We had the good fortune of connecting with Kevin Wohlman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kevin, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
“Work-life balance” is a term we often hear in the professional world, but is rarely actually achieved. Before I launched Southern Scholar, “work-life balance” meant working 80+ hour weeks for 4-5 months out of the year so that you could work 50 hour weeks the rest of the year (with the occasional Friday half-day). Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not quite my definition of “work-life balance”. Now, when I started Southern Scholar, I understood fully that my hours were going to increase at first. What I did not anticipate, is how long that would last. I did not expect to be completely consumed with work for the next 4 years. When I began working on Southern Scholar I was still employed at the accounting firm that I worked for. As I mentioned, I was working 80+ hours a week at the office during the summer and fall, and now I’m working nights and weekends trying to get my business ready for launch. When I quit in July of 2015 I knew I was going to be working heavy hours at the start. What I didn’t know is that I would spend the next 4 years working 80-120 hours a week, every. single. week. No vacations. No weekends. To say I wore myself out would be the understatement of the century and, looking back, I was far from productive the last year or so of that time. In late 2018 a few things changed but, most importantly, my mentality changed. Despite crazy long hours, productivity and efficiency were at an all-time low. Today, 6 years after I began building this business on the side and 5 years since we launched to the public, I now work entirely on my own schedule. That doesn’t mean I don’t put in the work. That doesn’t mean I don’t put in the hours when needed. What it does mean is that my health and my happiness come first – and when you have that true balance, and you put yourself first, you will see it in the results of your business. My productivity and efficiency are far higher now than they were when I put in twice the time and did nothing but work. The hours may be lower but the output is far higher and – at the end of the day – that is the only metric that matters. Unless you are already beyond financially comfortable, I would never recommend starting a business if your intention is to work less. You will absolutely get to the point where that is the case, but it will not start out like that. You have to hustle hard at the beginning and get your processes and systems in place – at least in my experience.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Southern Scholar is a direct to consumer menswear company who makes the best dress socks in the world. We began by completely reengineering the composition of the modern dress sock starting with the most important component – the materials. We then combined the comfort of our super soft, one-of-a-kind ‘Signature Material Blend’ with the expert craftsmanship of 200 Needle Count Knitting to bring you a better dress sock option. Each pair is then designed around a specific business casual and business professional outfit and style tips are included to help you get the most out of your look. Our socks are designed with your comfort in mind and have the perfect combination of stretch, softness and breathability. They are also built to form-fit to your foot and leg allowing them to stay in place throughout your entire work day. The entire process has been far more difficult than anticipated. Manufacturing a product is not easy. Manufacturing a premium product is even harder. We had to overcome a ton of obstacles early on from finding the right manufacturing partner, to sourcing the proper materials, to managing supply chains – and this all before we were even ready to start building a customer base – and things only got harder from there. The primary lessons I’ve learned: Hours input does not = quality of output. Talk to your customer and LISTEN to what they have to say. Build systems and processes early and often.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Dallas has a lot to offer when it comes to things to do. I believe we have the most restaurants per capita out of any city in the country (may have to fact check me on that). I’m a huge burger guy so, assuming they are too, first place I take anyone who visits is CBD Provisions in the Joule Hotel. It’s a swanky little restaurant with a ton of good menu options, but their cheeseburger is by far the best in the city. Next, a Dallas staple for daytime beers, Katy Trail Icehouse. Most often once we go to Katy Trail, they don’t really want to leave. Dinner at Meso Maya in Victoria Park, then probably the Skellig for drinks. That’s day one and we haven’t even scratched the surface.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I give a ton of credit to my family. Without their support, I would not be where I am today.