Every action has consequences – and they are usually not measured in the chronology of the moment. Look at it from angles before making important decisions. Don’t confuse the need for speed with impulsivity.
Sean understands furniture from the inside out, the outside in, and stitch-by-stitch. He grew up in Silicon Valley so it was only natural that he started his first company in a garage. But he built couches, not computers.
That company grew into a multi-million dollar business that designs, manufacturers and hand-delivers beautiful and sophisticated furniture for some of the world’s most exclusive retailers.
But selling his products through other people wasn’t enough for Sean. He thought it was time to bring his years of experience in creating beautiful products – and in delivering them with love and efficiency – directly to you.
So Sean created Gjemeni, a new company that is on a serious mission to turn the outdated world of sit and sleep upside down, making it friendlier, more comfortable, and more beautiful.
Gjemeni’s first product is truly a “Renaissance Couch.” Sean calls it that because it does so many things beautifully. The sides go up and down for lounging and comfortable sprawling. The back goes down so the whole couch also becomes a deliciously comfortable bed. It’s a totally versatile couch for the versatile way we live today.
When Sean isn’t thinking about timeless design, memory foam and heat dissipation, he gives back to the community as a board member of OSLF Foundation, helping build orphanages and support systems in communities ravaged by tsunamis and other natural disasters.
Where did the idea for Gjemeni come from?
I’ve been in the furniture business since I started in my family garage – and grew that company to become a successful supplier of furniture to leading retailers across the country. But I never had my own brand to sell direct. When you’re in the furniture business you become a keen observer of trends – how people live, where they spend their time, the styles that speak to them. I saw an opportunity to put those insights together with my core business infrastructure, to take advantage of the exploding direct-to-consumer market in home design. The perfect storm of all those forces became Gjemeni.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m up typically about 6am, at the gym by 7, after a workout and shower, get to work around 9. On a typical day I have calls with website the development team, performance marketing team, strategy team, PR firm, social media management team, and our content management team. I’m also close to my Board and a number of trusted consultants and engage with them regularly. I prefer to have multiple views, and synthesize them, rather than cut myself off and limit input. I’m not afraid of contradictions – I worry more about artificial consensus.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As I mentioned, our start-up is built on the established scaffolding of our existing operation. That gives us enormous structural advantages – including the ability to quick test new ideas and prototype them rapidly. “Applied creativity” is a core principle of ours.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I call it “Accelerated Brand Birth.” Look at the speed with which new brands like Stitch Fix, Warby Parker and Casper on the consumer side have been created in legacy industries. The same is true for b2b. The combination of openness to innovation, frustration with convention, and the open platform of the Internet is unprecedented in the history of capitalism,
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Cliches are cliches for a reason. I believe in the fundamental principle of “healthy body, healthy mind”. I have always been quite active. I get to the gym 4 to 5 days a week for a workout to keep both my mind and my body in the best shape possible. And more and more, research is proving that our physical condition drives improved cognition and creativity. And that includes getting enough sleep. Other than the genetically lucky few, those entrepreneurs who pride themselves on getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night don’t realize what they are doing to their bodies. We need to redefine productivity. It’s not about how long you work, but how well you work. A creative idea that comes in a nanosecond, after 8 hours of brain pause, is what true productivity is all about.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Look right and left before you cross the street. Every action has consequences – and they are usually not measured in the chronology of the moment. Look at it from angles before making important decisions. Don’t confuse the need for speed with impulsivity.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Most people say not to take things personally in business. I think that’s wrong. First of all, we are human beings and our wiring is ancient, we have evolved to take thing to heart. From an evolutionary point of view, that’s why some of us are here and some aren’t. So even if we pretend not to take things to heart, we do on an unconscious level. I would rather take things to heart, deal with the emotional consequences and impact, and find a way to move on. To me that’s most honest and effective than pretending “business is business.” That’s not true. Business is a part of life. It’s not ALL of life, but it’s a part of it. And we can’t separate it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
“Listen more than talk.” And that’s not easy. Entrepreneurs by nature have a zillion ideas so our brains are always bubbling over. But listening sharpens and focuses your ideas. It makes your team feel valued. And also helps you see through bull, because if you keep interrupting people never get a chance to show how full-of-it they are! It’s a learned habit though, and I have to work on it all the time.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I believe in practical differentiation. You need to be offering something that is meaningful unlike the competition – and meets consumer or end-user needs.
The “practical” piece means that you need the ability to accomplish that based on your current or future resources.
I’ve worked hard to identify unique market needs that we are uniquely suited to fill. When businesses fail it is because they have not identified the right mousetrap, or they can’t produce the right mousetrap at the right price or scale.
This requires objective analysis of the market and your own strengths and weaknesses. the former is easy – any MBA can do it. The second is hard. It requires relentless self-awareness, every day.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As an entrepreneur, you’re always facing obstacles. Like many entrepreneurs I was living close to the edge. After starting my furniture business in a garage that was tucked away in the back of my mom’s Montessori school – and hustling like crazy – I managed to scrape together an order for my first container of 200 pieces.
But when it I arrived at the port I was $5,000 short. That was devastating. My inventory was stuck at the dock.
I had no one turn to other than my retailers. They didn’t know me for all that long, but they took a liking to a young entrepreneur. I asked for an advance against future orders, and more than one of them agreed.
My container was able to clear customs, and my business was on its way.
The life lesson for other entrepreneurs: Don’t get so caught up in the joy of the moment that you neglect the implications. But also – never forget the goodness of people and their willingness to help. Repay in kind and more will come.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The pet market is billions of dollars but the market for purebred dogs is fragmented across hundreds of mom and pop breeders. I never understood why no one has built a branded digital platform to vet and link this chaotic marketplace.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Helped someone that needed it, more than a hundred dollars. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious, but I made a philanthropic contribution that ended up with someone who needed it more than I did.
But I know you don’t want that answer – you want a cool tech gadget. Ok, I love my Amazon TV Fire Stick. It’s actually less than $50 and its simplicity and the access it provides is stunning.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I am a huge Evernote addict. I love its clean functionality and how it synchronizes my phone and devices: I constantly make notes on the fly and Evernote is ideal for that. Plus, I often access my phone’s camera through the platform. It makes it easy to link images to ideas and to share in my network.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I loved the “Peter Principle” from the first time I discovered it. The book was first published in 1969 but I didn’t come upon it till long after. The book’s thesis is one of those obvious ideas that are simple genius: people get promoted beyond their level of competence, into their level of incompetence. It was originally intended to be a satire, but its truth-telling propelled it beyond that snarky commentary. Read it to understand how we all have our limits, no matter how brilliant we think we are.
What is your favorite quote?
“It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, but what you think you know, but it isn’t so”
Sean Pathiratne on Linkedin: