Jake Wall | Crain's Philadelphia

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

Jake Wall

Background:  

Jake Wall, who appeared on Project Runway last year, co-founded clothing line JAKE with Nathan Johnson in 2012. They describe their offerings as "classic—yet modern—with a defiant twist."

The Mistake:

When we first started, we were very young, and hungry. We literally chased every opportunity and every client down. I would say that early on, that served us to some extent.

We love treating people like family—but that respect has to be earned. At times in the past, we may have been a little too generous.

One time, we had a client to whom we gave a great offer, with a full, money-back guarantee. She had a gala to attend, and she got her suit in time for the major gala, and wore it to the same gala that we were attending. I took a picture with her in that suit, because people appreciate it when the person wearing the clothes takes a picture with the designer.

Then Monday rolls around, and we get a letter from Amex saying that the client has indicated that she ordered goods from us but they had never been delivered. This was obviously bogus, because she ordered a suit, we gave it to her, and she wore it to this major gala that we attended. We took pictures with her in it!

So we went through social media, got pictures and all of the evidence we could to prove our case. We sent it to American Express to say that she did in fact, wear the dress. Amex told us that that was the best letter that they have ever gotten, and that we were right and the customer was wrong.

You have to be OK with letting some people walk out the door.

The Lesson:

The best we could do after a situation like that is laugh. My dad always told me that if you can't laugh at yourself, then you're not doing it right.

But we also learned early on that not everyone is our client. It's important to identify that right away, and point those clients in the right direction if possible. When we didn't end up identifying it right away, we ended up not enjoying what we were doing.

You have to be OK with letting some people walk out the door. For Nathan and I, we had to learn to be comfortable with finding our clients, and we had to be OK with understanding that we don't make clothes for everyone, and that we're not right for everyone.

More than anything, continuing to make sure that we are always aligned, disclosing information with each other, and making the necessary decision in real time is of the utmost importance to us. As much as we want to treat everyone as family, it is incumbent upon each individual to earn that trust and respect.

Follow JAKE on Twitter at @iwearjake.

Pictured: Jake Wall. | Photo courtesy of the designer.