Joe Mimran, best known for launching the Club Monaco and Joe Fresh brands, has been a judge for three seasons on the CBC reality television series Dragons’ Den.
After working in his family-run dressmaking business, Mimran and brother Saul hired designer Alfred Sung in 1981, and launched a line of apparel, fragrances, eyewear, homeware and jewelry with Sung’s branding. A few years later, Mimran launched Club Monaco, now a global brand with hundreds of locations.
After leaving Club Monaco, Mimran began to in invest in emerging businesses and re-opened his design consulting firm, Joseph Mimran & Associates.
For about a decade and a half, Mimran’s private-label apparel line, Joe Fresh, has been available in Loblaw Companies Limited superstores and supermarkets across Canada. Joseph Mimran & Associates oversees the design of apparel, home and entertainment for Loblaw Companies Limited.
He, along with other investors, have partnered to form Gibraltar and Company, whose goal it is to identify and contribute to Canadian technology companies.
Can entrepreneurial skills be taught to anyone?
Joe Mimran: I think like almost anything, you need some basic skills or abilities. If you’re not a risk taker, and abhor taking risks, it’s not for you. If you don’t have ability to think through a financial situation, it’s not for you.
Maybe you excel in sciences; you have different skills that may not be suited to be entrepreneur. I think broadly speaking there’s a big swath of people that can have basic skills to become an entrepreneur. You can see that by the number of people who go out and start their own businesses. There’s 135,000 businesses started in Canada every year.
Only a third of them succeed over the course of five years.
What do you attribute that to?
Joe Mimran: I think all of the necessary skills that go into being an entrepreneur are 1) being a risk taker, 2) having an understanding of the market you’re going after, 3) access to capital, and your ability to attract capital, through friends, family, or other ways. Today, there are so many ways that were not available when I started. A hundred websites, platforms to raise money, like Kickstarter. That is a big advantage to entrepreneurs today.
What’s the key difference between being a good manager, and a great manager?
Joe Mimran: I think a great one, is one that can inspire people to be great. A good one is one that manages well. That’s the big difference. You can see them out in marketplace. Great ones are inspirational, and push people to do things they couldn’t think they could do. Good managers just manage well.
How does one ever know that a product or service will have a demand?
Joe Mimran: Lots of different ways. One is a need you see in market that’s not fulfilled.
One woman came to me, and had a bra that was great, designed for breastfeeding. She realized that there wasn’t anything that worked like she needed, and she designed it.
Whether she’ll be successful, I don’t know. But she was inspired to do something she otherwise might not have done.
The other inspiration is the fire in the belly to be successful, and go for the brass ring. Look at your mentors, people you admire, and follow in their footsteps; be inspired.
I was inspired by design, the aesthetic world inspired me greatly, and I wanted to forge a business in the world. I liked designing products, building a store, inspired by great prints, inspired to want to be entrepreneurial.
Today, more than ever, people opt out of the workforce and start a business. There’s more willingness by millennials, because they’re lighter on their feet, asset light, they’re mobile, borders aren’t an issue, they live in the virtual world, and have the ability to take on more risk, and look at the world in a more dynamic way that leads to entrepreneurial success.
What’s an example of a huge risk you took?
Joe Mimran: We went out and we bought for Club Monaco, before we launched in the stores. We were actually a manufacturer and a wholesaler.
We wholesaled to department stores and other retailers, back in 1984/5. So we created this line called Club Monaco, and then went out and tried to sell it.
But we had bought all the goods, and we thought customers would just buy it, because of who we were.
We heard no after no, from various department stores. We had all of these goods coming in, and the only way forward was to open our own stores.
We realized, when we opened our own stores, that we’d cut out the wholesale margin.
We brought all our manufacturing know-how and capabilities and we were able to deliver this incredible value to the consumer.
From adversity comes something terrific.
Another story is about our first salesman in the dress business when we first started.
We said we wanted to build a sportswear factory, and he said “you know nothing about sportswear. You’re never going to be able to do it. It’s an expertise that takes years, and there are experts out there.”
We fired him, and we did it.
This is where I say sometimes, being naive can sometimes help you. Because when you’re a golfer, you’re at the first tee, and you see water on the right, you see sand traps on the left, and invariably you might hit it into the water or the sand traps.
As an entrepreneur, you won’t see those troubles, the water and the sand traps, because you’ve never taken this course before.
Sometimes you know too much, and it keeps you from moving forward. It paralyzes you to say, “I’m not going to go into this industry, because it’s in decline”, and a million reasons why it’s not a good idea.
But sometimes just doing it, making the mistakes, doing it, fixing it, moving it forward, finding a gap in the market, trying different things, gets you to a place that you didn’t expect you were going to get to.
So how should an entrepreneur seek out the best advice?
Joe Mimran: When entrepreneurs go for advice, they have to be careful. A lot of business people, having had lots of problems in the past, will try to dissuade somebody, because something’s so difficult.
Then the entrepreneurs don’t pursue their dream. They don’t realize that something could be done in a new way that might resonate in a way that this experienced person didn’t, or couldn’t, anticipate.
There’s always an idea that surprises people, and that leads to success.
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