5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CEO of Gorjana

Be a Constant Teacher. I’m a constant learner and always say “To teach is to learn twice”. Teaching and learning go hand in hand. People often want to forget their mistakes and for me my mistakes are my greatest learnings. By recognizing those mistakes, and sharing them with others in a positive way, others learn […]

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Be a Constant Teacher. I’m a constant learner and always say “To teach is to learn twice”. Teaching and learning go hand in hand. People often want to forget their mistakes and for me my mistakes are my greatest learnings. By recognizing those mistakes, and sharing them with others in a positive way, others learn and you get to be reminded of them as well which sets a new pattern to not make them again.

I had the pleasure to interview Jason Griffin Reidel. Jason is CEO and cofounder of gorjana, his wife and co-founder’s namesake jewelry brand they founded together in 2004. With samples in tow, the duo drove 50k miles to sell the initial collection. Orders were fulfilled from their apartment floor and they worked the tradeshow circuit as a team of two. The Laguna Beach based brand has grown into a multi-million dollar powerhouse and is in the midst of a massive retail expansion. The company is still owned and operated by the couple today and employs over 150 people.

What is it about the position of CEO the most attracted you to it?

Having the responsibility of developing. Ever since I was a child, I always enjoyed building things, whether it was Legos, model rockets, forts, sand castles, haunted houses, you name it, I loved the idea of having a vision and gradually taking step by step to bring that vision to life. Which is exactly what building a company is.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Last year we opened our La Jolla store at UTC with Westfield as a part of their incredible new $800m re-development. It was the largest project in our company history and the store was built from the ground up. When we arrived at the store opening, I was in blown away at how beautiful the store was. I walked in for a second and quickly had to step outside as I became overwhelmed with emotion of how long the journey had been to arrive at this point and as crazy as it may sound it was one of the first times I allowed myself to feel a sense of accomplishment. I was consumed with so many emotions, as I felt goose bumps on my arms and tears formed in my eyes. But the really “interesting part was the store is located on a road called La Jolla Village Drive and literally less than 1 mile away on that same very road was the place that I picked up Gorjana to go on our very first date, 16 years before, so it made me ponder which came first the date or the store.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

First NYC tradeshow we ever participated in (January 2005 Accessory Circuit), we took every dollar we had at the time to pay for the show. Had pre-built displays for the jewelry and shipped them ground. Arrived at Pier 94 on Saturday (show starts Sunday morning), went to shipping landing to pick up the displays the guy says there not there. Call UPS to track the shipment and learn that the train they were on crashed in a snow storm in Ohio. So, the lesson was don’t send something important UPS Ground. Wasn’t funny at the time, but sure is now looking back. Now how we managed to adapt to not having displays is another whole story.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

This may sound odd, but I’m hyper disciplined with not pre-setting expectations. Goes back to being a builder, I have a vision, but I don’t confine that vision with specific pictures. That’s a guaranteed way to always be disappointed. With that said, I had to highlight something that I think would surprise people it would be how much human emotion goes into leading a company.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Look at improvements as opportunities to grow. So, don’t make improvements a bad thing, instead be grateful there are things to improve, because it means by improving them, there is new growth. I always say if I wake up one day and no longer see anything to improve, either the company is complete, or I’m no longer the person best to lead it and there’s a 99% chance it’s the latter of the two, because a company is never complete.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Know your people. I’m obsessive about our Org Chart, which we call our “Lineup”. It’s an orchestra of humans you have to harmonize to make music. So, know each person as you would a fine musical instrument. Know what kind of sound they make, when they like to make it, how long they like to make it. By knowing you people, you learn how to synchronize them into a collective energy.

Who inspired/inspires you and why?

I’m most inspired by watching people be faced with challenges, overcome that challenge by adapting or changing, and growing from that process. I’m also equally inspired by watching young people who don’t have a ton of experience, be given an opportunity and watching them become their full potential. Because that is essentially getting to watch people go through the same transformation I did myself.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Without a doubt for me it’s Gorjana. Were best friends, husband and wife, co-parents, co-founders, co-business leaders, co-shareholders, everything has been a partnership. When we first started dating and I had just graduated law school and was really struggling with not wanting to practice law, which none of my friends or family members understood. But Gorjana gave me the strength to feel okay about that and be strong for myself. We knew as long we had each other, we were okay doing what our hearts told us, no matter how crazy everyone else thought we were.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Often people say, “with success comes great responsibility to give back”. But interestingly, to me it’s the other way around, “with giving back comes great success”. People often overlook that they always have something to give, namely their time and energy, which is often more valuable than money. So you make the world a better place by being generous, giving to those who need and setting the example for others to follow.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be Patient

When we first started we hit the road and drove over 50k miles the first year, went door to door to sell jewelry to specialty stores. I thought once we got into 100 stores (which the first year we got into over 70), we’d be set and everything would take off. You have to build “brick by brick”…Rome wasn’t built in a day!

It’s Never Complete

Goes to the above about being patient. I remember the first website we built back in 2006. It was super advanced for the time. Was a Flash retail site, with the first wholesale HTML site in the fashion industry all with a dynamic backend to manage things. Everything was custom coded, I thought it would be the first and last website the company ever needed. Which I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Keep it Light

It’s so important to keep things light and laugh in the face of adversity. Early on we had situations where had no idea if we’d make payroll the next week. And often in situations like that people get stressed out. I’ve found sometimes the best cure is to laugh. Realize it’s not all as important as your making it out to be and it’s the calm hand that steers the ship best through choppy waters.

Follow Your Instincts

I love data and incorporate it into as many areas of the business as possible. But I let the date prove or disprove the instinctual theory. So rather than let the data drive the decisions, I let my instincts drive the decisions and use the data to back them up, so others feel comfortable. Retail is a perfect example of that. If we had over-thought retail and made decisions based on what everyone was saying and thinking we would have ignored our instincts which were saying we would find great success at retail, which we are.

Be a Constant Teacher

I’m a constant learner and always say “To teach is to learn twice”. Teaching and learning go hand in hand. People often want to forget their mistakes and for me my mistakes are my greatest learnings. By recognizing those mistakes, and sharing them with others in a positive way, others learn and you get to be reminded of them as well which sets a new pattern to not make them again.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Something I’ve already been testing myself that I would love to see others do as well is practice going a day without their phone. 5 billion people globally have a mobile phone and yes, there are a ton of benefits to that. But there is also a down side. Smart phones have made us easier for us to connect without physical form, but the cost is that we are no longer present in our current state. So, I encourage people to practice a day without your phone. First start on a weekend, maybe when you’re at home. Then maybe a weekend and you actually leave your house without it. Then if you really want to get crazy do it on a weekday and feel the exhilaration from the feeling of being free!

Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That’s a tough question. I have 2 that I live by. The first is “The longest journey is the journey inward”. And the second is “Adapt of Die”. The inward quote is so important because we live in such a comparative society, especially due to social media, know where everything is about

looking at other people verse looking inward to find the answers. Power comes within. The adapt quote is equally important to me because the only thing constant in life is change, so it’s imperative to always be able to adapt to survive.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

My kids and I love to watch the television show “The Profit,” it’s learning for them and business therapy for myself. Marcus Lemonis seems to really be in tune with people and human emotion and how that translates into results. I always say any business is really just an arbitrage of human emotion. So, I would love to have breakfast with someone that is masterful at successfully orchestrating human emotion to make music.

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