The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship

When my brother and I started working on Mission, we knew we wanted to give back from day one, not based on if it was smart from a tax standpoint. When it came time to name our new project, we hashed out several names, but then my brother said, "Why don't we call it Mission Belt Co.?" It made immediate sense to both of us and we officially formed our business.

Social entrepreneurship isn't a new thing by any means but it is progressively becoming more and more popular. Tom's shoes was one of the first companies I remember hearing about that had a direct giving aspect associated with every sale. I loved the idea that it was something that would happen regardless of them surviving or making money as a company. Their one-for-one program was inspirational for many.

Tom's has given a pair of shoes for every pair sold. It's a great success for them, for the customers and the people who get free pairs. That's what social entrepreneurship is all about. It's about win, win, win.

Last year I wrote an article entitled "Time to Flex", where I wrote about Trevor Jones and Travis Lubinsky who saw an opportunity to create a niche watch collection that represented great causes. The company took flight after they brought the idea to MTV and ended up creating a deal to integrate the guys and their watch on a entire series of the show Real World.

Flex Watches is committed to its mission of fighting hunger, as is evident with last week's partnering with the Los Angeles food bank to donate over 2,000 Thanksgiving meals to homeless children in Los Angeles. The company aims to bring new light to their causes through making fun affordable but cool watches.

I think we will continue to see new businesses with social benefits. I am so glad that there are so many people out there that not only form these companies, but also buy these products. It's truly a win, win, win.

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Travis Featured On

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Imagine this scenario: you are sitting in a bar, look over, and see that there is a film crew recording a group of people who are casually ordering a round of drinks. What would you do? Ask for a selfie? Try and position yourself into the frame? Or maybe you would do nothing and just tell your friends about it later.

Well when one ambitious entrepreneur was presented with this same scenario in 2012, he did what any hustling entrepreneur should do: he started selling. As fate would have it, the camera crew was there for MTV's hit show "The Real World". The San Diego-based cast had stumbled into a bar on a Sunday morning and sat next to entrepreneurs Travis Lubinsky and Trevor Jones, founders of luxury watchmaker Flex Watches.

If you watch the episode, you see Travis immediately reach out to the cast and begin showing off his products. This lead to an entirely new element being introduced to the usually raucous show: charity. One of the cast members had been affected by a friend's suicide and so decided to partner with Flex Watches to make a custom line of watches with a portion of the proceeds going towards suicide prevention.

And just like that, a product licensing pro was born. After the success of that line, Travis has gone on to create product licensing deals with brands such as Last Kings, WWE, Special Olympics, Anaheim Ducks and Stand Up To Cancer. As well as dozens of high profile celebrities such as Tyga, Paris Hilton, Xzibit and Daymond John. He has become a master of product licensing and he sat down with me to share his top 8 tips for entrepreneurs looking to lock in licensing deals with big name partners.

Start small.

While locking in a 6-figure deal with an A-list celebrity might sound glamorous, things are never that easy and it's best to start at the bottom and slowly climb the ladder. Lubinsky says, "Obtaining Greek and collegiate licenses has proved to be a great starting point for many entrepreneurs, including me."

Target your product.

Make sure you are hyper focused on who actually needs and will use your product. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time and money. Lubinsky says, "Your product needs to be targeted at a specific demographic that will pay top dollar to own it."

Make sure it is popular.

"It is important to ensure that the brand you are looking to reach a deal with is established, respected, and most importantly, popular. If they don't meet that criteria, there is little benefit in partnering with them."

Do your homework.

If you are trying to do a deal with an established brand name, you better come prepared and have a marketing plan that will sell the product. "Demonstrating that you have a plan can alleviate concerns that these big brands have in working with young entrepreneurs," says Lubinsky.

Make sure you have sales.

The more sales you have, the more influence you can have on the licensing negotiations. Brands like to be linked to successes; showing that you are already successful can greatly increase your chances of a successful licensing agreement. On his success, Lubinsky says, "I quickly learned the biggest factor to a successful licensing campaign was distribution and sales."

Stay organized.

Getting your first licensing deal can be exciting but it also opens up an entire new set of operational tasks that must be done. Brands will expect to receive regular reporting as well as their royalty payments in full and on time.

Always look for new opportunities. 

The entire goal of one licensing deal should be to leverage that to get another deal. Lubinsky says, "Use each license as a stepping stone to the next biggest thing." With forward momentum you can constantly get bigger licensing deals with bigger brands.

Be willing to negotiate.

Sometimes the deal you want just won't happen. Because of the complexity of licensing agreements, no two agreements are ever the same and the product, terms, and most importantly profit margins, can vary immensely.

Successful product licensing done properly can open new doors and elevate your idea to an entirely new level. While it can be challenging, complicated, and stressful, it is a skill that any determined entrepreneur can learn and master.




We recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for our new line of Flex watches. For the launch of the campaign we were able to recruit several social media influencers to promote the product. I worked out deals where we offered product in exchange for posting, or we paid a fee in exchange for posting about the new campaign.  In addition to just networking with influencers, there are a few major key factors that helped Flex Watches reach our goal and the #1 spot on Kickstarter! 


1) We got multiple accounts to post about the campaign right upon the launch. In essence, they created a “hype” with everyone talking about the product at the same time, as apposed to random posts spread out by influencers. This is a common mistake that many people make. If you really want to move the needle, you have to make a sudden impact. You want people saying, "these guys are everywhere". This often happens to me when we launch a campaign. My friends will text and call to tell me that my campaign "went viral".  You can see just how "viral" it went from these screen shots above. 

2) We focused on the messaging to separate dempographics, but promoted the same project.  The message I had everyone use was, “Excited about @flexwatches new Kickstarter campaign. They’ve always made really cool watches but this new line is really impressive for under $100 pice point” You can see an example of this post in the images below.

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3) We did not let up once the project was trending. We made sure people kept posting about Flex Watches in the days after the launch of the product to help ensure that it continues to do well and stays at the top of the popular pages. Once you "go viral" you need to keep the pulse by engaging more influencers. 

4) In addition to Instagram, we also leveraged Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram paid marketing. This worked extremely well because we were able to target “look-a-like” audiences to people that already purchased from Flex Watches. There are no easy answers and it always takes a mixed marketing strategy to have a succesful campaign. However if you are looking to "go viral" using social influencers is a great tactic. To learn more about a social influencers you can read my blog post about influencers. 

4 Tips For A Successful Trade show

Apparel trade shows are the absolute best way to get your brand into retail stores. Before you pick any trade show, research them. A lot. If you have a chance, attend a trade show before you exhibit-the more you attend, the better. Take pictures and really pay attention to what works. Try to put yourself into the position of the brands exhibiting and write down what you would do differently. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you fully commit to booking a booth. The more you know about how the whole trade show works, the more successful your showing will be. This will give you an idea of what you can and can't bring, how you can decorate, and how to sell your line to retailers. There are dozens of trade shows out there, you just have to chose the ones that are specific to your market. 

1. Perfect Your Product

The first thing you need is your product. Make sure it is EXACTLY how you want it to be displayed in stores. They should have the hang tags, packaging, care labels, stitching and all other finishing you would want on your piece in the store. Your product that the retailer sees is going to be the exact product they expect to receive when they place the order.

2. Design Your Booth

The next thing you need is design your trade show booth. It needs to cohesive with the direction of your retail displays, so put a lot of thought into this. You want to make sure when a buyer approaches your booth, they fell the vibe and understand your vision for retail. You do not want to keep them guessing in any way. Have your packaging finalized and the displays ready to go. 

3. Network

You have put hundreds of hours into your brand by now and the only thing you need to do is show it off. The clothing will sell itself once you show it to retailers, but you need to get them into your booth first. (They aren't just going to walk into a booth that they have never heard of before and book orders.)

The best thing to do is to start posting on your social outlets, compiling an email list of all the stores you want to get into and email them a flyer giving them a sneak peek of your line with an invitation to your booth. Email some of the top retailers you want to get into and try to book appointments. These guys are hardened warriors of the trade show floor, they have been doing it for years so they are on a schedule the whole trade show calendar. They usually make a list of brands they want to see and book an appointment weeks in advance. So if you can sneak into their carefully planned schedule, the better off you are.

4. Collateral

The easiest piece to forget are the little things. Make sure you have more than enough business cards, pens, paper, water, snacks, red bull and other things you might need throughout the day. These are necessities for the show as the days are longer than you expect and you get more tired than you think. Also, make sure you bring enough catalogs and line sheets for retailers to take with them. They will remember your brand 10 times more if they have something they took with them, even if it is a business card they stuffed into their bag. Plan to make stickers, pamphlets, giveaway product, swag and anything else that would make the retailer remember you. Remember, everyone likes free stuff.

If you need any help or direction at all, feel free to contact me about anything trade show related. I just finished my tenth trade show season and would gladly help you prepare for your next trip to MAGIC, Agenda, SIA or the Surf Expo. I can handle anything from professional consultation and advice all the way to orchestrating the whole tradeshow