Want to start your own business at age 23? Let's call it the David Merritt formula.
1. Devote years to gaining a spot on a college basketball team. Achieve goal; go to NCAA Finals.
2. After graduation, decide to start an apparel company. Leverage social media like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to create buzz.
3. See if some of your famous athlete friends and your former collegiate basketball coach will endorse your brand and wear your T-shirts in public.
Not a bad strategy, you think?
The IMU story reads something like a fairy tale. So does Merritt's life. But that is one of the main reasons he decided to create a company that gives back to the community – and creates some dramatically stylish T-shirts.
I Miss You Inc. is a socially conscious clothing line inspired in part by Merritt's experiences on the University of Michigan basketball team, his family and his mentors. In fact, one reason he started IMU is to take up the challenge set forth by President Obama and the First Lady to make a positive impact on society.
“You are who you are because of other people. And I appreciate the people who made me who I am,” Merritt said, highlighting his parents as his “spiritual foundation.”
Merritt was born in Detroit, raised in West Bloomfield and blossomed in Ann Arbor. He may have sat on the bench for two years, but he finished his time on the basketball team as co-captain. He graduated from U-M with a degree in Sport Management in 2008.
While trying to decide what to do next, Merritt had internships for the National Basketball Association and the Detroit Lions. He knew he wanted to stay in the business world, but he did not feel corporate life was for him. So he decided to start a business, and clothing felt right. He could share a message yet market a strong product.
Merritt knew that fashion tends to define youth – the right look and style can make a difference in people's perceptions.
“Clothing is not just about the fabric. It's a statement,” Merritt said. “It can reflect your values, morale and sense of style.”
He came up with the clothing line's name while on the road playing basketball. It was during his final season, and he was inside the massive Madison Square Garden.
“I received a text message that said ‘IMU.' That I immediately identified the letters to mean "I miss you' struck a chord within me. Since that time, God has blessed me with a vision to take those simple three letters to great heights,” Merritt said.
To hype the brand, Merritt created a viral video blog series called “The Get Ready,” a hilarious look at his journey toward business greatness. What makes it so fun to watch is how Merritt performs every segment, giving hints about the company and showing lots of personality at the same time. During its short three-month run, the videos got more than 6,000 hit on YouTube and Facebook. (They're still up there if you're curious.)
As for community service, Merritt gives on a personal and professional level. IMU requires all full-time employees do eight to 10 hours of good deeds monthly. He also offers his online shoppers the opportunity to earn a 20 percent discount if they do the same and post the evidence on the Web site.
Will Merritt's shirts succeed? It sure would be nice to see him stay in Ann Arbor (or Metro Detroit) and build a monster success out of the IMU brand. Here is a smart, considerate young man trying to do something incredibly positive for himself and for Michigan.
“We can't always affect government or the economy, but what we do as individuals can impact the community,” Merritt said.
(By the way, Merritt is throwing out a 10 percent discount code for the blog readers. Just enter the coupon code DETROIT at checkout to receive the discount. The coupon code will be valid until Dec. 23.)
If you want to make IMU your friend, check out the Twitter sites here and here. The Facebook site<a href="http://facebook.com