Tom Patterson was fed up with the way his undershirt came untucked, shrunk up, and quickly yellowed, so he set out to make the ultimate undershirt that is now the must have for every man.
Raised in Milbank, South Dakota—population: 3,600, Tom always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He started a number of small businesses when he was younger and always knew that one day, he would start his own company when an idea came to him.
Before starting Tommy John, Tom attended Arizona State University and then worked as a medical device salesman. Today, Tom lives in New York City and on days he isn’t solving men’s undergarment problems, he enjoys traveling, surfing, lifting weights and playing golf.
[quote style=”boxed”]Bailing hay on a farm in South Dakota in 100 degree weather and 90% humidity. It made me appreciate the value of a dollar and how hard people work for it.[/quote]
Where did the idea for Tommy John come from?
Because I hated the way undershirts were designed and thought there had to be a better way. I used to wear a suit and tie every day when I sold medical devices and couldn’t find an undershirt that worked the way I wanted them, too. As a result, I reinvented a version that works better and Tommy John was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day is different. I used to walk my dog, Marley, to work every day to work with me for 5 years but lost him a few months ago. Now, I usually work from home the first hour or so before I walk to the office. I put together “To Do” lists each day and revise at night.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think what would I like to see in a product and then work backwards from there. I ask a lot of questions about what people dislike in what they wear, then ask them if they’d like it to work in this way, what colors they would like to buy, etc.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Sweatpants dress pants. Comfort clothing shouldn’t be just for the weekends.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Sense of urgency and coffee.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Bailing hay on a farm in South Dakota in 100 degree weather and 90% humidity. It made me appreciate the value of a dollar and how hard people work for it.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Moved to New York earlier as our business has grown significantly since.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Don’t be afraid or too proud too ask for advice. I’m known for asking a lot of questions and asking for things to be explained to me like I’m a 3 yr old so I fully understand things. I also have a handful of advisors and friends that are mentors to me. I get my gut checks from them when I’m struggling with certain things.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
By personally visiting Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus stores. I would spend time talking to customers and sellers. As a result, I was able to learn how to improve products and also create new products based on what was missing in the market.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I made 200 undershirts that were sewn with the wrong side seam allowance so they were shaped like pears as a result. I ended up losing almost $1500 from that mistake. I then found out what a pattern maker and technical designer were. As a result, I didn’t make that mistake again. That was an expensive mistake and one I almost didn’t recover from at the time.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A sorting system for taking supplements or medication. There has to be a simpler way than people opening up 30 bottles of medication every single morning and taking pills. If I had to take prescriptions, I’d love to press a button in the morning and have the 5-6 supplements I take, just come down a hatch into my hand like a gumball machine. It would save people a ton of time.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I grew up in a funeral home and like to hunt.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I recently started using Evernote to stay organized. I like that it acts as a second brain for me to recall information I need quickly, when I can’t remember all the details of something I’m looking for.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Art of Cold Calling by Steve Schiffman. I was required to read it in my first job out of college and it helped me overcome the fear of cold calling people and taught me how to effectively get to decision makers.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
My parents. They never let me quit activities, sports, or groups I wanted to be in when times got tough. They made me stick it out until the end of the season and more often then not, it was a positive experience. As a result, the Vince Lombardi quote “winners never quit and quitters never win” resonated and has stuck with me through tough times I’ve had as an entrepreneur.
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Tommy John on Twitter: @TommyJohn
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