Open sign
Every entrepreneur started somewhere. Here, three successful CEOs offer best pieces of advice they learned firsthand. — Getty Images

The CEOs of Bonobos, Knot Standard and Adore Me are practiced in the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurship.

While digital-first menswear brand Bonobos was acquired by Walmart in 2017, it began life in 2007 as an entrepreneurial-driven startup on a mission to banish “khaki diaper butt,” with men’s pants that offered the promise of a custom-made feel.

At the same time, fellow menswear startup Knot Standard set out to make one-of-a-kind garments accessible to a mass audience, just as digital-native merchant Adore Me aims to disrupt the women’s intimate apparel market with robust customer service and a broad range of sizes at competitive prices.

[See more: Adore Me Turns Customer Reviews Into Insights.]

Bonobos CEO Micky Onvural, Knot Standard CEO and co-founder John Ballay and Morgan Hermand-Waiche, founder and CEO of Adore Me, discuss how running a nimble operation, channeling one’s focus and saying “no,” are critical to entrepreneurial leadership.

 Micky Onvural headshot
Micky Onvural, CEO, Bonobos — Bonobos

Micky Onvural, CEO, Bonobos: Have a clear brand identity

I think having a really strong sense of who you are today and who you want to be is key for a few reasons. Number one, the customers; number two, to attract them; and number three, I believe if you live it on the inside, it shows on the outside.

Both culture and brand are somewhat synonymous. I think a clear brand identity attracts customers, it attracts employees. It also creates clarity and focus of what you should do and what you shouldn't do. Particularly in an early-stage company, or even a company that's in the stage that we are, 11 years in, there are so many possibilities. No one is short of ideas. There are so many things you can do. It is important that you say no, if not more important that you say no to things than you say yes to things. It creates clarity and focus for your teams. It helps the team to know what [and] why they should do things every single day.

 John Ballay headshot
John Ballay, CEO and co-founder, Knot Standard — Knot Standard

John Ballay, CEO and co-founder, Knot Standard: Manage your focus

Entrepreneurs quickly realize that the traction and growth of a business takes extreme focus, but underestimate how much this can accelerate the growth timeline for the business. Continuously flooding your subconscious with your mission, goals and strategy will pay dividends for your business and team around the clock, providing you with insights and strategy ideas when you least expect it — at the gym, in the middle of the night or on your walk home.

I find an easy way to stay honest is to consistently dedicate 10 minutes each morning to write out the first things that come to my mind. I am continuously surprised by the amount of insightful ideas generated during the times I have successfully maintained my focus and intentions of the team.

This is how we developed the idea to create the email, which is provided to each customer post-purchase as a simple way to provide a communication channel directly to us and into my inbox. The genuine feedback that comes from this has helped our business immensely.

Once you realize that channeling your mindshare can lead to business ideas and improvements around the clock, it becomes an easy formula to follow.

Both culture and brand are somewhat synonymous. I think a clear brand identity attracts customers, it attracts employees.

Micky Onvural, CEO, Bonobos

 Morgan Hermand Waiche
Morgan Hermand-Waiche, founder and CEO, Adore Me — Adore Me

Morgan Hermand-Waiche, founder and CEO, Adore Me: ‘Never give up, always adapt’

Never give up, always adapt: Being a startup, we grow and face new challenges every day. I live by this motto and it permeates everything we do at Adore Me — strategy, processes, leadership and operations.

Last year my team built a cutting-edge distribution center in less than six months, and, certainly, persistence and agility were key to succeeding.

[It was built because] during Valentine’s Day of 2017, Adore Me hit record-breaking sales; it was a milestone for the teams working hard leading up to what, for lingerie brands, is the biggest sales period of the year. However, the 3PL [third party logistics] we were working with for distribution of our product at the time couldn’t keep up with Adore Me’s growth, and orders were not shipped in time for the customers, which was a big setback for us.

We decided then and there that, with this incident, in parallel with customers getting used to Amazon’s next-day shipping, we had to move distribution in-house. It was a 180-degree change in strategy; we hired experts in the field and our supply chain team transformed into what is today Adore Me Services. It took about a full year from start to finish, and the result is a 130-square-foot highly automated distribution center, utilizing the power of robotics. And I couldn’t be prouder of this adaption and transformation.

- Lydia Dishman contributed to this story.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Applications are open for the CO—100! Now is your chance to join an exclusive group of outstanding small businesses. Share your story with us — apply today.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Apply for the CO—100!

The CO—100 is an exclusive list of the 100 best and brightest small and mid-sized businesses in America. Enter today to share your story and get recognized.