How Fashion Brands Can Think Like a StartupDecember 5, 2017
Teenage venture capitalist and entrepreneur Patrick Finnegan shares his secrets to running a successful startup.
Patrick Finnegan is not your typical 21-year-old. Speaking in front of some of the fashion industry’s most influential figures at VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate, the teenager showed wisdom beyond his years, having raised $10,000 for former US president Barack Obama’s campaign at the age of 12 and, in the process, earning himself an invitation to the inauguration in 2008. Today, he is a partner at New York-based fund TGZ Capital, which he founded with Jake Paul and Cameron Dallas.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Finnegan. “Growing up, I wasn’t the normal kid. People said I had issues and boxed me in all these labels,” he said. “Bipolar, Asperger’s [syndrome], ADHD — every label was thrown at me. But I would bounce back every time [because] I didn’t want to be told who I was.”
Finnegan developed an early interest in architecture and found comfort in the work — and personality — of the Los Angeles-based architect, Frank Gehry. “I admired someone who could take his work from imagination to reality. He stayed who he was despite his critics and adversity.” Seeing Gehry as someone he could relate to, Finnegan said he felt “less alone.”
“It’s important to embrace who you are. But I wanted to become part of a movement that was greater than myself,” he explained, which was how he found his calling in venture capital. “I like the art of the deal. I like meeting with individuals who don’t know where to put their capital. It started off informal and I had no qualifications. Soon, it became formal.”
So, what advice does the teen venture capitalist have for fashion brands aiming to adopt a more agile, startup-like approach?
Be authentic and real, Finnegan said, pointing to Dirty Lemon, a New York-based company selling wellness beverages, as a brand to watch. “I was fascinated by Zak [Normandin], the founder [and current chief executive] of the business, who understood the promise of our fund and he understood how to win the market [in an industry where] most consumer-packaged goods are ridiculous.”
Branding is everything, he added, so “know who you are.” Know Foods, which provides grain, gluten, wheat, soy and dairy-free foods, add value to the consumer, he said. “It’s also valued by the right people and they have a mission-driven statement.” This is crucial for brands targeting the younger generation, which “have no patience for selfishness. They want to [support] brands that care about their community.”
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try something new. “[Beauty] is one of the inclusive industries but it’s also cut-throat and competitive.” In industries like these, “instead of putting five decks into a plan of how to win the market, go out there and experiment,” he said, citing Glow Concept, also known as Winky Lux, as an example.
“When I was first asked to speak at VOICES, I couldn’t figure out why my story mattered,” he admitted. “Today, I realise it does matter. [Your success] is about the people you surround yourself with. Margaret Atwood once said, ‘In the end we all become stories.’ So now I’m saying, why don’t we start by writing one that we want?”
Business of Fashion