Quite often, the most brilliant ideas are hiding in plain sight, just waiting for an enterprising entrepreneur to push them to fruition.

However, simply having that great idea is no guarantee of success. In fact, 90% of startups will fail.

Among the top reasons businesses don’t make it that they expand too fast. Doing too many things at once or trying to be everything to everyone can lead to the demise of an otherwise successful business.

But you don’t just want to know what you might be doing wrong. There’s much to be learned from successful businesses, as well.

One of those inspirational success stories is that of Stance. Although they’ve been in business six years, chances are you haven’t heard of them. No, they’re not a household name, but I can give you $86 million good reasons to sit up and take notice of their unusual--and incredibly successful--business strategy.

See, Stance was a socks startup. That’s right… their revolutionary idea was to sell one of the most boring products on the planet: socks. In an era where entrepreneurs compete to outdo one another in pushing technological advancements, Stance’s co-founders said, you know what? We’re just going to take this boring, utilitarian thing over here and make it awesome. We’re going to make socks sexy and exciting.

And did they ever.

In April, Stance inked a deal to be NBA's official on-court sock. They even have a Rhianna sock line (as well as other artists, in case you aren’t a Ri-Ri fan). Perusing their site, you’ll see they have all different colors, styles, lengths, patterns, collaborations, and designs… yet all they’re selling is socks.

They don’t want to become another WalMart. They aren’t even aiming to be an all-encompassing clothing line or fashion house and are just now cautiously entering the underwear market. Right now, they’re just selling kickass socks--and a lot of them.

Jeff Kearl, co-founder of Stance, revealed in a recent interview with Fast Company‘s Evie Nagy that he wanted to emulate brands like Under Armour, who attracted huge early investment by developing one hero product that did superbly well. He didn’t even know what that product was, but was determined to find it. That meant going to Target to study different types of products–sunblock, school supplies, jewelry, and the like–and Googling to find out gross margins and market shares and where stuff was being made. But it was when he went down the sock aisle, overflowing with basic, basic brown, black, white and gray socks in boring plastic bags, that his inspiration piqued.

Kearl talked John Wilson in 2009, even though Wilson thought his friend must have been joking, that this was his big idea. Three other cofounders joined them and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the past four years, Stance has sold over 15 million pairs of socks, almost exclusively through their retail partnerships. This past January, they began raising funding to expand into another seemingly full and already-established market: underwear. Some backers even sought to expand the round to $80 million. However, Stance still had at its disposal the first $36 million raised. They plan to open six retail locations by next spring.

Sometimes, doing something unusual doesn’t actually meaning tackling something so innovative it’s never been done before.

Sometimes, being unusual simply means reinventing an existing product and making it better.

Stance’s epic win in the sock market should give heart and hope to entrepreneurs looking not to invent the wheel, but to build a better mousetrap.

Published on: Jul 21, 2015
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