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How to succeed in today's business world, according to Ethan Song of Frank + Oak

20 December 2016 by National Bank

Frank + Oak is a prominent Montreal fashion brand. Co-founder and CEO Ethan Song spoke to us about his career as an entrepreneur and his company's recently launched grant program for start-ups.

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From engineering to fashion

When they launched Frank + Oak in 2012 (two years after starting their custom-tailored menswear company, Modasuite), Ethan Song and Hicham Ratnani had a mission in mind: to design a brand for the young entrepreneurs and creative professionals of Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood.

Song and Ratnani have been friends since high school. They started out as engineering students before diving into the fashion world.

"I have a very tech-centric background," notes Song. "My father has a doctorate in the field, and I studied electrical engineering and computer science... Never limit yourself; opportunities are everywhere."

Reinventing yourself is the key to success

Ethan Song believes the most important thing is being open to new ideas—a quality he greatly admires in his collaborators. "These days, some industries undergo a revolution every two years. That's why, when I hire people, I don't focus on what they know. I'm looking for people who are willing to keep learning. Being able to reinvent yourself is an essential quality," he emphasizes.

And that's exactly what he and his partner did in 2012. Building on what they learned in their two years of running Modasuite, they rapidly achieved success after pivoting their business model in 2012.

By targeting a younger client base, adopting a new name, rolling out a membership model and a personal styling service, and releasing a mobile shopping app, they made Frank + Oak into the dynamic company it is today. Sales have grown 2,100% over four years.

However, this pivot didn't mean they could stop learning and growing, Song explains. "In today's world, clients' habitsare constantly changing. One year, everything is happening on Facebook, the next, it's something else. We need to be very agile to maintain our close relationships with our clients."

Focusing on smartphones and mobile technology

Technological innovation is central to the success of Frank + Oak.

"In my view, artificial intelligence will play a huge role in the business world over the next few years, allowing us to work faster while providing more personalized services," says Song.

Mobile shopping is another upcoming trend. "Over the coming years, people will increasingly use mobile devices to access all their online services," he predicts. "I strongly encourage business owners to invest in developing mobile tools." Currently, 35% of Frank + Oak orders are received via smartphone or tablet.

A fund to promote the next generation

Getting involved in the entrepreneurial community is another corevalue for Frank + Oak. That's why, last October, the two cofounders announced the launch of the 50/50 Founders' Fund, which will award four $10,000 grants to budding entrepreneurs each year, along with access to a mentoring program and courses in technology and marketing. These grants are offered in partnership with General Assembly.

"The best way to support entrepreneurs is to invest in them," notes Song. "We want to contribute to building a vibrant business community."

It should be noted that 50% of the grants will be awarded to female founders and 50% to male founders. "Although we mainly produce menswear, we are committed to inclusivity and equality," he explains.

The first recipients of the 50/50 Founders' Fund will be announced in January 2017.

What's next for Frank + Oak? The company just launched a personal styling service for women, and plans to open several morestores, deliver its merchandise to more countries—and continue to expand the definition of retail!

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