TCU graduate Stephen Lehn opened the doors of his own company, Needle’s Haystack, April 4. Lehn graduated from TCU with a bachelor’s degree in 2004, and in 2007 with his MBA. Needle’s Haystack is a marketplace for American-designed, one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry by talented, but unknown, designers.
Q: Tell me about your time at TCU.
A: I was a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. I transferred here my sophomore year. I actually played Division I tennis at a school in South Carolina and then I transferred to TCU. Best time of my life, I’m not gonna lie. All my best friends are still here, I mean not at TCU, but I’m still friends with them and they came from TCU. My MBA was different. I was working full time in Dallas and I was the only one in the program who lived in Dallas. I would drive at night to Fort Worth and for a year, I did it that way…I guess if anyone ever thinks I don’t bleed purple they’re lying because there’s SMU and there’s all other schools in Dallas that I could have gone to and I wanted to go back to Fort Worth.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing you learned at TCU?
A: The professors, you know overall…They teach you how to think, they teach you how to problem solve. They say every situation is different in life. You’re not going to come across the same thing. So really, if you’re here to get a cookie cutter education, this is not the place. But if you’re here to become a thinker, you’re at the right place. I think that’s what TCU is about. What I learned the most was how to think. I learned how to problem solve, how to overcome, how to adapt, how to think of obstacles as opportunities. Those are the biggest things. It instilled a lot of confidence in me.
Q: How did your time at TCU help your business?
A: It goes back toward having that confidence to go out and do something on my own. I took a lot of entrepreneurial classes in my graduate studies and TCU is obviously very well known for that. I finally said, ‘I’ve got the education, I’ve got the experience, it’s time to take a chance.’ So I started a company called Needle’s Haystack. Most importantly, [TCU] gave me the confidence, they taught me how to think and when you have those two things together with the education, I think you can do anything.
Q: How did your business get started? What is the business?
A: I started a company called Needle’s Haystack, that’s NeedlesHaystack.com. And what it is, it’s an online market place, exclusive to one-of-a-kind jewelry. So basically, I’m going out there finding all those hard-to-find designers that you’ve never heard of. The heritage, more or less, of the business was, I was looking for the perfect birthday gift for my mom and someone told me about a lady who makes her own jewelry. Being a guy I thought, ‘Jewelry? I don’t know a thing about jewelry.’ So I went in and I met with her and she started showing me all her pieces. I started asking her, ‘Well, who else do you sell to?’ and she goes, ‘Well, Neiman Marcus is the department store that I sell my brands to, but they buy the naming rights and market up 500-1200 percent…I need to be a part of a community that’s exclusive to jewelry…’ And that’s when I started thinking. So the name Needle’s Haystack came about. I thought, ‘Alright, these are kind of diamonds in the rough. These are the hard-to-find designers, they’re needles in a haystack.’ And I thought, ‘What if needles was a person and had its own haystack, it’d be nothing but needles.’ So really what I’m creating is a haystack full of needles, a haystack full of all those hard-to-find talented jewelry designers from around the country and putting them all in one marketplace.
Q: Do you have any advice for the graduating seniors?
A: I think that one of the most important things coming out of school and getting that first job, when you go to work, you tend to think you may know more than you do. One of the things that businesses want and one of the things that will help you keep your job when times are tough is listening. Ask questions, listen and execute. Be an executor. Don’t be someone who knows it all and don’t think you do know it all because you don’t…Be a problem solver. Be a team leader. Be someone that people want to be around. Most importantly, let your work speak for itself. Don’t speak for your work…Nurture your friendships, hold on tight, keep in touch. Don’t ever take your friendships for granted…I think after that, you just have to figure it out on your own.