Just prior to the onset of the pandemic, four entrepreneurs congregated together in New York City to present at the 2019 Tiger Entrepreneurs Conference. Back then, Nell Diamond ‘11, Adam Tishman ‘09, Benjamin Cogan ‘12, and Brian Jeong ‘11 were each focused exclusively as founders of their respective startups — and connected together by their Princeton education and their entrepreneurial spirit. Since the conference, each of them has paved their own path in industries ranging from home goods to personal care products, facing a set of unique challenges yet overcoming them with tenacity and resilience. Today, they set a wonderful example for aspiring entrepreneurs who are eager to learn from their experiences and growth.
The Princeton Entrepreneurship Council reached out to them to get updates since the conference — from accomplishments to setbacks to words of advice. Here are their stories.
Nell Diamond: The Consumer’s Power
Hill House Home is a fashion and lifestyle brand created by Nell Diamond ‘11. Since its original launch in 2016, it has grown to include baby, bath, accessories, and apparel into its collection with the purpose of bringing “beauty and joy to everyday rituals.” With the success of their widely beloved Nap Dress®, Hill House Home continues to offer seasonal yet timeless fashion collections ranging anywhere from dresses to shoes and accessories.
As of recently, Nell described the excitement of expanding Hill House Home from a digital fashion and lifestyle brand to a brick and mortar company. By the end of next year, Hill House Home will have stores in Charleston, Dallas, and a few other surprise locations — in addition to their current locations in New York, Palm Beach, and Nantucket. “After years of building the brand online, we are so excited to meet more people in real life,” Nell exclaimed. “We’ll have the incredible opportunity to chat with customers in person while introducing them to our products and brand in a way that feels authentic and a part of our design experience,” she added.
According to Nell, the growth of Hill House Home has shown her the beauty of collaboration and the plethora of opportunities in the fashion industry, especially in New York City. She discusses being led by the example of founders who have welcomed her with open arms; it has taught her how much room there is for all businesses to succeed. “Comparing your work with the work of others will diminish your opportunity to meet people across your industry who can be really helpful and cheer you on in ways that are both operational and mental,” she explained.
When asked how to set objective metrics of success without comparison to others, Nell emphasized the importance of setting subjective goals. “Look at your industry and how it fits with macroeconomic trends while focusing on what is in your control,” she suggested. “Getting out of the scarcity mindset,” Nell added, “really helps you see how many opportunities there are for success.”
Nell believes that the key to successful differentiation between brands relies on the relationship between product and customer. “Brand discovery is a living thing,” she emphasized. “For Hill House Home, we tested products that underwent several iterations so our customers could tell us what they wanted and help us truly differentiate our goods.” Hill House Home, Nell believes, helps customers feel confident and comfortable in their clothes.
“I want to continue expanding across different categories of clothing and help people feel great with what they wear,” Nell emphasized. “Fashion has an incredible power to affect how we tackle the world — I want to stay true to what we’ve accomplished and do it at a larger scale.”
To shop Hill House Home, visit here or their three retail locations in New York City, Palm Beach, and Nantucket. For more information, follow the brand on Instagram/ Tiktok @HillHouse.
Adam Tishman: “Disrupting” the Market and Learning to Handle a Company’s Growth
Since October 2021, Adam Tishman ‘09 has been the co-president of 3Z Brands, a direct-to-consumer (DTC) platform of award-winning sleep products ranging from pillows to mattresses. Across hybrid, memory foam, and organic, 3Z boasts a plethora of diverse brands that aim to help customers find the perfect mattress at their preferred price point.
3Z Brands was created when Cerberus, a private equity fund, merged Tishman’s original company — Helix Sleep — with Brooklyn Bedding, a separate company. According to Tishman, the integration process once Helix was acquired was incredibly exciting as it enabled the best-in class ecommerce to merge with the best-in class manufacturing. “All integrations have challenges, but it was helpful that both companies had similar outlooks on approaching our category with a customer centric viewpoint,” Tishman noted. “We made sure to try and maintain legacy cultural norms while also developing a one-company mentality.”
Today, Tishman overlooks this portfolio of consumer facing brands which he hopes can“disrupt” the market. “Disruption to me is synonymous with innovation,” he explains. “This looks like operating as the largest direct-to-consumer bedding company in the world so that players in our industry act differently.” When asked to explain how this influences the role he plays in his business, Tishman described it as a “learning opportunity.” To him, it felt like the vertical integration of the companies, the acquisition of existing businesses, and the growth of this work as a whole, all posed unique challenges to navigate and overcome.
“My co-founders and I started growing Helix Sleep from the ground up … we used to outsource our manufacturing but with 3Z brands, we make the mattresses that are sold. Additionally, we’ve acquired existing businesses and brought them into our portfolio so the scale of everything is larger,” he explained. He added, “these existing businesses have a certain way of doing things so figuring out how to integrate those brands into the portfolio poses different problems from starting something from scratch as there is a lot more complexity to governing and overseeing these companies.”
To overcome these hurdles, Tishman emphasized the importance of learning how to proportionately re-scale and shape the working environment. As businesses grow, there will be a different working culture, monetary constraints, and performance conditions; by ensuring that his company evolves with these factors in mind, Tishman believes he can manage people more efficiently.
“It’s all about re-scaling to follow growth then re-scaling again when things contract,” he suggested.
For more on 3Z Brands, click here.
Benjamin Cogan: From one to many businesses
Benjamin Cogan ‘12 is the co-founder of Hubble Contacts — the first DTC contact lens company. Since 2016, Hubble Contacts has acquired hundreds of millions in revenue and amassed a following of more than 2 million customers. After 5 years with Hubble, Cogan decided to start something new. In 2021, he co-founded Agora — an e-commerce aggregator that acquires DTC businesses while working with the original founders. Today, he oversees both Hubble and Agora.
“A few things motivated this change,” he explained. “In addition to wanting to create something new, we wanted to acquire businesses that were profitable and have raised limited investor financing.” With Agora, Cogan is also able to work with a multitude of businesses in different industries as opposed to just one. “It’s interesting and definitely a fun experience,” he summarized.
When asked to explain how his position in Agora differs from his position within Hubble Contacts, Cogan described his work with Agora as a “hybrid role.” As opposed to Hubble, which involved more management work, Cogan plays an active role in Agora by deciding which companies to buy. He explains, “with Agora, we have to consider several questions when we buy DTC businesses, including but not limited to the types of companies we want to buy, the investors we want to work with, and how we can make these businesses grow.”
In this role, he has learned a lot about evaluating businesses in different industries. “I’ve learned how to quickly evaluate a category and a business without prior information, while also learning the right questions to ask,” Cogan said. “I’ll look into the financial statements of the companies we work with to get a good sense of how the business performs.” Cogan also suggests directly asking people who work in these industries to gauge a company’s profitability. “It’s hard to evaluate a company so quickly but as you go along, you learn a lot about what’s important to different categories and it becomes easier,” he remarked.
Cogan also discussed Agora’s growth and profitability. “It has truly become a cash flow positive company — which is something I’m incredibly proud of.” This success, Cogan believes, has also reaffirmed his belief in trusting his instincts. “Rather than replicating the work of others, something that is important to do when running a business is to have faith in the work you do instead of comparing yourself to a model of what works or what doesn’t work.”
Brian Jeong: Expanding into Wholesale Markets while Meeting Diverse Customer Needs
As of 2016, Brian Jeong ‘11 has been the CEO and co-founder of Hawthorne, a company that initially focused on creating fragrances and personal care products tailored to men but has since pivoted to accommodating all customers and their skin type, hair type, body chemistry, and scent preferences.
As a consumer of such products, Jeong has always been interested in bringing in his own multi-cultural perspective into this field. “In 2016, I wanted to bring something more modern to the consumer as an AAPI founder — a company that offered something different from the traditional brands that had long dominated this industry.” Jeong wanted to bring products that resonated with the customers so that they could feel confident and comfortable in their own skin. “There are many different and diverse needs for today’s consumers and we wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to find and use those products,” he explained.
To do this, Hawthorne utilizes an online tailoring quiz where customers answer a couple of questions about themselves so that the company can create a personalized routine for them. This results in a variety of different products with diverse purposes. Even with Hawthorne’s expansion into the wholesale market, Jeong has continued to work with retailers to ensure that all types of products are made as accessible as possible. Since 2021, Hawthorne has partnered with Nordstrom and Target and is now sold in over 1,300 stores nationwide.
“When Hawthorne was first launched, the brand, experience, and products were created to be discoverable in a digital capacity,” Jeong explained. “Since it's expanding into wholesale, we had to get these products “retail” ready — which meant making them more marketable in the real world.” According to Jeong, pivoting from the digital to retail landscape has been a good shift for the company. “We plan to continue expanding our distribution of Hawthorne products so we can serve the diverse needs of more and more people,” he remarked.
In an age of self-expression, Jeong believes in the importance of tailored personal care products that serve the specific and diverse needs of today’s consumer.
For more on Hawthorne, click here.