Nic Haralambous is perhaps better known by his brand’s name, Nic Harry Socks, the cheerful fashion company that has turned socks into statement pieces.
What started out as an R5 000 investment has grown into a national, profitable and highly successful venture. Here this creative businessman shares snippets of his journey, and why failing is such an essential contribution to success:
What inspired Nic Harry socks?
I had just sold my last company and wanted to build a new business. The goal was to spend R5000, grow the business in 6 weeks and turn a profit in 30 days. If we failed with the first business, we’d just repeat the method until something stuck. I chose socks because we wanted to manufacture a product locally, ship globally and dabble in e-commerce.
That’s incredible! Even though the investment was small by entrepreneurial standards, something had to convince you that you could turn this into a viable business? Did you do research?
I was really just scratching an itch that I had myself. The research was more anecdotal than anything heavy or intense. We spent 6 weeks building and designing, then 30 days selling and after that, we realised there was demand, and we had sales!
Fast forward a few years, what contributes to your ongoing success?
We haven’t ever really looked at Nic Harry as a success. We look at it as a work in progress. We have ups and downs but always work towards producing incredible designs and a consistently amazing product that sets us apart.
Yet you have established a strong brand. In the wine market – like any other – branding is critical, as this sets you apart from competitors. What sets Nic Harry Socks apart from say, any other colourful sock apparel company?
When I launched Nic Harry, I went (and still goes) through great pains to ensure that customer service is at the centre of what we do. It’s our focus. Great product and fun designs are standard in this space, so we make sure that when you think of Nic Harry you think of the incredible experience you’ve had shopping with us, you think of the free gift wrapping, the locally produced product and the industry-leading approach to business.
We love seeing a sneaky pop of colour in boardrooms! Do you think business people tend to be too serious?
I don’t think this is limited to business people. I think a lot of people take themselves too seriously. We often have to remind ourselves that we are a company that makes fun socks and t-shirts and it’s OK to have a bad day, be silly or have fun.
It really rounds off a suit! Tom Ford said ‘dressing well is a form of good manners’ – how important is style in a business environment? Does the cliché ‘dressed for success’ ring true?
I have always rebelled against anything institutionalised, and in the world of fashion, fashion is important. To me, it’s way more important that each person feels confident in their outfits. That doesn’t necessarily mean dressing to impress or for success. In my world, it means dressing for yourself.
In your book, Do. Fail. Learn. Repeat. You are very honest about the challenges of being an entrepreneur: what are the rewards that make these challenges worth it?
Why is failing important?
There honestly aren’t many rewards to being an entrepreneur. The rewards need to be found in the small victories every day, the changes you were hoping would happen that actually do happen. Failing is important as it forms an integral part of success. We like to believe that failure is the opposite of success and it just isn’t. This isn’t a binary game with one of two outcomes. Every failure is a lesson, and if you are learning something, you’re not failing.
That’s great advice. What advice do people share with you?
Someone recently told me this great quote from Lorne Michaels: ‘You can never ask for credit.’ If you’re doing things for credit, then your motivation is wrong. When you do things for the right reasons, more often than not, the credit will follow, and you won’t be begging for it. I am a big believer in intent. If you do something with the intention of receiving credit, then it’s doomed from the start.
Apart from your business autobiography, which other two books do you recommend entrepreneurs read?
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is amazing.
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin is an astounding body of work that has nothing to do with business but changed the way I see the world and what matters to me.
For those busy executives who don’t have time to read these, do you care to summarise the three business rules you adhere to?
Hire slowly, fire quickly.
Profit over pride.
Treat other businesses how you want them to treat you.
It doesn’t sound like there is much time to rest. How are you preparing for the festive season?
We have a crazy Nov/Dec season because it’s our Birthday on the 19th of November. We generally prepare something special for our fans then. This takes us straight into Black Friday and Cyber Monday and then immediately afterwards into the holiday craze. This year we’re bringing out new t-shirt designs and more crazy socks!
That sounds exciting! Can you tell us more about these t-shirts, and where (and when!) can we buy these?
We decided that our next range of t-shirts should be items that speak to the world around us and how we (Jen Wynne, co-founder and I) fit into it and see through it. We also wanted to launch a range of shirts that you would never see in a traditional retailer. They are available in-store and online already!
When you do get time to relax, which restaurant do you enjoy visiting?
South China Dimsum in Cape Town.
What kind of wines do you enjoy?
Broadly speaking, my partner is the one who loves wines, so I taste and enjoy whatever she’s into for the moment!
Cheers! Thank you for your time.