Ever been to a wedding or event and had your high heels sink straight into the mud? Yep, me too. But, just like you, I never did anything about it. Meet Becca Brown, the co-founder of Solemates. She saw this unfortunate 1st world problem from a different perspective, and now she runs a company fixing this stiletto issue. Oh, and it’s now a multi-million-dollar business.
Fixing a Problem
This is a fate that has killed off many pairs of shoes. One that Brown first discovered at her high school’s prom. “Our heels were sinking into the grass and my brand-new shoes were ruined even before the night began,” she remembers.
But, I bet she never expected her ruined prom shoes to be a beginning of a multi-million-dollar idea.
Fast forward to Columbia Business School, when Brown shared with her classmate, and now co-founder, Monica Ferguson about this common problem. Unsurprisingly, Ferguson also had a trail of ruined heels behind her. So together, they decided to fix the problem.
Soon after, Ferguson wrote the company’s business plan as part of a final for entrepreneurial finance – a class they were both studying. “We wrote the plan around a product that prevents high heels from sinking into grass and getting stuck in cracks,” Brown told The Balance.
Risking It All
After Business School, both women had plans to return to their previous employer, Goldman Sachs. But, they’d bitten too hard by the entrepreneurial bug and decided to put their full-time efforts into their new business idea.
To start with the founders self-funded the business, paying for provisional patents, early engineering and prototyping themselves.
And, right after their launch, they got a call from Gayle King. King is the co-host of CBS This Morning and editor at large of O, The Oprah Magazine.
King had just used Solemates with Oprah at an outdoor wedding in California and loved the product. Brown says that King “was so moved that she called me on the spot to interview me for her radio show and they featured Solemates in O Magazine.”
An Overnight Celebrity Following
Since then, Solemates has earned a huge celebrity following. They’ve been worn by Tara Lipinski, Lauren Conrad, and Fergie. And both Demi Lovato and Rachel Platten both wore the product to sing the National Anthem for the 2015 and 2016 Baseball World Series, respectively.
Using these placements combined with some retail sales, Brown and Ferguson had all they needed to raise some capital from angel investors. But one of their main goals was to hold on to as much equity as possible. They’ve accepted around $1.3 million of capital and rejected any other offers.
Now, Solemates is sold at over 2,000 retail stores/websites. And, as of a month ago, is now available at 4,000 CVS stores across the U.S.
4 Lessons for Entrepreneurs
Be Patient, and Stay Focused. According to Brown, perseverance is the key to staying in business. “Early on, when we were first looking for an injection molder, we called over 100, and many of them laughed when we told them our idea,” Becca says.
Yet, instead of feeling defeat, Brown soldiered on, keeping the faith in her business.
Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. “Goldman taught us that you’re (in most cases) going to be uncomfortable if you’re learning, growing, and instead of fighting that, it’s important to embrace it,” Becca says.
Ultimately, you’ll never be an expert until you start doing it so don’t feel bad about that. But try to learn as quickly as possible.
Find Strength in Your Network. Brown says that it’s important to have a group of people that you can rely on to help you make important decisions. You’ll often find yourself needing advice, and the path of an entrepreneur can be pretty lonely if you are walking it alone.
“This came from one of our early investors, someone who has been a supporter from the beginning, in many ways,” Becca says. “I have leaned on this circle repeatedly over the years.”
Don’t Be Afraid of Rejection. “While we were still at business school, we entered into a business competition to present Solemates to a room of judges. After we gave our presentation, one man in the audience (who had served some time in retail), made a comment to the room that ‘no woman is ever going to put that on her heel.” Brown explains.
If you believe enough in your idea, then know that you can make it successful.
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