Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success, with Adam Kallen and Alex DiMattio of JANE Motorcycles
Learn to do every job before hiring someone to do it. There isn’t a job that we haven’t done. If we had a choice, we wouldn’t have chosen to do every job, but thankfully we were blessed with poverty which forced us to be “jacks of all trades”. If you know how to do the job, it gives you the valuable perspective to know exactly what you’re asking an employee to do. Embrace being a beginner. We didn’t come from this business, so we didn’t feel entitled to anything. You’re going to make mistakes and you should expect it and laugh it off.
As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Kallen and Alex DiMattio.
Adam Kallen and Alex DiMattio are the founders, owners, and designers of Brooklyn-based JANE Motorcycles — New York City’s custom motorcycle, apparel, accessory, book, and espresso shop. Two longtime motorcycle enthusiasts with an interest in men’s fashion, Adam and Alex opened JANE in 2013 with a few tshirt designs and have been creating more ever since. The shop in Williamsburg sells apparel, gear, and custom bikes, and is a coffee shop where anyone is welcome to hang out.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
I (Alex) grew up in New York and I (Adam) grew up in Los Angeles. We were part of the skate/surf culture of the late 80’s and 90’s and spent most of our time in the shops. We loved the way they felt — the music, the community surrounding them, the whole thing. They were an example of how you could turn what you love into a business.
Life took a turn for both of us and couldn’t really have been more different — I (Adam) went to law school and I (Alex) went to work in nightlife.
The next 20 years were bumpy to say the least — like involving homelessness and prison — and in 2011 we met at an AA meeting. We were both at an impasse with our careers and Alex brought up the idea of designing a clothing brand centered around motorcycles. We started talking more about it and eventually agreed (and it really was that simple), and we began putting together the plan on how to open.
Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
We knew nothing about opening a store or creating a clothing brand, nor did we have any contacts in the industry. That innocence made every small success feel huge. We met with a business counselor and described that we wanted to open a business where we built custom motorcycles, made clothing and had a cafe, and we also told him that we had no experience in any of these businesses. He told us that we should choose one and concentrate on that. We couldn’t listen to him because our vision involved all three. Being an entrepreneur means doing the thing that sounds crazy and fighting to make it work.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We were very aware of what it takes to build a business so when things were hard, we dealt with them. It’s the drive that you start with that gets you through all aspects. We are a good team and when things are tough, we really come together and lean on each other to get through it.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
We looked at the store the other day and couldn’t believe how far we have come. Over 6 years we have learned every aspect of running a successful clothing brand. Our success is due to us showing up 7 days a week, asking for help, doing whatever it takes to get the job done and being grateful to be doing what we dreamed of when we were kids.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
Nothing is more important than the business. For the first 2 years, we did not take a day off.
Organize your time efficiently. We still struggle with time management, but we spend so much time at work that everything gets done.
Ask for help. If it wasn’t for people helping us, we wouldn’t have gotten past the business plan. We have found that most people want to help — you just have to put your ego aside and ask.
Learn to do every job before hiring someone to do it. There isn’t a job that we haven’t done. If we had a choice, we wouldn’t have chosen to do every job, but thankfully we were blessed with poverty which forced us to be “jacks of all trades”. If you know how to do the job, it gives you the valuable perspective to know exactly what you’re asking an employee to do.
Embrace being a beginner. We didn’t come from this business, so we didn’t feel entitled to anything. You’re going to make mistakes and you should expect it and laugh it off.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
Jane Motorcycles is owned by us, but it was built with the help of everyone in our community. We have a great group of friends that surround the store and each of them has helped us through the tough times and genuinely enjoyed the success.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our brand is comprised of clothing that is locally produced and made to last. We believe that clothing should not be disposable, and we make garments that will be passed along throughout their lives. We work with small factories that prove that production is not dead in the States — they produce at the highest quality while still paying their employees a living wage.
On a personal level, we are both recovering drug addicts and we host an AA meeting at the store every week. Over the years we have been able to watch and help people get their lives together, and it’s been one of the most rewarding aspects of this journey. The store provides a physical place for people to gather safely in a community that wants them to succeed, and we’re really fortunate to be able to provide that.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are all about community. We are constantly thinking of ways to get people out of their comfort zone and have fun. Whether it be working on our annual “Summer Camp” upstate or getting new and old friends to go out of the city to ride dirt bikes, surf or snowboard — we like to help people see what’s available to them. We try our best to facilitate getaways, trips and vacations that are fun while building a community of friends and family.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
The need for retail stores is fading — if you don’t think outside the box and offer more than just a place to shop, you’ll become irrelevant. Having the cafe has given us the ability to introduce our brand to a much broader audience, and it has given our customer a way to hang out without buying anything more than a coffee. This has helped nurture the aspect of community — people might come in for the stuff or for the coffee, but they come back because of how the place and the people in it made them feel like they belonged there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We both believe that the current education system is flawed in the way it does not cultivate or promote being an entrepreneur. There are so many more ways to be successful now than before, and the education system hasn’t really caught up to that.
I (Adam) went to law school because I was told it was practical. I ended up with over $100,000 in debt and never practiced a day of law. After a lot of soul searching, I followed my heart and ended up following the path that felt was correct. This, in turn, allows me to wake up every day happy to do what I love.
I (Alex) wanted to open a business from as early as I can remember, but there was never a class that even remotely spoke to me when it came to reaching my goals.
In today’s world, being an entrepreneur isn’t nearly as hard as it was when we were kids. The internet has made freelancing much more prevalent, however, entering these new jobs requires an education in running your own business just as much as in the background of the field you are practicing.
We would start a movement to expose students to business early and help them cultivate that mindset.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Embrace being a beginner.” Until we heard that, we hated being beginners. Now, we realize that being a beginner is when all the fun happens — you can make mistakes and laugh at them, and you can enjoy every bit of the journey because you have never done this before. If you can embrace being a beginner, you understand that you will experience failure and that’s part of it. If you can move through failure without quitting — you can achieve anything.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success, with Adam Kallen and Alex DiMattio of JANE… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.