If you’re looking for some entrepreneurial inspiration, there’s a lot to be learned from TK Newman. The 31-year-old with both an MBA and a law degree has extensive business experience, having owned high-end resale shop Poor Little Rich Girl before moving on to her current venture, Hustle Your Bustle. The online bridal boutique featuring high-end wedding dresses has been live for about the past month, and Newman shared some of her business advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Keep reading to see how she started her business, as well as five reasons why she loves living here in Arizona.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m a native. I’m a local Valley girl. I went to Xavier (High School), as did my business partner. I did 2 years at Boulder in Colorado and was kind of a ski bum for awhile, and I transferred to Arizona State University and got my business degree, and then I moved to Miami, and I got my law degree and my MBA. I moved back here, I opened up a women’s boutique called Poor Little Rich Girl, I loved it, and now I’m launching Hustle Your Bustle.
How did Hustle Your Bustle come about?
I had so many women coming in to Poor Little Rich Girl that either wanted to sell their high-end wedding dresses or wanted to buy a designer dress at a discount. My business partner bought me out about a year ago, and now I’m launching Hustle Your Bustle.
What made you decide to move back to the Valley and launch your businesses here?
I decided to come back to Phoenix because I love the sun. I really miss the boating world. I like to boat a lot, and there are a lot of lakes. There are a a lot of outdoor activities — I like to water ski, I like to hike, I like to be outdoors in general. Also, all of my family is here.
What got you interested in being an entrepreneur?
I just always had a passion to own my own business. There’s not one thing that necessarily started it, I had just worked for companies in the past that weren’t necessarily the right fit because I wanted to be in charge, so I knew I was going to own, start and operate my own business one day.
How would you characterize yourself as a business owner?
I would say one of my special skills is being able to put together a perfect team and being able to recognize talent in the right people and put them in the right seats on the bus. I’m also a good hustler in the sense I can make things happen. I will meet with my business partner, we’ll strategize, we’ll come up with a plan of attack, and then I’ll go out and meet with whoever I need to meet with who has that skill set to get what I need done, whether it’s someone who’s had a bridal boutique or an investor who’s launched a company.
Your current business partner lives in California. How do you coordinate the business living in separate states?
It’s actually really easy. We use cloud storage, Skype, Facebook and e-mail. Because everything’s online nowadays, we really don’t have a problem communicating with each other and getting things organized because we share files back and forth online. If we need to talk in person, we’ll Skype, and she’s from here, so if we need to do a bridal shoot, she’ll just drive the 6 hours and come on down.
Why did you decide to do your next business online rather than another physical store?
Having a brick and mortar location is definitely challenging. It’s fun and rewarding –however, there are a lot of limitations to it. One is the hours that you’re open. Online, you’re open 24/7 around the world, essentially. At a brick and mortar place, you’re only open the hours of operation and the hours you can pay people to be there. Online is great for us because we’re generating revenue 24/7.
What are the challenges to having an online business?
It’s my first online business, so I’m coming to find these things out. There’s an old saying, “If you build it, they will come,” and that’s not true online. You have to have a significant amount of SEO, marketing and advertising, and you need to guest post on other blogs to get the word out there that you’re there, because there are millions of sites online. Now you’re not just competing in that local spot, you’re competing on a much grander scale.
What’s the competition like?
We’re different in that our site offers really high-end, exclusive gowns, and there’s a minimum resale value of $750 — we really cater to the high-end, upscale clientele. Whereas you can go on eBay and list your dress on there, it doesn’t give the buyer the kind of intuitive buying experience she can get on our site. We have an internal messaging system so people can communicate directly with the sellers. What eBay doesn’t have is the ability to communicate or post comments online and have other brides post comments online, so you see the gown, you see the girl in the dress, you see the up-close images of the girl in the dress, you can kind of envision what it’s going to look like on your body. Does it hang off her shoulder? Does it fit tightly in this area? You can see what it looks like on somebody else and know that part may look like this on your body. The dresses are all connected with Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, so if you want your future mother-in-law to see one of the dresses you’re thinking about getting, you can share that with her right from our site. Everything you can think of about the dress is on our site, from neckline, color, and fabric, all the way to a little bit of the dress history, including where it came from and why the bride is selling it.
Why did you decide to focus on high-end wedding dresses?
There’s no business that has tapped into the high-end market. There are currently 300,000 wedding dresses listed on eBay, but most of them, maybe 95 percent of them, are less than $3,000. For example, there’s a $15,000 Vera Wang dress on our site that’s being re-sold for 50 percent of that price. It’s a great deal we’re offering to the bride who really wants the designer gown but doesn’t want to pay that designer price.
Tell me what your typical day is like.
As an entrepreneur launching a startup, I wear many hats. Not only do I do operational site functionality, I interact with our web development team and our web designers. I have to make sure things are running smoothly on the site, and I act as a QA engineer in that sense. I act as a customer service person because not only do I interact with the web development team, I also interact with the customers. I do PR, I do all the outreach to the bridal boutiques, I do sales because I have to reach out to all the indie designers, boutiques and individuals who would be interested in selling on the site, and because I’m a lawyer by trade, my business partner and I have to draft all our agreement, our contracts, our operating agreement and our business formation. And, of course, there’s always accounting and hiring interns. Our team right now is about six people.
Why did you get a law degree?
The program I went to was your JD and your MBA, and a lot of people get their MBA to support their law degree, but I did it the opposite way. I wanted to go into business, so that’s what my undergrad was in, so I got my law degree to support my business degree because I knew that if I did end up at a big company or ended up being a boss, I wanted the foundation and the background.
What are your goals?
I’d like to first expand the business so we can do bridesmaid dresses, accessories, mother-of-the-bride attire and expand the opportunity for people to list different items, and then I’d like to sell it as a complementary service to one of the large bridal publications. For example, The Knot or Wedding Wire, they currently have a classifieds section, but they don’t have all the details associated with the items like we do. You could list everything you could about a wedding dress, and it becomes searchable, and then people could then come on our site and search for those things.
Do you have any other goals business-wise?
Once I sell this, I’ll find something else to do online. I love the tech world and learning about social media and SEO, and operating a business online is something I’m really passionate about.
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs?
The biggest challenge I run into as a female entrepreneur is speaking to investors. 95 percent of investors are male, and at least in my personal experience, they’re usually over the age of 50. It’s hard to meet and talk with them and really get them to engage and understand what we’re doing, either from a wedding dress stand-point or just in general fashion or anything female-oriented, because they’re men, and they’re much more likely to invest in something they understand and know. I have found in terms of funding, it’s probably harder for women to get funded.
How do you get over the hump of them not understanding you?
What is most important to investors today is the team more than the business concept. We’re not selling them on wedding dresses, we’re really selling them on ourselves. My business partner and I both having law degrees, and coming from a business background and having owned a resale boutique really adds credibility to launching our business. They could view what we were doing and see we’d have a little more success, A) because we’re experienced, and B) because we’re businesswomen.
How do you know when you should start a business yourself rather than work for someone else?
You’ve got to just go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, and you come across an exciting idea that you think there’s a real market opportunity for, then you just go for it. There will be a lot of naysayers, and you just have to go with your instincts and move forward and believe in yourself.
How do you deal with challenges you face in your business?
If we’re struggling for something, we go seek help. We go to advisers and go to people who are experienced and have expertise in that area and go, ‘This is what we’re struggling with. What should we do?’
How would you recommend fostering mentor relationships?
Be brave and persistent without being annoying. It’s a very fine line. You want them to respect what you’re doing, but they have to be interested in what you’re doing and in you as a person. You have to establish that rapport with them, or they’re not going to want to sit and talk with you. Even if they believe in your business, if they don’t like you as a person, it’s hard to entice them to meet with you. Just don’t be intimidated. They were once in your shoes, too, and most likely, someone helped them get started just like you’re looking for help to get started. Think of it as paying it forward or paying it back. Just don’t be afraid to reach out. Hearing the word ‘no’ is just a challenge to get over.
You operate Hustle Your Bustle out of Park Avenue Blow Dry Bar and Beauty Salon. Why?
I have space at Park Avenue because this particular boutique does around 200 bridal parties a year, which means brides and all their bridesmaids come in and get their hair and makeup done for their weddings. It’s a great way for me to be in front of a captive audience. I give them a flyer and talk to them about the site. It really gives me the opportunity to reach out to brides.
How would you characterize the wedding scene in Arizona?
It’s a beautiful resort community, especially Scottsdale. Because it’s a travel destination, we’re able to partner with a lot of the bridal vendors in Arizona. 2 years ago, there were 42,000 marriage licenses issued in Arizona.