward, and risk will be mitigated.
What do you do to maintain morale and continue persevering in low times?
Another good question. I draw on my friends a lot, but I'm also quite a solitary guy. I try to get out more than I used to, participate in social or outdoor activities more often.
Which well known entrepreneurs/enterprises do you admire? Why?
There's a fashion business here in Quebec City that I really admire - they're called Myco Anna. They do fashions that incorporate recyclable fabrics, and have been in business for more than fifteen years, hence long before the current popularity of recyclable fabrics. I also admire Apple Computer - they've been the mavericks for a long time, but their persistence is finally paying off. However, I notice that their success if very closely tied to the role of their visionary leader, and that is an issue for businesses in general, I think. There's a warning there - succession planning is also a really important aspect of running a sustainable business.
What other types of businesses are you frequently tempted by?
I have long skirted the idea of developing a scientific business to take up some of the research results we have developed. In fact, it is possible that we shall do some of this with my fashion company, g dot moda inc. I've also been interested in the idea of developing an artistic enterprise - again, a fashion business is an interesting compromise.
Are these times of crisis good for beginning a business?
I have always felt that times of crisis are ideal for new ventures. In fact, new ventures tend to emerge from crises. For example, when a large entreprise goes belly up, the people who leave tend to start up their own companies and the result is a burgeoning of new ideas and energy. The fact that many people feel "frozen" during crises, with little or no energy, also makes for a freer, less populous development environment. It is easier to be distinctive.
How important have PR and social media been for you?
Social media are the driving forces behind a 21st century business, in my opinion. My own company developed out of my engagement with an online sewing community (www.BurdaStyle.com), among several other influences. I have been marketing my company via blogs and twitter and, lately, squidoo as well.
What would you call success? Where would you like your business to be five years from now?
Great question! In five years time, I expect gdotmoda to be a company with a well known brand, recognized as being distinctive compared to other fashion labels. We should have a dozen garment lines that are being marketed across all the major cities in Canada, and have strategic partnerships with outlets in the US and Europe, possibly Asia. I will have left the university and be working fulltime for gdotmoda, with a small team of designers I can rely on to develop and extend my own thinking about clothes and fashions. I also expect to have one or two garment lines that incorporate sensor and other technologies. An ambitious plan, but everytime I've made ambitious plans in the past, I've been able to achieve them!
What skills would you advise a want-to-be-entrepreneur to acquire?
I think all skills are useful. I think the ability to think strategically and elaborate dreams and visions are absolutely key, and perhaps more important than any other skill. Management and operational skills can be delegated, visionary skills cannot be. However, good management and operational skills are also valuable - the more you understand your own business, the better you can supervise others to do the work!