The guys behind this design and manufacturing company credit their success to happy customers.
6 min read
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Dave Horesh, co-founder of Oxford Pennant. My business partner Brett Mikoll and I started the company in 2013. Back then, we just thought we would sell a few pennants at street festivals and make a little extra money on the side as we both had full-time jobs. Unexpectedly, the internet helped our business explode and once a high-profile account featured us, we had no choice but to push our chips in and to play the game as best we could!
What inspired you to create this business?
It all started when we were trying to find pennants for an event, but all of the vendors we spoke to either made them from synthetic materials or overseas. We wanted American-made, vintage-style wool felt pennants, so we ordered the materials and sewed them together ourselves. We posted a few photos on Instagram and people started reaching out, asking us to make pennants for their events, shops and companies. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with huge brands, including J. Crew, Google, Adidas, Urban Outfitters and many more.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
I believe that entrepreneurs should use their personal credit as much as possible before seeking outside funding. It’s easy to give up equity in exchange for cash when you have a fledgling business, but that comes back to bite you when your business takes off.
If that’s not an option, you need to find investors who have a point of reference for your product and vision. For example, a fintech executive might be a poor match for a company that makes protein bars. First, investors want to know that they can trust you. And if you drop the ball, they need to trust in their own ability to help you find solutions. Investment is marriage, so choose your partners wisely.
Oxford Pennant's Hustle Pennant, $25
Any pitching advice?
Keep it short — 10 slides! — and consider what your audience wants to hear. Be passionate. Ask yourself, “What questions could someone ask that would stop me dead in my tracks?” and make sure that you have an answer ready for those questions. Get to Q&A as quickly as possible.
Can you explain the process of finding collaboration partners?
Most of our partners find us! We make sure to share projects on social media and to credit our partners as often as possible. We also brand each of our items with Oxford Pennant tags, so pennants out in the wild always point back to us.
When big opportunities come up, we spoil our prospects. We send samples, T-shirts and other gear and we make sure to pick up the phone to show our excitement. Even when a small opportunity arises, we want folks to know that we care about their project. We love our story, we love our product and we want to make sure our clients feel like they’re joining our fun. I don’t care if a customer buying a pennant for the Grammys or for a baby’s first birthday, we’re going to give every project all that we’ve got.
In terms of marketing, what would you say was the key to getting your message out and growing your customer base?
We believe that every happy customer opens the door to the next one. Customer service is the most critical part of our business development and marketing process. Word of mouth has grown our company and word of mouth continues to sustain it. If someone orders an Oxford Pennant, we make sure that the delivery is the best part of their day. We ship our pennants in colorful boxes and fill those boxes with pins, stickers and handwritten notes.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Not much. We started Oxford Pennant with $2,000 on my personal credit card six years ago and even today, I feel like I’m working at someone else’s company. I’m proud of the business we’ve built but I credit our customers’ trust in us as the primary driver behind our success. It’s not me — it’s them. It’s their budgets, their designs, their enthusiasm for our product. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not an entrepreneur, I’m a facilitator. It’s incumbent upon me to make our business better to sustain our customers’ interest and to be a reliable home for our employees’ careers. The glory can go to someone else.
How did it feel the first day you opened for business? Your first sale?
It happened so gradually that I didn’t realize that we’d opened for business. My first sale was to my father-in-law, who almost certainly purchased the first pennant out of pity for me. He still has it hanging in his office to this day. I’m glad that I get to see that thing from time to time.
What was your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The hardest part about running a business that runs through you from the start is beginning to let go of processes as you grow. I continue to struggle with micromanagement because I’ve done everything at Oxford, from packing orders to filing taxes. I’m making more of an effort to educate our team about the “why” behind the way our business functions. I’ve found that the more I share, the more our employees want to learn.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation? What is it and explain how it inspires you?
We always say the same thing about big projects; “Go, ready, set.” We do our homework around big decisions but we’ve found that getting started on a project is the best way to make sure that it gets finished. When our team starts with “go,” we sort out complexities out of necessity. If we over-plan, those complexities can tank a project before it gets started. Some of our best work has come out of situations when we were in over our heads. We’re Buffalonians; we put our heads down and get things done.