The toughest part of being an inventor or an entrepreneur is all of the unknowns. There are no guarantees and there is a lot of room for failure. One of my goals, in writing this column, is to talk about the nitty-gritty details, to help entrepreneurs avoid some of the pitfalls, and to be honest about what it takes. This year, I am launching Q&A sessions with start-up entrepreneurs and growth brands, so you can hear, right from the source, what they did right and what they did wrong, and how it all contributed to where they are in their entrepreneurship journey.
First in the Q&A hotseat is Jason Simmons, founder and CEO of DeadSoxy, a sock brand that came out of personal frustration that the more bold flashy socks didn't have the quality needed to be dress socks.
How did you decide that your idea was worth pursuing?
"Initially, our team talked to as many people as possible about socks and their experience with socks. Whether it was someone in line at a coffee shop or in a discussion forum like Reddit or Quora, we wanted to learn as much as possible about what people wanted, and what their frustrations were. Almost everyone had the same frustrations: 1) Their dress socks never stayed up on the leg. 2) Their dress socks always shrunk up way too much after only one or two laundry cycles. In some cases, these people were paying $20+ for dress socks that flat-out didn't meet their expectations. The frustration was real and compounded by years of socks sliding down, slipping off, and just wearing out. It was painfully obvious that this was a huge opportunity if we could get it right."
What were some of the first actions you took in building your product/brand/company?
"We spoke with enough people to understand the general frustrations with the options on the market. Based on what we learned from potential consumers, we knew there was a general frustration around how dress socks actually performed. Once we had a better understanding of what people wanted, I took the lead on product development and focused on learning the industry and building the right product. That's all I did for the first 2.5 years (other than my day job). There was no name, no social media, no plan, just learning and relentless focus on getting the product right.
Today, DeadSoxy's differentiator is and will always be the product. We are a product-centric brand and that permeates everything we do. Right from the start, I've wanted DeadSoxy's identity to be built around a strong product through pairing smart design with premium fabric. The company name, social media profiles, business plans, sock design, photo shoots, that's all the fun stuff. Everyone wants to do that stuff."
How or where did you find your first sales entry point?
"Our first big sale was a cold call to a subscription box company that I found on Instagram. Initially, I made a few calls to the customer service number on the site to gain more insight on the business. It didn't take long before I had the names, titles, roles, and some insight into the entire leadership team. After a few days of recon then a two day rest, I called back in and asked to be transferred to the president by name and it worked. That cold call resulted in a $25K order. I'm happy to say they are still a client today, and that one call has generated over $250K in revenue. Even as the Founder and CEO, I'll never graduate from making cold calls."
Details + Time = The Perfect Pair
The devil is in the details. That's to say, the details of a product are its most problematic aspect, and also where there is the most room for innovation and high-risk. In a follow-up call with Jason, we spoke about the landmines that might explode at anytime when you are learning a product category and re-inventing it at the same time. Keys are to be an open-minded continual learner and never get too comfortable with your product, even when they are as soft as DeadSoxy's, and get a great group of been-there, done-that advisors.
Also, I must add, if you are in a rush to make bank and exit, beware. Business takes time, research takes time, and sustainable success takes time.