Insider: Entrepreneur Daniel Hsu

As I said in yesterday’s post, I am thrilled to partner as a fashion blogger/model for T.I.L. Darling, one of the cooler online clothing boutiques that have come across my radar lately. But, the true story is that of CEO Daniel Hsu, who, quite literally, created the business from a place of love. T.I.L. Darling’s beginnings are that of a true love story… also one on its way to a fairy-tale ending.

Tell us about T.I.L. Darling.

Founded in 2008, T.I.L. Darling is an online women’s clothing boutique started in the heart of London. T.I.L. Darling markets towards forward fashion women aged 18-34 years old, but really our customers are just those who love trendy and affordable fashion. In 2009, T.I.L. Darling relocated to the USA and it has been struggling and growing ever since.

Give me a brief background about you.

I’m 30 years old and was born and raised in N. and S. California. 

I was a way below average student in high school. Before heading into my Senior year, I had something close to a 2.0 GPA, but when I saw all my classmates getting accepted to university, I got my act together. My senior year, I got a 4.0 GPA. I was actually accepted to ASU, but at that point I had the confidence that I could get into a more competitive business program. So, I went to JC for two years and my main goal was to get into UC Berkeley Walter A. Haas School of Business. I think the year I transferred into Haas, the acceptance rate was something like 11%. Even today, it’s like 6.8%. It’s just ridiculous. Anyway, for young people who think they’re not good at school, it may not be true.

In 2002, I graduated from UC Berkeley. Unfortunately, I graduated during the dot-com bust and with no focus in accounting, investment banking, or consulting I was without a J-O-B. I always knew that I wanted to own my business and so I just didn’t follow the expected “program.” I took the opportunity to pursue a passion of mine, DJing. So, my first job out of university was at 1015 Folsom Nightclub in San Francisco…as a janitor. I cleaned everything from spilled drinks, vomit, to human feces. Fortunately, I was able to make the right connection and within two months, I was DJing every Friday night and helping promote the weekly event. The thing is that I don’t drink and have never used an illicit drug in my life, so I really was there for the music, but the environment was tiring for someone my pace.

I quit and focused on my electronic dance music and even got a professional certificate in electronic music production from Berklee College of Music. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I’m really that musically talented as an artist. I can predict hits probably better than most people in the world, but as far as making it, not so much. So, after a while, my dad offered to get me a sponsor to take the Series 7 and 66 license to become an investment advisor. After that, the money flowed. I wasn’t a hardcore finance professional, but I was honest and that’s what my clients liked.  

I decided to go to graduate school, honestly just to get away from California. I had never spent any extended time outside of California. I visited Morocco and London in December of 2006 and I was attending the London Business School the following year to get my Masters in Finance. I love London, but I can’t say I love finance. After getting to know my classmates and seeing the passion they had for finance, I knew I could never compete with them. Additionally, with an INFP (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception) personality, I’m essentially a hippie and so working in finance just wasn’t going to happen in the long-term.

As part of the degree requirement, I was required to complete a final project with a classmate. I was courting my current girlfriend up until that point and so obviously I suggest that we work on the project together since it would mean we would spend a lot of time together. My girlfriend always called me tricky. I like to call it using my Jedi Mind Trick, especially since she actually rejected me twice before we became a couple, but I actually always knew she liked me. That’s why I didn’t give up. Otherwise, I would have moved on.

Anyway, we decided to pass off opening T.I.L. Darling as a final project because a couple of years before us, three students wrote a business plan for a Japanese restaurant that they eventually opened in Washington D.C. My original goal of T.I.L. Darling was not only to open it, but get about $4MM in funding so that she and I could get an entrepreneurship visa and stay in London together. I jokingly wrote someone that the story of T.I.L. Darling is actually a story about love. Hahaha. Because it really is true in many ways. I focused so much on T.I.L. Darling in London because it was a sliver of chance for her and I to stay together. We graduated with Masters in Finance in 2008, during the financial crisis, and were foreigners. In a lot of ways, we just didn’t stand a chance of staying together in London. We did get an “A” on our final project and I joked that it only cost us 6K GBP, but we definitely didn’t get the $4MM to stay in London.

My girlfriend’s mother wanted her back in Thailand, which is where she is from, and with my mom alone in the USA, I went back. I cashed out my 401K, which is essentially all the money I had, and put it into inventory. So, that means if T.I.L. Darling fails, I will pretty much be penniless. Hahaha. Even in the USA, my goal is to make T.I.L. Darling successful just enough to support an income of two people. That’s it. I mean the long-term goal is to become the next Lulus.com or Modcloth, but just to make enough money for her and I to be together is good enough for the time being. 

When and what made you want to pursue this career?

I always knew that I wanted to run my own business and I’ve always imagined that business to be somewhere in the retail space. When I was younger, I actually had a weird interest in fashion for a male. When I was in High School and College, my mom, brother, and I would take trips to Hong Kong and I would buy a ridiculous amounts of clothes. I loved it. My brother on the other hand had no interest. Before I was ever interested in fashion, I was definitely more into music and probably still am, but with that comes interest in pop culture, movies, fashion, trends, etc. Even as a high schooler, I loved watching the Red Carpet for the Academy Awards. In middle school, I bought a pair of retro style prescription eyeglasses that back then I thought looked unique, but to everyone else looked ridiculous. Now, everybody is wearing them.

People who know me understand that when I’m fairly self-deprecating when it comes to things that I’m not good at, but when I’m good at something, I will boast to an annoying extent. With music, movies, trends, etc, I just have killer instincts. For T.I.L. Darling, there are things I bought three years ago that I’m selling out of today because people are just catching up with the trend.

Also, I just love the idea of making women (heck, even cross dressers) look awesome. I love the idea that I’m buying clothes, especially as a man, that women say they “love” and hopefully will make them feel they want to feel. I’ve battled with weight my entire life and I know how clothes can boost your confidence.

What would you say is your most important accomplishment?

Nothing so far. I’m working hard at it though. I could point to all the competitive schools I’ve attended, but that is nothing when I haven’t really done what I want with that education. I did get to DJ the same event as Paul Van Dyk. Hahaha. Hopefully in the next five years things will change, but the world isn’t the easiest place to accomplish your dreams. I guess personally, learning how to do the Jedi Mindtrick on my girlfriend. Hopefully, I can master it so that we can get married in the next couple of years.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

From a business perspective, ASOS.com is an amazing business model. It’s just an exciting and successful business model. Also, Modcloth is an amazing story. I almost seriously hate them, but I know it’s because I’m jealous of what they have accomplished.

In regard to fashion, I have to say that I think about all the cute young women shopping on Oxford Street. They are just so fearless when it comes to trends. T.I.L. Darling is such a confusing business to buy for sometimes because I wish I could buy all those trendy and fashion forward items, but they don’t necessarily work in the USA market. Quite honestly, some of the most successful items are those that are a bit more conservative, so I really have to be a buyer of my audience than what I love.

Music inspires me a lot because for me that’s where all the emotional branding that Urban Outfitters has become famous for derives from. When I first heard Nirvana, I was wearing flannel that whole year. When I first heard The Strokes, in my mind I was in New York wearing skinny pants.

Movies are huge for me. Ray-Ban Wayfarers have been popular forever, but I got my pair after watching Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can. When I was in high school, I bought a whole bunch of blazers after watching Goodfellas. Hahaha. That was embarrassing now that I think about it. My first car ever was a 1954 Chevy 210 Sedan because of how much I loved the classic cars in Goodfellas.

How do you select your designers/brands? What are the ones you like/ones to watch?

To be honest, sometimes I look at what my competitors are carrying and just offer it at a lower price. Hahaha. Here is the thing about the fashion buying industry. All these big companies spend thousands and thousands of dollars to send buyers to all kinds of fashion trade shows and markets throughout the year. A plane ticket from San Francisco to New York is $500, to London $800-1000. A hotel room is about $100/night. So, for a three day buying trip, sending a buyer can cost anywhere from $800-$1300 and that is being extremely conservative. Do you know how many items you have to sell and at what mark-up to make up for just one trip? Guess who pays for that in the end? The consumer.

So, I really depend on the Internet to research what brands competitors are carrying, as well as what our target consumers are buying. Also, I’ll hit Haight Street and other boutiques in the San Francisco Bay Area to see what brands they are carrying. It’s either I charge my customers for me to hang out in Las Vegas or I spend $30 to drive to San Francisco, visit boutiques in SF, and search the Internet for wholesale information.

Anyway, the one brand I like a lot is actually Motel, which is a brand we don’t even carry. I remember when they were just a growing brand in the UK and now they are blowing up everywhere. They really represent the trendy and forward fashion of the UK well.

As far as what I have on T.I.L. Darling, I think Ya Los Angeles is really a great combination of style and affordability. I think even Kitson’s in LA carries the brand or they used to. Audrey 3+1 is really an unknown, but a lot of brick and mortar boutiques are carrying it now. If I hadn’t visit Haight St., then I would have never heard of them. We literally only have one dress from them, but it’s been doing well.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have some pretty lofty, but attainable goals for T.I.L. Darling. I want to get 10K newsletter subscribers by the end of the year. That’s pretty hard, but I think we’ll be not too horribly off. That also goes the same for our Twitter followers. Anyway, I just have a list of business type goals that isn’t too interesting for most people to hear about. What it all comes down to is brand awareness.

Looking forward, what do you see in the future for Yourself and Your Company?

Honestly, I just want my girlfriend and I to be able to live off of running T.I.L. Darling. I can’t even think beyond that because it’s just useless unless I meet that first major goal. As I get older, I can’t bother with dreaming, but rather I have to focus on what I have to do now to accomplish the goals I already set out. One step at a time.

Favorites:

Musician – I expect you to include all of these. Hahaha. (Tricia’s note to Daniel: I did!) Eisley, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Neko Case, Wild Moccasins, Nirvana, Mew, Mars Volta, Alessi’s Ark, Au Revoir Simone, The Pixies, The Beach Boys, Camera Obscura, Classic Educaiton, Elton John, Jay Jay Pistolet, Nickel Creek, Midlake, Paul McCartney, Aimee Mann, the Shins, Amazing Baby, Alex Turner, AM, ARMS, Army Navy, Autumn Owls, Beach House, The Whispertown 2000, Tricky, Ten Bears, Uninhabitable Mansion, Summer Camp, Those Darlins, Vadonmessico, Viva Viva, White Lies, The Sundays, Tears for Fears, The Strokes, Stone Temple Pilots, Steve Goldberg and the Arch Enemies, Smashing Pumpkins, Silversun Pickups, Secret Cities, Screaming Trees, Scissors for Lefty, Rush, Roxy Music, Magic Kids, Meat Puppets, Miniature Tigers, Lilly Allen, Lawrence Arabia, Harlem Shakes, Gringo Star, Grass Widow, Fyfe Dangerfield, Elliot Brood, Fanfarlo, Feist, Forest City Lovers, Dappled Cities, Frente!, The Black Keys, Chase Pagan, The Cardigans, Dead Confederate, Chris Thile, Black Gold, The Bears of Blue River, Air, Adele, Allo Darlin’, J Irvin Dally, Lady Sovereign, Laura Gibson, The Love Language, The Maccabees, Maren Parusel, Mates of State, Oh Mercy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Darmien Jurado, Jeremy Enigk, Atari Teenage Riot, System of a Down, 311, Underworld, The Chemical Brother, The Prodigy, Tripl3fastaction,Thin Lizard Dawn, Stars, Splendid, Angie Hart, Soundgarden, Shizou,Regina Spektor, Radiohead, Queen, Poe, PJ Harvey, Other Lives, The Offspring, Oasis, No Doubt, The Narrative, Muse, Moby, Mazzy Star, M.I.A. Landon Pigg, Laidback Luke, Kimya Dawson, Kashmir, John Lennon, First Aid Kit, High Contrast, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger,Garbage, Fountain of Wayne, Fiona Apple, Filter, Fight Like Apes, Easy Star All-Stars, EC8OR, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Darkel, Crash Test Dummies, The Cranberries, Coldplay, Carole King, Boat Beam. I dare someone to listen to them all. Hahaha

Clothing Designer – Marc Jacobs because he’s too cool for school. Betsey Johnson because she’s really doing her own thing, Valentino because he truly makes fashion art, Thakoon because he’s short like me, whoever designed Levi’s 511 and 514 because they are affordable and look awesome, and really all designers who are following their passion in life.

Beauty Product – Uhh, what??? I actually don’t even use gel in my hair anymore.

Watch – iPhone. BTW, I owned the first generation iPod and bought my first iMac in 2002, which means I’m too awesome. If I liked wearing watches and could afford one, I would get the Tag Heuer Steve McQueen Watch. It’s a classic.

Car –  My first car was a 1954 Chevrolet 210 Sedan. I also bought a 2002 Honda Civic Hybrid from my mom. I sold the 1954 Chevy to buy a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro with 327 cubic inch V8. I then sold my Hybrid to buy a 2009 Dodge Charger SRT8. My next car will be hybrid or electric, but then again I don’t drive a lot so I’m not really killing the planet. No joke, I never speed though.

Daniel as a DJ at 1015 Folsom Nightclub in San Francisco

Daniel and his business partner, LBS classmate, and girlfriend Toon on Christmas Day in London 2007

Daniel and Toon – a true love story!

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