This week’s menswear insider interview features yet another necktie company, one that has created quite the excitement amoung necktie aficionados and menswear enterpreneurs over the past year. I am referring to a necktie subscription service called Tie Society, a Washington DC based start up that has become known as the “Netflix of Ties”. Today I am interviewing Tie Society’s co-founder Jake Kuczeruk:
Tie-a-Tie: Hi Jake, thank for meeting with me today. You started Tie Society together with Zachary Gittens. Chances are that many of our readers already know about your business, but for those who are not familiar with it yet, please explain to them in one sentence what you guys do.
Jake: Hey Hendrik, happy to be here! Needless to say, I’m a big fan of what you’ve been doing with the Menswear Insider series and am honored to be featured on behalf of Tie Society. Tie Society is a monthly subscription service, similar to Netflix, that gives guys the opportunity to rent ties and other menswear accessories from our growing collection. Bow ties, cufflinks, pocket squares, tie bars- there has never been an easier and more affordable way to do accessories.
Tie-a-Tie: As a tie aficionado myself, I love the idea. What inspired this?
Jake: Alcohol. Just kidding- though we did actually conceive the original concept for Tie Society while at bar.
In the early days, we were just a couple of recent college graduates looking to dress to impress around the office and in our everyday lives. Ties, as you certainly know, can get to be very expensive. When you’re primarily eating ramen for most of your meals, you can’t really afford to drop $60 on a new Brooks Brothers tie every few weeks. Then, on one fateful Sunday afternoon (over beers and football), inspiration hit. We could trade our ties amongst each other to keep our collections fresh. Zac Gittens, Tie Society Co-Founder and CEO, would bring his J.Crew ties to the bar and trade for another friend’s Original Penguin. As more and more began to steadily take notice of what we were doing, we decided to take our service online to address the demand.
Tie-a-Tie: Talking to you makes it quite clear that you love men’s neckwear. Have you always been a tie aficionado or did this evolve through the launch of Tie Society?
Jake: Yes, I’ve spoken with my mother about this and she distinctly remembers me emerging from the womb sporting a double windsor. Ties are an essential part of life. Even when I was first getting into menswear, it was clear that the tie is really the main thing people tend to notice when you’re well dressed. You can wear the same two suits everyday of the week- it’s the tie that gets all the compliments.
Tie-a-Tie: What is your role with the company and what is Zach’s?
Jake: I am our CMO and Co-Founder. I primarily handle our marketing efforts, fundraising and investment outreach, style advice, intern coordination, social, events, press, B2B partnerships, and international expansion (we’ve now taken Tie Society to Japan).
Zac, our CEO and Co-Founder, works from our Washington DC base of operations and is responsible for the branding and logistics behind our service. All elements of the process- from shipping, packaging, cleaning, and inventory acquisition, are overseen by Zac. In addition to this, we work closely together on strategic planning, fundraising, and customer service.
Tie-a-Tie: If you two ever disagree on a certain business aspect. How do you come to an agreement? Are there any tips you could give to other aspiring entrepreneur teams regarding internal communication between the founders?
Jake: Since Zac and I are located on opposite sides of the country, keeping a steady flow of communication flowing has been essential to our success. Since we are both well keyed-in on what the other is doing, disagreement tends to be rare. If ever we do share opposing viewpoints, we take the classic strategy and both present a list of pros and cons to support our case. If that doesn’t work, I’ll play him for it on Call of Duty.
Tie-a-Tie: Sounds like you guys are working well together. That is great to hear. You guys have received lots of press including features on NPR, USA Today, Thrillist.com and more. Besides having an interesting business idea, what do you contribute to your publicity success? What advise would you give young entrepreneurs in the menswear industry, that are looking to spread the word about their idea?
Jake: Hard work from each and every member of our team and the efforts of a few select PR specialists that we’ve worked with in the past (shoutout to Suzie Chase of Orca PR).
We’ve become experts at getting our name out there because that’s what it takes to survive in the competitive E-Commerce space. We’re the guys at each event walking around and connecting with everyone else in the room. A lot of our wins have come in through friendships we’ve made with others in the industry. For instance, I often discuss style and new music recommendations with Adam Lehman, a Chicago-based blogger for his site Wide Eyes, Tight Wallets. Our friendship began before he started his blog, and as he’s continued to expand, he was able to help us out by getting our Black Friday offer mentioned on the front page of the Details Network this season.
Tie-a-Tie: What has your biggest success been to date?
Jake: While we have seen our fair share of wins (acceptance into our 500 Startups batch, the Japanese expansion, and achieving profitability), the biggest success for Tie Society has been the reward of running a business that we’re proud of. Zac and I both wake up thankful each morning that we’re able to do something that we truly love.
Tie-a-Tie: How about the biggest failure or downfall, and what did you learn from it?
Jake: Hmm, that would certainly be the service issues we experienced this last Spring when our postal carrier neglected to inform us that our PO Box was full and started storing our member’s return orders in a locked back room. When we repeatedly attempted to track down these packages, no one at the shipping office was able to locate them. The manager who had stored them back there left for a new job, and didn’t tell his replacement about the hundreds of ties he had locked in the back. Understandably so, we witnessed a high level of frustration amongst our members until we were able to fully resolve the issue. Fortunately, this helped us to practice and improve our customer service abilities. We became better at communicating with our members and those who we do business with.
Tie-a-Tie: What plans do you have for Tie Society in 2014?
Jake: Total world domination. In the mean time, 2014 will bring a dedicated store for the direct sale of items that aren’t as well suited for the rental model. This will include vintage ties and items we maintain limited quantities of, along with venturing into new territory by offering high-end leather goods. You can also expect a crop of around 100-150 new ties to arrive on Tie Society within the next month, with regular updates to our collection added each Friday. We’ve stepped our game up this year.
Tie-a-Tie: Last but not least, where do you see Tie Society in 10 years from now?
Jake: In ten years, I see a Tie Society operating in every country that has a demand for it. The online rental model just makes more sense financially and in terms of convenience to the user. Hopefully, we will have made first contact by then and I will have the opportunity to bring our service to Martian civilizations…assuming they have necks.
Tie-a-Tie: Who knows, maybe they even have two, three, or a dozen necks. Thanks for joining me here today.
Jake: Thanks for having me.
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