Learn How One Wardrobe-minded Woman Willingly Liquidated Her 401K to Fund Her Business
Spoiler alert: Her ambitious risk yielded quite the lucrative reward, as her growing business is currently raking in $100 million.
According to entrepreneur and bold #bosslady, Trina Spear, what seemed like an irreparable blunder in the earliest stages of her budding business partnership proved to be a blessing in disguise. The co-founder of the fashion-forward line of medical apparel, FIGS, attests to the ability to bounce back, being resilient, staying vigilant in your vision, and practicing perseverance and patience as the keys to entrepreneurial success when everything is at stake.
In 2012, Trina Spear was working on Wall Street for a well-known financial firm receiving a “safe,” substantial salary. After a close friend had tipped her off about a woman on the West Coast who had been trying to get a line of “re-imagined” medical apparel, aka scrubs, off the ground, Trina decided to give her a call. Within four hours of that fateful phone conversation with Heather Hassan - her soon-to-be partner-in-crime of FIGS - Spear booked the cross-country flight to Los Angeles that would forever change her life. Spear wanted in on Hassan’s brilliant vision for creating the first-ever line of flattering, fashion-friendly scrubs that both men and women in the medical profession would be ecstatic to wear. After all, there had been nothing like it previously offered in the market, and Spear instantly recognized a rare, potentially profitable opportunity to disrupt such a seemingly neglected niche. Apparently, no one had ever really given much thought to the bland, baggy medical garb that’s analogous to those who work in the medical field. So, Spear and Hassan embarked on a two-woman mission to bring the medical pros something more fun and fashion-worthy.
After their initial meet-and-greet over a tennis match in sunny SoCal, Spear would find herself flying transnational every few weekends to sell stylish scrubs out of Hassan’s car in front of the emergency room entrances of hospitals in the Los Angeles area. Undoubtedly, it was an unorthodox endeavor, but swiping copious amounts of credit cards on the side of the road is what eventually gave Spear the confidence to say goodbye to her safe haven at Blackstone and head to the West Coast permanently to work on FIGS full-time. It was now or never and Spear was all in.
Daringly liquidating her nest egg to help fund her scrubs start-up (committing one of the biggest no-no’s in personal finance) and five, short years later, FIGS was the fourth largest female-founded company in 2017, receiving $100 million in revenue that year.
Snag Spear’s Secrets for Success
Trina and Hassan found a way to offer something innovative and better than what was previously being offered. Their line of sophisticated scrubs was meticulously designed, wrinkle-repellent, anti-microbial, super comfortable, and even boasted an athleisure-inspired yoga waistband for form-fitting appeal. Find a flaw in a market and fill/fix it with an idea, product, or service.
When seeking out investors, try not to dwell on the numbers issue. Instead, tell a story as you would to a friend. “Why something should exist that does NOT already exist” is a great place to start. Don’t be intimidated by the painstaking process of asking for money. Finally, keep forging ahead and forget about the mounting “no’s” because there will be plenty before you hear your first long-awaited “yes.” So, keep positive and stay the course.
And, the most seemingly dismal disasters of any business-in-the-making make for the best success stories.
The moment Spear and Hassan honestly thought their savvy scrubs enterprise had completely unraveled for good, incapable of recovery, was in the very early production stage. Spear tells Entrepreneur Magazine of the heart-stopping moment when she and Hassan learned the inseams of the male and female pants were mistakenly – and embarrassingly - swapped. “…and, that the difference between the top of the pant and…well, you get the rest…” They finally caught onto the in-seam snafu when a series of emails with the subject line reading “My Package” were flooding their inbox. Disheartening and devastating as it was at the time, Spear didn’t think the burgeoning brand could bounce back, as the total in damages exceeded $100K. At the time, the ill-timed, inauspicious loss seemed like a fortune that could never be recovered, especially after leaving a cozy cubicle gig and liquidating one’s entire retirement fund. So, Spear and Hassan decided to donate a bunch of units that fell on the small size of the in-seam spectrum. The manufacturing mishap taught the driven duo a lot about something called quality control and its indispensable role in providing a flawless end-product while ensuring customer satisfaction and increased retention. From fabrication to fulfillment, FIGS fastidiously employ quality assurance at every stage.
With its growing success over the past few years, FIGS has ventured into expanding its product base beyond the medical market, providing cool-looking compression socks, versatile vests, fleece jogger pants, and more unconventional, life-solving items. FIGS will be shipping to Canada later this year and hopes to introduce worldwide expansion within the next five years.
Words of Wisdom for Would-be Women Movers and Shakers
Don’t get discouraged by the male-dominated game of entrepreneurship. Always take something away from every meeting with a potential investor/buyer that you can use to improve upon. After talking with many male founders while navigating her own entrepreneurial journey, Spear conceded it really is easier for the boys in business. However, she advises that that shouldn’t impede on your ambitions and goals for personal success. Don’t play the victim, feel sorry for yourself, or label someone a sexist because they didn’t want to go forward with your idea, product, or service. This self-sabotaging mindset is a recipe for disaster – not revenue.