Maryland, the homeland of lax bros, the O’s and Natty Boh (or National Bohemian to out-of-staters), is truly a bro Mecca that often does not receive the recognition it deserves. Also known as “the free state”, Marylanders have been broing out for centuries now. Take the state’s stance in the Civil War for example; while the Fedies and Yanks were duking it out nonstop, Maryland was all “We’re just gonna chill here in the middle here and ride this one out.” Pretty bro decision, given the circumstances. Almost two hundred years later, a sounding board was finally established that gave Marylanders and chance to repost and share their appreciation for the state that brought us Cal Ripken, Jr. and established Old Bay soaked steamed crabs as culinary delicacy; @MarylandProbz. And of all the anonymous and often obnoxious themed Twitter accounts, these bros somehow managed to stand the test of the Timeline, currently boasting almost 40,000 followers.
While fans of the Twitter account saw it as a legit way to read and share the many wonderful things unique to MD, Braswell, a graphic design major, and McDermott, a business management major, saw a much more profitable opportunity forming. Enter FreeState Clothing; the partners’ newly resurrected line of Maryland-themed garments that have caught on quicker than Ray Lewis’s epic stadium entrance dance. And with everything from crab-inspired Christmas sweaters to tanks reppin’ the indigenous pronunciation of Maryland; ‘Merlin, it looks like this is just the beginning of great things to come for FreeState and the brontrepreneurs behind it.
Two Ravens cheerleaders in their FreeState swag.
We got a chance to chill with Austin, who was cool enough to lend us some the entrepreneurial wisdom he has gained through his successes to help out future bros looking to get rich or die tryin’.
1. Know What People Want Before They Know They Want It
It’s a simple concept, really. Think about it, it’s not like anyone was walking around in the early 90’s thinking to themselves “Wow, I wish there was some sort of multi-functional machine out there that I could use to execute my daily tasks and develop an unhealthy dependence on.” But then Steve Jobs introduced PCs to the market and they were a huge hit. Wanna know why? ‘Cause Jobs was a boss and had an eye for products that consumers needed before they actually started to need them. And while it would be borderline fraudulent to promise you the same magical success of Apple, the guys at FreeState agree that picking up on what customer’s value and are looking for is the foundation of a good product. “@MarylandProbz definitely helped get our feet off the ground, because we had the ideas, we just needed the right audience, and we saw how much potential interest there was for something like FreeState without even having to ask.” said Braswell on how the company came into being. Our advice? Look around a little bit. Think your frat could use some kick ass matching beer koozies or have an idea for some sort apparatus that assists in maximizing beer consumption? Go for it! Many of the world’s most successful corporations started from small and simple ideas, which brings us to our next tip.
2. Pick an Idea and Have Faith
“After seeing the success of our twitter account first hand and some of the feedback we were getting from our followers, we couldn’t find a good reason why a clothing line wouldn’t sell. At that point, don’t give a shit what anyone else says, and just go for it.” said Braswell of how him and McDermott got the ball rolling on FreeState. The fast success of the first “MD tank” was the initial sign that Marylander’s were all about the duo’s concepts and willing to buy more. “We just went from there and officially began FreeState. We viewed the quick growth as exciting more than intimidating and kept reaching for more.” Braswell continued. Once you find something you really think people will dig, approach it head on, and don’t let the setbacks slow your bromentum. Legendary bros Bill Clinton and Charlie Sheen never backed down in the face of adversity, so why should you? They rolled with the punches and are now living the good life (depending on your interpretation of the term “good life.”) Keep using good ol’ trial and error and your business is bound to be bomb.
3. Start Small, Think Big
While the guys certainly didn’t shy away from the unexpected success of FreeState, they also don’t overshoot their boundaries. By getting a good feel of what their customers are after and promoting only a few products at a time, which are typically geared toward the season or highly requested designs, the guys are able to keep a firm grip on FreeState and ensure an increasing but steady growth. “We try very hard to come out with original and fresh designs and I think that's what people enjoy the most about our company, at least we think so. Since we’re limited in how much we sell at a time, customers seem to really keep an eye out for new products.” said Braswell. That being said, these guys are definitely looking forward to future expansion, “We’re currently on the lookout for somewhere closer to home to produce our clothing…we don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.” he added. Slow and steady wins the race, unless of course it’s a keg race, so make sure to incorporate this concept in the early stages of your business planning.
4. Be Resourceful
Braswell and McDermott had a pretty solid set up when it came to marketing the new line, given they already had direct access to their concentrated target audience with the @MarylandProbz account. “Without Twitter we would have never experienced such a fast growth, social media is key in promotions these days.” said Braswell. And while the abundance of irritating ad links on Facebook and sponsored tweets are certainly nothing new, use our generation’s heightened understanding of social networking sites to help establish your brand in a smart way. Even now, the @MarylandProbz page isn’t plastered with obnoxious brand plugs for FreeState, as the guys have opted to stay true to how they started and continue the account as a celebration for all things MD. “Obviously we introduced and promote FreeState on our Twitter, but we don’t do it in a way that isn’t annoying to our followers who have been with us since day one.” The best way to achieve this? Get creative. “We have happy customers send us pictures of themselves or their friends in FreeState clothing, which we share on our Facebook and Twitter pages. It proves that we’re legit and our followers have been very responsive.” added Braswell. Their account has also proved to be a great medium for gaining customer ideas and feedback, which Braswell always takes into account while cooking up ideas for new threads. “We love hearing from our fans and customers and we take their opinions very seriously.”
5. Don’t Become a Copycat
Originality is key, bro. You wouldn’t wear another frat’s letters just because you dig their tee shirts so why would you copy someone else’s business idea? Not only is imitation very unchill and a little pathetic, but this is America, and people can and will sue the shit out of you. True entrepreneurs have the creativity and finesse to make their own ideas happen, but unfortunately there’s always going to be free-riding bros looking to make a buck off your success. While the crew is open to their interstate competitors, Braswell made sure to mention, “There will always be people jealous of your success as well as people trying to copy off your ideas but you have to remember to keep moving forward…it’s all about creativity and no one likes a swagger-jacker.” Preach!
For those looking to make fast cash in college while avoiding the porn industry or narcotic sales, starting up your own business may be more attainable than you realize. Simply because you are currently living the college dream doesn’t mean you can’t hit it big as an entrepreneur, despite what your professors would like you to believe; “Pete and I have always thought that the best way to learn something is to just do it- and that's exactly what we've done. Don't get me wrong, having a business degree would definitely have helped, but I like to think we did a good enough job without it.” said Braswell, whose claim is hard to refute given the company’s success thus far.
Dig this story and want to keep up with the writer? Make sure to follow Abigail on Twitter, @a_colbs.