Jason Ross has long had an affinity for streetwear and contemporary fashion brands. However, he noticed that those brands lacked a channel for moving discount merchandise in a manner that wouldn’t compromise their images.
So he set about creating one, a members-only shopping website specifically for bargain shopping males aged 18 to 35. After more than two years of research and development, Ross launched JackThreads.com in July 2008.
Though the Columbus-based business’s early days were challenging for Ross —who graduated from The Ohio State University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in finance— it has only continued to grow.
JackThreads Nightlife —a series of nighttime sales featuring select seasonal looks— launched this year, gift cards for the site will be available for purchase in time for Christmas, and mobile applications are in the works.
In our interview, Ross reveals why he sold JackThreads in the spring, his reasons for staying on after the acquisition, and the three things he had to overcome to achieve success.
Melanie McIntyre: When you decided to launch JackThreads, what were some of the first steps you took?
Jason Ross: When I got out of college I started a company, but from day one I wasn’t very passionate about it. I soon realized that if I was going to be successful, I needed to find something I was passionate about and could dedicate myself to. It started with me writing the business plan for the first 2.5 years and after that, I was able to get the business to a point where it could launch.
The day we launched, the website was a mess. It wasn’t working properly and wasn’t accepting credit card payments, but launched regardless because I was eager to get the business going. On day one, we only had a couple hundred members and I think we sold maybe three items that day— to friends and family.
Then, I met a recent Ohio State graduate and he came in and fixed the website in two weeks— right out of college. He was hired immediately and for the first nine months it was just the two of us until we got into our office space. We then hired someone to ship our packages full time. From there on out, as a certain job in the company got to be a little too much for us to handle on our own, we would hire someone to fill the position. Now, we employee about 20 people and are always looking for new hires and to grow our team.
MM: What resources did you use to get up and running?
JR: Personal funding from the first company that I started and the bank loan I was fortunate enough to get before the financial crisis happened. It was all personal debt and bootstrapping.
MM: Did you have any advisers, role models, or mentors in Columbus you relied on for advice and input?
JR: I met some key people along the way who I was able to rely on for advice, job opportunities so that I could make money, etc. I got very involved with the Ohio State entrepreneurship community and through these experiences I was able to meet some local entrepreneurs and business professionals who I still spend time with to this day. I attribute a lot of our success to these individuals, as they opened doors which made the startup process easier than it would have been had we done it on our own. I think a lot of business is about who you know and who you network with along the way. You can’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask someone for advice.
MM: What factored into your decision to sell JackThreads to lifestyle website Thrillist.com in May?
JR: I was looking to grow my business and wanted to team up with a site that had a similar audience and idea in mind. We had originally advertised with Thrillist and got a great response, which was one factor that helped in the decision. Also, being able to take advantage of the resources that have been put in place by Thrillist over the last five years. We have been able to tap in and learn from their management team, and rapidly grow our business due to the trusted Thrillist audience.
MM: Why did you decide to stay with JackThreads after the acquisition?
JR: JackThreads is my passion project. I am in it for the long haul to grow the business and maximize the opportunities in front of us.
MM: Twenty people are employed at your Columbus headquarters. What do they handle?
JR: Our creative team —stylist, photographer, graphic designer, and the majority of our tech team— works out of our Columbus office. Our customer service representative and one of our buyers also work from the headquarters. The Columbus office is also home to most of the back-end production team, like the sales editors, planners and warehouse liaison, who meticulously create our daily live flash-sales by uploading the imagery from the studio, managing the inventory, and creating accurate and useful product descriptions in order to create a great shopping experience for members.
MM: Why keep the headquarters in Columbus?
JR: JackThreads is proud to call Columbus home. Since our launch in 2008, we have been lucky to hire talented employees from the area, and have been able to flourish and grow the business out of the place where it all began. Through our partnership with Thrillist.com, we now have an office in New York City where we have a talented group of individuals working as well. This gives us a location that’s in close proximity to the fashion brands we work with on a daily basis.
MM: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business owner and how did you overcome it?
JR: That 2.5-year period where I was trying to break into the industry with no connections or experience. At the same time, trying to build a website with no experience or knowledge of how that worked. Also, trying to figure out how to get traffic to the site. Overcoming those three things were key to our success. When I started, I was writing the business plan and I just told myself that no matter what barriers we faced or roadblocks we hit, I would just find a way around them. That was a promise I made to myself. And everyday I came across something and thought, “This is a huge hurdle,” I reminded myself of my promise and we’ve always been able to overcome.
MM: What advice do you have for someone looking to start their own business?
JR: You have to do something you’re passionate about. It’s funny because so many people told me that and, at first, I ignored it. It’s hard to start a company, especially if you’re not really enjoying what you’re doing. You have to love what you do every day and you have to be passionate about it. Also, don’t be afraid to fail. Fail fast, in fact.
For more information about JackThreads, visit JackThreads.com.