The Best Business Advisors? Your Family

Threadless, social networking sites
Ben Baker
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An Old-School Advisor for an Innovative Business

Threadless co-founders Jake Nickell and Jeffrey Kalmikoff are radically reinventing what it means to run a consumer-products company. Their Chicago-based T-shirt business is built on the desires and designs of the site’s social community. Users upload designs and vote on their favorites, and then Threadless puts them into production. The business grosses $30 million a year and enjoys profit margins of 30 percent. So who advises Nickell and Kalmikoff on strategy? Besides their venture capital backers, Kalmikoff’s father is another key influence. “He’s more of a traditional businessman,” Kalmikoff explains. “Talking to him makes clear how unconventional our ideas can be and how to scale them back without compromising too much.”