Determination — We had a year and a half after launch with very little success. That’s a long time! But we never lost sight of figuring this business out, and we are currently looking at 4054% year to growth today. I give credit to our determination. We knew we had a great product, and it was up to us to figure out how to sell it.
Katie Lyon is the co-founder of Allegiance Flag Supply. Her experience in business development has been key to defining Allegiance’s brand. Along with her co-founders, she holds a master’s degree from the College of Charleston and has dedicated her career to all facets of the consumer goods industry, including management, sales, community outreach, and marketing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a photography career. After several very fun years working with celebrities and in fashion, I moved back to Charleston to go to grad school. Max and Wes also attended the College of Charleston grad programs at the same time. During this time and after graduation, we all grew interested in starting our businesses. Max and Wes had a business together and I started a business of my own called “For Good.” I sold kitchen supplies and even had the top-selling product on Amazon at one point!
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
It’s not a new story- we found a need for a product, couldn’t find anything better, so set out to make it ourselves. And we truly believe we have made the best quality American flag available today.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe I always had the instincts and drive to be an entrepreneur; however, it wasn’t until my first attempt with “For Good” that I realized it should be my career path. The success from that gave me the confidence to excel further.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
I started Allegiance Flag Supply with my husband, Wes, and our good friend Max. After graduation from the College of Charleston’s master’s program, we all decided that we could create a better product than the flags in the current market and self-funded our business to what it has grown to today.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our product paired with the handcrafted workmanship that goes into it. It is important to us to create American jobs while making the symbol of freedom. What could be cooler than that?
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Self-awareness – having three co-founders of Allegiance, it can sometimes feel like a dance of who picks up what task, and I believe the three of us are masters at this. We each have three very different strengths and know when to step in or when to let the other person do what they do best.
Creative– I studied art in college and have always been very interested in creating something out of nothing. Starting a business takes thinking with your left and right brain. I lead the marketing and branding side of Allegiance, which takes a lot of creativity. This takes recognizing what the final product needs to look like.
Adaptability– While I think of myself as creative, I also have a strong business brain too. This takes being aware of the present but almost obsessing over the future. We have navigated some heavy storms, especially during COVID, and my best advice is to have the ability to adapt.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Adapt! You can, and should, obsessively prepare for the future but chances are things won’t go as planned. If you have the ability to quickly change your sails, you will succeed.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Communication. We want our employees to talk to us when something is wrong, right or they have an idea. No matter how small.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Take time to build relationships. We never stopped picking up the phone introducing ourselves to anyone in this industry that would talk to us when we first started this business. We respect everyone’s advice and believe in kindness and building relationships.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
I don’t think people pick up the phone very much today. Most communication is done over email (which is great too!), but I think people appreciate you picking up the phone and having a real conversation. So much more can get done when people actually speak to each other.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Take outside money. Allegiance is 100% bootstrapped. We haven’t even taken money from friends or family, and we want to keep it that way as long as we can. It definitely has not been the easy way, and I can see the immediate positives of taking other’s investments, but I would never change the way we have done it. It is the true entrepreneur spirit; we have no one to answer to but ourselves.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
The highs and lows can be hourly, if not by the minute! But I think what can set business owners apart is not letting either a high or a low affect you too much. They will always come and go, and it’s how you react to each is what’s important. This can be difficult for a business owner because it’s your responsibility to keep the lights on at the end of the day. If you fail, everyone around you is negatively affected as well so that can be a significant stressor. That’s probably the biggest differentiator of having “a regular job.”
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Probably a year ago now when we saw our business’ sales start to the hockey stick. There was no way for us to forecast the orders coming in, and it was an incredible feeling having customers start to buy a product you’ve put so much time, energy, and trust into. I remember packing up hundreds of orders all hours of the night and feeling like we were mailing out a part of us. And that felt so exciting but scary at the same time.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Also, about a year ago, when we started to take off! While we had a massive influx of orders, we didn’t have the product to fulfill them. This was also right as COVID hit, so the American supply chain came to a screeching halt. I remember having this terrible pit in my stomach every time we saw a purchase come in, worrying, “how will we get this customer what they paid for?” With credit to our incredible team (that maybe didn’t sleep for four months), we figured it out, and we’re better for it.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
We didn’t stop calling every textile manufacturer in this country. We had made many great relationships prior to this explosive growth, and I think many people in the industry wanted to see us succeed, so they helped us out in so many ways. If we hadn’t built friendships, I still don’t know what we would have done.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Support – I am fortunate to be one of three co-founders of Allegiance, so support comes naturally to us. The most recent example, I gave birth five weeks ago (today), so there has been a lot of needed support from my fellow co-founders and team members as I navigate this new time in life. But being a co-founder, I don’t exactly have maternity leave, so it has been a dance between the three of us, and my work hours have certainly moved to all hours of the day.
Determination – We had a year and a half after launch with very little success. That’s a long time! But we never lost sight of figuring this business out, and we are currently looking at 4054% year to growth today. I give credit to our determination. We knew we had a great product, and it was up to us to figure out how to sell it.
Patience – Because our business took a year and a half to see real revenue, it took an enormous amount of patience. Today we practice
Good product – I think this may be the most important to our business. At the end of the day, we can hang our hat on our product. We believe in our products, and it is our job to do the product justice through customer service and ease of purchasing. I can’t imagine selling something you don’t believe really is the best or everything you advertise.
Structure – Structure within the company is important as you grow. Time can move so fast, and Allegiance has grown incredibly fast, but I am so fortunate we have taken the time to add structure throughout the growth. It takes more time to stop and add processes and have discussions on proper hires, but it saves so much time and adds value in the long run.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I believe to have resilience you need to not be too phased by the highs and lows. Resilience takes a balance in emotions and the ability to sort through what needs your energy. Sometimes a setback can take so much unnecessary energy and can take resilience to take a breath, push through and problem solve.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
The school did not come easy to me. Any “good” grade I received in school was because I really worked for it, and sometimes even after working hard, I wouldn’t see my grades reflecting that work. That can be really frustrating and discouraging to any student at any age, but I think through the resilience of not getting too overwhelmed by the “bad” grades, I stayed focused on always doing my best.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Absolutely, and I think this is so important. Max and Wes definitely help. They are naturally positive people as well so believe we lift each other up.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
I think an entrepreneur has to be almost blindly positive. Otherwise, if we focused on the challenges, nothing would ever get done. I look back on the first year after we launched our site. We had such high expectations with very, very little sales. I am even shocked today that we kept going but so glad we did. We had trust in our product, and we knew if we “figured it out,” it would happen.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“I find the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” — Thomas Jefferson
This is relevant every day! Even the times that it doesn’t feel like anything will come from a situation or a conversation or just a little more time looking into something, I find little pieces of luck will come our way. When we were overwhelmed with orders and had no way of fulfilling them, one of the relationships we had made in our industry had extra materials that were going to be shipped to a major manufacturer but instead were shipped to us. Maybe that’s luck, but if we hadn’t built the solid groundwork and put in those extra moments to get to know people in our industry, our luck would have run out.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!