FORMER lawyer Jodie Fox (above pic, right)
used to have a problem -- she could never find exactly what she wanted when it came to shoes.
“Either the colour of the shoe wasn't quite right; the heel height not quite what I'd been looking for - the list goes on,” the Australian-born entrepreneur told Digital News Asia (DNA) in an email interview.
In the course of her travels, she came across a shoemaker she could commission shoe designs from, much like how one would commission a suit or business shirt.
“As I started to create an exciting shoe wardrobe, my girlfriends asked where I was buying my shoes, and when I explained, they asked me to commission shoes for them too,” she recalled.
Jodie realized that there was a market for bespoke shoes and started exploring the idea of turning it into a business. Her co-founders were working at Google at the time; Michael Fox was in advertising sales (above pic, left) and friend Mike Knapp was a software engineer (above pic, center).
The trio first met at law school in the early 2000s. Jodie was pursuing law and international business while Mike studied law and information technology and Michael law and commerce.
Before Jodie even approached them with her thoughts, both were already really excited about the opportunities that existed in online retail and were just looking for an idea.
“With the combination of our passions, Shoes of Prey was born,” said Jodie.
Picking the prey
Shoes of Prey was launched in October 2009, with Mike spearheading the website’s development and the mastermind behind its slick design interface; and Michael handling logistics, relationships and customer service. Jodie took the helm as director of fashion.
“Our technology was all developed inhouse. Our aim was to create a way of designing shoes that delivered to our customers the experience and vision of being a designer in a seamless online context,” said Jodie.
That meant finding a way to deliver a whopping 196 trillion possible design combinations in a way that felt like it was not overwhelming and still gave access to all options.
“The current version offers a 3D visualization of the shoe that updates as you design. The site updates every single day so there are many other changes, but this is the key one,” she added.
Since the site’s launch, the team has not looked back, achieving profitability within four months of launch and sales continuing to grow steadily.
Jodie said that the company has created shoes for Rihanna, Carly Rae Jepson, Oprah Winfrey and many more celebrities and well-known fashionistas.
In terms of growth, Shoes of Prey has gone from three people on the couch in 2009 to just south of 50 employees in four offices globally today.
“There isn't a country I can think of that we haven't sold shoes to. Women have spent more than 50 million minutes designing tens of millions of shoes on our site,” she added.
Jodie noted that Shoes of Prey was the first to market the proposition of an online bespoke shoe store and there have been some fast followers since. “However, I see my competition not as the people doing exactly the same thing as us, but as all women's shoe retailers,” she said.
The main reason for this broad categorization of competitors is the company’s own mission to revolutionize the way women buy their shoes.
“Rather than simply picking up a pair of shoes off the shelf and compromising on the perfect heel height, the exact colour, the right size; women finally get access to exactly the shoe that they want,” she said.
Catching the prey
The trio bootstrapped for the first two and a half years of operation before taking on funding. In June of last year, it raised US$3 million from investors in Australia and the United States, including US venture capitalist Bill Tai, and venture capital firm CrunchFund, led by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington.
Funding also came from Australian tech entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes, one half of the duo that founded startup success story, the software company Atlassian.
The injection of funds was channelled toward the company’s expansion. When asked what’s in store for the company in the next year, Jodie shared that it will continue to work on internationalising its presence and offerings, growing beyond its Australian roots.
“We've got a very solid team in place in terms of operations and tech and I've just finished building out our marketing team. We're determining our focus for the next area of growth,” she said.
In addition, the company is moving offline, with a retail store with one of Australia's biggest department stores, David Jones. “And, there's always room for new designs,” she added. [Click here to watch a video of Jodie explaining the store’s experiential concept.]
When asked how she keeps herself motivated, Jodie shared that it was simply due to the fact that she is passionate about what she does.
“In terms of the toughest challenge so far, it’s mostly personal stuff. Such as learning how to park stress to be able to get a clear mind and make good decisions,” she said.
The trio also maintain a blog called 22michaels, which serves as a chronicle for challenges and triumphs faced along the way and is intended as a resource for others who want to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps. “We always publish job openings there too!” she quipped.
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