Throughout the month of August, the Rude Baguette will be running a series of interviews with some of France’s top and rising entrepreneurs, where they’ll share their reflections on their year thus far, their plans through the end of the year and how they manage their businesses through the August down period. In this installment, we talk with Nicolas Metzke, cofounder of Melvin & Hamilton.
Serial French-German enterpreneur Nicolas Metzke knows a thing or two about building European fashion-oriented businesses, which he’s elaborated on as an columnist for Rude Baguette. Having built and led several businesses that were pretty much international from the beginning and as Founder & President of the Digital Club Franco-Allemand, he has brought that international spirit to his latest venture, high-end shoes and accessories ecommerce startup, Melvin & Hamilton. I recently asked Metzke to share his reflexions on his business for our August founder interview series:
What have been the big accomplishments for Melvin & Hamilton since the beginning of the year?
Our store went live on September 4th 2012 and we’re soon celebrating our first anniversary. This year has been extremely insightful and I am happy with many of the accomplishments.
When we started we only had a German store (www.melvin-hamilton.de), and in December we opened the French (www.melvin-hamilton.fr) and English (www.melvin-hamilton.com) stores. In 2013 we started to sell our own brand from scratch in France and other countries internationally where we are not distributed via physical retail. The brand Melvin & Hamilton was created in Germany in 1988 and is known there since then because of the physical distribution, but outside Germany we are entering new territory.
Managing this was and still is one of the main accomplishments. Of course you have to deal with everything from setting up the supply chain and building relationships with media, blogs and press and not to forget the legal and fiscal aspect that are different in every place, but we also had to create and communicate the Melvin & Hamilton story, position the brand in a different market environment with different competitors and slightly different consumer behavior. And I am very pleased to see that consumers in France and other places like our products and the style we stand for.
What are your goals for the end of the year?
Being profitable is number one.
Then of course we invest into the development of our activity and have a solid technological and organizational foundation for the coming years to be able to continue to innovate. That is what E-Commerce and Fashion are all about. Our business perspective isn’t the next funding round, but it’s mid-term revenue growth and increasing profitability. The next winter collection will be a great success, judging from our retailer’s feedback, and of course this builds the pressure for us to also be successful on our own store.
What have you learned this year that you think every entrepreneur should know?
First, having a good product to sell is key. In my case it’s real products (shoes and accessories), but even if it was a service, the same would be true. Focus on your product and offer, before dreaming of creating a big business.
Second, try to get advice and listen to people who have a different background and a different perspective than you. My business partners, the founders of the brand, don’t have an online background. Discussing your plans and ideas and sharing concepts with them is enriching, because you realize that the world isn’t made only of people who think start-up, changing the world, raising money and the Exit. Actually, only very few people think like this. The combination of pure-play startup mentality that I am trying to bring to the company and the long-term family business experience of my partners is very valuable. Every entrepreneur who has the chance to meet people outside the Internet-Industry should try to leverage it. I believe that this is particularly important for every E-Commerce business – because if you take the “Commerce” away from the E-Commerce, there is not much left. Sticking to good and approved business practices is what I took away from the past year.
How does your company handle vacation & the August down period?
The August down period is typical for France. Since our nr 1 market is Germany the “everything down” doesn’t apply to us in the same way as it does to a pure French organization. We have a very small team, but still were able this year to take vacation and organize the work around it. For positions where we have a back-up in place, like customer support or order fulfillment is was just a matter of always having someone in the office, and for the other positions like marketing, design or administration, we either took an (organized) break or work partially from vacation. That said I did not force anybody to work from vacation, but myself.