For ten years, William and Zoe Goetzmann have operated a successful family business together; now they share lessons for other entrepreneurs
You can call this a case of “family ties.”
William Goetzmann, a professor of finance at the Yale University School of Management and former President of the European Finance Association, has a business partner. At just 23 years old, she has graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, already obtained her master’s degree from Sotheby’s Art Institute in London, and has impressive artistic credentials.
This young woman, Zoe Goetzmann, is his daughter.
Together, Will and Zoe launched a business ten years ago — aptly named Will + Zoe — making stylish silk neckties, designed on mobile software using the iPhone app NetSketch. The ties retail for $100, and the business also manufactures women’s silk scarves for $150 each. They can be purchased online at www.willandzoe.net, or at select art-inspired fashion boutiques in Connecticut.
In their first-ever interview about Will + Zoe, the father-daughter duo told Moneyish what inspired the company, and what it’s like to run a business together.
“I really liked Gene Meyer ties, which you really can’t find anymore,” Will said. “They’re from the 1980s and I sort of remembered this strong graphic character they had,” he added, a nod to the Gene Meyer ties’ collection of colorful and bold, geometric patterns.
“We kind of challenged each other to design tie patterns, and that was kind of fun. And, then we thought, maybe we could actually have these manufactured and start a business out of it,” he reflected.
Henceforth, Will + Zoe was born. Zoe brings her artistic brain to the team, noting that entrepreneurship always attracted her from a young age.
“I [always] did my own sort of art, going from craft projects to painting with my dad, and with the iPhone, we both started using NetSketch, and would just sort of doodle very abstract designs,” she remembered. Now, “it’s just making designs mostly off the top of my head, [and then we] see what it looks like if we made a prototype out of it. It’s very organic,” she said of the design process.
So how much have they earned? “I would say that, at our current scale, we’re not making profits in the six figures,” Will said, but he and his daughter aren’t in it for the money. Instead, their primary concern is having fun together, building a business in which they both share a vested interest, and helping their customers look and feel their best.
Check out these statement-making ties that a Yale professor and his daughter design on their iPhones https://t.co/7QP6i1DlfH
— Moneyish (@Moneyish) September 30, 2017
As for the lessons they’ve learned in business together, the Goetzmanns said there are many.
“What I found was that a lot of the nitty gritty issues that have to do with getting something done are completely different than the theories that I’ve dealt with,” Will shared. “When you need to get somebody on the phone or make sure a color is right or [deal with] delays in shipping, it’s extraordinary how much effort it takes and, frankly, human skills of communicating with people.”
“It’s hard to convey that in a business school setting, where mostly what we think about is top-down activity rather than bottom-up, one-on-one problem-solving.”
And, while working with family can be notoriously tricky, Will and Zoe say they’ve never faced any big hurdles. “The reason why this didn’t feel difficult is because Zoe and I have shared art activities and projects… so there isn’t a lot of clashing about the design,” Will said. “I think we’re pretty different people, and Zoe has been the one that’s gone in and talked to stores, handled photography,” and collaborations like their recent partnership with New England shirtmaker Tuckerman & Co. — a startup brand founded by some of Will’s former business students.
As for Zoe’s hopes for the company’s future, she told Moneyish: “I’d like to see the business evolve and continue to keep selling ties… It would be nice to see it expand with new designs, too.”
“Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of time and effort,” she concludes, “so you definitely have to commit a lot of time to see your vision through. It’s always a continuous process of change, and you always want to make your designs better.”
For now though, those designs are resonating. If you wear a Will + Zoe tie, “you get stopped on the street and people will tell you how much they love it,” Will promised. It happens to him every day.
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