Former UCF student talks life after launching Rock 'Em
Just like he pulls up his socks every day, Rob Starkman has pulled his start-up company to multimillion-dollar status.
Four years after launching Rock ‘Em Apparel, Rob Starkman is rocking his way to Japan as an ESPN Events partner. The former UCF student turned CEO of the million-dollar business launched his company while pursuing a college degree, but now, he dedicates his time to providing exclusive custom socks for premier events around the world.
The Central Florida Future sat down with Starkman to discuss how his life has changed since leaving UCF.
You launched your company in 2011 while you were still a student at UCF. Through the incredible growth you’ve faced, what is one lesson that continues to resurface in your path to success?
I think one lesson that we always encounter is that “what got you here won’t get you there.” That goes for everything through the company. The people, the processes, the product, the promotion - all of it needs to evolve and constantly grow. Always up the ante and never rest on your laurels because you’re only as good as your last hit.
You’re the CEO of a multimillion-dollar business. Is there anything that you miss about being a student?
I try not to get wrapped up in the numbers of it all. I think hitting goals and financials is important, but when it comes down to it, how can I extract million-dollar talent from people who might not know they have it in them? I didn’t have too much of a “student life” when at UCF. I was a manager with the UCF basketball team and spent a majority of my time there. So when it comes to what I miss about UCF, it’s definitely the people that I worked with at the basketball team. A few of the managers actually work with me now at Rock ‘Em which is great, and I still hold very important relationships with nearly everyone I met there.
Being as successful as you are, what do you get most excited about when you treat yourself to things that you couldn’t in college?
I don’t think increased business has changed who I am as a person. I always told myself that when I had any sort of discretionary income, I would splurge on some Legos. Recently they released the sets from the new Star Wars movies, so I picked up a few of those. It’s like I was satisfying the child in me that wanted to live in a Lego house. But I’m not a man of many material items, I try to live as simply as possible and put it all back into the business. But, I can definitely say I was not able to treat myself to double-meat at Chipotle in college without thinking twice about it. Now, that’s not much of an issue.
In the past several years, what’s the most exciting pair of custom socks your company has designed?
We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with some top tier entities, and the title for “most exciting pair” is often briefly held. Some notable ones have been the Stuff socks for the Orlando Magic, Championship socks for the Golden State Warriors, collaborative socks with recording artist Chance the Rapper, our UCF Knightro sock (exciting to bring it back full circle), a sock with Mark Cuban using a Urinal, and literally every sock we make with partners like SneakerCon and ESPN Events. We always have our eyes on the next big hit, so we sort of celebrate our excitement with amnesia.
What’s another fashion item that you think is underappreciated?
I don’t think there has been an item that’s been so underappreciated like socks. But as fashion develops I think the wearables industry will be filled with underappreciated “fashionable” items. Some people see the Apple Watch as a flop, but it’s so functional and fashionable at the same time that I think if more people used it they’d appreciate it.
What’s the craziest thing about working in the fashion industry?
There’s so much artistry and craftsmanship that come together to create something, and it’s pretty interesting to think about.
On the flip side, if we’re looking outside of just the fashion industry and more into the entrepreneur industry, which I think we operate more in rather than just fashion, the craziest thing I’ve encountered is bloated egos. When you’re an entrepreneur it’s so easy to put yourself on a pedestal, but it’s so, so, so important to keep a level head and have your humility shine and your reputation precede you.
What advice would you give yourself four years ago?
See the long term. I used to be very short-term oriented. But now I’m focused on bringing in the people, product and the processes that will put Rock ‘Em on a longer trajectory. I think we have a great team now, but there’s a lot of room for growth with regards to people we bring in. I’d also recommend myself to work ON the business, and not IN the business. I’m working hard on becoming a better leader and never to be thought of as a “boss.”
Daniela Marin is the Entertainment Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @dan__marin or email her at DanielaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.