Try to stop Brian Kughman from doing a job the way he prefers and you just might be doing him a huge favor. When an employer told him dogs were no longer welcome at the office, he decided it was time to start his own company. Gang intimidation? No match for a man with gumption and Daft Punk playing on Pandora.
Brian is the founder and owner of Six Dog T-Shirt Co. headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. His company specializes in commercial screen printing, printing t-shirts and other products. Find the online storefront at SixDogCreative.com. In the second, full calendar year of business, Brian saw sales nearly double to $223K. His crew has plenty of bark – and the bite to back up his efforts. Brian tells us more:
What’s Six Dog T-Shirt Company all about?
We are a wholesale commercial screen printing company. We primarily print t-shirts and other textile products for non-profits as well as corporate, small business, and sports team customers.
How’d you come up with the name?
My wife and I had 6 rescue dogs when I decided to start the business. My former employer had told me I could no longer bring dogs to work, which was a deal breaker for me after 5 years of dogs hanging out in my office while I worked.
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
The first computer I owned was an HP laptop I received as a high school graduation present. The first computer I ever used was a Macintosh Plus in elementary school. I wasn’t really online until the mid-90’s when my mom would drop me off at the library to check out the Internet.
What’s your work day like?
I usually wake up around 4-5am and take care of emails and project artwork from home for a couple hours. I get to the shop by 9am. I work until 4 or 5 when I go pick up the kids at daycare. I usually start back up from home when the kids go to bed at 8pm and work until 11 or 12… or 1:00. Generally about 12-14 hours.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
Last fall we went to Arizona to see my wife’s family.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
Make sure production has enough work to keep them busy for a while.
When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? On your third beer?
Usually early morning. Sometimes after an hour or two of sleep, sometimes before I’ve actually gotten any sleep. Occasional sleep deprivation seems to help my thought process.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
I was a one-man show for the first year. My wife helped with my accounting. Other than that, I ran everything solo. Now we have two full-time people and hire 1-2 part-time people during the busy season.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
Realizing that I’ve never been happy or financially sound working for someone else. After our first child was born, I knew I had to go out on my own to achieve my financial goals.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
Everything was a struggle. I think I survived on pure adrenaline for the first year. I needed a shop to house my equipment, and the only place I could afford was in a city 30 minutes from my rural house. I had only been to this city once before I decided to rent my unit for $400/mo. I learned a lot and met some great people, but had a few bad experiences as well. There were some gang members living in the apartments next door, and they were constantly trying to intimidate me. They scratched graffiti into my windows, threw bricks through my windows, wrote nasty stuff on the building in permanent marker.
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
Exercise seems to work pretty well when I get frustrated. It gets me into a different frame of mind so I can look at problems differently.
What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?
I always have Pandora playing on the speakers. I have a couple fish tanks in the office – they are soothing and provide a great conversation piece when customers are in the office.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
I hope to be in a larger facility in 5 years. I plan to be debt free and printing a LOT of t-shirts. And I hope to be able to delegate enough to take a real vacation.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes?
Other entrepreneurs are inspiring to me. People that most people have never heard of, but have built multi-million dollar companies from the ground up.
How’d you fund this venture?
My dad gave me $1,000 to buy a used, screen printing press. Other than that, I used credit cards.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Don’t use credit cards. Put together a solid business plan and go to the bank or a credit union. Credit cards are easy at the time, but high interest rates will come back and bite you.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
Networking is your best friend. I could never have started this business without customers, and I met 90% of my customers in the beginning through non-profits that I volunteered for. At the time, I had no idea that I was going to start a business, but when I did, I had customers lined up.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
I would take the family on some real vacations. Some beach time, some camping, and some relaxation. Maybe buy a truck and a camper and take a leisurely cross-country adventure, visiting family along the way. Probably do some home improvements as well.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur? If not, what’ll make you feel successful?
I consider myself fairly successful. Sales are growing 85%+ per year, so I must be doing something right. I think I won’t truly feel successful until my startup debt is paid off.
Top 5 websites you couldn’t live without and why?
Nothing too profound, but they keep the business rolling:
- Gmail – easy reliable email
- Google Analytics – helps me keep tabs on website traffic
- Various shirt supplier websites – lets me get the product I need quickly and without spending all day on the phone
- Facebook – great marketing tool, easy to let customers know what we’re up to
- Pandora – gotta keep the rhythm
Three people (other than you) we should follow on Twitter and why?
This will sound archaic, but I don’t do Twitter. I opened an account and I tried, but I just don’t get it.
Where else can our readers find you online?