In December of 2008, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the United States concluded that the 73-month economic expansion leading up to 2007 had come to an end; and, with a collapsing labor market came the first signs of what is now known as the Great Recession. It was in this climate that Justin Delaney walked across a stage at the University of North Texas to accept his degree in finance and enter the workforce. Sounds like a classic case of life handing you lemons right? Well for Justin Delaney and his chapter brother Nathan Bellah they decided to make lemonade, or better yet rent tuxedos.
Justin’s entry into the workforce was similar to many who graduated during this time. He applied for jobs relentlessly; but the finance industry was taking a beating, so who was hiring finance graduates? Apparently no one. He eventually sold his car and started day-trading. He started traveling frequently at this time and eventually visited approximately 80 countries. He also started a travel blog that became popular enough for him to get paid as a travel writer. In a moment of foreshadowing, he remembers distinctly spending time in Asia and studying the clothing manufacturing industry in the region.
Like most entrepreneurs Justin sought more. That search landed him at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in pursuit of an MBA. He began tossing around the idea of starting a company that sold custom tailored clothing, fueled with his knowledge of clothing manufacturing. And then something clicked when he read that 85% of people do not enjoy their experience when renting a tuxedo. That sounded like an incredibly large number for a service that millions of men almost have to endure on an annual basis. And so the idea for a company to fill this customer service gap was born. It was called Menguin.
Traditionally, when you rent a tuxedo you have to go get fitted at a brick-and-mortar store where you are introduced to a dizzying array of options (that almost always cost extra) by a sales person. But then you have to go back and pick up your rental and possibly be asked again if you’re sure you don’t want to add the top hat and cane for an extra $300, as the sales person assures you that the Dumb and Dumber look is certainly back in style. Next step is to actually wear your rental, but that comes with fretting about the fit or having to secure replacements which could mean another trip back to the store. Finally, when all is said and done and you’ve enjoyed your social event you have to ensure you get back to the store to drop it off before it closes or else you incur a late fee. That 85% doesn’t sound too crazy now does it?
85% of people do not enjoy their experience when renting a tuxedo.
The Menguin solution is simple, which probably plays a role in why it’s so successful. If you can order your lunch, medications, laundry detergent, and even groceries online then why not this? You start off with a visit to their website where you first select your look and then have the option to customize it without someone selling it to you. You then put in your measurements based off of the clothes already in your closet. Menguin then uses an in-house algorithm that uses those basic measurements to find your perfect fit. You get your shipment well in advance of your event date to give you time to swap out items usually within a one-day window. Your shipment also includes a convenient pre-paid label to easily send your rental back when you’re done. It’s probably no surprise that 90% of their current business comes from weddings and their site allows for grooms to pick tuxes in advance and send online invites to groomsmen. The simplicity of the briefly outlined operation doesn’t do this story justice however.
With an idea in hand and gears starting to turn, Nathan entered the picture. The two had never lost touch since college and Nathan took a trip to Indiana to visit his brother. At the time, Nathan was working for a digital advertising agency and Justin sought his insight on Menguin’s digital marketing footprint. “From there Nathan’s involvement just grew naturally into a position in late 2014. It was also then that he wrote a check for $35,000 that saved the company at the time,” Justin recalls.
“The early days were the toughest,” Justin reflects. “We didn’t get paid for the first year and a half and a lot of sacrifices were made early on that got us to where we are today.” Some of those sacrifices included Nathan’s $35,000 investment. They also included Justin and Nathan moving back in with their parents, Justin with a wife and a newborn. “Those are the types of sacrifices you have to make to make these things work,” Justin says of those early days.
And it did work. Today Menguin has 35 employees. And, in addition to an initial $100,000 they won from a business plan competition at Indiana University, they’ve secured around 2 million dollars in funding from well-known startup advisors like Mark Cuban and Scott Dorsey. They also moved their business from Atlanta to Fayetteville, Ark., where the tax incentives for startup businesses are more favorable. The University of Arkansas provides a good pipeline of potential employees, and the cost of living is significantly lower than places like other tech hub cities.
“Right now we’re trying to position ourselves as a full-fledged wedding consumer company online,” Justin explains for the company’s long-term vision. “There’s a ton of sub-industries like honeymoons, venues, and groomsmen gifts that have not been targeted with an online format like ours.” That initial next step will be a groomsmen gift company that allows grooms to customize their own groomsmen gift boxes.
Sigma Nu played a large role in molding both Justin and Nathan into the successful entrepreneurs they are today. “I had an awesome experience in Sigma Nu. I was elected Lt. Commander at 19 right after candidacy and I learned very quickly how to manage individuals without babysitting them,” Justin shares of his experience. “You have to put the culture and values in place so people govern themselves with the best intentions. This means focusing on goals and results instead of looking over everyone’s shoulder because honestly you won’t have the time to.”
Similarly, Nathan’s experience as Chaplain and an IFC officer brought to light some lessons that hold true today in his work. “In Sigma Nu I learned how a bunch of diverse men with diverse personalities and backgrounds can come together for a common goal. Being an honorable person and believing in ethical decision making is integral for success.”
With leaders like Justin and Nathan in the chapter it should not be surprising that they were a part of the chapter’s achievement of Rock Chapter status, growing the chapter from 50 to 100 initiates, and raising the chapter GPA to a 3.0. “To this day the Rock Chapter award is one of my greatest accomplishments in life,” Justin proudly says.
While it’s been a long road to today’s success, Menguin now sits at 35 employees with an average age of 25-26. Recruiting good local talent in their area often means hiring recent graduates and creating an environment for them to succeed. In those efforts they have plenty of advice to share for both graduates and business owners.
"Being an honorable person and believing in ethical decision making is integral for success."
For graduates the list is lengthy but illuminating. “I’ve hired 25 people since joining Menguin and I can tell you that the job market is a marketplace being refilled every May and December with new talent. I would challenge anyone coming out of school to not present themselves as an applicant but as a solution and what differentiates you from others,” Nathan shares. Justin’s advice is to focus on your network, “Be really aggressive in expanding your network and taking details on who you meet and how they can help you out. Go to every event that will connect you to potential employers. Even if the opportunity is not for you, those individuals can connect you to someone else.” Nathan agrees and adds that even Juniors should start stepping into internships as those often lead to full-time positions.
They also believe that graduates who are in a fraternity or sorority have a leg up on other candidates if they can present it correctly. “Time management sets them apart. They also understand relationship building and how important it is to be able to work with people from diverse backgrounds.”
But what about current businesses and the stigma associated with millennials as employees? “Very few millennials live up to the negative perception. Our average employee age is 25-26 and we keep the level of transparency very open because millennials expect honesty,” Justin responds. “We make it known that we’re invested in their individual growth and development while also holding a very hardline to the values and culture of our company.”
Justin and Nathan’s story is emblematic of the new wave of businesses in the country. Founded by graduates who entered a depressed workforce and now seeking to not only hire the best of their generation but how to mold them into a team. It’s not an easy path to get where Menguin is today but at least one more thing is: renting a tux.