CEO encourages ‘fearless entrepreneurs’ at Catawba
SALISBURY — Brandi Tysinger-Temple didn’t start her company by the book, and she encouraged business students Thursday to take their own chances.
Temple, a Lexington resident, started out 2008 as a stay-at-home mom making cute clothes for her two daughters.
Five years later, she is the founding CEO of Lolly Wolly Doodle, a children’s clothing company that is now the largest retail operation run through Facebook.
Temple spoke Thursday to students, faculty and other community members in the Peeler Crystal Lounge at Catawba College for its 10th Distinguished CEO Lecture.
“If you want to change something and make something truly new, you have to keep figuring out innovative ways to do it,” she said. “I think so many times, you’re taught to approach problems from a traditional standpoint, but I am going to tell you — do not do that.”
Temple said she started her business not with a plan, but a problem. She couldn’t find matching outfits that would fit both girls, who are 5 years apart in age.
After she sewed together matching dresses for them, she decided to make a few more out of the leftover fabric and sell them online through eBay.
“My niece was sitting beside me, who everyone calls ‘Lolly,’ and she said, ‘What are you going to name your store?’ ” Temple said. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, Lolly Wolly Doodle. Let’s just name it that.’ ”
It’s telling, she said, that her success came when she stopped calculating so much and made a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Beginning the Facebook store was another unplanned decision. Temple said she decided to post some “irregular” items on her page to see if anyone wanted to buy them at a discount.
She showed the photos to her 150 fans, and within a minute all 40 dresses were claimed.
“I literally started grabbing things that my kids hadn’t worn yet from their closet and putting them on Facebook,” Temple said. “I was selling anything and everything I could find.”
Lolly Wolly Doodle had found its niche.
As of Thursday evening, more than 547,000 people “liked” the company’s page.
“Moms are on Facebook every day, connecting with each other and sharing life events, special occasions, tryouts, tirades and their kids’ recital pictures,” Temple said. “We wanted to make it fun and easy for moms to shop anywhere they were.”
When she first started, there were no reliable applications on Facebook to handle online purchasing. Experts advised that businesses could not sell items through the site.
“But I really didn’t have time to notice because of how many orders I was processing on Facebook,” Temple said, smiling.
She simply asked her customers to comment on the items they wanted with their name, email address and desired size, and then sent them invoices. They can still order this way today, even though the company has its own online shopping application now.
While the rapid growth of her business was exciting, Temple said it began to overwhelm her — and her house. Her headquarters went from a spare bedroom to the dining room to the garage. Temple said she was barely able to eat, sleep or spend time with her kids.
She started to think about selling the business. But in 2010, the family got what seemed like bad news — Temple’s husband, Will, was going to lose his job.
The spouses found themselves switching places, with Will as a stay-at-home dad and Temple as the breadwinner.
Soon, Lolly Wolly Doodle attracted its first investor, followed by another — and another. Temple finally was able to move her business to its own facility, and it grew even more rapidly from there.
She said she was excited about bringing manufacturing jobs back to Lexington and began hiring everyone she could. Today, Lolly Wolly Doodle has 140 employees.
Temple closed her speech at Catawba with several pieces of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
They need to know their brand, which should be clear enough to mean something but flexible enough to change when new paths open up.
They should also know their audience, meet their customers where they are and start a conversation with them. With the Internet, a business’ audience no longer has to be limited by physical location, Temple said.
She encouraged entrepreneurs to focus on the idea of sharing on social media and use it to create a meaningful brand.
She also urged them to remember that people matter — if they forget that, she said, they won’t be successful.
Finally, while Temple didn’t start out with a plan, she does advise others to make them. A business plan doesn’t have to be formal or even written down at first, she said, it just has to make sense to the person following it. And if it makes sense to change that plan, then change it.
“Being a fearless entrepreneur means making sure you leave room for the unplanned,” Temple said. “It means fearlessly following your ideas, fearlessly testing new ones and not looking back or depending on industry standards. It means listening to what experts say can or can’t be done — only until you have proof to disprove theory — and to be so innovative that, in end, there are no industry standards to compare you to.”
For more information about Lolly Wolly Doodle, visit facebook.com/LollyWollyDoodle or www.lollywollydoodle.com.