As an entrepreneur, your first business isn’t likely to be your last.
That’s what Chip Wilson, the founder of athleisure apparel retailer Lululemon, learned from his own experiences in entrepreneurship. Though Lululemon is now the business he’s best known for, it wasn’t his first—in fact, he lived through another life cycle of a major business before then. In 1979, Wilson launched Westbeach Snowboard Ltd., an athletic apparel company targeted toward surfers and snowboarders. Nearly 20 years after he founded it, in 1997, Wilson sold the company. The next year, he launched Lululemon Athletica.
“Don’t think it’s going to be your only business,” he told Adweek of his lessons for first-time entrepreneurs. “Think more like you’re going to have two or three businesses in your life, and that first one is just kindergarten.”
Wilson is opening up about this lesson and more in his new book, Little Black Stretchy Pants, which he dubbed the “unauthorized story of Lululemon.” Beyond advice for those looking to make a splash with their own businesses, he reveals the decisions that he himself made in running Lululemon, including a sale of 48 percent of his company shares, and how those calls affected the business.
In 2005, when Wilson sold those shares, he said it was a strategic move on his part to change the direction of the company. “I made a conscious choice to sell half my shares to a private equity firm to change up the board of directors,” Wilson told Adweek. “It seemed like the best way to do that was not only to sell half my shares to make that happen, but to come off of the board so I could talk about the company publicly. Inside of the board, I didn’t really have that ability.” When he sold those shares, Wilson also departed from his CEO post.
His move had the desired effect. Though Lululemon went through several public scandals, including ones of Wilson’s own making, including a comment that the brand’s signature leggings “don’t work for some women’s bodies,” (that led to him stepping down from his position as Lululemon’s chief innovation and branding officer), it’s turned a corner in recent years.
“The board changed, the CEO changed, and it’s a different landscape,” he said. “I think there’s a great future.”
Wilson can’t help but look toward the future in his own businesses, and said that doing so is a trademark sign of an entrepreneur. “An entrepreneur is someone who is never happy with the status quo,” he said. “Being in that mind-set has me five to seven years in the future all the time, from the way I dress to the way I think, to the way I look at processes and trends.”
And to succeed as an entrepreneur, Wilson said, you need to be constantly working toward that ideal future in your mind. “For someone with that mind-set, whatever exists in the present is never perfect,” he added. “There’s no complaining about it; it’s more taking action about it.”