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Meet Southern Straps at the Small Biz Bazaar at QuickBooks Connect San Jose 2019

QuickBooks® Connect is your moment to step back from the day-to-day demands of running a business to get the learnings and skills to help blueprint your future. It’s two days of inspirational speakers, small group and one-one-one learnings, and support from some of the savviest experts in the industry. It’s also an opportunity to connect with small business owners like yourself, including the master makers joining our Small Biz Bazaar, where you can discover unique products available for purchase.

We sat down with Matthew Southern of Southern Straps to learn more his business journey, advice, and what he’s looking forward to at this year’s QuickBooks Connect.

Starting with only one design in 2014, Southern Straps was the first company to put a nylon NATO-style band on a smart watch, while maintaining the watch’s charging and heart rate monitoring capabilities. Today, Southern Straps focuses on high-end, handcrafted watch straps for the Apple Watch, in Italian leather and an original ballistic nylon design. In recent years, Southern Straps has moved assembly back to the United States from overseas. Using parts sourced worldwide, Southern Straps now handcrafts each watch band in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Follow Southern Straps on Facebook and Instagram!

Jessica Greene: Tell me a little more about your business!

Owner, Matthew Southern: I started about five years ago, creating bands for the Apple Watch — both leather and nylon. We sell them online and on Amazon. We use vegetable tanned leather, full-grain Italian leather, and ballistic nylon — really all the best products, all handcrafted in the Bay Area.

What motivated you to go into business and start Southern Straps?

I’d always been a watch person. I was working on the watch project at Google for Android Wear, and always had a desire to start my own business. I had an entrepreneurial fire that just needed to be lit. So one day, I decided to start making watch bands. I just thought it was going to be a big market, since everyone was going to eventually want one for more than just telling time. I spent the first two years building out the business on my own, and somehow, it’s been five years already!

What’s been the most unexpected part of running your own business?

I think that when it came down to it, just learning all of it on my own was a little more daunting than I expected, but it was also kind of unexpectedly easy to start my own business and move with it quickly. I think the most unexpected part was, perhaps, the tax side of things — sales taxes, county taxes, that kind of stuff. That was really overwhelming. Now, QuickBooks helps me quite a lot with that. I use QuickBooks to manage all my accounts and whatnot. It’s helping me understand how much sales tax I owe and all that, since it plugs into Shopify. It’s been a great relief. But everything else I learned pretty quickly.

What’s your favorite part of running your own business?

The flexibility and feeling like I’m doing something every day. I mean, if I’m wasting time, that’s on my own watch, and that plays out down the road. Feeling like every hour is accountable, and there’s no time wasted. So, it’s the flexibility and feeling that at the end of each day, there’s something that I can really see as an accomplishment. I can set out goals and see the impact on my business.

Do you actually make the watch bands yourself or do you have a team?

A little bit of both. We have a factory up in San Francisco that we contract with, so they do our leather bands. For the nylon bands, I’ve used groups of friends in the past, but also, I can do it myself, considering that it’s a relatively easy process. We have parts shipped in, and I have a large garage that I use. It’s kind of a guerilla operation.

What would you say was the most stressful thing about starting your own business?

Well, that was just an additional layer of stress. I mean, there’s already the stress of leaving a very good job and a good salary to start your own company. That was certainly the scariest, exciting, and most frightening part. You’re juggling all these balls trying to make sure that you’re designing a good product, you can stay afloat, and you’re designing your website at the same time. And there’s all these different things, and then you add an additional layer of complexity around taxes and the consequences of not doing it correctly, and it’s a little daunting.

How has your business evolved, and have you adapted to all those stressors?

Yeah, it evolves in a variety of ways. I mean, from putting in my life savings into an idea and not thinking it was going to work. But I designed a few straps and have been featured in GQ, Wired, and a variety of other publications. So, it’s expanded considerably.

What keeps you motivated?

Usually taking 15 minutes to go for a walk. Since I ship my products myself, a walk to the mailbox can help clear my head. If I’m feeling motivated, then working out. But also just a nice little bike ride. Just getting active helps me get back on track.

What do you wish was easier about running your own business?

I wish things were automated even more so than they already are. Like, having an order come in and the label being printed out automatically. That would be nice. That would take out maybe three to four minutes per order. So, things that can make my day a little more efficient, I think, down to maybe even if I had some kind of machine that packaged everything for me, that would be kind of cool. If I could figure out a way to have my business run without me being present, physically, that would be a great change of pace.

What’s your next business goal or milestone, and why is it important to you?

Two years ago we broke six figures, in terms of business revenue. That was a nice, nice feeling, so I think the next milestone to cross is breaking seven figures — that’s the monetary piece – and figure out a way I can work five days a week instead of seven.

How do you define success for yourself: money and financial freedom, more time with your loved ones, creative expression, something else?

It’s a combination of all those. I mean, financial freedom is great but so is being able to get more time my loved ones. I think also being able to work creatively and not have to be pigeonholed. It’s a great feeling that I’ve had over the last five years.

What kind of advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

Try to build as much of that business as you can while on a salary. Do it as a side hustle as much as possible. And then when you hit a place where you can pay the rent and buy groceries on the revenue coming in from your company, that’s the time to start thinking about jumping ship. You find that savings go a lot faster than you’d expect when you’re putting money into your business.

Is that how QuickBooks came into your story?

I started using QuickBooks a year and a half ago. When I actually started making a profit, I started getting my finances in order to see where all my expenses were. And on top of that, I was really trying to rein things in and do my own accounting. I thought, since I’m running my own business, I should be able to run the numbers as well. QuickBooks cut through a lot of the confusion and gave me the freedom to do that.

What do you like most about the products?

Hands down, sales tax automation. Being able to see what my profits are compared to my expenses.

How do you want your customers to feel when they purchase from you?

This is something that comes in contact with them every day, so I want to make sure that it’s quality, and it’s premium. I don’t want people being irritated by it. And that it’s unique. Eventually, we will all be wearing the same watch, so having a way to make it stand out and ooze quality is huge.

Meet Matthew at the Small Biz Bazaar at QuickBooks Connect 2019.

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