Business and Fashion: A Conversation With MIT's Erdin Beshimov
In an effort to help steer the discussion around the entrepreneurship required for emerging designers, we spoke with Erdin Beshimov, the Founder of the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and Lecturer for several of MIT's online courses, including "You Can Innovate: User Innovation & Entrepreneurship" and "Entrepreneurship 103: Show Me The Money". From sharing insights around core business models to relaying important mindsets all creatives should have, Erdin’s tips truly help to illuminate that uneasy path to beginning a business.
There seems to be a required startup mentality these days for emerging fashion designers. What would you say are the most important skills for success?
Being able to look at the world through the eyes of your customer is one of most important learning experiences. The intention for fashion is to bring an idea into the world, and every important force in society has this undercurrent. But by this virtue, we create an idea, yet this idea we want to bring into the world may not be what the customer wants. A fundamental early skill that I teach at MIT is primary market research, and that is understanding the customer and customer needs and designing around that.
What are some of the biggest mistakes or misconceptions around financing and entrepreneurship?
I would say that there are actually three. The first one is what I refer to as a mental block. The beginner entrepreneurs are guided by a largely pessimistic worldview. They lament that it is too late for them—that all great ideas, all the successful companies, and all the important startups have already been created or thought of. This sort of thinking can exert so much influence on the mind of anyone starting a business. But it’s so important to break out of that thinking. A vital thing to remember is that change opens up opportunities, especially for creatives and artists of all kinds. You must always be open and aware of change.
Secondly, beginning entrepreneurs are always threatened that a big, established company will come along and crush them. But the truth is that in the beginning of starting a business, these large companies and their entrepreneur counterparts have quite different dimensions of existence that don’t have much of an overlap. These bigger companies want large and certain markets, while entrepreneurial opportunities exist in smaller markets and within uncertain opportunities. And this is an advantage for emerging designers, because where you are starting is not where they want to be at all.
And lastly, there is this thinking of, “Oh, I do not have the skills to start a business.” This thinking can be especially true in terms of how it pertains to an artist. Designers know that they can create these stunning designs, but then they falter because they second guess what they can bring to the table. It’s so important to break out of this thinking, because you can learn. You do not need to be finance expert or marketing professional. What you want to have is some understanding of what comprises an entrepreneurial endeavor, and have some sort of support team behind you. All the skills you can learn as you progress.
Creativity and business sometimes clash—starting a business can feel daunting. What are some tips or insights you have for more creative minds who are unsure as to how they can enter the business-centric world?
You should get an internship at a startup. This will give you an immersive sense of what you’re looking at and then you can readily learn as you go. Reach out to those in your creative community and ask for an internship, mentorship, or some sort of part-time work experience. Then you just go into it with the mindset of wanting to learn and try to soak up as much information as possible—you show up, roll up your sleeves, be a great teammate, and take it all in.
What is a key component to a successful emerging business?
A successful business is one that not only solves a real problem, but also solves it in a superior way. First and foremost, people want solutions to the problems that they have. And some may say or initially think that fashion is not approaching a problem or offering up a solution. But self expression is the most important component driving all human beings. It’s a solution to one of the most basic human needs—people crave it. Once you realize that, then you have to make yourself distinct and preferable within the market.
What are some tools within innovation that can help designers get ahead?
The most important—and perhaps only major tool for innovation—is your own mind. When it comes to innovation, there is no tool you can pull off the shelf. What I recommend is seeking out innovation communities. I’m sure they exist in fashion, and they’re such a great space to learn and be around others who are eager and driven to solve problems.