I would start sooner. I would take more risk in my early twenties and fail much more.
Twill is a small startup company located in Albany, NY, we can be found at myTwill. For every Twill product we sell, another is given to a local friend in need, you choose. Our story began in a mental health hospital when my brother was diagnosed with a complex mental health disorder. My brother was blanketed with love from our family of seven siblings, mom, grandma and many more. However, others were not so lucky. In 2013, I sold my car and began building this business with my brother Jer and dear friend Jac. I said to them, “I have no money and I want to start a giving business, are you in?”
We connect with local non-profits, we call our Blanket Buddies. We hand deliver warmth to friends battling homelessness, life-threatening illness and/or temporary displacement. With only 18 months into selling Twill products to date, we have been able to help nearly 3,000 friends in need. Through our website store and our corporate giving program we’ve been able to connect our product and our mission to customers who care about quality products and most importantly giving back to their local community.
Where did the idea for Twill come from?
Twill started in in Albany, NY in 2013, after selling my car to begin the business. My younger brother was diagnosed with a complex mental health disorder and he quickly saw the need for a giving company in his home town. I quickly grabbed a few friends and my brother, Jer and began working away in his basement to start a give back company.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Each day is fairly different. One day could be email follow up all day and scheduling and the next day could be out in the community taking video of our drop-offs and community partners we work with. We currently just spent all of September 29th taking over Shopify’s Snapchat and did a day in the life of Twill.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Strictly having meetings only for ideas. It’s so important. As soon as you stop creating, you start slowing dying. You have to schedule meetings where there is no note taking and where everyone can share and be heard. You have to let people get their thoughts out and listen to them. You never know what someone has brewing and it could be masterful.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Social Entrepreneurship. The fact that there are college kids sitting in classes right this second thinking of ways to change the world. I see it daily. From video calls, to public speaking, to setting up a 5th grade business market. It truly has changed and the new business model is going to be community focused, employee focused and products are becoming responsibly sourced. Our young business leaders are thinking about how the world is going to be shaped and less focused on the profits they earn.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Monotasking. As I sit and do this interview. I am not focusing on anything else right now. I want to make sure I give my clear, concise attention to each detail and produce quality work. Don’t open more tabs 🙂
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I ever had was working in retail. I worked for a giant sporting good company 😉 I learned right then and there what customer service meant and it helped me start a conversation with people. I started coming out of my social shell and started story telling rather than selling. It immediately created a relationship with my customers and brought them back again at a later date.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would start sooner. I would take more risk in my early twenties and fail much more. I played it fairly safe and didn’t take any business ideas off the ground. I tell everyone this, but back in 2008, an idea about one day fantasy sports came to me in my basement. I told my friends, they seemed intrigued. We spent one day thinking about it, picked up the ping pong ball and played beer pong and never thought about it again. Daily fantasy sports companies you see today are valued over a BILLION DOLLARS. TAKE RISK.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I am thankful each day I wake up and write in a journal about one little thing I am truly pleased with or thankful to be a part of. It could be as simple as the hair on my head, to my height, to being healthy. I am almost done with my first gratitude journal, which amounts up to more than a 1,000 entries. When you stand back and feel the weight of it, you realize what a miracle life is and how grateful you should be. I am truly blessed and rarely get down or depressed because of it. I highly recommend writing something simple each and everyday. You will start to look at your cards a little different.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Social Media. Social Selling. We are not marketing, we are story telling. We are not selling anything. We merely are trying to put our mission and product in the path of people who are naturally looking. Once we connect a story on social media and create wonderful content, we are able to build a connection with our audience. It truly is amazing how connected we are to so many individuals.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Well the one thing I wanted to do as a young boy was be a professional baseball player. I dedicated my life to baseball and sport from day one. I put so much time and energy into it and thought one day I could be paid to play. It taught me so much as a young man and the world of competition. I was lucky to play college baseball and play at a high level. I wish I could have made it further, but unfortunately I didn’t. There are days I watch baseball and wish it was me. Being an athlete and specifically playing baseball helped me become an entrepreneur. I learned to stay persistent and to deal with high rates of failure that you commonly see in baseball. It truly helped me put business into perspective.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
So I fly a lot. Like a lot of people, we are so close or are missing connections. Major problem flying because simple connections missed could be a loss of a day of travel, business, money made, etc… I think the airlines need to create an app that lets you send your status to them via GPS, a ping from PC to phone and estimates your arrival per person. Holding the plane for 5-10 minutes longer is not a big deal. They always say they can make it up in the air.(lol) If anyone wants to take this on, let me know and let’s do it and build for airlines 🙂 You do it right and they like it, you will be an overnight success. Think of WAZE or Google Maps for Travelers. Think about the travel market overview and the ease of use of this integration. I believe it is a simple integration that is built and sold to major air lines for their already standing air line app. Simple plugin, worth billions right now. NO ONE IS DOING IT. Case use: John Smith lands at 7:20am in Detroit, connection to Albany, NY is 7:45am. Deplaning takes 15-20 on average, based on your seat. The app aggregates your ETA to the next flight, based on terminal arrival, gate, distance etc… It alerts your next connection gate of your status and ETA per person and links automatically to flight information. The boarding crew is alerted, tells captain, John Smith’s ETA is less than 10, please hold plane. Passenger can also send a message to boarding team in real time. Additionally, crew members can communicate with one another in real time about missing passengers, emergencies on plane, gate changes etc…
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We spent a little over $100 on 3,000 Twill stickers at an event a couple months ago. We put a sticker on every single attendee. 3,000 people knew what Twill was about in under 1 hour. It has our website on it, and it ultimately lead to engagement at our tent. All we heard was “Wow this is a great idea” from other business owners. You wouldn’t believe how nuts people would go over a simple sticker worth 3 cents.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We use Shopify for our e-commerce service. We use Trello for project management. We use Groupme for team communication. We use Google Apps for email, storage, calendar etc.. We absolutely love Shopify. Like I said above. They are letting us take over their Snapchat account and helping us reach a new audience. They are taking customer service to a whole new level. It is not a service anymore, it is integration. Everything they are trying to do, involves their merchants. I think it is a great model and they are widely successful because of it.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Seducing Strangers” by Josh Weltman. Josh was a co-producer of the hit show “Mad Men” and he brought he brings his real world advertising experience into the show and now into this great book. If you are trying to figure out what story you are trying to tell in your business, then pick this book up and give it your time. It helped me understand company attitude, messaging and our audience.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Blake Mycoskie from TOMS really got this one for one business model off the ground . I read his book and it lead me to believe businesses do well by doing good. I believe that to be true and have instilled that philosophy into my business from day one. Gary Vaynerchuk is another. He is big on Twitter, owns Vaynermedia. He keeps it very real and honest with listeners. He doesn’t waffle, he picks a side and sticks to it. Listening to his podcasts and other messages have help me be a better leader and more decisive during tough situations that involve people, my business and family as well. Lastly, my Mom and Dad. I have seven brothers and sisters. I grew up poor in the city of Albany,NY. My parents worked night and day to provide us with essentials and a solid education. To this day, I don’t know how they did it. This experience made me realize how important family is and how important it is to give back. We were a unit and we worked together as family to work through struggle. Growing up with all my brothers, sisters, grandmother, aunts, uncles and parents truly was a magical experience. I can’t thank them enough.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.