Ask An Entrepreneur: Can I be an entrepreneur and still keep my day job?

Answer provided by: Nishika de Rosairo, CEO and Creative Director, dE ROSAIRO. Previous Employment: Strategic Human Capital Advisor for 9 years at Deloitte Consulting, Cisco, and Salesforce



Can I be an entrepreneur and still keep my day job?

YES! But not for long.

I launched dE ROSAIRO, a contemporary womenswear clothing brand, in February 2014. Our brand is built around the concept of re-imagining the hoodie for the modern woman in a way that she can incorporate it in her contemporary wardrobe.

When I first began to research the ‘hoodie’ and test for market viability, I was employed in a full-time and demanding job that was anything but a 9-5.

My friends kept asking me: “When will you leave your day job and follow your passion?” For 10 months I continued to answer: “I’ll know when the time is right”.

I spent the first six months studying the fashion industry extensively: going to night classes; walking tradeshows around the country; and reading a new, relevant book every two weeks. My days quickly turned into 18-hour work days between my full time job, and my new venture. The weekends became my favorite days of the week: two full days once a week that I could dedicate to my entrepreneurial efforts. I hired interns after 3 months, and at the 6-month mark I hired contractors to work on dE ROSAIRO during the day, all while I continued to work full time.

Sustaining my day job provided me with an increased runway for funding my business. This allowed me the flexibility in my budget to launch a business without asking for a loan, or borrowing from friends and family.

My transition into ‘full time entrepreneur’ was slow coming and this helped me prepare for the tight deadlines of the Fashion industry. When you work in a seasonal market, things don’t happen by chance. You have rigid deadlines to hit which means planning for seasonal collections and supply chain management, and if you miss the window, you have to wait for the next one. This pre-planning, and tight schedule helped me know exactly when to leave my Fortune 500 career behind. I did so only after acquiring a full set of samples for my first collection, a sales showroom locked in, a website under development, and a launch date (+marketing materials) for dE ROSAIRO.

My concept was not just a concept anymore, it had slowly morphed into a business, and it required my full dedication and focus.

While it’s possible to still keep a day job as an entrepreneur, there does come a time when you can no longer do two things well. It’s premature to quit your job when you’re still in ‘idea phase’, so until you’ve tested market viability and the competitor landscape, keep that money flowing in and work on your idea at night and on the weekends.

When you’ve sewn your first seeds and your concept has matured into a business that is operational, take the leap! Dedicate yourself completely to your new entrepreneurial journey and grow by celebrating the small wins and lessons you learn along the way – both are part of the ride.

Entrepreneurial musings suggest that if you’re serious about your business, you need to remove all obstacles and give yourself completely to the journey. The truth is, we can all do a pretty decent job multi-tasking, but when we excel, we excel because we focus.

Nishika can be found on: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and on the web.

Startup Women Advisor, Nishika de Rosairo, Talks Fashion, Travel And Business

Nishika de Rosairo is an active member of this year’s Startup Women Advisory Board. As a CEO and Creative Director, she hopes to bridge the business world with the art world and make entrepreneurship more accessible for artists. She serves on the Advisory Board alongside Ling Wong, Amy Stursberg, Daymond John, Angela Benton, and Mary Grove.

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My father was a Chartered Mechanical Engineer on an expatriate assignment, so I was born in Zambia, a country that borders Zimbabwe and Angola. At the time, Zambia boasted the largest copper mines in the world, and as a result, contained a substantive expatriate community. My older sister and I grew up attending international schools governed by the British schooling system, and immersed in extra-curricular activities including ballet, tap dancing, gymnastics, piano, sewing and more. My mother, a true lover of fashion, would design and sew these beautiful, matching dresses for my sister and me. It was around the age of six that I vividly recall dreaming of becoming a fashion designer, with a label following my surname, de Rosairo. But my parents were of Sri Lankan descent and anything that was not along the lines of medicine, law, accounting or engineering was given the automatic kibosh. Later in life, I appreciated this perspective immensely.

“A part of me that was not yet fully discovered was starting to flourish. Entrepreneurialism felt very real.”

After eight years of my life spent in Zambia, my parents moved us to Sri Lanka for six years, followed by a move to New Zealand in my mid teens where I continued my high school and university education. By the time I reached my early twenties, my life was about to take a turn with an unplanned adventure. I received a scholarship to study as an exchange student in the MBA program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Even with 23 countries under my belt, the experience of studying in the US opened my mind on a whole different level. A part of me that was not yet fully discovered was starting to flourish. Entrepreneurialism felt very real. Upon completing my masters program, I returned back to New Zealand for a short period until I found myself back in Seattle on a work visa sponsored by Deloitte Consulting.

I spent nine years consulting and working for Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley companies including Deloitte Consulting, Apple, Cisco, Levi, Chevron, Salesforce and many others. The type of work and experience was phenomenal, especially because I actively played a role in uncovering the complexities of these large organizations, advising the senior leaders on their talent strategies, and transforming these companies to enable them to stay relevant and innovative in their current and new markets. It was all very fulfilling, but it still wasn’t enough for me. And through that deep desire for more, dE ROSAIRO was born. A childhood dream coupled with a strong business background was starting to become part of the fashion industry.

“This creative place became an escape for me”

Despite what seemed like a structured career, my soul frequently yearned towards things that were more intuitive and subjective. I spent most of my life sketching and having dressmakers sew what they referred to as complicated designs.  In my 20’s, I trained to become a Latin dancer, and soon after, I was performing, competing and teaching dance. At the same time, I also discovered a passion for abstract art, where I started to complete custom pieces and display my work at intimate art events. This creative place became an escape for me.  I was frequently amazed by the power of “movement” I experienced through creativity and expression.  I would spend countless hours with other creatives chatting about expression and what inspires each of us. Then my mind would sway back to the world of business that I also felt very passionately about, and I would wonder what the world would be like if we had no artists and creatives around us.

Re-imagining an iconic symbol of American culture

Ironically, dE ROSAIRO was born not because I wanted to launch a womenswear clothing brand (which was my ultimate childhood dream, which I waited 28 years to launch), but dE ROSAIRO came about because the timing was right. I reached a point in my life where I was armed with the business knowledge, resources, connections, and confidence to build my own dream. What differentiated me was “re-imagining” an iconic symbol of American culture- the hoodie,  yet for the modern woman, designed so that she is able to incorporate it into her professional and contemporary wardrobe. I started to reconstruct the fit, silhouette, and fabrics of this much-adorned symbol with a degree of finesse, and as part of a collection. This “re-imagined” hoodie has now become, and will continue to be, a symbol of brand identity for dE ROSAIRO.

“I questioned if my lack of experience in the industry would place me at a disadvantage”

During this entire time of entrepreneurial discovery, I questioned if my lack of experience in the industry would place me at a disadvantage. As I started carving roads, I soon realized quite the contrary, and just how much I was leveraging my business expertise to build and manage the dE ROSAIRO brand. I was able to lay a solid foundation, which included business processes, financial and inventory models, and supply chain methodology. I also discovered that there were far too many designers who either loved the industry so much that they were willing to run their businesses for what was almost free, based on very low and difficult margins, or they simply didn’t know how to manage the varying components of running a sourcing business, coupled with cash flow liquidity that needed to survive 18 months out. I’m still learning myself.

Startup Women Advisory Board

Now, as an Advisory Board Member for the Startup Women Initiative, designed to promote female entrepreneurship, my goal is to help Creative Entrepreneurs bridge the gap between left and right-side brain thinking. It’s important (yet sometimes difficult) to connect the creative process with business operations, where the real strength of being a Creative Entrepreneur lies. dE ROSAIRO is only eight months post industry launch, yet we’ve enjoyed strong sales and strategic partnerships simply because of the parallels we are able to draw from the business world and apply to the fashion world. We truly haven’t mastered the combination in any sense, but through a series of strategic trials and errors, our goal is that we will eventually take more steps in the right direction.

Ask yourself the right questions

I don’t think all designers require a solid understanding of business to survive in today’s world, but I do believe that having a business background is what makes a difference in a very complex and fragmented supply chain and costing model. There are many successful designers who have built multi-million dollar global brands without any sort of business background. I do believe, however, that the industry has changed, and what worked even a few years back does not necessarily work today. Consumer spending habits influenced by social media, eCommerce models, and consumer choices have shaken up the entire industry, which is why the question we have to ask ourselves today as Creative Entrepreneurs is not “how do I launch a fashion brand?” but instead “how do I launch a fashion brand with a view to longevity?” Those are two fundamentally different questions, and the answer to the latter question is where I believe success in the industry lives.