Hello, young entrepreneur! Are you lost in your journey to success? Is your new venture weighing on you? Or maybe you’re too scared to throw yourself into the fire? (Man, that’s hot!) Don’t you fret—you’re not alone. Valentine Aseyo, Maker of Matador Meggings, was in your shoes not so long ago. Read on for his words of wisdom on entrepreneurship, his biggest mistakes, favorite pro tips, and more. If you haven't already, check out Part 1 of the interview for anything and everything about Matador Meggings—from how he gave birth to this new brand to his vision for the future to everyone’s favorite topic: VPL.
What’s it like being an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, you have complete autonomy at work. You’re in charge. You don’t have to jump through a million hoops to make changes. Your decision-making process is much faster and efficient—no bureaucracy! I’ve set up this company to give me absolute freedom in terms of location and time. I’ve lived in 4 cities since I started this company and have traveled to countless countries while continuing to work. I set my own office hours; I work when I can or want. But don’t let me fool you into thinking that I work less—because I don’t. In fact, I probably work double the hours compared to my corporate job, but I work on my own terms. When I worked for corporate companies, my goal was to achieve work-life “balance,” which automatically meant work and life are on the opposite ends of the scale. If one side was heavier, you probably sacrificed the other. When you’re an entrepreneur, you subscribe to the idea of work-life “integration,” which is much more conducive to a healthy and stress-free life. Yes, I often work 7 days a week, but I also take a 2-hour break in the middle of the day to practice yoga and have lunch or play tennis at 4pm every day. Yes, there are many days I may work late, but I also enjoy beautiful sunny days outside when I want instead of being stuck at work. Or I run errands, get a haircut, get a massage during the day whenever I want. When you work in a corporate environment, at least 60% of your work week is wasted in endless emails, meetings that don’t even merit the time, team/company syncs, or just pure distraction due to constant questions, interruptions, or office noise. Now I can use that time however I want.
As an entrepreneur, what is your role in the company?
When you work at a startup, you get to wear many hats rather than being pigeonholed into a specific role. When I joined Facebook Ireland, I was employee number 52, which meant there were very few of us to run the company. Even though I had a title and a vague job description, I played so many different roles, such as recruiting, training, user experience, product development, etc. Fast-forward a few years later when the company had thousands of employees, I found myself stuck in a set-in-stone role. Matador Meggings has 12 departments and a single employee...me! So, I get to switch context every hour (though this may get exhausting) and learn so many new things. I do everything from A to Z myself. As the Founder & CEO, my activities include design, research & development, production, logistics, marketing, advertising, PR, customer service, website design, content/blog creation, analytics/measurement, bookkeeping, accounting, finance, wholesale, offline sale, and model/photographer/location scouting for photo shoots. I even model for the brand. And this brief list is not even 50% of my responsibilities, but my time is 100% my own, and I love it.
You came from working in very corporate environments (Facebook, Bandsintown, Colgate-Palmolive, IBM) to working for yourself. What was the biggest change?
As an LGBTQ entrepreneur, the biggest change was the removal of all limitations for being myself. It’s almost like I regained my self-expression. I could finally bring my real self—the loud, proud, playful, goofy, genderless self—to work. I’ve been so fortunate to work at companies where the culture enabled a welcoming and safe space for LGBTQ, women, and ethnic minorities. But let’s be honest, no matter how much a company tries to foster diversity, at the end of the day, you still need to fit into a “corporate mold” to blend in. You don’t even have to be a member of one of the diversity groups. You could be a straight cisgender white man and still need to leave some part of your reality at home before you head to the office. I now feel blessed that I don’t have to put on my corporate mask when I’m in the office—I am the office, baby!
You make it sound like you don’t miss your corporate life at all and it didn’t have any pros. Is that really the case?
You’re right; I think I got carried away on the positive side. To be honest, there’s a huge flipside. Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. Of course, it doesn’t have to be, but mine definitely is for various reasons. I worked in tech for a decade before I jumped into the fashion industry. This meant that I had no connections, no network, and no support mechanism. I’m not a part of an incubator or a shared workspace for entrepreneurs/startups due to my constant traveling and relocation. I don’t have any employees to share my experience. So, it’s me and my laptop on this journey. In the beginning, I actually really loved this isolation as a closeted introvert. But it wasn’t too long before I truly missed my connections and friendships in the workplace. I also missed the mentorship and guidance I received at my corporate jobs on a daily basis. Having a manager, a coworker, or a team to bounce ideas off or consult in times of ambiguity or challenge is beyond valuable. I always performed best when I collaborated with others. Teamwork always brought out my best results, so I had to relearn self-motivation, self-accountability, and self-discipline in the absence of external recognition, guidance, and mentorship.
What words of wisdom do you have for people who want to become an entrepreneur?
A lot of young entrepreneurs spend years looking for a “million-dollar idea” that doesn’t exist. I should know because I wasted years with this mindset only to realize that innovation eats invention for breakfast. Don’t sweat too hard trying to come up with a unique idea that no one thought before because 99% of the time it’s either been tried or isn't a good idea, hence, it doesn’t exist. If you look around for 5 minutes, I guarantee you can find 10 products in your apartment that could be improved—socks, a toaster, an app, a stool, clothing, etc. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, just build a better one.
What tips do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Start marketing early—don’t wait to have the perfect product or website to put yourself out there. Create a landing page as soon as possible, communicating the upcoming product/service and start collecting email addresses. Launch Instagram/Facebook/Twitter pages as soon as you come up with the business idea and start gathering a relevant audience. This way, once you’re ready to launch, you already have a sizable audience ready to buy. My mistake was that I waited until the launch date to publish my website and launch my social profiles, so I had to start from zero. I wish I did all that a year before, so by the time my store was live, I had potential customers waiting for me. Live, learn, and share!
Did you make any mistakes along the way? Looking back, anything you would have done differently?
I wanted to launch an activewear brand, so I made 68 references, which took me 9 months to develop. At the end of the day, 80% of my sales are generated by my hero product, which is meggings. Knowing what I know now, I would’ve focused on one single category (meggings) in the beginning and launched a website only for that. This would have allowed me to be much more agile, efficient, and fast. Over time, I can always keep adding tops, joggers, etc. Don’t try to be everything to everyone; find your niche! You don’t have to serve all men or all women. Narrow down your audience as much as you can and give them a single product that they will love. You will scale over time, but first, focus on your core product.
Are people born entrepreneurs or do they learn it?
I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurship is a skill. Like all other skills, some people are born with it, but you can certainly learn to become an entrepreneur. For example, some people are born natural leaders, while others need to acquire this skill over time. Entrepreneurship is no different except for one minor nuance: you need courage in addition to this skill. I come from a very entrepreneurial family. My dad is a serial entrepreneur, my sister is a very influential entrepreneur, my mom is an entrepreneur. So how come I wasn’t one for all these years? Was it because I didn’t have the skill set needed? Nope. It was because I lacked courage. I launched offices for Facebook in India, Philippines, and Poland—a prime example of entrepreneurial venture, with one difference: I always had Facebook’s resources as a safety net. I’ve been very successful throughout my entire career, but I can’t deny the comfort of working at a corporate company with little risk to take. Finally, one day, I decided to throw myself into the fire and quickly realized that I’ve been an entrepreneur all along. I actually knew how to fly but never had the courage to jump off the cliff.
Do you believe in sustainable fashion? How do you help protect the environment while making your MEGnificent meggings?
As the Maker of Matador Meggings, I was very conscious of my brand's responsibility to the planet and humanity in all our early decisions. I spent a lot of time researching and investigating the most environmentally friendly and worker-positive material suppliers, production facilities, and fulfillment partners to collaborate with. It’s no secret that much of the negative impact in making fashion comes in the creation of the material long before anything is cut or sewn. For this reason, I chose to work with a fabric supplier who has invested over $1M in a state-of-the-art on-site water recycling plant treating 100% of the water used in the creation of our products. Our partners work to minimize and capture all carbon emissions and they have significantly reduced water consumption at all levels. Our production facility mirrors our consciousness by ensuring that no harmful chemicals are used in manufacturing. Additionally, their team is made up of a diverse group of individuals, they treat their workers well, and they support the local community around them.
How did COVID-19 affect your business? What is the state of athleisure wear and e-commerce?
Uh, this is a very sore topic for me. As a small business that just launched a few months prior to the pandemic, we’ve been hit really hard with this virus. My factory closed for 3 months and I wasn’t able to restock popular items or manufacture my spring/summer collection. Ironically, the demand was higher than ever, but I wasn’t able to meet this demand due to low inventory. My new collection that was supposed to launch in April is now scheduled for July. This huge delay is a big missed opportunity for a new business my size. Secondly, the pandemic affected people’s needs for this type of garment. The festival season is my bread and butter as Matador Meggings is an incredibly popular party/festival attire. I’m bummed to miss out on this opportunity to sell more meggings, but I’m so blessed to have such a strong customer base who are bold enough to sport these meggings any and everywhere.