Nate Checketts knows how to take risks and execute ideas: He started four companies before he even turned 30, and his premium men’s active wear company, Rhone, has exploded since its launch in 2014. “We’re in 400 retail doors and the online growth has been phenomenal,” Checketts says. “It’s been a bit of a wild ride.” With a new company headquarters at 484 Pacific St., in Stamford, CT, and 23 full-time employees, Rhone’s potential seems to know no bounds. Here, the modest CEO explains the secrets to his company’s massive success.
Understand the importance of hard work.
One of six children, Checketts’ father is the former president of the New York Knicks and president and CEO of Madison Square Garden. But growing up, having hugely successful parents didn’t compromise his work ethic. “We were taught valuable principles,” Checketts says. At 15, his parents told him that he needed to get a job to pay for his sports activities, so he started a summer sports camp for kids, and the camp ran for eight years. “I bought my first car and my wife’s engagement ring with money I’d saved from the camp,” he says. “It taught me a valuable lesson of working hard and being able to reap rewards from it. I’m fortunate and I definitely have ambition and drive, but I give my parents 100 percent of the credit for that.”
Know the market.
In 2012, Checketts received a pair of Lululemon sweatpants as a Christmas gift, and while intrigued, he wasn’t thrilled about wearing pants from what he saw as a women’s yoga brand. “I called my brother-in-law, who has worked as an analyst around retail for a long time. We said, ‘nobody is focusing on giving men a premium active experience and just focusing on men.’ We’d had a previous conversation about how workout clothing smelled so badly after you wore it 10 times. We discovered this new technology, which was an encapsulated silver thread, where silver gets melted down and pulled into a polyester-based yarn and it can fight odor and bacteria for up to five times the industry average. We felt like there was this huge opportunity.”
Know your customer.
“We are our customers, and we knew what we wanted,” Checketts says. “Our customer is between the age of 25 and 50, works out three to four times a week at a minimum and cares about the quality of their clothing. They want to look good and feel good and have clothing that really works from a performance standpoint.” Checketts and his team began to develop clothing features such as a media pocket to securely hold a phone so it wouldn’t get in the way during workouts, and they created a no-show sock with a silicone pad in the back so it wouldn’t slip into a shoe during a workout. “Instead of trying to figure out how can we generate a higher margin on our products, we always ask, how do we make it better?”
Live and breathe your company philosophy.
“There are less and less outlets talking about inspiring men to lead extraordinary lives. It’s an important part of our mission. Lots of our clothes are named after inspirational male icons—people like Ernest Hemingway and Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt—and their quotes are embroidered inside the clothes. While guys are in the most important transitional moments of their day—it can be that small subtle reminder of, this is the type of person I’m trying to be in my life. We think our guy isn’t necessarily aspiring to be the next athlete like LeBron James. They’re aspiring to be the best the version of themselves.”
Don’t give in to self-doubt.
“Somebody once shared with me to write down a list of all the greatest moments of my life up until that point. When I get discouraged—which I do from time to time because building a business is a total roller coaster—I’ll go back to that list and think about times that went really well. That buoys me and makes me feel like I can get back at it and excited to take the world on. We make tons of mistakes, but our belief is that if we keep striving we’re going to make big things happen.”
“The idea is maybe 10 to 20 percent of success,” Checketts says. “There are a lot of successful ideas that don’t end up being successful businesses. So it always comes back to execution. We were not the only ones to have this aha moment that we should be doing premium mens [clothing], but we’ve been fortunate to have a really good team around us.” Checketts says, before adding: “Part of what set us apart was that we didn’t know any better. I always tell people, ‘you need to embrace your own ignorance’ because it can be your best asset.”