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“Just Because You Build It, Doesn’t Mean They Will Come.” with Daryl Sneed

Just Because You Build It, Doesn’t Mean They Will Come. It takes more than having a website and an e-commerce platform to sell online. The same principles of what you’d do being in a physical space is the same as online. The strategies are inherently different, and the online community and marketplace is increasingly more […]

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Just Because You Build It, Doesn’t Mean They Will Come. It takes more than having a website and an e-commerce platform to sell online. The same principles of what you’d do being in a physical space is the same as online. The strategies are inherently different, and the online community and marketplace is increasingly more complex requiring a focused strategy to establishing a brand and business in a global marketplace. Just because you have the world as your oyster, doesn’t mean you’ll find a pearl the first time out. We started SOUNDOFF on the tail-end of first-movers in the e-commerce fashion space who found some quick hits and success. We quickly found ourselves squarely in an increasingly crowded sea of brands, with some very large whales, and social media platforms increasing the degree of “algorithmic-gymnastics” to find your target customer and realizing that there was very much a journey ahead.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Daryl Sneed. He spent his corporate life as a management consultant with two global consultancy organizations and as an executive with two of the country’s leading healthcare-innovation advisory and intelligence firms. He put his consulting and project management skills to use by jumping headfirst into building a women’s modern heritage brand, Ricorso, from the ground up while working full-time. From there, Daryl co-founded the gender-neutral streetwear brand, SOUNDOFF, a platform for him to further explore his love of fashion and design weaving in his other passions including art, streetwear, and social causes. As the brand’s executive director and co-creative/fashion director, he works closely across all functions to ensure integration of the brand’s art and messaging into its core offerings. Daryl has been recognized for his work and contributions by the Chicago History Museum, receiving the Men’s Fashion Award in 2019 and 2020, as well as Crain’s as one of Chicago’s Most Notable LGBTQ Executives.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Arecovering pre-med/biochem major (BS, Rhodes College) who found the light after getting his MBA (Washington University; Olin) right after undergrad, my path to fashion and design hasn’t been the most traditional.

I spent my corporate life as a management consultant with two global consultancy organizations and as an executive with two of the country’s leading healthcare-innovation advisory and intelligence firms.

Hidden well beneath that science and math surface was the burgeoning desire to explore more creative avenues. I put my consulting and project management skills to use by jumping headfirst into building a women’s modern heritage brand (ricorso) from the ground up while working full-time.

SOUNDOFF is the platform for me to further explore my love of fashion and design weaving in my other passions including art, streetwear, and social causes. As the brand’s executive director and co-creative/fashion director, I work closely across all functions to ensure integration of the brand’s art and messaging into its core offerings.

What clearly drives me is to have a foot planted in both the creative and business worlds.

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

When we created our first “Vote Your Veto” collection, we put together a very low-fi content shoot in our studio space. We invited a few close friends to come to the studio, put on the t-shirt, and step in front of the camera on a black backdrop. After their picture was taken, we then asked them to write on a white piece of paper, a statement as to what they were vetoing in casting their vote during the 2018 mid-terms. We had statements that ranged from “I’m vetoing officials who believe in selling off our National Parks” to “I’m vetoing officials who support the new normal.”

Bret Grafton, our brand co-creative and art director, transposed those messages onto the pictures and the imagery from that less than 2-hour photoshoot created the biggest shift in social media engagement we had seen to date.

What was done as a simple editorial shoot to create some content for our Instagram page and a new design release, set the foundation for the brand ethos and how we build, message and market the brand going forward.

It’s been an amazing time to see how we can create a brand that can connect art, style, and fashion and connect with people on such a personal level.

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?

During my first ever fashion presentation of my women’s line to an invited group of prospects at the top luxury hotel in downtown Chicago, I engaged in concert with who I thought was a guest or husband of one of our attendees. As our guests tried on the collection items, the gentleman was very complimentary of our freshman design collection and the presentation and how the guests were responding to the designs. I thanked him for the acknowledgements and asked him who he was attending our event with as I began to motion to address a prospective client. As we began to part, he noted that he was not actually a guest of anyone at the event but staying at the hotel for a specialty/luxury retail meeting. He was the North America president of LV. Lesson learned — When meeting people, never make assumptions based on the situation; take the time to engage because it is sometimes in the most random moments that you get presented with opportunity.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

  1. Better Understand Your “Complete” Market. If you are delivering a product or service that serves a diverse community, having a diverse team brings perspectives into your business strategy and operations that can better align your business offerings to serve all segments of your target market
  2. Walk the Talk. It’s one thing to promote diversity as an element of your culture, it’s another thing to look the part. It’s easy to use diversity as a marketing and branding element than it is to exemplify it.
  3. Personal Growth. By having greater diversity in executive teams, it allows leaders to grow to be better leaders (and operators) by having peer relationships that help broaden each other’s understanding of contributions, opportunities, and challenges.

More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

Making aspiration, attainable. By diversifying our executive suites, it helps to crack the aspirational ceiling. When young people can see “your color” not just sitting at the table, but leading conversations, directing operations, taking charge, it helps to negate the barriers that have continually challenged people of color like education, neighborhood/location, The “how can someone like me do that” syndrome. While we all have read that we have the promise of “life, liberty and happiness”, the disparity that exists is sometimes in turn due to not seeing the evidence. By bringing greater accountability into diversifying our corporate executive suites and boardrooms, across the spectrum of start-up, venture, growth and established, we begin shift people from dreaming and wishing, to working and achieving.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

  1. Develop Channels for Opportunity. It’s not enough anymore to fall back on the “there aren’t any qualified people of color doing the job we need” anymore. Empty/limited funnels are opportunities to advance your mission and purpose around diversity, inclusivity and equity. On-the job Training programs, rotational leadership programs, bringing in middle/upper-management leaders with growth plans to senior/executive leadership roles serve to foster not only diversity but also equity.
  2. Build an Engaged Culture. This year more than any other year in modern history has put a lot of pressure on corporate suites to step forward on a broad spectrum of racially focused issues. Those companies that truly embraced introspection and “doing the hard” of evolving their cultures understanding that the macro-issues affecting America are equally impactful inside those “four-walls” are those that rise to top.
  3. Start at the Beginning. Building greater diversity in executive leadership requires some long horizon planning. Start in the college and graduate school campuses across HBCUs to build greater awareness and create experiential opportunities. By equitably accelerating the best and brightest from across the spectrum of educational institutions, we can inherently begin to build a pipeline of future leaders that will have opportunity to sit at the table because they had the opportunity to perform and deliver, not to fill a check-box.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is more than giving orders or setting goals and objectives for others to achieve. Leadership is exemplifying the culture and purpose of your business, inside and out. Leaders are those whose organizations didn’t rush to deliver statements of allyship to secure critical marketing/consumer segments or satiate nervous boards/shareholders. Leaders took the time for introspection for themselves and their team and recognized that they were to embark on a journey of learning, growing, and doing to create true and lasting change.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Disruption can bring about opportunity. As with most brands, established and start-up, we went into the start of this pandemic not knowing if we’d come out on the other side. Who’d be up for buying t-shirts? But our message and ethos met our customers in the right place at the right time. Premium casual essentials with a point of view and engaging the voice of the moment.
  • You Aren’t Going To Get It Right The First Time. Every time we look back at what we started with when launching SOUNDOFF and where we are now with our last release, I realize that connecting vision with market takes time and maturation. And if you’re willing to adapt and shift and listen to the market, you will soon find that you can achieve both. We started SOUNDOFF by “hero-ing” icons of our past who spoke their truth. What ended up realizing was that people more wanted to “hero” their own voice.
  • Just Because You Build It, Doesn’t Mean They Will Come. It takes more than having a website and an e-commerce platform to sell online. The same principles of what you’d do being in a physical space is the same as online. The strategies are inherently different, and the online community and marketplace is increasingly more complex requiring a focused strategy to establishing a brand and business in a global marketplace. Just because you have the world as your oyster, doesn’t mean you’ll find a pearl the first time out. We started SOUNDOFF on the tail-end of first-movers in the e-commerce fashion space who found some quick hits and success. We quickly found ourselves squarely in an increasingly crowded sea of brands, with some very large whales, and social media platforms increasing the degree of “algorithmic-gymnastics” to find your target customer and realizing that there was very much a journey ahead.
  • Likes Don’t Equal $. While there are direct correlations between social media engagement and e-commerce conversion, knowing the difference between going for “likes” versus true conversion-worthy engagement is vital. When we started off, we looked at every click of the “like” as a validation of our brand strategy. But you quickly realize when you truly immerse yourself in building brand strategy, that there are “likes” and then there are “LIKES”. And how to draw out the real likes takes time, energy and effort.
  • What Makes You Different Can Make You A Standout — Embrace It. In so many instances in my life I’ve either been one of few or the only one. While it can be daunting and easy to slip into a “do I belong”, I’ve found that it’s also a time to embrace bringing a unique perspective to the table and shattering some myths or assumptions of “I didn’t know there were any people of color who…”. People are surprised that I love classical music and I’ve gone to symphony performances since college. But classical music isn’t something someone exposed me to, I came to love it as a child listening to it on the radio and then exploring and learning more about it in the now fossilized pre-Google invention called — the encyclopedia. People use color to define categories. I embrace using color to break them.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

The movement I would want to ignite would be to get people to understand the huge privilege it is to vote. This is the basis and inspiration behind SOUNDOFF’s current collection, “My Vote Matters”. It celebrates not only the freedom of expression we all have in shaping our government but also serves to get individuals to exercise that right understanding the “why” and “what” they are voting for.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we voted not for popularity or party, but for truly understanding what the government is or better yet, should be doing to serve our nation and its citizens.

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

Life is a marathon not a sprint. While I day-dreamed of creative ventures like classical music and design as a kid, my path was set for science and medicine. I turned science and medicine into a business path and ended up in management consulting and then into executive roles for talent strategy and management in the healthcare industry. But dreams don’t ever really go-away. Meeting and building friendships and relationships through it all led me to a path to be able to not only explore but bring those childhood dreams to reality. Now I have feet planted into both. In hindsight, I probably could’ve made the sprint to explore more creative avenues. And maybe I would’ve been successful in them — and possibly not. But if you can truly appreciate being on a journey, the marathon can be as valuable to you in the long run as trying to sprint to the finish line.

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

Michelle Obama. She epitomes the actuality of “walking the talk”. While she has probably endured a life-time worth of “going low” encounters during her 8 years in the White House, her declaration of being able to “go high” is evident in how she presents and interacts with the public. It’s very easy to top-line react to negativity and challenging circumstances. It’s an entirely new dimension of living when you can exceed their expectations.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@soundoffdesign

@dkschicago

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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