We knew Sarah and Jennifer Caplan when they were Footzyrolls. They've been members of Tin Shingle for years, and then suddenly, we saw the CNN article about their lawsuit battle with Tootsie Roll, after Tootsie Roll filed against them alleging trademark infringement. What happened in the end was that Footzyrolls agreed to change their name to Footzyfolds. How's that for a packaging and website nightmare? But by then, the co-founders and sisters were small business veterans, who founded their shoe company in 2009, and by this time had passed $2 million in sales. They navigated their toughest challenge with grace and smarts. We chatted with them about how they survived and thrived through their start-up years.
When you first started your business, did you have to quit another job?
When I first started my business, I did not quit my job. I was working full time at JPMorgan and my sister was full time Footzyfolds I quit my job only after I reached specific milestones and goals that I set out to accomplish for the business. I did this for myself to know that in my mind it was a legitimate business and required me to give it my full time commitment. Some of these goals included; Getting into Oprah Magazine, Selling to Bloomingdale's, and reaching a certain sales goal.
What was the pivotal move to you starting your business?
When I looked everywhere in the marketplace for the product that I wanted and I couldn't find it. I believed there was a need for my product (footzyfolds) and no one else had created the product along with the marketing around the concept of being able to put shoes in your handbag to take with you at all times as an extra pair of shoes.
Why did you know this business was the right thing to start?
I didn't know it was the right thing to start, I took a risk and worked really hard to see where we could take it.
Can you share with us some super-star moves you made that improved your business? Anything specific, like a type of marketing you did, branding, packaging, partnership, etc?
Every single encounter we had with our business, from hiring/firing, making mistakes to making good decisions to collaboration, marketing, packaging, etc got us to where we are now. There was not one specific thing because everything we did was a learning experience which helped us be ready for what was next (even though we didn't know what was next). One of our greatest partnerships was with the Sex & the City 2 movie. When the ad agency for Warner Brothers called us to collaborate for the movie premiere, we felt like we really made it! Having a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker on our Footzy packaging was an amazing feeling especially because they PAID us collaborate!!
Did you have a family at the time of launching your business?
Yes, my husband was very supportive when I launched my business. He only saw the back of my blackberry for months on end but he is very understanding of what my goals are as an entrepreneur and he was there with me packing boxes and helping out where he could (in his spare time).
If you have a family now (husband and/or children), how has a growing family impacted how you run your business, or what you want from your business?
The business required me to change my priorities in my life for the first few years while trying to grow the business. For example, my husband and I stopped taking vacations and holiday time (Thanksgiving- Black Friday) was spent working at Bloomingdale's to sell shoes, etc. Your life changes to accommodate your business needs but you don't think about what "you are missing" when you are launching in order to try to grow your company. If you aren't willing to give up vacations and family time then I think it's difficult to be successful at the beginning. Of course once you have a more established business and can hire more employees there is opportunity to enjoy the success more, but by then I'll probably be on to my next venture!
Have you launched other businesses or ventures since launching this business?
Yes, my sister and I also launched a company called CHARMZEEZ while we were running Footzyfolds in 2010. We created charms that hung and clasped off of Sillybands, hairbands, backpacks, shoelaces, etc. We invented the product but chose not to try and create our own distribution channel in the toy industry. We knew how hard it was to create Footzy distribution and we were not in the capacity to run a toy company at the same time. Therefore, we licensed this product to a large toy manufacturer.
Why do you think your business has succeeded during its first few critical years?
We have succeeded for a number of reasons:
- We never took "no" for an answer. Even if a buyer tells me "no" that just means NOT RIGHT NOW. I listen to why the buyer is telling me "no" and I continue to figure out how to turn that into a "yes."
- No matter what bad situation we found ourselves in (manufacturing, inventory, lawsuits, etc) we always figured out the best solution for us and kept the monetary impact as low as we could.
- Mistakes will happen but it was how we learned from them that helped us be successful
- We continue to innovate and make our product better. For fall 2013, we are launching the most comfortable cushioned insole I have ever felt or seen. Even though our flats have the functionality to fold, we continue to make our product better in any way that we can because now we compete with everyone in the market that makes shoes.
Thank you Sarah and Footzyfolds for sharing your experiences with us!