Before I get into it, I want to say a few words about my process for writing and posting this piece. I went back and forth with family and friends on the “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” question. Will this piece come off as ego-driven? Maybe. Will this piece come across as a cry for attention and clickbait to widen my reach and exposure to potential next steps? Maybe. Will I look back on this piece and think I went too hard too soon after I was let go? Maybe. There were too many maybes. I wanted to find out for myself. Which of my maybes matter? If I didn’t post, I’d never know.
As I continued to think, I wrote down my goals and inspiration for the piece:
- I want to openly talk about my experience getting laid off. It’s a part of business and life. Many people experience it, but few, from my point of view, speak about it publicly. I want to lead by example.
- I gave five and a half hard-working years to a brand and to a team, all of whom I still care deeply about. Outside of the brand and the team, Koio has been an integral part of helping me develop an A+ community. A simple “Hey, I am onto the next thing” note did not sit well with me.
- I want as many people as possible to know about my career change. You never know who might have a connection to your next thing. Individually scheduling one-on-one calls or in-person coffees is a lengthy and time-consuming process. I want to cast a wide net and zero in on my connections that can lead to the next opportunity.
- Reflecting and meditating on your life changes, big or small, is a key part of a healthy mental state. Again, I want to lead by example and show reflection in real time.
Recently, Koio has been facing challenges, largely because of factors outside of our control. The three worth mentioning are:
- Covid. Yes, we are still feeling ripple effects, most notably the challenging market.
- The market, Did I say that already? The market, especially for expensive dress sneakers — demand has decreased.
- The DTC business model has been flipped on its head. When Koio first launched, DTC brands were flourishing. VC money was flowing, and Casper ads were plastered across the MTA. The frothy market and VC firms encouraged, maybe demanded, a grow-at-all-cost strategy. It worked for the original digitally native vertical brands. Valuations were high, and growth was easy thanks to cheap Facebook ads. Fast forward a few DTC lifecycles. Facebook is now called Meta, and ads are no longer cheap. There is more competition in the market due to an even lower barrier to entry. I am looking at you, Shopify. (This is a good thing, in my opinion.) The biggest kicker, the grow-at-all-costs strategy has shifted to a get profitable or else strategy. (Insert eyes emoji.) After all these years of a growth mindset, one does not simply pivot their business to profitability, certainly not overnight.
Over eight months ago, Koio executed a small round of layoffs. I had to deliver some of the news. It was emotional and difficult, but I knew it was the right thing to do for the business. We then cut our marketing budget, pausing all initiatives that were not clearly driving a return on investment. Web development time was cut. Small e-commerce 3rd party apps were cut. We renegotiated with all our vendors. We thought we cut enough. As time went on, it became increasingly clear that it wasn’t enough. I had often heard on podcasts like All-In and Pivot, as well as from CEOs like Brian Chesky, “Cut deeper than you think.” Here I was living it.
The Writing on the Wall
Months went by without any large improvements to the bottom line. The cuts helped our expenses, but the market continued to be challenging. We were not generating the revenues needed to cover our trimmed-down expenses. This is where I started to see the writing on the wall. We needed to cut deeper. We needed to save as much as we could. The business had gotten much simpler over the past months. It wasn’t about management or processes. It was about daily execution and optimizing our team for the current environment. Simply put, my role was not needed. After coming to this realization, I organized my thoughts and recommended steps for the business to take to get through this rough patch. The third point of the recommendations was deeper team cuts. I provided two options, one of them did not include me. This was the path they chose. I would have done the same.
I would be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt. No amount of awareness or pre-meditations can prepare you for the day it happens. You simply have to experience it and learn what it feels like. Sit with it. Write it down. Chances are high that you’ll fail again and you will learn again.
What I lack in traditional credentials I make up for with hard work, curiosity, emotional intelligence, charisma, dad jokes, and optimism. As an average kid from Normal, Illinois (you knew this was coming), I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to help build an NYC-based brand. I’ll cherish the countless memories. I’ll forever pinch myself thinking about my walks to the office, weaving through the streets of SoHo. I gave it my all. Thank you, team Koio.
So glad you asked!
- Getting back on the horse! I am pursuing full-time roles. I’ll take my time considering each opportunity, making sure their goals and needs align with my goals and skills. If you think I would be a good fit for an open role, let me know!
- In the interim part 1: I’m consulting for early-stage ($1M – $5M) DTC consumer brands. There are plenty of brands out there that could use a guy like me who has mud on his face. I’ll tell you what not to do. Learn more here >
- In the interim part 2: I’m developing a brand of my own. The goal is to launch in early 2024. Learn more here >