Tim Talley – Creator and founder of U-Lace

[quote style=”boxed”]Expect success just don’t expect it to be overnight.[/quote]

Tim Talley is creator and founder of U-Lace Sneaker Customizing Laces. A serial entrepreneur, Tim has developed products and run his own companies since high school. Tim possesses a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester as well as an MBA in Marketing and Strategy from Duke University.

Earlier in his business career Tim was the co-founder and CEO of women’s athletic apparel brand Ballgirl Athletic which was sold in over 2000 stores in the USA. In addition to all of his entrepreneurial ventures, Tim has been an intrapreneur at New Era Cap, Nestle, and Revlon –  all where he performed both marketing and product development functions.

Tim is a visionary product developer and global trendspotter who possesses a track record of product development successes. His latest venture U-Lace is sold in over 30 countries.

What are you working on right now?

We are working on a couple  of major projects right now.

1) We recently transitioned to a new product configuration U-Lace Mix-n-Match and pricing strategy that so far has proven to the right move.

2) We are finalizing development of two additional – customer customizable products – that we are confident will expand the brand and solidify our positioning as a brand that offers consumers cool products that can easily be customized, not just once but again and again.

Lastly we just completed a huge project to redevelop our website to really show the U-Lace lifestyle.

Where did the idea for U-Lace come from?

I was trendspotting in Tokyo looking for an idea and I saw a pair of sneakers in a shop window that were laced in five colors at the same time. I thought it was the coolest thing. I walked into the store with the intention of buying the sneakers but was quickly disappointed to find that the multi-color lace-up was just a display window merchandising scheme. I picked the sneakers up and all of the left over lace from five standard laces each laced once or twice through a set of eyelets came tumbling out. What a letdown? But the idea immediately popped into my head. So I headed back to the USA a couple days and later and started working on U-Lace Sneaker Customizing Laces.

What does your typical day look like?

Up very early (4:30ish). Prayer and then straight to the Blackberry to see what email came in overnight. We have distributors covering about 40 countries so lots of emails come in while I am asleep. I try to quickly answer those emails and also may may make a few quick overseas calls. After that it’s into the shower and then to the office. Since I am everything from the Chief Custodian to CEO – my day consists of doing design work, talking with distributors, working with our factories, interacting with consumers and even making post office runs. We have a few part-time staff members and hope to make them full-time soon but for now I am the main guy driving the train each day – a day which usually ends about midnight with my last emails out or with a call to our factory guys in Asia.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Some may not believe me but I believe God has given me the vision to see things as they can and should be. For me the idea is just the beginning – the tip of a very huge iceberg. For me to bring ideas to life I must first see the idea realized in my mind. I then see consumers interacting with the idea. At that point it’s all about execution – thinking the idea through in my head and then sketching it out on paper and figuring it out. I then move to crude prototypes. Each step along the way I begin to see the vision more clearly which allows me to press further on. I then work with my factory partners to CAD things up and go to production samples. It’s a great process to engage in: idea to product.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Mass customization without question. In such a homogenous world, mass customization is a trend that I am building my brand upon. It’s a trend I feel will only become bigger and bigger as time passes. Giving consumers an opportunity to personalize mass produced products is a must. Consumers want to put their own fingerprints on the products they wear and use. U-Lace is something of a hybrid as our laces give consumers a means to customize a mass produced product (sneakers) while the product itself is not customizable. However, as we have grown and expanded our line of products, we will also put out products that are fully customizable as products themselves.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

While I was in college I worked for a couple summers as a meter reader for a public utility, and boy did it suck. It was totally mindless and unrewarding. What I learned was that I wanted more from my life that I wanted to create things and not just go through life as if it were the movie “Groundhog Day” repeating the same thing over and over again. Nothing against those who do such jobs – I just knew it was not for me. So I told myself that I needed to finish college and learn as much as I could along the way. Not just get a diploma, but soak in all the knowledge and inspiration I could.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

This is supposed to be a short interview, right?

There are so many things but I guess the one thing that stands out would be to be a lot more skeptical of people who wanted me to pay them to help me grow my business. It’s funny how people want guaranteed pay but can’t guarantee anything in return. We now wrap metrics around all contracts and tie performance incentives to them. If everyone does not have some amount of skin in the game, it does not work. Ultimate failure does not result from failing at this project or that project – because failure and disappointment are part of the process– it results from not learning from the small failures along the way and not dusting yourself off and pushing ahead.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I remind myself that there is no such thing as an overnight success. I tell myself to look at where I am now versus last month or last year and see the progress I’ve made. If a potential entrepreneur thinks that they will launch a business today and be rich tomorrow I tell them that they might be entering the wrong career. It takes time, hard work, dedication, sacrifice and usually some actual blood and tears to make a success of any business. Expect success just don’t expect it to be overnight.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I started and ran an apparel company in New York City (Ballgirl Athletic) for 5 years from 1995 until 2000. We were doing well – had deals with players in the WNBA, USA Lacrosse, WPVA volleyball league and many others. A venture capitalist approached us telling us how he could make us rich. We took the bait and in the end the venture capitalist kicked me and my partner out of our own company. Gutted it and bankrupted it. I was flat broke and almost on the street. Friends and family saved me from being homeless and then on a Saturday morning my college roommate pulled me out of the house and took me to a bookstore. While there I found the book Who Moved My Cheese I could not afford to buy the book so I read it in its entirety while sitting on the floor. By the time I finished I realized that Ballgirl Athletic was my cheese and that is was gone and that I needed to go find new cheese. I snapped out of my funk just like that. God sent my fraternity brother to pick me up that day. He put me right next to that book and made me read it.

I was then hired by the company that bought my company out of bankruptcy to help them re-launch.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I once thought about going to the best restaurants for regional cuisine and asking them to license their recipes for a chain of restaurants that would serve the best foods from around the USA but in a way that was totally authentic the way you would get them from those restaurants that were known to be the best at what they do. I love the idea – but I’m not a restaurant guy.

To be truthful – I am a product guy and an entrepreneur – so I prefer to keep new ideas to myself to see if the urge to execute hits me. I would gladly give my advice and insight to another entrepreneur but ideas – really good ideas are just too hard to find – so I rarely give them away. I am always willing to help another person fulfill and achieve their dreams, not mine.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it.

Poverty. I think I am going about it now. I left my job (opening it up for someone else who needed one) and now I am creating a brand and business that can both create jobs and opportunity as well as fuel economic growth here in the US. Once we’re really established I want to start an incubator that will help others realize their business dreams but only under the condition that they too agree to give back and make a difference.

Tell us a secret.

The secret to success is no secret at all. It’s hard work, perseverance, working smart and doing whatever it takes to keep the lights on until you finally make it.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Facebook – keeps me connected with our fans.
Duty Calculator – when you ship product all around the world you need to be able to figure out landed costs all around the world.
Google – Who doesn’t love instant information.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Blue Ocean Strategy. It is a roadmap for how to set your brand or product part from the rest. Even a new product that never existed before needs to be positioned right. I never launch anything without re-reading this book first and reapplying its principals to that new product or service.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Richard Branson – Great Business Mind
Warren Buffett – the guy knows business.
God – I know God does not have a twitter account but I’d follow him religiously.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

All the time. I share office space with great people who run another business. It’s like a family here and there is always something funny to laugh about. I’ll even laugh at my own jokes.

Who is your hero?

My dad. No college education but he’s the smartest guy I know. Raised a family of four on a factory worker’s salary. He also taught me about hard work and doing for the community. He’s my biggest supporter as an entrepreneur. Always says to me: “you’ll never succeed at anything if your not willing to take a risk and try.”

What do you hate most about being an entrepreneur?

When you run your own business, often times people think you either have money or time to burn and that could not be further from reality. So often I am put in a position where I simply have to tell people “no” they don’t like it and somehow I become the bad guy.

Are you married?

Not yet. Unless you count being married to the business. She’s out there somewhere though. I’ll trip over her someday.


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U-Lace on Twitter: @U_Lace