Nogen '98 Learning to be Entreprenuerby Gary James '10 • August 7, 2008
Entrepreneur Michael Nogen ’98 knows about the ups and downs of business. He’s lived it. In 2005, the former international trade negotiator and asset manager decided to initiate his own start-up company, Theality. The business specialized in contemporary maternity clothes.
Nogen, who lives in the heart of Manhattan, wanted to create a name for himself, and then branch out. But changing fashion trends prompted many expecting mothers to simply move up in normal clothes sizes, instead of relying on traditional maternity wear. The growing trends made it difficult for Nogen to sell his company to private equity firms. On May 1, 2008 he ceased operations.
But it would be a mistake to count him out. He’s just getting started. With a background in international finance and public policy, the 32-year-old Fort Worth, Texas-native is planning his next move.
"Now I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do next," said Nogen, who has a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. "More than likely I’ll go in the private equity route or management consulting, but specifically to retail consumer products."
Nogen is also flirting with the idea of creating another start-up. He said the process of starting a business is fun, even though it requires a lot of time and personal investment. He also acknowledged a degree of anxiety and vulnerability that’s part of process as well. Nogen believes an entrepreneur must take the good with bad, and learn from both.
"No entrepreneur ever wants to fail," Nogen said. "And I think part of life is you are going to have your ups and downs and obviously you are going to learn. So I’ll take all the mistakes I made with my first business and apply it to whatever my second business is. And take some of my successes and try to emulate some of my success."
Organizing Theality was an experience Nogen will never forget, and he doesn’t want to. He thrust himself into his enterprise. With the advice of former Sax Fifth Avenue CEO and Wabash Trustee Fred Wilson ‘69, Nogen developed a business plan to assess whether there would be a strong enough market for his concept. He did all the operations work, hiring designers and productions staff, securing a factory in Los Angeles, and setting up regional show rooms. In just three years, he had grown the business to where he was selling clothing to 175 stores, with outlets from Atlanta to Australia.
"I wanted to become a big fish in a small pond," Nogen said. "Rather than be a t-shirt company, when there are a million of them. So basically, I projected a tough future 12 months, and I knew I had to pay back my investors. When you are in business, you are in it to make money. At the end of the day, it was wonderful going through the process of growing and selling a business. I paid everybody back and made out with my shirt and a great experience."
Nogen has always been interested in business. His wife Alisa is CEO of Harman Importing, a bead and rhinestones distribution company owned by her family. But Nogen’s idea to start his own business grew from his working closely with companies as Program Manager for US Council for International Business. Nogen led programs in marketing, telecommunications, and advertising trade policy. He wrote briefs and formed positions to reduce the amount of barriers to trade for American companies doing business overseas. But in his three years at US Council, he always wondered what being on the other side would feel like.
"When you are doing trade negotiations for companies, I always thought it would be interesting to be on the side of the company, not just the mediator," said Nogen, who also worked as an Asset Manager for GE Capital from 2002 - 2005. "I knew I always wanted to go into business. And I knew I always wanted to have some international component. Growing up, I was raised to work hard. And if you believe in something to go for it."
Nogen said he learned those same lessons at Wabash. "Wabash prepares you to ask the right questions, to be an able thinker," said Nogen, who was involved in the Student Senate, the Inter-Fraternity Council, and founder of the Jewish Student Union. "I think the Wabash network is phenomenal. And I’m willing to help out any Wabash grad."