We didn't need a business plan: Skins CEO Jaimie Fuller

Category: Case Studies

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When you start a business, planning is critical, right? In fact without a business plan you might as well not bother getting out of bed.

Jaimie Fuller begs to differ.

And Fuller has the success story to prove it: he’s the CEO of sportswear company Skins, which has gone from zero to 80 employees in under a decade, while creating a global market for compression garments that improve athletic performance.

Fuller says that early in the company's history "It was clever to start without a business plan."

His logic is that Skins was such a far-out idea that conventional planning was a waste of time.

"We created a category," Fuller says. "We pioneered this stuff."Jaimie_Fuller_SKINS

In the early days, that meant "walking into a retailer and saying 'Hi. You don’t know who I am but I want you to sell tights for $140. I know you are selling Nike and adidas for $70'"

The unpredictable outcomes on offer when pioneering a market with little proven demand means Fuller believes "If I had a conventional business plan that made me forecast, I would have shut it down after two years. Forecasting accurately is hard for us even now."

Fuller also believes that the freewheeling style of the company's early years was important, because without it the company would not have been able to experiment with its products and ways to get them to market.

"It just didn’t seem to me to be a natural thing to put in strict processes and controls up front," he says. "I felt I needed period of flexibility and looseness."

Fuller's approach worked: Skins is now a global concern and in 2007 attracted private equity investment.

Fuller is still with the company and still CEO, but now foresees a time when his services will no longer be required.

“Culturally one of the big challenges you have people who are great at taking you from zero to ‘x’, but you need different people to get from ‘x’ to ‘y’,” Fuller says. “People like me play a big part early on, but there comes a time where you have to put in place more professional management.”

“There is no doubt I may be out at some point. I am cognisant this will happen and I hope it will happen at the right time.”

Fuller thinks it will, because he is “good at recognising my shortcomings.”

For the time being, he’s working hard to grow Skins while building a culture that encourages openness and honesty.

“I try to encourage my people to tell me to shut up,” he says. “We don’t have a ‘You can’t talk to me like that’ routine. I recently had a punch-up with the head of the product team, she said I am doing a lousy job of managing her.”

Fuller agreed.

“I try to be as self critical as I can,” he says. “I try to be as open as I can with that kind of stuff: it breaks down barriers and makes things easier.”

Another thing that makes his work easier is the company’s success. My Business told Fuller that the editor’s then eight-year-old son insisted on using many weeks’ pocket money to buy Skins, which he believed were an essential accessory for success in under-nines Auskick.

“You’ve got a smart kid,” was Fuller’s response. “It’s an awesome feeling to know we’ve made that kind of impact.”

“I can’t create: I don’t paint or write. This company and this brand is my creative outlet. I can say: ‘We have done that, isn’t it great.”

You can read more about Jaimie Fuller in the new eBook In Hindsight.


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