For my YPO Spotlight series, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and interview Veeral Rathod, CEO, Spence Diamonds
Veeral currently leads an innovative diamond retailer, Spence Diamonds, which operates 13 stores in North America and is a leader in lab-grown diamonds, in addition to traditional earth-mined diamonds.
Prior to Spence, Veeral founded the leading custom menswear brand, J.Hilburn, which revolutionized apparel with an innovative product offering and distribution channel of 2,500+ personal stylists. J.Hilburn has been recognized for its revolutionary business model by every national media outlet including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Esquire, GQand Men’s Health.
Veeral is an active member of the YPO Dallas chapter. He recently served as Learning Officer and will be the Chapter Chair in 2020-2021. Veeral is also a trustee at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always appreciated the power of brands and their ability to shape consumer psychology. At a young age while I was in private equity, I begin traveling to London and immediately noticed that the men were well-dressed and presentable. Fitted tailored design was impeccable. I began to learn more about menswear, which ultimately inspired me to co-found and build J.Hilburn.
After 12 years building a disruptive menswear brand, I was recruited to Spence Diamonds. I see very similar themes in the diamond industry as I did in apparel. It is still largely controlled by suppliers versus orienting the product and experience to consumers. I saw a similar opportunity to build a consumer-centric experience in an antiquated industry.
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 our pre-launch time at J.Hilburn, we made contact with a supplier overseas and convinced them to take our business. Our mistake is that we did not visit that factory in person prior to commencing our production.
Our first step toward launch was beta-testing the product with a group of friends in Dallas. We took their measurements for shirts, helped them build the designs and then submitted the orders to the factory.
We expected the products to arrive in a few weeks and had set delivery times with these friends. Weeks went by, and we did not receive any shirts. Even worse, the factory had gone dark on us.
We then managed to intercept the factory agent at a hotel in LA and got the project back on track.
A few weeks later, the shirts showed up. But they came out terribly! Sleeves too short, like a shirt for a T-Rex. Wrong fabrics, wrong monograms. Total disaster.
Five years later, I took one of those first shirts and displayed it proudly in my office.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Brand. Early on, we saw the opportunity to take a highly saturated business – custom tailoring – and build that into a true brand. Custom menswear has always been a service. We had the opportunity to build a brand – a strong, intangible emotional connection with our clients that transcends just the product.
The highlights of my J.Hilburn experience were hearing stories from our clients and also our personal stylists about the impact of our brand. Clients would tell me that they felt more confident when they wore J.Hilburn. Confident in their professional life and their personal life. One client sent us a picture of a paper on his windshield with the note: “Love your suit. Call me!”
Our personal stylists were able to build businesses for themselves that gave them professional experience and income, while also preserving time flexibility. Hearing stories about earning money to take their families on vacation, send their children to college or purchase a home … those were powerful.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Upon transitioning from J.Hilburn, I enjoyed an incredible six months of time off. I was finally present with my wife, kids, family and friends. I finally had a chance to think openly and clearly.
I realized that one of my biggest health challenges is sleeping properly. I have a difficult time unwinding after my day (whether good or bad) and also staying asleep through the night. Oftentimes, I would resort to a few drinks, melatonin, or NyQuil to fall asleep. Problem is that I never felt rested the next morning. As I continue to age, I realize that sleep is an important element to promote health and recovery.
I have spent the past 18 months developing a sleep supplement, which is now in early stages of testing. I believe it will resonate with people like me, that is, 30-60 year-old professionals balancing all life’s challenges: career, kids, parents, etc. My formula includes natural ingredients that are proven to reduce anxiety, promote sleep, fight inflammation and drive recovery.
What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started,” and why?
Trust your intuition. As a first-time entrepreneur, I knew that I did not have all the answers. As we grew, we brought on institutional capital and built a board of directors. Several of them brought valuable operating experience. However, this experience was as professional managers, not as entrepreneurs. Also, their experience was at much larger businesses with decades of operating history and human capital.
Initially, I took much of their advice at face value because I believed they were more knowledgeable and experienced than I was. Much of this advice backfired on me because they did not understand that entrepreneurial leadership means leading from the front. Nor did they appreciate the emotional drive required to build a brand. Building something innovative and building a brand take an intuitive approach to balancing data and foresight and leading your teams into the unknown with conviction.
Be yourself. We tend to spend a lot of time studying other successful leaders. Most importantly, always remember to use their stories and behaviors as inspiration but not as a blueprint. It paramount to be yourself and be authentic. Your team, your clients, your entire ecosystem will see right through any behavior that is not natural, and that immediately erodes trust.
You are your brand.Regardless of your industry or business model, as the leader of your company, you must live and breathe your brand every day. Today’s world no longer allows us to leave the office and be a different person. Live it and own it. Better you take control of it and be proactive, rather than allowing the world around you to drive the perception.
It will be harder than you think.Prior to starting a company, I had a very romantic mindset. I was going to innovate and disrupt an antiquated industry. I was going to build a brand for the ages. I would build a company that created pride and economic wealth for my employees. But once you actually start doing, instead of dreaming, it’s amazing how much harder everything is. Your start-up will take longer than you think to reach the results that will satisfy you, but it’s worth every minute.
Make time for your family and friends. You will always find more work to do. As an entrepreneur, it’s certainly hard to deliver on quantity of time to family and friends. So, focus on quality. Schedule ahead, set calendar blocks for family meals, lunch with your partner and time with your parents. Make it a point to see a friend every time you travel. Don’t justify your absence with the logic that the payout is ultimately for your family. Take them along for the ride and they can add a lot of value and support.
What is the value of a professional network?
The value of a professional network is determined by the time and effort you put into it. I was fortunate to join YPOin 2013. I made it a priority to attend chapter events, trips and also attend YPO global events.
I have benefitted from personal and professional development that have directly impacted my success. I have an incredible group of professional friends whom I can turn to in challenging times. I have been exposed to people and experiences who have inspired to push myself further.
At a very tactical level, my professional network has become top clients in all of my brands. They have opened doors to suppliers, investors and partnerships.
Most importantly, you will get back more than you give. But remember, it’s a symbiotic relationship.