Last summer, we launched #LaunchCEO (pun intended), a new event segment designed to shine a light on North Texas CEOs taking bold ideas and creative innovation to the next level at our monthly Dallas New Tech events.
For the first #BigDNT event of 2018, we invited Matt Alexander, an innovator in the Dallas retail ecosystem as well as quite an impressive writer himself to take the stage in what we know will be an unforgettable fireside chat. He also sat down with us for a candid interview on writing, retail, startups and his inspiring entrepreneurial journey.
At around the age of 12, Matt Alexander sat at his computer and began to blog about video game console software in his home in the suburbs of London, marking the start of his entrepreneurial writing career.
Despite his young age, Alexander’s blog gained traction and reached a peak audience of around 1.5 million views a month, yet the young author was not old enough to open a PayPal account to accept sponsorship, leading him to forge his parents details to open an account. Despite the momentum growing behind his blog, Alexander continued to publish under a pseudonym, keeping this success a secret from those closest to him including his family and friends.
“It was doing really, really well, but then again, I was very ashamed and embarrassed that I was writing about these nerdy things online.” Alexander said.
For several years, Alexander kept this hobby on the side. Until one day near the start of his U.K. GSCE exams, the teen at the time quietly shut the site down to focus on his classes, not telling his father about the site until years later.
“It’s one of those things that has been so formative for me that I just didn’t appreciate the value of it until the past few years,” Alexander said.
Touching back in with these writing roots in the aftermath of a stressful year, Alexander is currently in transition to a new (name to be revealed soon) project: recuperating, realigning and re-discovering the future of the department store.
For some, such a project focusing on brick-and-mortar stores may seem counterintuitive in a time when more stores than ever are closing with reports that 2017 marked a record number of retail closures. Alexander, however, recognizes the push for digital brands to open physical spaces to develop “loyal and lasting” connections with customers.
“[This project] is very much the nexus point of everything I’ve been working on in the past five years,” said Alexander. “I just wanted to find a great mechanism for writing and sharing things I care about as well as telling great stories through podcasts and creating great platforms for brands to share their stories and creating a unique way of marketing and presenting a product and creating something that is extremely well-curated and extremely specific.”
For years, Alexander, co-founder of Unbranded and former founder and CEO of Edition Collective, sought this clarity of direction as he entered college at SMU with an ambiguous idea of his career plans compared to the seemingly decided ambitions of his American colleagues. Throughout his studies, Alexander played with the idea of entering graduate or law school, while pursuing various areas like English, computer science and history.
A few months after graduation, Alexander secured a highly-competitive internship, which progressed into a job with the Southwest Airlines’ publication team, exposing the recent graduate to the corporate world.
“I was just abundantly aware of the ceiling above me from Day 1,” he said. “I got on well with everyone I worked with but I didn’t have that immediate respect for hierarchy.” With this awareness, Alexander felt the twinge to work his way into the startup world, leading to the creation of OneThirtySeven, the successor of his childhood blog.
“I went for a walk with my then girlfriend and now wife on the Katy Trail, and I said I want to start this blog and start writing about something I care about,” he said. “Maybe within a year, I’ll have a half decent audience and maybe within two, I’ll be able to join another company off the back of that and maybe in three to five years, I’ll have enough credibility with all of that to be able to start my own company and raise capital. All that ended up taking 6 months or less.”
So with the growing success of his new blog, Alexander left the corporate world to build his network to start his own company.
“I had this pseudo year in the wilderness where I was getting to know and roam around in this new world,” Alexander said. “I would be sitting there with venture capitalists saying what I would do differently and have them say, ‘Why don’t you do that, and we would invest in you’.”
Launching into Entrepreneurism
In under a year of leaving Southwest, Alexander took this advice and founded Edition Collective with his first brand named Need, which was later rebranded to Imprint.
Starting out of a small office at WELD with Alexander shipping orders, working with brands and producing content, Edition Collective grew to raise over $1.5 million from investors. In the course of its operation, Need launched over 32 curated menswear collections while still providing quality content to define its brand and connect with its audience.
From this first project, the budding entrepreneur recognized the necessity of marketing products with stories and brands behind them.
“Ultimately in the retail space…more of what people is buying is addressing some sort of anxiety or is addressing some sort of identity question like I want to be seen like this sort of person,” said Alexander. He then believed that it is the responsibility of the company to define and present an image for customers to answer this question.
Following the success of its first line, Edition Collective opened a second Dallas-produced line, Foremost, in 2015. Nearly a year later in the summer of 2016, the company started to face financial instability due to investments that fell through while still continually growing. Just weeks prior, the Imprint iOS launch reached the front page of the app store in 79 countries and Foremost faced a relaunch.
Alexander, however, noted the importance of using support throughout this time.
“Find someone who can be supportive and find that community,” said Alexander. “Dallas is quite rich of that, and everyone is quite supportive of each other and that kept me extremely stable and sane in a really difficult time and also in a really positive time.”
Riding the Wave
Following this short stint of insecurity, Q Fifty One acquired Edition Collective later in the year, which Alexander then took on the role of CEO and president of Q Fifty One Digital.
“It was really a textbook example of how an entrepreneur rollercoaster goes,” he said. “One morning everything is perfect and by that evening everything is a disaster and an hour after that everything is the best it’s ever been.”
With this new position, the new president had time to focus his creative efforts outside of just growing and thrusting his startups further.
“I started Need, and I was 25, and I decided to just run with it,” said Alexander. “Then suddenly we were like three years in and I was like what just happened. There [was] so much going on, I was physically and mentally getting pulled so many different directions.”
Alexander then took 2017 to return to healthy routines like going to the gym, reading more, eating regularly and reflecting on his own passions. “As I was sort of auditing my brain, I realized how important that written side was,” he said.
Following this reflection period, Alexander stepped down from his position at Q Fifty One in the summer of 2017, allowing time to refocus on this new project and himself, following a year consisting of lay-offs, an iOS launch, growth and an acquisition.
Shortly after this time, Alexander once again picked up writing on his blog, experimenting with a paid weekly newsletter to provide accountability.
“As I’m building something or as I’m building a company, I need to keep track of these things that keep me on an even platform personally, but also those that puts me in my best form professionally,” Alexander said. He knew that writing was this stability.
However, after starting several different projects in the retail world to the nonprofit realm, Alexander still identifies himself based upon his creative rather than business ventures. Only time can tell if his new project will follow in Alexander’s direction of creating meaningful and impactful content.
“I suppose I’m an entrepreneur. I’m the founder of a few different things, and I’ve done lots of different bits and pieces, but the undercurrent of it all is that I’m a little bit of a creator and a writer.”
Tickets are still available to see Matt live at Dallas New Tech. Grab them here.