Hot! Pooja Vithlani, Sass Factory

Sass Factory, launched in 2011 in Bellevue, Wash., is a socially conscious, customizable T-shirt and applique line for girls, with an experiential web site where girls can design and rank designs.

‘Ah ha’ moment that led to launching this business:
I had made a scrappy version of the T-shirt concept for my niece while we were being creative and suddenly her friends’ moms were asking where they could get one for their daughters. I decided then that it might be a great business idea.

Ideal customer: Moms are the obvious choice but our ideal target market is actually aunts, uncles, grandparents, godparents and friends of moms.

First customer:
I emailed them cold-turkey and they liked the product description and ordered right away.

Measuring success: Success is when I see the delight on peoples’ faces when they discover our product for the first time. When they see it to be valuable enough to spend their money on, I consider that successful. When it was first broadly distributed through an online flash sale site, the delight from both customers and businesses wanting to partner with me was an amazing indicator of success and validation.

Biggest struggle: Having to move operations from offshore to onshore, securing partners who I really believed in and then seeing those partners having to close their doors and having to start again with new manufacturing partners. A lot of work goes into the details and ensuring my partners understand the concept and the business. I have overcome it through constantly evolving my business and networking to find the best partners I can.

Surprise!: The amount of time it takes. I didn’t expect myself to spend so much of my free time working on my business. I underestimated the level to which I would need to dedicate my time for every task.

Two things you wish you would’ve known:
How hard it would be to market the product, despite how unique it is and the viral components built into it. I also wish I knew that being a solopreneur would be challenging and lonely at times and how difficult is sometimes is to find strength to keep pushing ahead when faced with negativity.

What keeps you up at night (business-wise!)?
Whether or not my products will be seen in stores one day. I hope to get them in retail as they are the type of product that people have asked to buy anytime they see them displayed and I know it would be hugely successful if I can get them in retail.

Ever tempted to throw in the towel and just get a job? I have a job — this is my second job. I’m more tempted to throw in the towel and quit my day job to pursue my business as my only full-time job.

Biggest business goal over the next year: My goal is to get my brand out there and create more of a buzz around it. I would like to generate demand from retailers through consumer demand. I plan to meet it by being more proactive about pitching and selling and hiring some help to get the word out about it.

Pricing/advice on getting it right:
Start your pricing on higher scale, then adjust it based on market feedback. It’s easier to bring your prices down rather than take them up once you create a demand for your product.

Funding/advice on pursuing it:
I funded my start up using my own capital and investment from a small group of friends and family. Since I launched I have been fortunate enough that my revenues cover my ongoing expenses, however with expansion requirements, I will need to seek further funding. I’ve already begun doing this by both extending the opportunity to invest for equity to other friends and by launching a crowd sourcing campaign. Both have worked great for me, though they have also served as reminders to be realistic.

A few tips: Get your prototype perfected and tested by your target market before going into production, do your research on manufacturers and sourcing from a long-term perspective, and don’t take promotion lightly: it really impacts your financials.

The absolute best part of owning my business is: that I get to bring my vision to life.

If I had to start over again, I would have: considered manufacturing in the USA from the start.

I never imagined: running a business solo would be so difficult.

If standing on a rooftop facing crowds of aspiring or struggling small business owners, I would shout, “Keep believing in your vision, be smart and savvy — but persistent.”

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