Footwear with a 5,000 mile warranty – Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes

Steven Sashen, Co-Founder and CEO of Xero Shoes

Steven Sashen, the Co-Founder and CEO of Xero Shoes, grew his company’s revenue from $772k in 2014 to $5.5m in 2017, a 617% increase, and they are projecting to hit $8.5m in 2018.  

Xero Shoes is manufacturer of addictively comfortable bare foot inspired sandals and shoes.  

In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui, Steven shares how he and his team accelerated their sales by:

  • Putting a great product in front of interested people.  
  • Staying away from “fake natural” traffic sources.  
  • Leveraging video marketing and retargeting.  
  • Capitalizing on the growth of the wellness economy.  

Footwear with a 5,000 mile warranty – Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes

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Malcolm Lui here. Welcome to Today we're speaking with Steven Sashen, the Co-Founder and CEO of Xero Shoes, a fast growing manufacturer of addictively comfortable barefoot inspired sandals and shoes. Steven grew his company's revenue from $772,000 in 2014 to $5.5 million in 2017, a 617% increase and they're projecting to hit $8.5 million in 2018. Welcome to the call Steven.

Thank you. Thank you.

So Steven how did you do it? How do you grow your company sales so fast?

I didn't do it. It was all the people who bought our shoes and sandals that did it. I was just on the other end of that equation.

Okay so how do you get so many people to buy your shoes in sandals?

Well the first part is you make a really good product that people love to tell other people about or that that are interesting and eye catching enough that people stop our customers on the street. Where'd you get those that. I just remember when Lena and I first met Lee as my wife and co-founder when we first started doing this back in late November 2000 9. Soon thereafter we were walking in downtown Boulder Colorado where we lived and a pack of teenage girls walked up to us and pointed at our sandals. Oh those are sick. And I turned the light on when they were billionaires. So they were on to something. So part of it is just making a product that really does something valuable in the case of footwear that's really really comfortable to eat and flex and feel it gives you a natural experience which feels good and is good for you. And then the second thing is finding out how to get in front of the kind of people who are right for your product. And that's I mean that's the broadest scope of all marketing advertising is just getting your message in front of the kind of people who are interested in what you're doing or might be interested if you just kind of start the conversation in the right way.

Okay. Can you share how you how you created a product that people find really viable. Did not come first or did you get it from the people first and figure out what they wanted and then created the product.

Yeah I was product first. What happened is I was making these like simple little sandals based on this ten thousand year old design idea for local barefoot runners and people who just like the idea of a really super comfortable silver medalist thing to protect their foot when they were walking around in what felt like being barefoot. Plus again a little protection. And they would tell two friends and they would tell two friends that just kind of happened very organically in one day a local running coach said you know I have this book that I'm running about barefoot running and if you treat this little sandal making hobby like a business man had a Web site I would put you on the book. And so I had been an Internet marketer since about 1992 and I built hundreds of websites. So I rushed home and I pitched this idea to my wife who tells me it is a really stupid idea and definitely won't work won't make any money. Total distraction from things we were doing and insisted that I not build a Web site. And I said you know you're probably right. And after she went to bed I built a website. And so that was how it began. And then I just got involved in the conversations actually had already been involved in the conversations with people who would be our potential customers. I was on forums and newsgroups and that time Google Groups Facebook wasn't even really that popular at the time but I was doing some things on Facebook as well logs whatever people were having conversations about natural movement and barefoot running. And the book Born to Run about the Tammara Indians who make sandals out of straps a tire that they laced their feet with leather laces and they run for hundreds of miles pain free well into their 60s 70s 80s. So put it all together. It was kind of product first in conversation that got in front of the right people second.

Right now your shoes way back them first got started. Are they functionally much different from how they are today.

Well we still sell that product that do it yourself kit is one of our better selling products and when you use it I say you get the superpower of knowing how to make your own footwear and it really does feel like it's incredibly empowering thing when you discover that something as important to us as protective footwear is not rocket science or as they said 10 dozen years ago. Not rocket science.

Peroxides that aspect that

You. So it's really cool. And I've had people say once I discovered I could make my own shoes. I started doing all these other things. I started repairing my own appliances I started making my own food. It really just opened your eyes up to the possibility of what we can do that we've typically just jobbed out to you know big companies. So that's still a big part of our business. But what happened is that the business evolved from people telling us what they wanted us to do. So people would say I love what you're doing but I'm not going to make my own sandals. And so we eventually came up with the ready to wear version of that product. They would say well I like that sandal but it's got a thong between your toes even though it's not like a flip flop and it's uncomfortable like a flip flop. There's still something between your toes like that. So we came up with what's referred to as a sport sandal style or sports symbol and a sports sandal style sandal. And that sounds kind of redundant but basically it has webbing that goes across your foot and that about something between your toes and people would say hey that's great. But I work at a place where I need shoes. And so we came up with a shoe based on the same concept of letting your feet naturally. And then


On this kind of shoe that kind of shoe or this kind of sandal. And we keep expanding just based on what people have told us they're looking for plus ideas that we've come up with that we know Wolf will work for our clientele

Right. But for every single model the basic premise is still there right to a very thin layer of a very durable soul that moves your foot and allows people to feel what they're walking on.

Yeah the basic idea is simple your feet are supposed to bend and move and flex and feel the world and all of our products. Let them do all of those things better than anything else you can buy

Right. OK. Now you mentioned the second key aspect in addition to having a a product that provides great value and value is on different dimensions but you also talked about getting in front of the right people and people interested in what you do. How do you how do you do that. How did how have you done then how will you do that going forward.

Well yea. There's a guy who I met you 25 years ago who said making money is simple. Figure out where the money is flowing and get in the way of it. And and that's true regardless of where in that equation you're getting in the way. And so the biggest thing is that I did originally as I mentioned before as I just found the places that people were having these conversations whether it was Facebook groups forums newsgroups e-mail lists newsletters I mean just wherever I could find it. And it's fundamentally the same. I was doing things way back then as well so I was looking for the keywords that I thought people were searching for when they were looking for something similar to what we were doing and that that was designed to work well for people finding us which worked. The only thing that's changed is really in the last almost 30 years of internet marketing is the way that you can target the people who are right for you. And how often you can then follow up with them whether they opt into a list that you have or not. So for example retargeting which is when everyone's experience probably they might not know what it is you there's a Web site and then you leave the Web site and then he goes to some other site and see an ad from that first Web site. That's for retargeting. And so that didn't exist until not that long ago. And that's a very effective way to to advertise because someone has already expressed interest in who you are and what you do and yours reminding them that you exist. So that's very helpful. But again the gist is just look at every way you can possibly think of to see where people are possibly interested in what you're doing at this point now it's all social media interest Instagram YouTube Facebook. It's no longer MySpace or whatever channel shows up there's an opportunity there and then it's just a question of finding the right way to use it because each channel has its own little peculiarities and differences.

Right. What have you tried marketing wise to reach out to your target market. That's been a complete disaster. That just didn't work.

That's a really good question. Oh and I'll tell you one. So I got approached by to think of a broad way to say this. There are a lot of people who have what they think of as very impressive statistics behind what they're doing that are not as impressive as one would think or as it might seem. So for example you see Facebook pages with millions of followers but there's no real engagement no one's actually commenting or liking or even what you see on Instagram or on Twitter where people with you know massive followings but just not a whole lot of engagement or engagement looks the same. There's basically there's a concept that I refer to in internet marketing called Faking natural and what you know what normal actual real behavior looks like. There's often ways faking. So bot traffic is one so computer programs that act like real people and make it look like something's happening when nothing's really happening. So here's a version of that and that happened to me someone contacted me who's a well-known fitness personality someone who actually followed and liked. And this person loved our shoes and said I've got a list of over a million e-mail addresses about over a million followers on every social channel. Let's do something and they can help detail. I want to get to the story. They wanted me to give them a bunch of money to participate in a program they were doing with other big deal YouTube influencers. And I said before I can spend that amount of money I got to know if there's a there there I've got to know if I can possibly get a positive return on my investment.

All right.

What we negotiated was that they were going to post about us on other social channels and send e-mails to their list. And I was giving them a significant affiliate commission for any sale that they generated they were getting a nice commission. And I said let's see how it goes. So they generated over 26000 unique visitors to our website and we made a whopping 20 sales now.


Now if that was just regular traffic coming to our site we would see about seven or eight hundred sales.


I said to these guys I don't know what you think your list is but it seems like it's teenage boys from Bangladesh or something else. I don't care about us. And they had no idea and argued with me about it. They said well no I was just really responsible like we just moved there it isn't. So whenever a variation of this is I get approached by people who want to send me traffic and I say How am I paying for this. They say well it's going to be X number. It's going to be cost per click or maybe cost per thousand impressions. And I say I can't pay for clicks or impressions because that's way too easy to fake in a way too hard to audit. And so therefore way too likely that I'll lose money by doing it. If you want to pay for acquisition if you want to pay for commission based on sales if we want to do something where we can see that this is for real first and then maybe move to one of those other pricing models. I'm open to that conversation but I'm never going to do anything where there's a definite possibility that someone could fake natural and they might not even know they're doing it. They may think they're doing everything on the up and up. Are there other companies who are exploiting them and sending crap traffic to them for various reasons. And they might not even know it. So it's it's challenging to do an internet marketing campaign where the people on the other end of the equation aren't as smart about internet marketing as they would need to be for that to be effective.

Right. OK I guess I'm not going to go through that channel. So


So have they cast the affiliate check you sent them for the 20 sales.

I was happy to give them the whopping whatever the hell it was it was it was an offer a good dinner for a family of four.

Yes and if you could send cash because it's too much trouble to write a check for that small amount.

I just ran a couple of hundred dollar bills or at a fridge and been Millichap

Yeah. OK. What's been your favorite channel your number one channel if you had to choose one marketing channel to get the word out. What would it be.

Ou to get well what you just said and the question is a really interesting distinction he said to get the word out. So there's two kinds of marketing if you will. One is what we'll refer to as top of funnel which is getting the word out to people who don't know this and the others. I'm a funnel which is people who've already found out about you and it's one that kind of stay on top of that conversation for top of one of the most effective thing is video by a long shot. And it's something that we've done quite a bit of and I want to do more of and that's been great great fun. It just also just so happens I have a master's degree in film from Columbia University I invented the industry standard word processing software for film and television writers. I was a professional standup comic and comedy writer. So that's my goal to begin with when it comes to bottom of file. As I mentioned before retargeting by far the most effective thing we've ever done.

Great. So for when you say videos were kind of what are your videos look like.

Some are informational so the first videos I made were how to basically rip off my entire company and just do everything that we're doing. I showed people how to make a sandals. Where to get materials how to do it yourself a way the entire farm. It's what we often refer to as moving the free light things you


Would all make them free. So that's that's that was some of what I've done. And then I did some more entertaining stuff as well. The highlight was back in the days when there was a video. That was the shit people say me. So I did deshabille for Gunnarr say and then I did the follow up shit on say two barefoot runners and the first one was my wife said to him you know what are you going to be happy with. Based on what this does I said if we get 10000 views you know I'll be okay with that. So we got 1000 the first day 5000 the second day 20000 the third day and then we were on the home page of Boym Boeing and had 100000 the day after that. And I think total has seen about 750000 times for channels and that's when I started paying a little more attention to doing things that are just flat out entertaining related to what we do and I have a bit jillion ideas for things I want to do in that regard that I just need more time cash to pull them off.

Right. So how are you tracking the views and figure out which of those actually in a customer so that you can figure out the Ardai of your efforts.

That's actually a really good and tricky question. One way you can. Well so there's two parts that one can you track the views the other is how you track the sales from those views. So attractive to use you have to rely on the metrics that the video hosting platforms give you. So look at what YouTube says look at what video says that's pretty much all you can do unless you're hosting it on your own. And then whatever tool you're using for playing the videos will give you that information. If you're hosting it on your own obviously then that's the easiest way to know how those things converge because you've got the traffic on your site you can just watch where people go next. What they do after they've viewed the video for things like YouTube you can put a link in the description and code that link so you can use them. Get a little technical you can use Tiana's or affiliate links or links shorters or various other things so you can track where the traffic is coming from. When someone picks up something like from Boing Boing it's a slightly different situation because they don't have a product description. So to a certain extent you're flying a little bit blind. But what you can do now with especially with YouTube is you can track when someone has seen a video. They get cookie and you can read that cookie later on your own site and say you actually contracting sort of a sale if you do it like

Ok so given how are you so enthusiastic about video marketing. You didn't mention it as a disaster early on. It sounds like it's turned out to be a positive Ardai




Program for you.

Been very good to us.

Can you hear what the Ardai ranges of your of your video marketing are talking about hundreds of percent tens of percent thousands

All depends on how Matt measure percentage. I'll do it as multiples of ad spend and we will see anywhere between 4 and 12 times and depending on the video

In terms of sales that are returned from.


It's fantastic.



Like whoa.

Now now how much of your business is coming from new people buying your Santas for first time versus people buying yet another Sando.

That is a great question. And I don't have the answer at my fingertips. I've got this really great spreadsheet that I keep about the number of people who have purchased multiple times. And what percentage of our business they are going to answer based on what I remember about that. The top four Pritt wait list to get it right. The top 18 percent of the top 18. We can do this a promised 18 percent of our revenue is coming from the top 4 percent of our customers


On average are buying approximately five times. Now we keep launching new products. That number keeps bumping up. But that's the last time I look in fact that was prior to the product launch that we just completed recently saw and have to run those numbers again.

This is five times lifetime or five times per year.

Off lifetime. And then the top the top. Over 30 percent of our revenue not the top 30 percent of our revenue is coming from the top 10 percent of our customers who are producing on average a little over three and a half times. And than I think boy and Tony remember the number of people who only purchased once. I think it's I think it's maybe between 15 and 20 percent maybe. But again don't hold me on XM at local.

Ok. Now why do you think that. What's the difference. The people only buy once and the ones you just love your product and have bought five pairs of your shoes.

Why does a great question. And there's a whole bunch of people who claim that they can figure out the answer to that and then find more people like those people. But I have not experienced that is in fact true. That's one of the premises that Facebook has is they'll they'll do a look alike audience they will take your data find people just like fill in the blank and then find more people like them. And it's not as effective as they think it should be or claim that it is same thing Google's doing something similar. Same problem Quantcast as the same. There's lots of people who do the same and they're not as effective as they think because there's a human being who's always making some decision about how you what characteristics you're looking for in that first group in the cohort that is your customers. And then how do they match that with other people. And and often those relationships don't hold up the way that one would think. It seems like it seems obvious that if I could identify things about you that makes you special and you're one of my customers that I could find people just like you that would be perfect. But the reality is not as clean as that. So. So your question was What makes it different. I don't know is the best I can give you.


I'm trying to think of like if I can't I mean I know what they've done. I know who they are but what makes one different. You know some of it's going to be people who just have a better or worse experience. And I can't predict that one per se. So you're never going to make everybody happy just not possible. Sometimes it's because of you sometimes because of them sometimes it's because of things that have nothing to do with you or them. There are people who will never buy from us again because the U.S. Postal Service delayed getting a package sent to them. And


They're mad at me because of it. You know when you when you have a meal and then you end up with like a stomach flu later and then even though the flu had nothing to do with the meal it can take you years will you ever eat whatever that food was that you

Oh yeah

Got sick.


Same thing human beings will make those causal connections when they are causal connections. And sometimes you are on the the the front end of that stat stick as a mixed metaphor or when


You get lumped into things that you know have nothing to do with you

Yeah that's what I like buying from Amazon right. Because the problem is that I get shopping from Amazon and I say Amazon ideally I buy from Amazon the seller not the third party sellers who are on their platform


Because I just find it just nice it's just not have the potential headache that you can get.

Know I'll tell you of being on this side because we do sell through Amazon. It's one of the reasons people like us hate Amazon with the passion. Now I'm not again I'm selling through Amazon but I don't know anybody who doesn't have mixed feelings about selling through Amazon in part because they are how I put it. People who buy on Amazon buy with less thinking than people who buy on your website for example. And what that means is a much higher return or exchange rate. If they don't follow instructions the way you've laid out if it's not you know pay attention to the Amazon instructions and Amazon while they do have very specific return and exchange rules they will accept things back regardless of whether you follow the rules. And that costs us a significant amount of money when people will wear shoes for a couple of months and then return them even though the return policy for Amazon explicitly says new and unconditionally

Right. I can see that happening now. Why do you continue with Amazon given the headache that it that it gives you

Is a 400 pound gorilla. They're getting they're getting will two things. They're getting a lot of traffic because of things just like what you said. And they also have an advertising platform that is very effective. So we're able to spend money and make significant returns on that said

So another question for you. Similar to the one before. If he can only pick one distribution channel Amazon your own website practically speaking which one would you keep.

Practically speaking.

Yeah I know you want to keep it on your own website but from a practical perspective which one would you really keep it. You


Can only have one

If I could only have one I would still do my own Web site. No question.

Ok how much more. How would you do the logistical side of things that are done in-house as well or you outsource that

We right now were doing all in-house. We were working with a third party logistics company aka fulfillment and warehouse center for a while and we outgrew Well we were with one and they went out of business because their investors would not put in more money to support their growth. And then we move to a second one. You couldn't really support our growth. And then in the wake of that we decided to open a warehouse. So we've been Mench aero warehouse for almost a year now actually

Ok so why are you opting for him. Why do you prefer your own business going through your own website your own warehouse. Whereas I my initial thoughts as you're going to say Amazon because Amazon you can scale it up a lot more easily I have imagined

Controlling cost. So we have way more control when we're doing it ourself and if things are out of whack if something is mislabeled or we want to we want to inspect our product before we put it on the shelf. If somebody places an order and five minutes later they call saying oh to give me the wrong address or whatever other crazy things you could think of having the ability to be Hands-On is worth the price of admission. And compared to Amazon the cost of doing it ourselves is lower than if we we're doing it through Amazon. There are some third party facilities that we've been talking with that may be less expensive and we're thinking of doing a little hybrid model where we use them for things where we don't have to worry about the those orders and us for things where we have to give this Orcus a little more teche like Akhnaton or Duracell Samal kit. There's no way we could do that with Amazon because people pick and choose a certain sole color thickness and size and then they match that with certain lace color. And if we made that for Amazon we would have to pre bundle every one of those and it will be 5000 different combinations.


All of that

Right. That's a lot of a lot of stuff to send. OK. In regards to the future. What trends. Do you see unfolding in your space and what are your plans to get in front of them if they're favorable or avoid them if they are



Probably happily they are very favorable there's two in particular that I've been in fact just writing about today. What is the growth of what's referred to as the wellness economy and that is people are really concerned with their health and they want to take it into their own hands. They're not exactly sure what to do necessarily but the growth in all these things are related to health and wellness from national food to office workouts faces to meditation to almost anything you can think of that something is really important and as leisure people who are taking what they would only wear the gym or for a run and that's their normal clothing that's a one of the biggest trends going on right now. We are part of that subtleties that is just what I've been referring to as digital brand building 2.0 and digital brand building 1.0 was when people realized that you could go what's referred to as digitally native vertically integrated. So we think about companies like Casper or bonobos or Warby Parker. These were companies that were disruptive because they decided to sell products that are typically only been sold in stores and go to direct to consumers. They made the argument that they were getting better prices because you were going factory direct.

That's debatable in many circumstances. But regardless you know that was the digital native thing. What went along with that though was these companies were typically venture funded. They had a lot of money behind them. They were spending important amounts of money to generate new customers. And they were often running with burn rate or often losing money every month. Their topline looked great but they were losing money and they were concerned. They were confident that the world was like totally digital everything's happening online. Well there are other things as well but those are some of the key points. Well digital Brandel 2.0 is when they've started to realize that they were wrong. So from they've gone from from online only to omni channel some of these places are opening their own retail stores Warby Parker is opening retail stores. Opening retail Casper has products in Target bonobos got was in Nordstrom and didn't really start making money till they were in Nordstrom. So that's one change. Another change is the idea that you can run with a burn rate and just keep assuming that you can raise more money and eventually cash out. People are starting to get a little wary about that as well.

The idea that you can lose lots of money on the front end because the most important things customers and getting those e-mail addresses not so much anymore. So the the. That's another thing that is working to our favor because we bootstrapped our company we've shown that we can grow the way we have without having any money behind us. And so now that we're actually looking to raising capital we can demonstrate that we know what we're doing and if there's anything else in the in the digital Rangeley 2.0 actually we have oh here we go. So let's see the direct from factory pricing that's been changing to making sure that there's enough margin enough profit that you can actually support a wholesale channel. And there's there's this idea of instead of just spending money to get new customers. The biggest thing that's been shifting is people are really trying to see what they can do to build an engaged and ideally evangelical Schriver community so that you have something the real asset is your relationship is the communication you have with your customers rather than just the ability to find another one at some access price

Right. I can't imagine for the folks and I'm not your ideal customer. I never bought your shoes. All I'm thinking


About it

Doesn't mean you're not my ideal customers need you haven't bought them yet and discovered the experience of them if you put these on and find that they're the most comfortable things you've ever worn. And you literally forget you're wearing them sometimes. You could become one of your customers.

Right. Speaking of IDEO customers who are they in your opinion. How old are they. Where do they hang out. What kind of work today do. What are what's important to them.

Well my ideal customers are people with feet on


Or they have to physically just find a partner who's got the other one. And when I say that I'm being only partly glib partly because we know that footwear is something that almost everybody wears everybody buys. Not everywhere in the world. But there's a whole story about that too where we might hope we could be helpful. But we know footwear is essentially ubiquitous. So there is a adoption per for products that people know there's like early adopters and late adopters and it kind of goes from there. But at a certain point you know you have ways where you have a brand where everybody knows who you are and everybody is a potential customer. And there are very few products very few verticals where that's possible footwear is one of them. So and that's really our plan. I mean in the same way people think that national food is the obvious better healthy choice. We want people to realize that natural movement is the obvious better healthy choice. We want to be the preeminent brand in the natural movement footwear world. So that's really our goal. Now on the way to that again there's those different stages of business growth. And so right now our customers typically are health and wellness minded men and women between the ages of they max out between the age of 25 and 45 that's for us 60 percent. The other 40 percent few that are younger. And then from 45 to 80 one has said well we were once people who are like no look way older than that normal demographic. I mean like you know in their late 50s we're buying our stuff. Some 56 said Oh and I really thought of myself as old until I said that out loud.


I still don't. Nonetheless it was like whew that was a demographic wakeup call. So they think the whole foods shoppers people who are interested in having fun day. They have an active lifestyle. They're looking for something comfortable they are willing to spend some money to get something that's a real valuable product that isn't going to fall apart today is that they want to have a relationship with a brand not just buy something and you know say we're there and wave goodbye and walk away. That's what we're seeing there a little overeducated little over income and that's evolving

Ok. We're now for those people who who are you know within that mode that you describe where they buy your product.

Well obviously at our website which has Xero Shoes. The R.O. shoes Nahm. And as we've been discussing Amazon as well. We're in about a hundred and fifty stores around the world at the moment. That's growing by a few every week and looks like it's going be accelerating. I hope so you can go to our Web site and up it right. There's a store locator you can find places there as well.

And the big chains the people know about

We have avoided the big big chains. We've been approached by a few but we when you're starting to feel like department store level stuff that terms that they require needs a financial management program if you will that is way beyond our means at the moment. So as an example some of the big department stores will do things where they will buy your product and at the end of the season if they haven't sold it they will not only insist that you buy it back or even better if they decide to blow it out at a discount. They will insist that you that you compensate them for the discount and that you have to give them provice at a discount for the next purchasing cycle. Otherwise they will buy from you. They really have you over a barrel is the thing that I'm trying to say


And to manage that requires a large suitcase full of money to handle whatever weird situation might occur based on again them having control over your brand your product in a way that you don't. We're not there yet.

Right. I'm going to sneaking one more question I noticed something that I don't think I've ever seen on any other footwear manufacturer. You're 5000 miles out. So guaranteed. Tell me about that.

When so when we first started this and we were selling just our do herself sandal making kit couple of years and people would say well how long do these things last. And we would say I don't know. No one's ever worn out a pair and because we were inspired by the tire sandals made by the Torquemada Indians Mexico I came up with the idea of having a warranty the same way tires have a warranty. My original thought was actually attend Myawaddy. But I knew that if I said that people would think that was just completely full of it and lying and they wouldn't believe it. So I came down with 5000. And people are still kind of you know pushing the edge of credulity. I will admit we have people who are wearing that original Samaké from eight years ago 8 1/2 years ago and successfully do that not everybody. Which is why it's awardee if you wear out your souls. And we have a Facebook program that you can use for taking care of that although what most people do is take a look at the way of these things for three years and they're not even worn out yet. But let me just buy two pair because they're really affordable. HENN So and we want to support you guys so we're happy to honor our warranty that's why we have it. It's only happened a handful of times. And what happened also allowed this to happen is when we started manufacturing our own rubber based on the experience we had had with a third party product we kept said we're a member manufacturer here's the performance characteristics that we want and the manufacturer said yeah but that's not how they make ourselves for shoes but you know just as why when do it that way we're not interested in the product wears out after 300 miles and has built with planned obsolescence. That's not okay. Laina and I do a lot of things in our business based on what we would want if we were customers of our own business and


We would want an affordable price and a product that's durable and


Will take us to things. And so those are two things that are very important to us.

Yeah yeah my wife and I bought some fairly high quality hiking shoes but we rarely worn them and I really think the soles literally the rubber was designed only last 10 years because both of our shoes for both our shoes the rubber literally fell off the sole

Yeah what you know and look I will say this making things is hard making footwear is exceptionally hard. There's human beings there are involved there's materials that are involved in things. If the temperature for the oven that they use to cure the glue is not the right temperature things can fall apart. I mean it's really really difficult. I confess and most shoes aside from not being good for your feet in any way they are pointy toes. Squeeze your toes together. They have stiff soles that don't let your foot bend and flexing move their flared soles. So it makes your foot hit the ground in an unnatural way they elevate your heel there so much padding you can't feel anything. There's a number of things they do wrong. The biggest one is because they have that all that foam in the middle typically what they and that foam is going to break down what they do is they make the rubber so it breaks down around the same time the foam breaks down because they think that you know when the foam breaks down the shoe is bad. And the reality in many cases is when the foam breaks down is when they're usually getting good. So


But the way they've designed it is they want the whole thing to sort of fall apart at the same time and we go by another.


And I think that's frankly just reprehensible

It is. I mean I kind of lost confidence in that brand that you know when you can find a decent name and they're not inexpensive but they're not going to be my first choice.

I look you know again making things is hard. We've had our own share problems and there are people who have been at the receiving end of that and have the same experience you have about that brand about us and what we try to do is always make it right whenever we can. And knowing that you know we no one is perfect. We're trying to do the best we can and we're not a multibillion dollar brand. We're a small company doing is doing the best we can and we hope that we communicate that so that people are willing to work with us instead of just getting mad and forming off what it might. One of my favorite e-mails I got one today it's a variation on that here some e-mail that said you know I've tried all these other products and spent thousands of dollars on them I don't like them. So why don't you give me a pair of yours for free and I'll give you an honest review. Like what. Well did read that one. So that was really sort of unlike any other one is when someone will have some problem and they'll post about it online but they won't tag us. So we have no way of ever seeing it. And then they complain that we didn't respond to them contacting us. But you didn't contact us. You just complained first out in the ether in the Internet no mans land but if you just called us we would have fixed that problem or giving you a solution that I'm sure you will been happy with. And that just didn't happen. So it's an interesting thing that's happened in the wonderful world of the Internet is that where I think the default way of dealing with problems in the past was that you would haul the company in question and ask questions like you know hey what's going on and how do we solve this instead of what seems to be going on now is almost this assumption that people on our end of the equation are just out there to try and screw you. And


It couldn't be further from the truth. But people have just gotten really if not really I don't know.


I don't have it. I'm not even sure if it's Jadid I think. I don't know. I think it's there's a there's a lack of civility that is just now permeating the the e-commerce and retail landscape where people are another thing people do in a certain event for a few moments. And another thing people do on a wind doing of well is that we go oh they'll call us and if they have any problem whatsoever again even things that we had nothing to do with things like US Postal Service I'm the problem and that the the screen is like what do I say I'm going to get on social media and tell people Well

All right

We're happy to work with you. But I mean threatening us is not really particularly helpful. And often when we try to help you know people don't even realize that we're doing that. And but this whole you know social media and tell people it's got to the point now where I go with it send me a link. It's that way we can at least be part of the conversation and explain the way it looks arid. So


We're just looking to have a conversation. We're looking to be helpful given the opportunity we almost always are. And but but what we're seeing is that off and on the other side of the fence people don't want to they they don't know if it's a feeling of entitlement or people other people to talk about this other than myself I can't think of the way they've described it but it is. I've been selling things online since 1992 and all I can tell you is that the kind of conversations that I had in those first 10 15 years and the kind of conversations I've had in the last eight years. Completely different. The attitude the relationship. Very very different. And it's not in a way that is conducive to civilized people having a good time with each other.

Yeah maybe you do that the communications aren't face to face anymore.

I think I think that's a big part of it. I think the anonymity of being able to post something or send an email rather than get on the phone and talk to a human being and work it out. That alone is a huge difference in fact. There are times where our customer service people are having a very difficult time with somebody. I mean this happens like once a month but they say you know what do I do. I go it's easy call and see if you can get that person on the phone. And if that doesn't work have them call me or give me their phone number. Because when they're talking to the CEO it's going to be a different experience than if they're talking to someone who they think of as a as someone who is a minimum wage whatever who doesn't care which none of our customer service people are paid very well. They're very smart they're very helpful they are wonderful people but I know that you know I think colludes actually the way what happens when we deal with bigger companies like phone companies. Most people think that the first person we're going to talk to is at the front line and isn't going to be helpful for some reason they don't know enough. They're not incentivized to do to be helpful. They certainly are experienced what we call phone companies for


Example. So I think that I think that maybe you're right it is jaded maybe we've had enough unpleasant experiences with large companies and the structure of large companies that we were extrapolating in assuming that every company is like that which just couldn't be further from the truth.

Yes I can imagine it being the case and this might be a topic for another discussion later. But I think people have seen the rewards of complaining on social media and all the attention they get and how things


End up being in their way



Yeah. Being offended as a currency now.


And that's a problem. It's I mean it becomes it becomes this subtle old semi-conscious race to being the one who can claim the most offense. And and so that colors our thinking it colors our experience it colors our expectations. And again none of those are great ways to interact with companies that are you know doing a fine thing. I'm not saying every company deserves respect. Certainly if you hear me on the phone with some tech support people from some companies you will know I don't believe that. But there's also times where you know I'm on the phone with. Well anyway I was actually thinking of a time where I was dealing with Texas pork for my internet. And I was talking to someone who has a line. And I actually said look I'm not trying to be condescending. It's just that you don't know that I know more about this than you do which is of course the definition is condescending.

All right

But it's not I didn't want to be condescending. It's just that it was obvious that I knew more they were reading a script and


Trying to get these things. And I knew what the situation is because I've been dealing with the internet since before there was an Internet and someone who could actually help me. And there's no question that whenever I call them I have this horrible tone in my voice because I'm assuming it's going to suck. And. But you also know you've all had that experience when you get them on the phone and like after the first word that comes out of their mouth you go oh thank god. And you know it's someone who you'll be able to deal with you is willing to listen who's not going to go through a script and that's the way we treat everybody because we're not we have a script. And we do want to help and we're not. You know what about the Internet. Small issues. It's not it's not something that's hugely difficult but it's not as perfect as people would hope that it is

Right. Well from what you describe he's selling a company I'd want to do business with.

Well thank you. I mean I really appreciate that. And that's one of the things that we try to do and all our communication is make it clear you know here's what we are here's what we stand for here's how we want to help here's why we're doing this. We want people who want to be involved with us because again we're trying to change the world. I know that sounds hyperbolic but we really are. And the only way we can do that is when we have a community a tribe who who just by the way whatever characteristics a community and tribe has can really start to affect the conversation in the broader culture. And it's not a easy task and it's not something that happens overnight but it's doable. And there's a reason that we think we can do it. There's a reason we want to do it. And there's a reason people are responding the way that they are to that mission into the products that support it.

You've let me. You've left me speechless Steven.

Oh well I'm assuming that's a good thing and I'll say thanks but

Yes. Know I greatly appreciate the time you spent with me sharing how you've grown your business and your plans for the future as well as our discussion about how people are and how your team treats them.

Thanks. I really appreciate the opportunity.

We've been speaking with Steven Sashen, the Co-Founder and CEO of Xero Shoes about his company's rapid growth. For interviews with other fast growing companies or to learn how we can increase your firm's high ticket sales through automation, visit

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