Founder and CEO of Pursuit: Suiting the Next Generation, Nate DeMars, spoke with host Michael Redd about his slow evolution of confidence to finding success, the unlikely stepping stones that helped him build a remarkable career, and how to carve out a niche that you’re passionate about.
Run in the direction of the things you’re excited about … but know that when you get there, it’s going to look very different than how you thought it would look.”– Nate DeMars
The entrepreneur started Pursuit – a modern suit store with an old-fashioned customer service model – in an entrepreneurship class for an MBA program at the Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business back in 2011. He’s been fitting cufflinks ever since as a pillar of the business community in the Short North district of Columbus, Ohio.
He is also an Entrepreneurship Lecturer for Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business where he works with the next generation of Buckeye entrepreneurs.
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In this episode Michael and Nate talked about:
- How Nate came to entrepreneurship in the second chapter of his career
- Why playing a smaller role at a Fortune 500 company helped prepare him to launch his own business
- On hard right turns, blessings in disguise, and the importance of family
- How he found himself in fashion and retail after studying commercial real estate
- The reason ignorance is bliss when you’re starting out in a new sector
- Why it’s not worth doing if you’re not passionate about it
- And how customer service makes all the difference
- Pursuit: Suiting the Next Generation
- Nate DeMars on LinkedIn
- Nate DeMars on Twitter
- Michael Redd on Instagram
Michael Redd: I'm so grateful that you were able to join me on this. I think the world of you, man. I really do. And knowing you for the last, I don't know, four or five years, watching you from afar, how you handle your business, man. For all the listeners that are out there, Nate DeMars is I think one of the founders or pillars, I should say, of the Short North and he's given back so much to a lot of the entrepreneurial perspective to so many youth and young people out there that want to become entrepreneurs.
Michael Redd: He is the founder and CEO of the Columbus-based company, Pursuit, which is a company that targeted suiting for the next generation. And so he, like I said before, has been an incredible, I think, staple in the Short North of Columbus and has been an example to a lot of entrepreneurs in a lot of ways. Nate, thank you for coming and being a part of the show. The show's theme is about betting on yourself. And I want to ask you that question, what has it meant for you to bet on yourself?
Nate DeMars: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, I'm honored. I think betting on yourself is inherent in entrepreneurship in general, probably other professions too, but it's hard to be an entrepreneur without really going all in on your abilities and your belief that you can figure it out and do it. And I think for me, I didn't start as an entrepreneur until the second chapter of my career. I was 29, I believe, when I came up with the concept for Pursuit. So I had maybe a little more experience under my belt in the working world seeing what it's like to work in a big company, doing some work with some nonprofits. And I think it was a slow evolution of confidence to the point where I felt like I could figure this out in a way at 29 that maybe I wouldn't have at 22 or at 18 or when I was thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up as a middle schooler.
Michael Redd: Take us back to Wisconsin and your childhood a little bit. Man, that's the one thing that me and you have in common. You were from Wisconsin. I played in Wisconsin. And so we know what that part of the country is all about. Take us back to when you were youth. Was this notion of being entrepreneur seared then or did that come later?
Nate DeMars: I think I grew up in the opposite end of Wisconsin from where you played. So, way up on Lake Superior, pretty sparsely populated area near Duluth, Minnesota. In high school, I think I kind of knew business was the thing I was good at. I was interested in sports in high school but I was never really great at them. The one thing I excelled at when I was in high school was a program called DECA, which is like a business club competition. But it's really a way for young people to get a chance to practice their business skills and get to meet people who are working in different capacities, whether it's marketing or entrepreneurship or finance, some of the things you'd typically go to business school for.
Nate DeMars: So I think maybe 17 years old, I thought, this is the thing I'm excelling at. This is the thing I get to go to national competitions and I'm winning awards for. You gravitate towards the things you're good at. But I don't know that entrepreneurship specifically within that was obvious at any point. I went to high school in a very small town. I went to college in Duluth, Minnesota, at a relatively small college, Minnesota Duluth. It was about 10,000 students when I went there, and I studied marketing. I always kind of found a way in class to take whatever the project was.
Nate DeMars: I was always the one asking the professor, can I use this internship that I have or this project that I'm working on for the class project. If I'm going to do this, can I use a real example as opposed to a hypothetical? I think I always kind of had that. I was always trying to finagle my way into doing things in class that I was interested in and wanted to be doing anyways. I think that was maybe an entrepreneurial tendency even before I knew I wanted to start a business.
Nate DeMars: And then I think just when you study business, I got a marketing degree. Skipping a couple of steps, I got an MBA from Ohio State and that's where Pursuit launched. I think in between when you are around business, studying business, just about everybody who does that has kind of a vague notion they want to start a business someday or they could start a business someday because you're really being groomed to understand all the different facets of business. It wasn't until Pursuit launched that I had to come to terms with the fact that this is what my career was going to be. But I think I always kind of assumed somewhere in my career path I would start a business.
Michael Redd: There are a lot of entrepreneurs who will be listening to this podcast, take us through the thought pattern of when you finished school, working for corporate America, right? You worked for Whirlpool at one point. Tell us about that experience and then tell us how that may have helped you with even your own business.
Nate DeMars: Yeah. I think if young people are listening, and I think you and I both have the good fortune of getting to work with a lot of passionate young people; and they're always wondering, what should I be doing now as a high schooler, as a college student? I think one thing for me is, every phase of my schooling or my career provided the stepping stone to the next thing. Even if working at Whirlpool out of college, becoming an expert in washing machines and refrigerators and dishwashers doesn't sound like it's got a whole lot to do with owning a suit retail business, every step of the way, what you did before kind of opens the door for the next thing. I think one thing that was really cool for my career progression was I got a marketing degree.
Nate DeMars: I had a professor who I got real close with who connected me to somebody who got me this interview at Whirlpool, and I went to work for a Fortune 500 company with tens of thousands of employees around the world and billions of dollars in revenue. And I almost kind of considered that for years with them in extension of my schooling. You're not a big part of the equation at 22 years old in a Fortune 500 company. They've done all right before you and they're likely to do okay after you, but they're really good at taking someone who is just getting started in their career and molding your skills, teaching you things that maybe the classroom doesn't teach you.
Nate DeMars: I think that a lot of people who are interested in entrepreneurship kind of assume it's a fork in the road. You either go work for the man, sell out, work for corporate America, that's how it's talked about a lot of times in entrepreneurial worlds, or you start a business. I know that isn't really how it goes for a lot of people. And I think for me, the education I got working at a big company, it helped build my confidence and my skills. Even if the subject matter was totally different, it really I think... I matured in a way that I wouldn't have been ready to run a company without that experience.
Michael Redd: Was that or is there another pivotal moment in your life that you took a huge risk on yourself?
Nate DeMars: I think there are a couple turning points that I think back on in my own progression. One of them was when my time at Whirlpool ended. What I said before about when you're getting started, you're kind of a small piece in a big machine. I got a call in 2008 late in the year, and this for those of you who have been paying attention to the economy for that long, that was the last kind of big downturn that we had like we're maybe in the midst of right now. I got a call from my boss and HR at Whirlpool with no real notice. And after, frankly I had done very well, I had been promoted three times in four years and had just gotten some recognition for how well I had done in my newest role.
Nate DeMars: I got a call saying, "Well, we've made some changes. This new level of management that you had been promoted into just maybe nine months prior, we actually are eliminating that and your role unfortunately is not going to exist anymore. We would like to keep you, we do have this job for you in Benton Harbor, Michigan, at our headquarters. We need to know in about four hours, do you want to move and take this job working in a completely different function or would you like a severance check?" That was certainly a turning point. I had decided at that point I was not likely to make a career at Whirlpool, probably the corporate world wasn't where my heart was, but that was a pretty hard right turn. But it wasn't a hard decision. I think I called my dad, called a couple of friends and within about a half hour I knew that I was going to take the severance check and go a different direction with my career.
Nate DeMars: That was certainly a moment that I look back on as, seemed like it could have been a really bad thing, certainly a blow to the ego, but had that not happened I would not have been at Ohio State getting an MBA a few months later. Had I not been at Ohio State getting an MBA, Pursuit would not have been a class project that became the business that I run today. Probably wouldn't have crossed paths with you as a fellow Ohio State alumni and Columbus entrepreneur. So that's one where my life took a very significant turn that years later was such a blessing.
Michael Redd: I want to jump to the NBA in a second because there's an interesting story even within that with you, but tell me who was your biggest inspiration as you journeyed on learning how to bet on yourself. Who was the person that was your biggest advocate?
Nate DeMars: Yeah, I think that's one thing that I have to acknowledge that I've been pretty lucky about blessed with that maybe not everybody has is, I've got a pretty broad family structure, and I would say it'd be hard to name just one. Both sides of my family live in small town, rural Wisconsin, near each other. I grew up very closely around a lot of grandparents, aunts and uncles, my parents. Very close knit family. I think one thing that allowed me the confidence to bet on myself and to have the confidence to do what I've done is that the whole family kind of was there for everything, was excited to support all of these decisions.
Nate DeMars: My parents certainly. I called them that day when I needed to decide about my corporate job. There was no advice to say, "Hey, that sounds risky." Or, "Don't jeopardize a good thing." The advice has always been, "Well, if you think that's what's best, we're here for you. We believe in you." And I think that's a luxury that a lot of entrepreneurs are blessed with and gives them the confidence. So I'd say my parents first and foremost, but really my whole extended family has always followed everything that I've done and cheered me along. Nobody ever said, "This might be a bad idea." They said, "That's cool. You're going to figure this out. Let me know how I can help."
Michael Redd: And they were huge in cultivating that drive you have to this day, right, wouldn't you say?
Nate DeMars: Yeah. And my parents, I think something kind of formative in my family, my parents got married really young. My mom was 20 when she had me, dad was 22, and I think they were... they worked their way through college and worked multiple jobs. It was really, they had it far harder as young adults than I did. And I think there was always kind of an unspoken thing with them where they sacrificed and worked really hard and got their degrees and really elevated their careers to open doors for me that maybe they didn't have or to have choice that they didn't have when they were young and had a young child at home and didn't have any money.
Nate DeMars: And I think, they never explicitly said that to me but they always kind of instilled the you've got choices, do what makes you happy. And I think they encouraged me to take chances or to... I left home, I left Duluth after college, signed up for this corporate job at Whirlpool and the whole structure of that was you sign up, you go through a training with eight other people from colleges around the country, and then we just send you somewhere. You get assigned to a market, you don't have any say in the matter. We're just sending you to some metro area in America. And I think they encouraged me that, yeah, if you want to try somewhere else and you want to see a different part of the world, live in a bigger city, kind of spread your wings, go for it. So I think there was that baked into my family life that I feel very fortunate to have.
Michael Redd: That's incredible. So you pivot from Whirlpool but you don't directly go into Pursuit. You pursue your MBA and I think I read, or you may have even told me, it was actually for real estate and development.
Nate DeMars: Yeah. That's the part about each step providing the stepping stone even if there isn't a logical path, there isn't a through line that makes sense. I mentioned that day at Whirlpool being a transformational moment. The other thing that I look back on happened even earlier while I was in college in Duluth. I had gotten involved, I was doing a class project for an English class. I was writing a paper about Bob Dylan who happens to be a legendary musician but also from Duluth. I was writing a paper about how I thought it was crazy that this tiny city of Duluth didn't acknowledge the fact that one of the most famous musicians in American history is from this town that doesn't have a whole lot of famous people from it.
Nate DeMars: So as I was doing that, I met some people who were saving an old building, trying to build a performing arts center. The building had a connection to Bob Dylan that was kind of an interesting storyline behind it. The building was set to be demolished, and this grassroots nonprofit came together to save the building, try to turn it back into a music venue, a community center. It was a really big for a town like Duluth. It was a really primo piece of real estate. It was a project that was tens of millions of dollars. Here I was at 18 in college, found myself involved with a bunch of really passionate volunteers and they were most of them older than my parents. I'm a freshman in college hanging out with people in their 50s and 60s trying to save a building. And I did that all through my college career.
Nate DeMars: We actually lobbied for the city to give us this condemned building and we won. I have a formative memory of standing in front of the Duluth City Council as a 19, 20-year-old lobbying for them to give us a building for an art center. There was certainly a lot of skepticism and arguing amongst the community whether that was a good idea. That experience was so different than my experience at Whirlpool. I was part of a very small group. I almost kind of say that that's like my first business. I didn't start the nonprofit, but I was one of the really small number of people that really worked on this project for many years. I think that was my first business, or that gave me the entrepreneurial experience.
Nate DeMars: I found myself when I left Whirlpool looking back fondly on what we were doing in that project way more than I enjoyed my corporate career. And I thought, I want to do more of that. I'm way more passionate about that. How do I make a career out of. And the way that I translated that was how do I save old buildings and downtowns and turn them back into these vibrant places. And I was really excited about that, which is a very niche career to get into. So I went back to school to get my MBA to try to figure that out, and I never explicitly ended up doing it.
Michael Redd: Amazing. So you're in the process of getting your MBA and you just stumble upon suits in the midst of that. Talk about the serendipitous relationship that you had with suits. I have known you for some time and you're very fashionable, but tell me the origin of why suits became your passion.
Nate DeMars: Yeah. I think I came at fashion and retail differently than a lot of my friends who are in the industry. I think in the neighborhood we're in the Short North in Columbus, there's a lot of great boutiques. In the neighborhood we're in in Cincinnati and over the Rhine, there's a lot of great boutiques that tend to be owned by very fashionable people who have long been interested in the industry and have really paid attention to fashion and they created the store that they wished existed from a style standpoint. I am not that. I was really not all that interested in fashion and I would not have described myself as fashionable. I never envisioned being in retail or in fashion.
Nate DeMars: But I saw that me as a customer, unsophisticated suit buyer trying to go into a professional career where you at least need to wear a suit for a job interview, buying a suit is expensive and confusing and a little bit daunting, especially if you haven't subscribed to GQ for your whole adult life. So I kind of figured there's a lot of people like me who don't know much about this, are intimidated by this and they're kind of just, whenever they need to buy a suit, sent out to a Macy's or a Men's Wearhouse or one of those national chain big box type stores. It's maybe not the best purchase experience for somebody who's not an expert. So I came into this explicitly to be the novice, to try to make a store that felt comfortable and approachable to that novice suit buyer so that they didn't feel like they went to the wrong place and got the wrong help and bought the wrong suit.
Michael Redd: Wow. Talk about the mindset that you have to have to jump into a space that you don't know too much about.
Nate DeMars: The beauty when you start a business without a ton of knowledge is that you're probably a little bit blind to some of the reasons you shouldn't do it. It takes a lot of, maybe confidence is the way to say it nicely, probably a little bit of blind arrogance as well to assume that you bought one suit in your life and you have never really paid attention to this product category and now you're going to launch a business to be better. It's not like it's a new industry. It's not like everyone was learning. The suit stores have existed for hundreds of years. So, I think it came in a little bit naive of course, but my logic was, all the options that are out there now are either built to serve, to sell everything to everybody and they're so generalized that they're not relevant to anyone, they're just kind of okay for everyone. Or they're made by the people with their fashion PhDs and they're so over the head of the average everyday Midwestern guy walking down the street.
Nate DeMars: So I thought if I can be the novice in this, think of all the novice suit buyers out there that will be able to relate to me and my concept more than the boutique that maybe is a little bit more fashionable than what they're comfortable with or the department store that also sells to their dads. So, that was how I justified it. I think when you start like that, there's a lot of things that are really obvious or really easy to people who have worked in the industry that you have to just kind of, you have to walk into those brick walls blindly when you start out without that background, but you're not scared of them because you didn't know that they were there. So, there's a little bit of that ignorance is bliss when you're starting in a new business like that.
Michael Redd: Did your MBA training prepare you for actually owning a business? Did your blueprint that was developed in the NBA look anything compared to actually owning your own business?
Nate DeMars: I'd say yes and no. In the broadest sense, I always say I know how world-class companies run every facet of a company. I know it well enough to know where we don't live up to the standard. So, I learned about various sophisticated operations that you would see at a Honda factory. And I know that Pursuit doesn't operate that way but I'm aware enough that there's a better way to do it to know that we're not doing it. That is powerful in and of itself even if my operations class didn't necessarily teach me how to run a suit store and a tailoring operation. I've gotten that general exposure to finance, to accounting, to HR, to marketing. Marketing is where I'm most naturally drawn to and what most of my background is in, so I feel more competent there.
Nate DeMars: That broad understanding of business tells you when you got to hire somebody who's good at this because you're not, or it tells you this problem that seems really impossible has been solved by companies around the world because you've read case studies about them and you know other people have figured it out. It didn't give me the blueprint per se, but it gave me a general kind of confidence and a background that let me build a company that could kind of evolve into being more sophisticated or could work with the people who had an expertise.
Nate DeMars: I definitely think it helped. More so than all of that though, the doors that being an Ohio state MBA alumni, the classmates I have, the early customer base that was Fisher people, whether it's my classmates or faculty and staff, like the outside the classroom network and support that I've gotten from Ohio State is the only reason Pursuit exists. That's why I'm so excited to be able to teach now because I feel like I owe this huge debt of gratitude to being cuddled by and supported by Fisher as we were getting started.
Michael Redd: Wow. Talk a little bit about, I think you mentioned a little bit in your last comment about delegation. As a CEO, as a leader, how has that evolved over your tenure as a leader of the company where you're now more prone to delegate opera responsibility compared to in your younger years?
Nate DeMars: Yeah, I'd say that's not a particular strength of mine. But certainly to make it this long in business, you have to be to do some of that. I tend to be excited about and drawn to bigger picture strategy. And certainly there's a lot of entrepreneurs who are in it for that kind of higher level conceptual thinking. I'm definitely one of those. I'm in a very operations intensive, customer service intensive business that is very much a detailed business. So, I think one evolution of Pursuit from just getting started to today is the early days of Pursuit, I was really good at getting people who were kind of like me to be really excited about Pursuit. A lot of them were super bright Fisher students who wanted to be entrepreneurs someday. So I had a company full of younger, smarter versions of me, or at least smarter than I was at their age. That was the early days of Pursuit, and I really helped us get off the ground.
Nate DeMars: But also then whatever skills I had were replicated and whatever skills I didn't have or areas I was weak, I didn't always have people who were the yin to my yang. I think over time, getting comfortable that when you hire people, you're really looking for skillsets to match needs for the company. Sometimes somebody that doesn't really remind you of yourself is exactly what you need. I think that's something that came over time as I kept finding myself doing things that my MBA taught me, "Hey, you're not very good at this." You're not really good at operations. That's not your strong point. But here you are doing the blocking and tackling for that in the company. Over time, you start to realize, if I'm not going to be the one to do this poorly forever, I'm going to have to hire somebody who is excited about this, good at this.
Nate DeMars: That took some time. I have a team now that's still very small, but the parts of the job that were very much customer service and selling and working directly with customers, I've got people in the stores who really thrive off of that. Every customer, one at a time, getting to know them and delivering a great result. I've got people who are much better at living in Excel and analyzing data and making sure that the blocking and tackling on the backend is done so all our deadlines are hit and our inventory is always up to speed.
Nate DeMars: We've slowly been able to find people with a diverse set of skills that make us far better as a team. I mean, think about it. You obviously were a great shooter. You don't want a team full of all great shooters, right? You don't want five guys that can all hit threes. Somebody has got to go down and take up some space in the paint. We had a lot of people with my skillset in the early days and I think over time I started to hire more for my weaknesses.
Michael Redd: One of the more impressive things for me about you is that you're big on culture. You had a great quote that I think is phenomenal for young leaders. You say your goal is to create a place where it's about more than just a paycheck. Talk about that for a second.
Nate DeMars: Yeah. And I think this is one of those to that lesson about where did I find myself being the most passionate and excited when I decided I was going to leave corporate world and go do something where I really felt passionate. It's not worth doing if you're not excited about it. I think that somewhat is a generational thing. I think if you stereotype millennials, you'll hear a lot of that of people who are, they're more about the work-life balance and the culture that they can get excited about. And that's just always kind of how I felt. I always assumed that over time I'd figure out how to make money. But the idea of going to a job that I didn't love just sounded awful. I think the only way that Pursuit has been able to grow has been by having really great people who could match my passion for what we're building.
Nate DeMars: There's definitely passion about suits and fashion, but that's really not enough. You need to be really bought in when you're one of the first 10, first 15 people in a company. You've got to be really bought into what that company wants to be when it grows up because it's going to be tough and you're not going to have all the resources you want. You're probably unfortunately not going to get paid in the way you would if you worked for a bigger company. So, the way you have to win is by just being so excited about what you're building, that you're there for the team and you're there to build the culture that didn't exist. I think I've always been really fortunate to have people that just wanted to be a part of something special first and then being excited about the product and the customers as a prerequisite. But why everyone's there is because they really want to build something special.
Michael Redd: I've really enjoyed what you do at Pursuit and I found the great value of Pursuit. Number one in its pricing and number two in the simplicity of options. Talk a little bit about that as one of the core values of Pursuit.
Nate DeMars: Yeah. That's an area where some of that is maybe my background and predisposition and some of it is really being excited about big picture and strategy. But one of my earliest memories in Pursuit was originally just an idea in an entrepreneurship class. I didn't think I was going to start it. We just all had to pitch an idea. I had gone to a department store and I had had an overwhelming experience. Then as I started researching the idea more, I went into a Men's Wearhouse. At the time I wore a 40 regular and they had 50 different suits to choose from in my size. I thought, I don't have any idea which one of these is right and I really don't need 50 choices. I need a job interview suit, like make this easier.
Nate DeMars: I think that was an early revelation that stuck was, we're not going to beat these big box corporate retailers on choice or on variety, but we're kind of betting the guys that wear suits irregularly for special events probably don't need seven different blue suits in their closet. They probably want the core things they can wear frequently. So let's instead of giving them 50 choices, let's give them seven, let's give them six. I still think that's one thing we do that the strategy side of it nobody else really does is we run a business primarily, historically where we sell one suit in seven different colors and the choice is easy.
Nate DeMars: The suits are versatile and modern and stylish, but you don't feel overwhelmed by options. I think it just takes something that seems daunting and makes it so much more approachable to simplify it in that way. And some of that is I think what a modern shopper needs, some of it is how I came into the business and some of it is just, you got to do something different. We're not going to compete on scale with Macy's or Men's Wearhouse or Indochino. So how do we carve out a niche and do something that matters that others aren't doing?
Michael Redd: And when you walk into the store, it's not an intimidating atmosphere at all. Tell me how important it is, and our listeners, how important customer service is.
Nate DeMars: Yeah. That's the thing we're really betting on that seems to be right, and I have to be careful how I say this. The suit matters, definitely. It's the core product we sell. But what's far more important is that someone you trust who has your best interest, the right motivations, can relate to you, helps you through the process of getting it, makes it fit you. And that is way more important than which fancy Italian mill did the fabric come from and what label is inside of it and what status does that portray. I think for us we've said the suits are critical. They need to be stylish. They need to be modern. But we could take the very same suit for you and tailor it to fit someone who's tall and athletic. Someone else could come in and buy a different size or fit of that same suit and they may not be tall or athletic.
Nate DeMars: You might be wearing it for a fancy event that you're doing as a charity fundraiser, and someone else might be wearing that same suit for a job interview or getting married in it. I think that was a really powerful thing for us is that same blue suit that we sell thousands of, it's versatile. You can wear it for a lot of different things, but the human and the service can make that suit so much different for you than it is for that guy getting married or that guy doing his job interview in it. Without that human component, it's just the suit. It doesn't do something different for you than it does for the other guy. But with great service and tailoring, which is part of that great service, that same suit can be many different things to many different people. And that's key to our model.
Michael Redd: I have you on the podcast, but I'm also a big supporter of Pursuit over the years. I love what Nate stands for and I also love the suits and our friends love the suits. It's a fantastic store. Let me ask you a question about success. What does success mean to you?
Nate DeMars: That's a challenging one because I think you can frame it differently. Depending on your mood and the day, you can find ways to frame where you're at today as very successful and you can find ways to frame it as, man, I'm not there yet, or I can't believe this is all the further I am. I think what I want it to be is what you mentioned earlier. First and foremost, we're building a team that really loves what they're doing and going to work feels like a privilege that you're excited about as opposed to a grind or a slog that saps the energy out of you. I think at the very fundamental level it's, do I love doing this? I'm coming up on nine years of doing this, which seems like a really long time to be in business. Certainly longer than I anticipated doing Pursuit when I launched it.
Nate DeMars: I think I like it. This time period is a little weird with COVID, but I think I like it a lot more now in years seven, eight and nine than I did in years one, two and three. I think that's first level of success is I haven't felt the urge to go do something different because I love what I'm doing. And I think the same is true for my team. They're doing it because we're still building, we still feel like every day we're improving something and excited about what we're working on. That's one thing.
Nate DeMars: The other side is a little more qualitative and maybe I don't stack up as well as my expectations. My business plan we thought by now we'd have stores all over the country. We thought we'd have tens of millions of dollars in revenue. We have millions which is great. But I think we expected, this is an MBA class project so you kind of think, let's build a scalable business. I'm only doing this because I think it has potential to be something big, something that's not just local. And we, in year seven, opened our second store in our second market in Cincinnati.
Nate DeMars: So you have to be careful. You want to be driven by that. You want to push yourself and not get comfortable. But if I just looked at how much faster has Indochino grown or Bonobos who sold for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to somebody else and some of those more startup type metrics, I probably wouldn't be very happy. So you want to keep your eye on those things, but those shouldn't drive your view of yourself as an entrepreneur.
Michael Redd: Any regrets along the journey?
Nate DeMars: Yeah. I think a lot of small ones. The one that sticks out the most is how we really pivoted the business in our fourth year in operation. My original thesis was, let's create this super approachable, very stripped down, simple suit store for college guys. That was my pitch in my entrepreneurship class. Before I met you, we were running Pursuit store out of the campus area, only a mile up the street from where we are now, but we were selling suits to college guys on Ohio State's campus. The idea was that was a very niche audience that could be served in a very unique way and no one else was doing it. I think it took me four years to realize like this isn't a huge home run at Ohio State, which is the third largest campus in America, with all the home field advantages that I had as a class project turned business, with all the support of the university.
Nate DeMars: I think we were only doing about a quarter of a million dollars worth of sales at that point. And I was still doing the vast majority of working in the store. It took me a lot longer than it should have to realize like, just as you've been telling people that this is the concept, you probably should be humble enough to realize maybe you're wrong. Maybe it needs to be something different. And when I finally accepted that and we moved nine tenths of a mile down the same street and we opened up to starting to selling a little bit broader array of products to a much broader audience, the business took off. I wonder if I would have had that realization that 18 months instead of four years, where would we be now? That's not the worst regret to have.
Michael Redd: Well, I know how important giving back is to you. I want you to share a little bit about your experiences as far as teaching within the entrepreneurship program.
Nate DeMars: Yeah. It's really one of the great opportunities and honors of my career. I feel very fortunate that I've gotten to teach on a couple of different occasions in the entrepreneurship program at Ohio State. Most recently this spring semester I got to run my own entrepreneurship class with 110 students which was fascinating and fun and really great. I think the reason I get asked to do it, obviously being a relatively young entrepreneur who has yet to write all the final chapters of my entrepreneurial story, but my class project turned into a business and I think that's a perspective that is fun for the students to hear. A lot of them are interested.
Nate DeMars: 75% of my students wanted to start a business someday. So to hear from somebody the good, the bad, the struggles, the excitement of it and to get to bring in my network of friends who are entrepreneurs to kind of give those real life case studies, that's why I think I get asked to do it. But it's also, what's really fun is to let my story be both hopefully an inspiration and maybe also in some areas a cautionary tale about what you're getting yourself into. I think that I always felt like Ohio State opened so many doors, provided so much of that support that encouraged me to take the class project and make it into a real life business and encourage me and help me to get it there.
Nate DeMars: I think it's fun to do. I would do it just because I enjoy entrepreneurship. But I think there really is this feeling that so many people opened doors for me at Ohio State and that absolutely needs to be a big part of my career is turning around and opening some doors behind me for particularly people who want to start businesses and get into the entrepreneurial community. So that's something that I'm very lucky to get to do and got to do during the current situation, which was interesting on all different levels to teach half a semester in person on a college campus and then over spring break pivot, like the whole education system did, to Zoom. Doing remote teaching was an interesting, very memorable way to do it.
Michael Redd: That's incredible, man. That's incredible. I know you and I both love the energy. It comes from young people as well. And like you said, that optimism that they carry.
Nate DeMars: It was funny that I surveyed the students after COVID happened after they didn't get to come back from spring break and asked, how does this affect your entrepreneurial ambitions? You would think that the pragmatic answer would be, watching carnage in the entrepreneurial world unfold in front of your eyes, maybe that would dissuade you from wanting to be an entrepreneur. More students were interested in being an entrepreneur because of this. I don't know if I know exactly why, but I think just that level of optimism that students are like, I got a long career ahead of me, I'm not going to make a rash decision about my career just based on the crisis of the moment. I took a lot of inspiration from that that this was not a defeat for those entrepreneurial dreams.
Michael Redd: Wow. It's one thing to stop and quit, but it's another thing to adapt to a situation or a crisis or adversity. That's a strong characteristic to have. I know even playing, I've played with injuries my whole career, but I was able to adapt when it came to game time to what I was dealing with. With that being said, what's your advice to entrepreneurs now in this new reality?
Nate DeMars: Yeah. I think the thing that is true in all times that is probably even more important now is you've really got to make the most of an opportunity. That's what entrepreneurship is to begin with, is navigating a chaotic world and trying to build something in an ever-changing environment. That's true always, but certainly true now. And I think in order to do that, you have to have this belief that it might be really hard, you might not be very good at it now. You might struggle, but this just kind of confidence and belief that you're going to figure it out, that this time period will pass and on the other side of this is opportunity. It's really maybe a little cliché but it's, how do you look at the glass as half full or more than half full at a time where so much of what you're seeing is negative.
Nate DeMars: And that's easier said than done. I certainly have had my days of really being shaken in the last couple of months. But I think if you can more often than not find that silver lining, find the opportunities in a bad time and put your energy into the future like that finding those silver linings, when this does all pass you will have used that time to better your future. And I think naturally entrepreneurs tend to do that. And the more you can do it now, the better you'll be in 18 months or four years or whenever it is that the world has fully emerged from our current situation.
Michael Redd: We're talking about the future, but let me ask you this question, Nate. What does Nate DeMars tell his 16-year-old self?
Nate DeMars: I kind of have this weird situation in my family that I get to do this often. I have just one brother who I'll say I think owned a Michael Redd Jersey back in the day. He is 14 years younger than me. So I get the opportunity to give him the advice that I would have given myself. I do this all the time. Sometimes he appreciates it, sometimes he doesn't. But he's certainly going to think it's cool that I get to be on your podcast.
Nate DeMars: But I think just taking advantage of making the most of all of the opportunities that you have and knowing that whatever it is that seems like the most important thing to you today, you should run towards it but you should also realize whatever you think is the most important thing at 16 or at 22 or at 28 or at 55, your life's going to change, the world's going to change; shouldn't keep you from putting your heart and energy into the things you're excited about. But just know that whatever you think your career is going to be or your life is going to be now, it's not going to be that. So, run in the direction of the things you're excited about, but know that when you get there, it's going to look very different than you thought it was going to look.
Michael Redd: Wow. I can't thank you enough, Nate, for your time today, man. This has been great. I know it's going to help and inspire a lot of people out there about betting on themselves. You exemplify that more than others my man, so thank you today.
Nate DeMars: Thank you so much for including me, and I'm so glad we get a chance to catch up. We don't get our passing on the street in the Short North as much as we would like. So this has been great to reconnect after a couple of months here.
Michael Redd: My pleasure, man. My pleasure. We'll talk soon, buddy.
Nate DeMars: Thanks so much.
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