What Vuori CEO Joe Kudla learned from two failed side hustles

What Vuori CEO Joe Kudla learned from two failed side hustles

Failure is never easy. Learning the right lessons from a failure can help set yourself up for future success.

Check out Joe Kudla, the 45-year-old CEO and founder of Encinitas, California-based Vuori, a fast-growing athletic apparel startup recently valued at $4 billion in 2021.

When Kudla launched Vuori in 2014, he had already tried and failed to launch two other clothing brands. One was a contemporary womenswear brand called Sammy Jo. The other was a T-shirt startup he also named Vuori, the Finnish word for “mountain.”

“In the back of your mind, you don’t want to fail three times in a row,” Kudla tells CNBC Make It.

To avoid a repeat collapse, Kudla studied his two previous attempts. He had started both as side jobs while working full-time as an accountant, first at Ernst & Young and later with the San Diego-based staffing consulting firm Vaco.

His biggest reason: Take off the safety net, quit your job, and go all in.

“The lessons I learned from those early businesses were that to build a clothing brand, I wasn’t going to be able to do it on the side, as a side hustle or out of the garage,” says Kudla. “I would have to jump in with both feet and become obsessed.”

Launching the current version of Vuori as a side hustle wouldn’t have worked for two reasons, he says. First, it would have been harder to convince investors to back him if they knew he wasn’t devoting all of his focus to the company.

Second, he knew from experience that he might want to give up and go back to his full-time job if Vuori struggled early on.

“As soon as things got tough, I would have said, ‘It’s not working,’ and gone back to the easy way,” Kudla says.

So, aiming to build an activewear brand that could compete with the likes of Lululemon, Kudla quit his job at Vaco and raised $700,000 in a “friends and family” funding round to begin manufacturing and marketing the first products. of Suori.

The company struggled mightily in its early days, almost penniless in less than two years. But without a clear plan to return, Kudla felt he had to double down and find a way for Vuori to make money.

His final solution—switching to an e-commerce sales strategy with lots of social media marketing, instead of selling clothes to gyms and yoga studios—worked, saving him from a third failure that would have left him without no income at all.

Kudla’s first two attempts helped him in another way as well. The CEO says he was always attracted to the idea of ​​designing and marketing clothing, but he had little to no experience in the field, contributing to the false starts of those businesses.

The startup’s failures essentially served as his design school, he says: “They taught me so much.”

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