- Posted by Paul Towers
- On July 10, 2015
- 0 Comments
- Blue Prints Apparel, Lawrence Ly
A month or so ago I had the opportunity to speak with Lawrence Ly (owner of Blueprints Apparel) about my blog, Project Startup, and a company he was working for, Edisse. This initial correspondence led to an article on Edisse, and their technology, Guardian, which continues to be the most popular article I have posted to date.
Since then Lawrence has provided me with some great advice with regards to my own learning and development in coding and also spoke about his life and how he views entrepreneurship and business. After hearing these initial thoughts I knew it was time to catch up with Lawrence and get his words down on paper so that I could share them via my blog.
This is not your typical article about a startup, a founder or even a great team. It is all of that and more. It is about the way you approach life, business and entrepreneurship and how you can engineer the way you live to continually grow and develop.
Lawrence’s story starts when he was working in Insurance for QBE, one of Australia’s largest insurance providers, he was frustrated in this role after reading ridiculous business plans and not being fulfilled in what he was doing. As a result he quit and went to live in Hong Kong where he worked for a charity helping rehabilitate drug addicts.
While this was an immensely rewarding experience Lawrence did eventually return to Australia and then that he wanted to start his own thing. His past experience in volunteer work however led him to working with the Wesley Mission where he worked alongside a lot of University Students. It was here that he got his first idea. The University Students would often talk about needing good quality t-shirts for the various groups or associations, yet didn’t really know where to go to get this done.
Lawrence saw a gap in the market and designed to fill it. Arriving at this point in time really validates the approach Lawrence has, as well as a view I also share, that being that there is opportunity everywhere and you only need to make yourself open to seeing it. By supporting yourself with different people, exposing yourself to new environments or working in a different industry or role you have the potential to undercover challenges people are facing and then look to solve them as an Entrepreneur.
So with an idea in hand Lawrence spent $20 getting a Wix website up and running and began to market via word of mouth. In addition to providing the spark for the initial idea Lawrence also went on to say that University Students are great at spreading ideas and brands via word of mouth. They meet their friends regularly, have spare time between classes and socialize a lot… the perfect breeding ground for helping ideas grow.
In fact, so success has word of mouth marketing been for Lawrence and his business Blueprints Apparel that for the first three to four years he did no external marketing. Yet the business was still growing at the rate of 100 to 200% per annum.
I was intrigued about what make his business grow so fast when he was essentially relying on the word of his initial customers to grow his business. Lawrence went on to explain that there is a requirement for every entrepreneur to deeply understand their market. Originally the perception was that people just wanted t-shirts at the cheapest possible price, yet when they received their t-shirt they were not happy with the quality or how it felt. This led to the person no longer wearing the shirt and as a result there could be no word of mouth advertising.
As a result Lawrence took a different approach, instead of focusing on price, he would hammer home the quality of his product. He did this so much in fact that he would often say that he didn’t want to sell t-shirts to someone if they only wanted to buy the cheapest fabric available. Why? Because in order to grow the business Lawrence relied on word of mouth and his experience had shown that the inferior quality cotton shirts just didn’t provide the “feel” that his customers were after and as a result wouldn’t lead to the growth via repeat and referral business.
Not only did Lawrence not spend money on advertising but he did not hire a sales team. Nor does he have one today. He relies on his product to do the talking and I believe that is one of the greatest takeaways from the conversation I had with Lawrence. You can market a bad product and get some initial sales, but unless you are selling something great you are not going to create a sustainable business. If you are not getting repeat and referral business then its probably time to take a step back and look at your product and ask how can we make it better.
If there is one thing that Lawrence spends money on however it is education. One quote that Lawrence mentioned continues to stick in my mind, “the 20’s are for learning and the 30’s are for earning”. While that is an easy comment to make as our conversation progressed it is apparent that Lawrence lives and breathes this saying. After getting his business up and running and being profitable with large orders now coming from schools, sports groups, charities and churches Lawrence decided to start something new. He secured a scholarship from General Assembly and learnt to code.
While it may seem unsual it makes a lot of sense to someone who is committed to their own personal growth and development. Learning to code opened up a whole new swath of opportunities and eventually lead to Lawrence joining the Edisse team. As our conversation switched to the startup scene Lawrence saif something that really struck a chord with me. He said “are we trying to grow talent? To be more entrepreneurial?” this comment was in response to my question about how startups are funded in Australia. In Lawrence’s view the startup community in Australia is still young and instead of focusing so heavily on investment we need to look at the bigger picture. If we can promote innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset within young australians then great ideas will surface. And if you have a great idea and the ability to execute on it effectively then you can find funding.
I find this mindset refreshing and something that Australia as a whole should be looking at. Too often I think that Australian Entrepreneurs aim too low. Why can’t an Australian build the next Google, Facebook or Apple? Those ideas don’t need to be confined to the people in Silicon Valley, however, to reach that level we are not going to make it if we don’t foster that culture of entrepreneurship over a period of decades.
In closing I will leave you with one final piece of advice from Lawrence, fail hard, fail fast and never stop learning.
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