By Gemma Aguiar (Founder & CEO, Design Like Whoa!)
It was the end of night at SF New Tech’s Belgian Night, the third tech event in Silicon Valley I attended since moving here in December. I still hadn’t spoken a word about my startup, and I was beginning to get frustrated. Just when I thought I would leave feeling unaccomplished, the event organizer announced he would allow 60-second pitches from the audience.
I had never spoken on stage before, but despite my nerves, I stood up and told everyone about my company.
I was the only female to pitch that night. Although my startup isn’t new tech per se, it applies to just about every industry, and is especially useful for startups. I make t-shirts.
I didn’t start out making t-shirts. After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I didn’t know what I industry to pursue, so I ended up moving to Los Angeles after I was offered a job in advertising, a job I held for about two years until recently. Having never really enjoyed the advertising industry, I was feeling unmotivated and unfulfilled, so I put my Photoshop skills to use and …
I picked up a new hobby: graphic design. I started making shirt graphics and created my first clothing line, Fabricated Los Angeles. Every night after my day job, I would come home and tirelessly work until the early hours in the morning on the new line. The line started gaining popularity and I loved working on it, so I kept that schedule for a few months until I finally decided to take a big step — I quit my day job.
I moved to the Bay Area in December 2010 and kept working on the line, but also formed a custom printing service called Design Like Whoa!. Before moving here, I was using a custom, on-demand printer in LA, which is where I first noticed the niche market for on-demand printing.
Just about every company needs t-shirts at some point in time for company merchandise, giveaways, trade shows, or events. Whether someone needs 100 shirts for their trade show in the next week, or a few t-shirts with their logo and URL to wear to a next-day event, my company can fulfill that need.
Everything about my business is lean, which makes it effective.
We create quick, high-quality prints on just about any popular brand of t-shirts out there, and we don’t hold inventory. Not holding inventory eliminates the problem of stocking too many t-shirt brands that never get used. We work with local suppliers so when a client requests American Apparel, we can offer it, or when they request Gildan we can offer that brand as well.
Sometimes our customers request different sizing for men and women, so we accommodate both. If a customer requests specific tees for women, we can provide them with some great options. This is nice for women who prefer fitted t-shirts — not every woman wants to swim in a baggy men’s tee!
We also run tests to see what our customers might enjoy. For example, just after moving back here, I created Startup Apparel, a line of t-shirts for entrepreneurs, also with separate sizing for men and women. The line took off after being featured in StartupDigest and gave our custom printing service a lot of attention.
You may be one of a few women at a tech event or meet-up, but don’t let that intimidate you. Let yourself be heard and you will also find great opportunities come your way. I am living proof of that.
It’s been a year since I started making shirts. It’s been a crazy year, but one of the best and most exciting I’ve ever had. New challenges and opportunities arise every day, and I love being in the midst of it all. A few great opportunities came from SF New Tech and the 60-second pitch. I had a lot of people come talk to me afterward, which wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get on stage.
I was asked to write this blog post for Women 2.0, and even Matt Gonzales himself came up to me after the event and requested t-shirts for SF New Tech. Stepping outside my comfort zone paid off in more ways than I ever thought it would, and I challenge more young women to do the same.
About the guest blogger: Gemma Aguiar is the founder and CEO of Design Like Whoa!, an on-demand custom printing service for t-shirts and more. She is also the founder of Startup Apparel, a line of t-shirts for entrepreneurs. Follow her on Twitter at @gemmarrose.