Pushing Through Discomfort on the Path to Entrepreneurial Success
Aaron Levant, CEO of Ntwrk, shares how he was able to grow in the streetwear industry by getting outside his comfort zone and never giving up.
Growing up in Los Angeles in the '80s and '90s, Aaron Levant always had an interest in streetwear and street culture, which he defines as a cross-section of several areas such as skateboarding, hip-hop, fashion and graphic design. But passion alone isn't what turned him into the CEO of Ntwrk, an e-commerce streetwear company with investors like Livenation and Drake.
Levant has come a long way from his teenage days, which included creating graffiti and getting in a little bit of trouble with the law, and he credits that to his relentless commitment to pushing through the ups and downs of life as an entrepreneur and having the long-term vision to get there.
In 2003, when he was 19, Levant started the first Agenda streetwear trade show in Long Beach, CA, by renting out a Thai restaurant and hustling his way to some early organic success. While there were plenty of obstacles in the years following, he continued to grow Agenda.
But once he got past the pain and discomfort of growing a business from the ground up, he didn't rest on his laurels. Instead, he decided to shake things up by leading a new venture, Ntwrk, in 2018, getting into the areas of content, e-commerce and technology. In addition to seeing significant market opportunities in these areas, they were also new to him and helped get him outside his comfort zone.
"When you're comfortable you should probably change and make yourself uncomfortable again," says Levant.
Relationships mean everything
With Ntwrk, similar to TV shopping networks for Gen Z and young Millennials, Levant is working with top brands and influencers to create shows that people can watch on their phones and shop from directly.
The technology behind this type of offering can be replicated and has a relatively low barrier to entry, but Levant has been able to stand out from the competition, even as companies like Amazon offer their own digital shopping shows. By building quality relationships with athletes, musicians and other influencers, Ntwrk can both reach new networks that these celebrities bring while also retaining its customer base by offering exclusive merchandise that other retailers and e-commerce destinations can't offer.
This exclusivity offers a good teaching point to aspiring entrepreneurs, as even when there are competitors like Amazon with more resources and name recognition, it's still possible to thrive by standing out in your own unique way, such as by building quality relationships to offer exclusive products or offering unrivaled customer service.
Moreover, Ntwrk focuses on obtaining customers with a higher level of interest in the brand than most customers have for other e-commerce companies. To shop Ntwrk, you have to create an account. While this small hoop to jump through may seem like an inconvenience, it can weed out casual viewers and create a higher level of commitment from customers ready to buy, which is more valuable to Ntwrk than having large numbers of viewers with low conversion rates.
Always push through
In addition to forming quality relationships with customers and partners, Levant's journey and advice also offer great lessons to aspiring entrepreneurs. No one should underestimate the difficulty of starting and running a business, and if you want to make it long term, you need to be willing to get past failure, embarrassment, frustration and other negative feelings and events.
As Levant says, you have to put your ego aside and push through. If you do that, and if you maintain a vision of what long-term success looks like, then you can increase your odds of making it as an entrepreneur.