Derian Baugh Tells of Sleep Deprivation and Acceleration at Men's Style Lab
Men's Style Lab Accepted into Gener8tor Business Accelerator
Men's Style Lab Accelerates to "I got an email on December 26 that said we were in and was asked to move myself and the business to Madison within a week," Derian Baugh, Founder of Men's Style Lab, said of what would become his whirlwind passage through Gener8tor. Gener8tor is a business accelerator in Madison, Wisconsin.
Baugh was the guest at the April BIZ's luncheon. "I quit my job on a three day notice, my wife went out and got a full-time job, and we cashed out my 401k and took a big jump into entrepreneurship," Baugh said.
His business, Men's Style Lab at the time was a fledgling online clothing shopping service for fashion or time challenged men. It was categorized as 'Effortless Fashion for the Everyday Guy.' Baugh explained his logistically demanding business model, "We gather a guy's style DNA, a compilation of his measurements and wardrobe needs, connect him with a personal style advisor, and then ship clothing for him to consider. He keeps what he likes and sends the rest back."
With a strong sales background and a knack for giving solid fashion advice, Baugh had hit on the idea several years earlier. Mulling the concept for nearly a year and connecting with the Greater Des Moines (DSM) startup community, Baugh had been unsuccessful in scoring investor funding when he followed the path of a lean startup and bootstrapped Men's Style Lab into its humble beginnings in June of 2013 while keeping his day job serving as a regional sales manager for U.S. Cellular.
Answering questions from Colwell and a highly engaged capacity audience at StartUp City Des Moines, Baugh covered a range of typical topics, but much attention was focused on his engagement with Gener8tor, a premier startup accelerator based in Madison and Milwaukee, which had reached out to Baugh after reading of the business in Silicon Prairie News.
"As an ecosystem here in Des Moines," Colwell observed, "we are seeing accelerators from other areas coming here looking for great startups." While Gener8tor was not immediately taken with Men's Style Lab, once exposed to Baugh's tenacity, they entertained his application. Being one of only five accepted from a field of 400 for the winter session, Baugh and his co-founder headed off to Madison for 12 weeks of intense education in the ways of entrepreneurship while continuing to meet the challenges of the slowly but steadily growing business. "We thought it would be 15 hours a week at Gener8tor and then working at the business," he recalled. "Instead it was 60 hours a week at Gener8tor and then working at the business," he exaplained of a lifestyle clearly founded on sleep deprivation.
"We rented a crappy apartment with a shower that barely worked and threw air mattresses on the floor, but that was all we needed," he said, confessing later that his advice to self would be to use the first money raised to hire help to maintain the business while enduring the accelerator experience.
When asked about the first week at Gener8tor, he said, "It was very much about raising capital and understanding how to pitch to investors in a language they understand." The time was spent in some intense research concerning valuation of similar businesses as well as the creation of an executive summary describing the business plan that could be presented to potential funding partners. Baugh had previously engaged a firm to do market research, an uncommon but valuable investment for a startup, which helped him establish viability in the eyes of potential investors.
"After that, for the next few weeks we participated in 'mentor speed dating', meeting with over 100 potential mentors and eventually engaging 10 with whom we were most compatible and who we continue to work with to this day," he explained. The second month was focused on the business and finding their ‘true North’ as Baugh described it. "A lot of mentor meetings and meetings with the people that run the accelerator challenged whether we really knew what we thought we knew and focusing in on the proper product market fit," he noted.
Month three was composed of traveling across the Midwest pitching to investors. That proved to be valuable both in the experience it provided and the investments it attracted.
Graduation, as would befit a startup accelerator, was a final pitch. "We had four minutes in front of nearly 400 people in the room, over half of them investors," he said, explaining that a VIP event followed which was exclusive to the founders and the investors allowing the conversations to become more in depth. And with that, as quickly as they had moved off to Wisconsin, Men's Style Lab and its growing staff moved back to Iowa. "They would have loved for us to stay in Wisconsin," Baugh remarked, "but our heart is in Iowa."
Admitting that Women's Style Lab and Baby Style Lab might be on his radar, Baugh's immediate focus is on the completion of his current funding round, attention to his customers, and working through the 10,000 men currently on their waiting list seeking effortless fashion for the everyday guy. Acceleration indeed!
Square One DSM, an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, is formerly known as Business Innovation Zone (BIZ).