In Straight from the Founder’s Mouth, we ask entrepreneurs in emerging and fast-growing markets to share intel on what it took to launch their business and explain how they’re continuing to thrive during growth. Today we’re talking with Andrew Blackmon, cofounder of formal-wear rental startup The Black Tux. His five year-old business has seen 200 percent growth year-over-year and recently closed a new round of funding to the tune of $30 million. Given its success and the general hype surrounding the sustainability and convenience of fashion rental services, we knew it was time for a check-in. Surprisingly enough, Blackmon’s best advice has nothing to do with raising money or scaling a startup, but centers on the mental strength needed to successfully run a business. Read on for his deeply sound self-care, management and hiring advice.
How to Hire the Right People, According to This $60 Million Startup Founder
Andrew Blackmon, cofounder of formalwear rental startup The Black Tux, shares his advice
Please describe your business in one or two sentences.
Andrew Blackmon: The Black Tux is reinventing the formal-wear experience for people, starting with rental garments. Our goal is to create an experience that gives people confidence in their most important moments in life.
If we were potential investors or brand partners, how would you pitch us?
Blackmon: I’d tell you that since starting The Black Tux five years ago, the business has grown from a team of five to more than 200, and we’ve now dressed over half a million people. Our brick-and-mortar footprint has also continued to grow. We have 24 showrooms in partnership with Nordstrom, and six company-owned showrooms across the U.S. Our trajectory proves that people are eager for formal wear that fits well, is made with quality materials, is easy to rent and is available at an accessible price point.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from running the company?
Blackmon: I’ve learned it’s really important to make time for self-evaluation. You need to be self-aware to know the tone you’re setting as a leader.
What's one aspect of your business you knew nothing about when you started? How did you solve that?
Blackmon: To be honest, there was a lot I didn’t know about this industry before starting The Black Tux with my friend and cofounder, Patrick Coyne. But we had a natural curiosity, resilience and the ability to see where we were lacking. We found success by hiring the best in the business for those shortcomings. We believe strong leaders aren’t afraid to ask for help when they need it.
What do you consider the biggest breakthrough moment in your brand’s history?
Blackmon: When we launched in 2013, we were pretty quickly featured in GQ. The reporter wrote that we had “come to rescue guys from tux rental hell,” and we were floored. This obviously helped us gain credibility and trust from a lot of potential customers. We knew people deserved a better way to rent a suit or tuxedo, and this was an exciting testament to the strong demand for our budding business.
What challenges have you surmounted? How did you prevail?
Blackmon: The biggest challenges always stem from unforeseen situations where it feels like I have a lack of control. Those can obviously lead to all sorts of knee-jerk emotional responses. Like I said earlier, it is important to be aware as a leader. People are looking to you in those curveball moments to see how you react, which is why I think it’s so important to stay fully in tune with yourself mentally, emotionally and strategically. Awareness allows you to better navigate your challenges.
Awareness allows you to better navigate your challenges.
- Andrew Blackmon, Cofounder of The Black Tux
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a similar business to yours?
Blackmon: My biggest piece of advice would be to surround yourself with experienced people before you think you need them. If you can predict which areas your company will need to grow, go out and get great people who will make that growth a smooth transition.
How much money did you have to start The Black Tux? How much have you raised?
Blackmon: We started with very minimal funds, but have since raised $60 million in total with our most recent Series C round bringing in $30 million in early 2018.
How does your background contribute to your ability to run this business?
Blackmon: I studied English and literature and then went on to get my MBA. This degree combination allows me to look at problems through a lens of curiosity and open-mindedness. The downside is that open-mindedness can sometimes lead to indecisiveness, which is something I have worked on over time.
What do you look for in the people you hire, other than the basic “good employee” traits?
Blackmon: I always say I’m looking for five specific things:
1. People who actively pursue self-knowledge
2. People who embrace feedback
3. People who ask questions
4. People who lean into the hard things
5. People who can sense and correctly respond to change
The industry is constantly changing, and we need to adapt to customer habits.
How do you take care of your mental and physical health as an entrepreneur?
Blackmon: I think mental health is just as important as physical health. I’ve been seeing a therapist weekly for the past three years, and it has changed my outlook on almost everything in my life. It’s really helped me emotionally grow in ways I am so grateful for, and I know that’s helped me at my job. On the physical side, I love being outdoors in nature, and I try to go hiking and surfing as often as I can.