See how a Lawyer to be Started From Nothing And Became A Well Respected Jeweler In An Already Crowded Market

Secret to Success – Jason Arasheben

Secret Entourage Success Story
Before he was designing custom jewelry for celebrities, professional athletes and some of the world’s most elite list clientele, Jason Arasheben was broke and sinking in credit card debt as a sophomore at UCLA Law School. Faced with an immediate need to make money fast, he took a chance and spent his last $400 on wholesale silver trinkets from the LA Design District and began to sell them to girls around campus. By the time he was a senior, Jason’s trinket business had spread to six other college campuses and he was already making more money than most Harvard Law School grads and living in LA gave him access to very high net-worth people. A true entrepreneur at heart, he decided to forgo a career in law and take a life-changing risk to jump full force into the jewelry design business.

Can you tell us a little bit about your business?

We started this brand about, I would say close to 12 years ago and it really started in just my apartment and now it has grown into having four stores with over 70 employees and just really started as something that was bred within the celebrity industry. We cater to some of the world’s biggest celebrities, athletes, entertainers and wealthy consumers.

We’re definitely not the normal traditional jeweler mom and pop store. We really do specialize in bespoke pieces which are custom pieces made to order according to the client’s needs and wants. That’s really how we started and that was really our heritage, and we carried it along with all of our stores where clients can come in and experience a unique experience where they can customize their own pieces. We have our own line of merchandise. We have ready to wear – so to speak – pieces as well. We have our own watch line, bracelets, rings, and necklaces, but the customer gets that unique experience where they come in and we can cater these pieces to them and their individual taste.

How did you get into the jewelry industry?

I attended UCLA with the hopes of being an attorney. At that time, I really loved design and talking to people. I loved interacting with different people, so being that I was in debt in my sophomore year, I needed to come up with a plan to be able to make money. I wasn’t the type to work at Baskin-Robbins. I’m an entrepreneur at heart so I really wanted to come up with something that would provide me income basically immediately. I came from a family of entrepreneurs. My father is an entrepreneur. He did his own businesses and stuff like that, so I really was brought up not so much around the corporate structure but more along the lines of family business, entrepreneur, so I saw that growing up and I think it has definitely translated later on into life. It gave me a unique approach to things and not wanting to settle.

I made a deal with the school to be able to sell plastic hair clips, silver trinkets to some of the girls on campus, so I went to the wholesale distributor in downtown Los Angeles with my last $400, bought a few dozen pieces, and basically set up a six-foot table to sell to the girls on campus. As I became a senior, I had about six college campuses going at the same time where I would employ the students from that particular campus. By the time I was a senior, I was making more money than most attorneys coming out of Harvard Law Schools so it didn’t make any sense for me to go to law school anymore. I kind of wanted to pursue this, but take it one step further. Being that I’m in Los Angeles, the home of the celebrities, it’s much easier here than it would be in other cities to go get myself in front high net-worth consumers. I attended every charity function, every night club, every party you could possibly imagine on a nightly basis and kind of pestered clients. I was persistent to the point where finally, somebody gave me a shot based on no merchandise, just the design and a good sales pitch.

Was there a particular reason or passion that made you want to enter the jewelry industry?

I don’t have any specific reason. I think it was really like a gradual progression from the cheap, the inexpensive and affordable jewelry I was selling on campus knowing that there was a ceiling to how much I could really grow that business. I needed something a bit more scalable. Like I said, being that we’re in Los Angeles, being that I had greater accessibility to some of these high net-worth people, I chose to do the jewelry business to dive into business in general. To be quite honest with you, I love designing and it was just a natural progression from what I was doing in college to what I do now.

“At the end of the day when you’re selling jewelry, you’re not really selling jewelry – you’re selling yourself. I understood from day one that when I’m approaching a client, before they see the jewelry, before they buy into anything, they have to buy into me – they have to buy into Jason. The good service and quality products is what keeps them coming back.”

– Jason Arasheben

When you were given that opportunity to get your foot in the door, did you have an established business process?

Well really what was I doing is I would hand draw designs and I would show those designs. To be quite honest, I would take clippings from other people’s jewelry catalogues and say, “I can make this. I can make this. I can make this.” I kind of self-taught myself the process and what it takes from start to finish on how to make a piece. In the beginning, essentially everything was outsourced, but as time went on, we started our own manufacturing facility. Now, everything is done inhouse from the design to manufacturing.

Without any initial capital or business processes in place, what happened when you got your first client?

Once I got the client and I sold them on the design that I drew, I had to figure a way how I was going to make this work and how I was going to make it so that I made profit. Essentially what I did is I used the deposit that he gave me, $40,000. He was a former New York Knicks player, Anthony Mason. He was the first client I ever had. I went to the jewelry district in Downtown Los Angeles and met with different jewelers and literally asked them every possible question I could ask them. I outsourced the manufacturing to them, but I want to know how was it made from the beginning to the end. I asked 1,000 questions until I got a better idea of how they did it. Piece by piece, I would eliminate the outsourcing process and I would bring everything in-house. Of course, that happened over a course of 4-5 years but eventually, we became a complete vertical operation.

How has your business processes shifted from when you first started to today?

Starting a business, you don’t know where the business is going to take you and as your environment changes, as circumstance changes, your strategy changes. We’re a little bit more structured now where we do have a strategy moving forward. We do look forward to opening more doors and opening more boutiques around the world and just really developing the brand whereas in the past when all you are doing is going from transaction to transaction and not really thinking that far ahead, now we do think further ahead but like I said, the environment dictates the changes ahead. Right now, our path is clear. We want to open doors and kind of really grow the brand.

Now that you’re all in-house and you’ve opened multiple locations, what attributed to you gaining more clients?

Well, let’s put it this way, I had no strategy. At the end of the day when you’re selling jewelry, you’re not really selling jewelry – you’re selling yourself. I understood from day one that when I’m approaching a client, before they see the jewelry, before they buy into anything, they have to buy into me – they have to buy into Jason. The good service and quality products is what keeps them coming back. I really worked harder at maintaining my clients than I was at going out and getting new ones because I knew that organically through word of mouth, I would eventually get in more clients, which is exactly what happened.

Do you believe your relationship building skills were the most important and critical skills that helped you?

It really is all about relationships. We worked very, very hard to connect the dots and worked those relationships. More importantly, like, people say, “Oh it must be so hard to get to celebrities,” and it is. Once you’re in the circle, it becomes much easier, but I’m also the same person. I never discounted the assistant, the security, the barber. You got to say hi to everybody. You got to be nice to everybody. Shake everyone’s hand and treat everyone with the same amount of respect as if they were celebrity too because it is those people that will put you in the room with the client that you want to be in front of.

Do you have a strategy for networking that you can share?

When you’re networking, there has to be a purpose behind it just for the sake of networking, but the most important thing is to understand the value of the person that you’re in front of. It might not be in your core business, it might be something else, but with each person I met, I kind of built a strategy around it whether they were an end consumer, whether they would lead me to an end consumer, whether they put me in the right rooms where possibly I can meet an end consumer, but behind every person that I meet, behind every business card that I receive, I kind of built a strategy and each is unique to itself. No two people are going to be the same, so no two strategies are going to be the same. Every time I go to an event, the next morning I’ll review who I met, what they do, who are they. I’ll have my assistant do research on who they are and at that point, I start to connect the dots. Like I said, even if it’s the bathroom attendant, everybody has value. You just need to figure out how to pull value from them.

At what point did you decide to grow and expand your business?

We started with an appointment-only facility and that eventually grew into retail stores. The reason we did that was because there’s only one Jason. I can only sell so much. I only have two hands. There’s only 24 hours in a day, so I can’t possibly be in Vegas and Los Angeles at the same time. We needed to develop a more scalable approach, something that is a little bit more owner absentee and the only way to do that was to open our own retail outlets.

You opened four retail outlets, but what was your strategy around going to retail?

Well, obviously the barrier to entry in this particular industry is very high basically due to the capital investment that’s needed. Jewelry is not shaped. It’s not like t-shirts in a retail store. You’re actually putting diamonds and it is extremely capital intensive. It wasn’t until about five years into the business where we kind of developed a retail strategy. When we did that, like I said, we’re looking for something more scalable. We also were looking for locations that were the best of the best locations you could possibly think of and we’ve been very fortunate. We’re open in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. We took over the same store that was in the movie Pretty Woman, the jewelry store. We opened up in the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas right when it was opening, which is now the hottest hotel in Vegas. We were very fortunate along the way to have key retail locations that kind of really felt benefits immediately.

Do you believe that being aware of the exact clientele you are aiming for and basing your location around them made a significant difference to your business?

Absolutely and I mean, I’d rather pay for a better location and let our advertising budget suffer because at the end of the day, you want to put your product in the right eyes. What better place than the most high-end locations because let’s face it, I’m selling something that people don’t need. I’m selling something that’s an impulsive thing and it’s an unneeded luxury, so I have to make sure that I give myself the best chance to succeed and the only way to do that is to make sure I have locations that are in front of the right people.

Based on your experience, what kinds of items would be the “bread and butter” of the jewelry industry?

Every jeweler is different, the barrier to entry is extremely high here and almost every jeweler nowadays looks like they are selling the same stuff. What you touched upon was we were opening stores when everyone was closing stores. Six years ago, we were in one of the deepest recessions in US history. Jewelry stores were closing all across the country, in fact, all across the world, yet we were opening stores. Why? Because we sell a product that’s a little bit different. We don’t sell your grandmother’s jewelry. The stuff that you see in our stores is not the stuff you’re going to see in Harry Winston, Chopard, or any other of these other places. We sell off the wall, eccentric pieces, really service a niche market and that’s what gave us the opportunity to succeed, not to mention the fact that unlike most retail outlets, we are completely vertical operation, so really, we have to sell half of what the traditional retailer has to sell in order to turn a profit.

What makes you stand apart from the crowd?

Yes. What makes us famous, obviously, our celebrity backing. We’re constantly on different television shows. We have exposure that most companies and brands have to pay for, but because of our unique relationships and personal relationships with the tastemakers of the world, we get something organically without spending just because we have those relationships whereas other brands have to pay for that. We don’t really have an advertising budget.

Based on your knowledge and experience today, if you could go back and start all over again, would you do anything different?

I wouldn’t have changed one thing. I was very fortunate and blessed to make the right decisions at the right times. Of course, there are little things along the way we could have changed like extending too much credit to certain clients and stuff like that, but every business has that. At the end of the day, I really feel like we entered the retail market at the right time and for the right reason, and that’s what’s enabled us to be successful.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered over the last 12 years?

Well, the most challenging part was with every decision, there are repercussions and we had to make some very, very important decisions along the way and picking a retail location is one of those decisions. You really don’t know what’s going to happen. For example, in Las Vegas, we decided to open up in the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which was then an unproven hotel, opened up by Deutsche Bank which has never had any experience in the casino hotel business and we really were relying on the hotel being a hit. Thank God for us, it was a huge success. All entrepreneurs know that you need to take risks and most successful entrepreneurs are not risk averse. They don’t mind taking chances and I think we’re definitely the same.

Do believe that education based on life experiences or formal education from college helped you the most?

I definitely think it was more life experience. Of course, I cherish the knowledge that I received when I went to school, but at the end of the day, I feel like I utilized a lot more real-life experience and gained more knowledge from that than I did from anything I learned in school.

When you think about growing your brand in the next 10 years, are you still looking for more retail locations?

We’re looking at continuing our retail footprint and opening up in key markets and really expanding the brand to different markets worldwide and today is very different than it was 15 years ago. The world is much smaller, communication is much easier through social media and the internet and all that, so what makes waves here in LA is also heard across the globe as well so I think it has made it easier for us when we do open in Hong Kong, Dubai, or locations like that where people already know our brand.

“I love waking up each and every morning and doing what I do. I definitely don’t look at this as work. I enjoy every single day because there’s no two days that are exactly the same.”

– Jason Arasheben

How have you and your team evolved along this journey?

You can’t be afraid to make mistakes and we’ve made tons of mistakes along the way, but we’d like to think that we made more better choices than bad. As far as evolving, it’s just not really being afraid and continuing to think beyond the box and think big and I think that’s what really has carried us to where we are today. You really have to look at the bright side on every single situation. There always is a bright side no matter how bad the mistake is and there have been countless entrepreneurs that have gone bankrupt numerous times over and still became successful, and it’s that fighting back that really marks the value of a true entrepreneur, that ability to comeback and come back stronger despite the fact that you’ve made a huge mistake.

Even with the success you’ve already reached, what is it that motivates you to keep going or to continue to grow the brand?

Well, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you are, there’s always somebody that’s doing it better and something that’s bigger. It doesn’t matter who you are. We wake up every morning and we look at some of the big brands in this world, the ones that have been around for generations upon generations and really looking to build and challenge ourselves to do something bigger and better, and that’s really what drives me every morning when I wake up is that I know I drive from my house down to our office and I drive down Rodeo Drive not because it’s the easiest route but it’s the best route for me. I like to see what other people are doing. I like to be motivated. It really plays into that. It’s important to be self-motivated and every morning, I challenge myself to think differently and come up with new ideas.

Do you separate your personal life from your business life?

I love to be with my family of course, my wife and two kids, but really what drives me is getting up every day and doing what I love, which is helping run this business. As boring as it sounds, I can’t tell you that I love paragliding, hiking, or have some other hobbies because I truly don’t. I love waking up each and every morning and doing what I do. I definitely don’t look at this as work. I enjoy every single day because there’s no two days that are exactly the same. Obviously when I was younger, I had the ability to work more but as you get older and you have family responsibilities, you do have to find that balance or else your kids won’t remember what your name is.

What advice would you share with young entrepreneurs today?

The biggest piece of advice I would have to say is to not be afraid of failure and have self-belief. Too often do I see entrepreneurs start a business, whether it’s a t-shirt business, a service business of any kind, and they are not successful right away and kind of gave up. It’s that ability to fight back and that ability to think big and understand that there’s something big at the end of the rainbow and just despite all the challenges, despite all the setbacks is to keep fighting through it and I think that’s what really marks a great entrepreneur, someone that is not afraid to make mistakes and really willing to push through. It’s easy to get discouraged by failure. It’s easy to think that maybe you’re just not good enough, but at the end of the day, you are. That’s the biggest thing is just to have that self-belief.

We want to thank Jason for sharing his story. You can see more of Jason at the following places:

“It might not be in your core business, it might be something else, but with each person I met, I kind of built a strategy around it whether they were an end consumer, whether they would lead me to an end consumer, whether they put me in the right rooms where possibly I can meet an end consumer, but behind every person that I meet, behind every business card that I receive, I kind of built a strategy and each is unique to itself.

– Jason Arasheben