Thinking of what to wear to this year’s Coachella 2014 Music Festival? Will it be an instant hit? Scott Lehman (WG14) thinks he can make it happen. Started by Scott and his childhood friend Shaun Bluethenthal, electricMVMT’s light-up hoodies are taking music festivals by storm. Like all great music festivals, it’s hard to describe the experience until you actually live it. The company has been featured on the Bachelor and Rolling Stone Magazine and amassed over 23,000 likes on Facebook. When I sat down with Scott to hear how they’ve managed the viral success of their brand, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my delighted surprise, Scott’s customer-centric focus and sharp business sense helped reinforce that “get it done” attitude Wharton MBAs share.
Wharton Journal: We’d love to hear your story and how you two got into business together!
Shaun and I have been close friends since the age of six. We grew up together, attended the same high school, and joined the Marine Corps on the same day after graduation. Shaun and I served tours in Iraq in 2003, and were both discharged the following year. The aim after enlistment was always to go to Huntington Beach, CA to pursue life-long interests in surfing, diving, and all things ocean. It was the Southern California culture that fueled the already ingrained passion for fashion, music, action sports and just an all-around active lifestyle.
Shaun created the idea for electricMVMT – alive as it were with no name on New Year’s Eve 2009. At our annual New Year’s Eve reunion which would be at an electronic dance music show in Chicago, he presented to our group of five old military buddies these wild hooded sweatshirts with electroluminescent wire around the zipper and hood – our light-up-the-new-year fashion statement. People at the show went crazy over the hoodies, asking to take pictures with us and offering hundreds of dollars to take them off our backs. After testing the market over the next year, we realized there was a need for high quality, reasonably priced apparel that people could wear out at night to stand out and be seen.
Today, we’ve sold hoodies in over 23 countries and 6 continents worldwide and have had respectable distribution with boutiques in Chicago, Charlotte, Philly, Las Vegas, Mumbai carrying our product.
WJ: The fashion business is really tough. Competition is fierce. How have you been able to manage your operations?
We currently design, warehouse, and operate out of Raleigh, N.C., and manufacture in North Carolina, China, and El Salvador. Long term, our goal is to design, build, and ship all of our products in North Carolina. Becoming more vertically integrated and being closer to all manufacturing will enable us to have more control over quality, improved our speed to market, and ultimately, with the appropriate scale, reduce our costs.
Another key for us has been working with an investor with expertise in the textile industry, Ryan Graven. He owns sourcing and manufacturing facilities in China and El Salvador, helping us build quality product at a low cost. We have also found effective ways to outsource practices such as warehousing and distribution, areas in which we had no expertise. This helped us manage our time more effectively.
WJ: When was your first major breakthrough?
Through an investor connection, we were introduced Fab.com in the first two weeks after launching. That was a lucky break for us, and it paid off in a big way. Given the uniqueness of our product, other blogs and magazines like gizmodo.com, dudeiwantthat.com, and Popular Science in South Africa featured us in their holiday guides. That helped generate quick brand exposure. Thanks to growing popularity of electronic dance music and to limited competition, we’ve been able to grow the business.
WJ: What have been some of the most challenging aspects of launching the electricMVMT brand?
Staying focused on our strategy. Many partnership opportunities have presented themselves over the past year. Early on, as a hungry young startup, we wanted to jump at them. But we managed to steer away from that road to chaos and costly mistakes. We’ve learned that by setting up systems and procedures for every aspect of the business, creating and sticking solid game plan, we’ve had much more time to be strategic and not solely operational. We learning slowly how to run the business and not let the business run us.
Connecting with customers through social media has been a big part of our marketing strategy. It has only helped drive sales and form partnerships but also helped us validate potential markets and product uses. Through online interactions, we have learned that customers not only wear our hoodies to party at night, but they also wear them to be seen when they’re riding bikes home from work, walking their dog, or running at night. As a result of this steady feedback, we have shifted our strategy slightly. Going forward, we see ourselves as an active wear company (think RVCA or Billabong) that incorporates light in our clothing for both design and functionality purposes.
WJ: How did you react when T-Pain rocked your hoodie on a night out in town? How has electricMVMT been able to develop partnerships with celebrities?
We were super pumped when we saw T Pain taking pictures with our hoodie in Las Vegas. It was completely unsolicited and a huge rush for Shaun and me. However, our organic relationships have been much more beneficial for us. Grant Mitchell (WG14) introduced me to his best friend who plays with the band “The Knocks”. Through that relationship, I was introduced to Ryan Rabin, the drummer for GroupLove. Ryan has been a huge supporter, wearing our hoodie on stage almost every night. I talked to him yesterday and we are going to make a custom designed MVMT hoodie for him so that’s cool. As we grow, we hope to build our brand through more organic relationships like the one we have with GroupLove.
WJ: Have you been able to apply what you’ve learned at Wharton to your business? Are there any classes or professors that stood out to you as an entrepreneur?
Absolutely, in almost every course I’ve taken. Professor Terwiesch showed me ways test new products before bringing them to market. We are currently implementing this process into our business model and testing demand for our new product, “The Hybrid,” through social media channels. Renzo Weber, Student Life Coordinator, helped me develop the “Toys for Tots” giveaway at Vets Pub last November and made himself available anytime to talk brand building strategies.
I’ll also say that my friends and classmates at school have been extremely helpful by giving me guidance as well as support. Bryan Bloom (WG14) created the idea to have all SLF’s wear our hoodie, which is still paying dividends. Ashish Patil (EMTM14) has provided a stream of contacts and ongoing counseling. And learning teammate Carolyn Ferreira (WG14) is the reason we’re talking. There are many other similar examples. So it’s cool. This is a pretty special community here at Wharton.
WJ: What’s next for electricMVMT?
2014 is the year of new products! Our main focus this year has to be product development. We have one new jacket that will be in our store in about a month and two more that we’ll roll out by June. Shaun’s the creative genius and has some cool designs coming out, so we’re excited. We’re also looking to pivot in 2014 to becoming an active wear company (as stated earlier) so a lot of our designs will be focused on functionality in addition to style.
WJ: And lastly, is there a Wharton student discount?
Shop at electricMVMT.com. Enter WhartonMVMT for $10 off your next purchase.