VENTEUR spoke with Marnie Rabinovitch Consky, about her entrepreneurial journey. Consky is the Founder, CEO, and Chief Anti-Chafing Champion of Thigh Society, an undergarment brand specializing in moisture-wicking, lightweight, and breathable multi-use shorts for women that are not shapewear. She identified a white space opportunity based on her pain point of thigh rub, innovated a solution, and then brought it to market.
Without any related experience in retail, sales, manufacturing, or e-commerce, she followed her hunch, quit her full-time pensioned job at 40, and bootstrapped Thigh Society to $1MM in sales, pioneering a new underwear category of anti-chafing slip shorts she calls "chafewear."
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
I achieved a kind of psychic liberation while creating our multi-wear shorts. I know that might sound a little extreme, but it's true.
In liberating our customers from having to experience the discomfort and pain of chafing and squeezing into shapewear, I underwent a personal transformation in building this business.
My idea for Thigh Society grew out of the suffering I'd endure– literally, because chub rub is so painful, but also emotionally, because of the shame and self-criticism I experienced at the hands of diet culture.
Building a brand hasn't just been an entrepreneurial journey. It's been a deeply personal, emotional, and psychological one.
I'm not just on a mission to change how women feel about their bodies.
II’m on a mission to change the way they think about them, too
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?
For the most part, no.
I have a mentor who is a seasoned business professional, and being able to speak freely to her about my concerns and fears has helped to make me feel less alone.
While some of my closest friends are business owners, they're not in the world of e-commerce or retail, so I've sought out online and in-person networks that run digital, product-based businesses, and I look for podcasts with founders as guests or hosts.
Hearing about each others' struggles reminds me that while our companies may all be different, we have similar challenges.
What do you think the most significant difference is between how an entrepreneur sees their career path versus how an employee at a company sees their career path, and why?
I think employees at a company typically see their career path as fixed, predictable, and limiting.
This depends on the employee and company.
Being an entrepreneur is more of a mindset than a job title.
Anyone can be an entrepreneur by building and creating something new.
While unrelated to e-commerce or intimates, my former jobs had me working as an 'intrapreneur' where I was out of my comfort zone, creating new programs from scratch with no roadmaps.
This prepared me well for the uncertainties of entrepreneurship and gave me the confidence that I could figure it out.
"Wantrepreneurs" (I think Mark Cuban may have coined that term?) can seek opportunities within their current jobs to see where they can develop something new.
You'll challenge yourself, build confidence, and maybe even get a surprise promotion out of it.
What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?
My intuition was the genesis for my entire business since I had zero experience in e-commerce or intimate apparel manufacturing. I just desperately needed a product that I couldn't find and knew in my gut that other women needed.
Creating a line of non-shapewear long-leg underwear back in 2009 was considered a radical act. I was met with a lot of skepticism and was told–mainly by men, but women, too–that this was a niche market at best. Here we are, all these years later, and I have a $10MM business.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
When I started my business, I decided I would do my best not to be one of those entrepreneurs who worked 80+ hours weekly.
I went full-time on Thigh Society at 40 and had already spent 20 years working hard in corporate roles, so I knew by then that to be a high-functioning leader, I needed 7.5 hours of sleep a night, to move daily, and to nourish my body.
I've mostly stayed true to that.
And as I mentioned above, building Thigh Society as a mission-driven brand increased my body confidence and no doubt translated into my overall self-esteem as a CEO.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
Yes and no.
Thigh Society's mission to de-stigmatize thigh chafe and help women feel comfortable in their skin is personal and intertwined with my founder's story because I created our products from my pain point.
Pioneering this new long-leg underwear category for women and seeing competitors appear fills me with personal satisfaction knowing that we were the first to market.
That said, we're so much more than our businesses.
While Thigh Society is a massive part of me, it's not my entire identity.
Remembering that helps keep me grounded no matter what happens in the business.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
1. Losing Market Share to Competitors Who Can Afford To Make a More Significant Marketing Splash
I remind myself that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if there's room for soda brands like Coke, Pepsi, and the generics, then there's certainly room for all of us.
I can only control what Thigh Society does, not others, so I focus on creating the best products for our customers.
2. Having the Company Fail in Some Way Because of a Decision I Made (or Was Unable To Make)
I rarely make decisions in a silo and lean on my trusted team members to share their advice. I don't let my ego get in the way of making the right decision, even if it wasn't my idea to begin with, or if I disagreed.
3. Losing My Husband and Friends When I’m Working a Lot and Don’t Have Time To Spend With Them
Scheduling things in the calendar, whether it be dates, phone calls, or outings, is the key to making sure those things happen. The work will always be there, so it's about defining your boundaries. Luckily I have the best people around me who are so supportive and understanding.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
1. Thinking That I Had To Implement Every Single Marketing Tool at Once
It's easy to be distracted by the myriad of strategies, channels, apps, etc., available to grow your business. I advise focusing on 1-2 and getting good at those before spreading yourself and your team too thin.
2. Hiring Agency Partners With No Experience in Our Vertical
Over the years, I've learned that it's best to find partners who understand the space you operate in. It cuts the learning curve and is generally a better fit.
3. Not Hiring People Sooner
When you're first starting as a solopreneur, you need to be scrappy, and understandably, you want to save money where you can. But at some point, you realize that your time has a higher value than some tasks you're spending time on. So whether that's outsourcing your customer service, social media, or hiring a VA, don't wait.
You'll be so glad you did and probably wish you had done it sooner.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. Failing To Have a Proper Workspace
I realize that not everyone has the privilege of setting up a complete home office, but even investing in an ergonomic setup with a desk and chair can make all the difference for the long hours you'll be spending in front of your laptop.
2. Making Sure Your Team Members Understand the Big Picture
In my former career as an HR strategist, I focused on the key drivers that motivated staff to stay and strive at work.
The bottom line is that, as humans, we all want to feel valued and recognized by our managers and colleagues and to connect our work contributions to the overall company's success.
This can easily be forgotten in fast-growing companies where it's about getting the job done.
3. Spending Too Much Time in the Business, Not on the Company
For many entrepreneurs, primarily Type A's like me and those prone to perfection, it can be hard to delegate even the little things.
Progress over perfection, and the sooner you understand that you can't do everything yourself and that someone else can be more efficient than you, the better.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
In particular, the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging our supply chain.
Below are three examples:
1. We Reduced Air Freight and Shifted More to Ocean Freight
We were used to flying most of our inventory in from overseas close to our busy Spring sales season, but costs skyrocketed overnight. So we drastically reduced our reliance on air freight and shifted more to ocean freight while ensuring we had enough lead time. As a result, we've gone out of stock many times but have worked hard to manage expectations with our customers.
2. Getting Our Purchase Orders In With Our Supplier Six Months Ahead
Forecasting is challenging in the best of times. Still, we've needed to predict our sales and inventory needs to support our projections farther in advance than ever. So, rather than introduce the uncertainty of new product launches, we've doubled-down on our best sellers.
3. Paused International Shipping
With so many shipping delays early in the pandemic, we decided to stop International shipping outside of the US and Canada at the end of 2020.
Instead, we doubled down on our efforts to grow our US presence.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
1. Scheduling in Google Calendar
I calendarize everything…sometimes even the laundry! I also find that allocating specific amounts of time for tasks, even setting a timer, helps me to reduce procrastination and get them done.
2. Going for Daily Walks
It sounds counterintuitive to say that stepping away from work can increase your productivity, but it does.
Some of my best ideas come on my walks while listening to music, a podcast, or an audiobook.
3. Make Friends With Apps
Learning a new app can feel daunting when you have many other things, but apps can improve productivity.
Some of my favorites are Slack for team communication, Google Drive for the ability to access docs online from anywhere and track changes in real-time, and Dext for scanning receipts into our accounting system.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
Work-life balance is so personal to the individual.
Working 50 hours a week might feel balanced for me, but that might seem outrageous to someone else.
Self-care also looks different to everyone, and most of us have competing priorities outside of work with partners, children, pets, caring for older family members, etc.
Having "balance" is about defining your boundaries and then intentionally carving out the time you need to tend to your life outside work so you don't feel like you're running on empty.
What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why?
1. Find a Mentor or Coach
Had I done this earlier, I may have quit my full-time gig sooner to focus on Thigh Society. I have no regrets, but women are often more risk-averse than men regarding business.
We tend to undervalue our worth and doubt ourselves more, which keeps us from pursuing opportunities sooner.
2. Invest in Marketing
Just because you have a great product or service and a website to match, it doesn't mean that people will find you.
You often need to pay to play and spend money to advertise.
However, you can also explore other cost-effective ways to promote your products or services, like being a podcast guest, submitting written articles, networking, etc.
3. Keep Telling Your Story
Never underestimate the power of storytelling.
Everyone loves a good founder story, and just because your journey feels evident to you, it's new and fascinating to someone hearing it for the first time.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Be curious. So much of entrepreneurship is figuring things out and navigating unfamiliar territory. Taking on a curious mindset can help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed when you frame entrepreneurial challenges as mysteries to be solved, especially at the beginning when you're a solopreneur!