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Entrepreneur Q&A: Thompson Tee co-founders say ‘cash is king’

Don’t sweat it.

That’s the main message behind Thompson Tee, a Las Vegas-based business that sells sweat-proof T-shirts. Last August, co-founders Billy Thompson and Randy Choi moved the e-commerce company from California to Las Vegas for its friendly business climate, and said they haven’t looked back since.

Thompson Tee is now nearing its 1 millionth T-shirt sold. After receiving — and then declining — an offer on the ABC TV show Shark Tank in 2017, Thompson and Choi said they’ve learned a lot of lessons about the industry.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get the idea for this business?

Thompson: Hyperhidrosis — excessive sweating — was an issue I dealt with personally since puberty. I had an intimate understanding of the problem, and had a few guy friends with the same issue. There’s a pretty good portion of the population that has this problem. Clinical-strength antiperspirants weren’t working.

What drives Randy and me is this product changing people’s lives. There are people who haven’t taken their jackets off in 10 years. We empathize with our customers. We know what they’re going through. If you don’t have the passion behind it, you won’t be able to go through the torture to get your business off the ground.

Why move to Las Vegas?

Thompson: California was one of the least business-friendly states. The short answer to that is it’s 90 percent economical. With no income tax here in Nevada, that helps out. That’s huge for small businesses that are growing. It’s been great.

Choi: The other side would be the regulations. There’s a lot of layers of regulations from the local to state level in California that didn’t make sense for our particular business. Being registered at the state, county and city level was much more streamlined.

What have you learned about an e-commerce industry since launching in 2012?

Thompson: We had no true e-commerce experience. We made a lot of novice mistakes. Stuff like, should we spend on Amazon? Why should we, when people want to buy directly? And Amazon is almost 50 percent of our business now. That first year, we didn’t think e-commerce was where we’d be. I was gung-ho on brick and mortar. It taught us a lesson: if you’re pushing so hard and nothing’s working, maybe it’s not supposed to.

Why decline the deal with the sharks?

Choi: It’s like a first date. At first, everything’s perfect. Once we started the due diligence, figuring out the key principles for the business, you find out things aren’t eye-to-eye.

Thompson: The majority of the deals you see on TV don’t get finalized. We decided there were some differences in the direction of where we felt the company would go. But being on the show, that was one of the best things that’s happened for our business.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

Thompson: Save as much money as you can. When you get started, spend as little money as you can. Those things are very important. Cash is king to a small business. And as quickly as you can, focus on your new strategy so you can execute it. The sooner you can do that, the better chances you have of success. We have to make sure that we put the best product out there with the best service.

Choi: The main advice is to focus. You have to focus and understand what you are. It’s hard for us, because we’re a hybrid brand. We created our own market. Focus, watch your money and understand what you are and who you are as a company.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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