Jacob Hurwitz | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jacob Hurwitz

Background:  

Jacob Hurwitz is a co-founder of American Trench, a men’s clothing company based in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. After a trip to London in 2009, Hurwitz noticed the absence of U.S.-made rainwear and spent the next two and a half years creating a rain jacket made with U.S. materials. The company launched on Kickstarter in 2013 and now includes apparel accessories such as socks and beanies. Hurwitz’s background includes working for sports apparel company Mitchell and Ness, as well as teaching high school math and spending time in the energy-finance sector.  

The Mistake:

I was starting business without getting a clear statement of work that held everyone accountable. I needed something that said, “I’m going to pay this, and you’re going to deliver that.” It’s not necessarily a legal document created by a lawyer, but it’s an executable contract.

Two years ago, a kid contacted me. He had started a knitting mill in New York City because he had gotten into the college sweater business. The venture failed, and he had all this yarn leftover. He emailed me because he had read I was using this yarn, and he asked if I wanted to buy it at 50 percent off the price. We started talking about sweaters, and he said he could develop them for us. I paid him a pretty large consulting fee to develop sweaters and make samples — and it never happened. I said, “Where are the samples? I don’t have them. I want my money back.”

He had already spent my money. I didn’t get mad at him or threaten to sue. I let it go. It was a rookie mistake, and he felt bad about it, but at the same time, it’s not like he was going to return the money; he didn’t have it. He was a hustler and ended up restarting a knitwear business, but this time around he did it smarter.

I’m working with him again, and he’s doing a lot of free samples because he knows he owes me. I’m glad we didn’t have a horrible fallout because I feel this second time around is potentially great for both of us.

I should have been more formal and less trusting.

The Lesson:

I should have been more formal and less trusting.

The non-pay incidents have been when we gave people credit terms right off the bat, instead of saying you either pay upfront or we don’t ship. With almost all stores we now say [every] first order is a credit-card payment. Every time I have an issue, [it turns out that] if I had just stuck to that rule, we would have been okay. I would never have had a non-pay issue because I would have sniffed them out. That’s true of every non-pay event, and we’ve had three or four. Most of them have been a small amount of $800 or less. One was $2,000, and that hurt a lot.

We’re trying to build something sustainable and profitable. I don’t have the mindset that says, “Let’s go hard at this, not make any money and worry about it later.” 

American Trench is on Twitter: @AmericanTrench.

Photo courtesy of American Trench

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Philadelphia.