When the PV team spoke with Steven Sashen, Founder and CEO of Xero Shoes, we were excited to get an update on how the business had grown since appearing on Shark Tank in 2015. “The Shark Tank Wave” is a phenomenon where participants of ABC's Shark Tank find themselves in position for immediate growth because of the massive exposure gained from the show. Orders come pouring in, website traffic skyrockets, and potential customers start to dig for anything they can find about the business. Some businesses are well equipped to thrive off of the wave, and others are lucky to survive it. Based on how Xero Shoes has improved its product line over time, we knew the company had to be run by a savvy and ambitious team.
What we didn’t know was how much the Sharks had underestimated the wisdom and persistence of the company's founders, Steven and Lena. After speaking with Steven for an hour, we were blown away by his self-awareness and critical approach to growing the company.
Even if you’re not in the shoe business, Steven has words of wisdom that every entrepreneur should hear. We’re sharing the best quotes from our conversation with him in hopes that they’ll inspire and motivate you on the long road to success.
"They say, ‘Why don’t you just get a job?’ It just wouldn’t end well for anybody."
Make no mistake. Steven isn’t a starry-eyed dreamer that thought it would be fun to own his own business. As far as he’s concerned, he never really had a choice in whether or not he would be his own boss. Some of us just can’t work for anyone else. The thought of being an employee feels foreign. That’s not to say that being the boss is always the best thing. It also means taking all of the heat, dealing with an unending list of problems, and always being accountable for the actions of others. Be ready to ask yourself some tough questions if you also think that working a 9 to 5 isn’t the route for you.
Which brings us to our next point…
"You have to continually ask yourself, 'What am I doing?' Is the response that I'm getting from the market justifiable for the amount of work that I’m doing? Most companies could have stopped themselves from failing if they took a real look in the mirror. People don’t focus on the downside enough to understand and assess the risk."
Here’s how your persistence and strategy can make or break your business. There’s a saying that goes, “You never lose until you quit.” We imagine Steven would say if you only keep repeating the same bad actions, you’re just delaying an inevitable loss. Xero Shoes has grown into a robust line of shoes, sandals, DIY items, and accessories. Even with extreme faith in their first product, the Xero Shoes team quickly learned it would take frequent evolution to keep their customers happy. Steven was insistent about the value of responding to what his customers were telling him. Every business should be. Early stage startups and established businesses should give adequate attention to the feedback they’re receiving from the market. Some things that used to work may no longer be good for the business. Ideas that are perfect in theory may not pan out when put into practice. Your ability to recognize these instances can become a determining factor in your success.
"The way we do it will never be done again. And that’s true for every successful company we know."
Ironically, when we first asked Steven to offer advice to other entrepreneurs, he said he didn’t have much to say. It’s because he knows that his journey with Xero Shoes is truly unique. That’s something every entrepreneur should keep in mind. There will be people and information that we can leverage for advice in running our business, but when it’s time to make things happen, there’s usually no playbook. You have to be willing to do whatever the situation requires in order to keep the company going.
"The question, 'Are you worried about competitors?' is silly! More than one company can be great."
One of the biggest critiques Steven received from the Shark Tank investors was that the DIY kit was too easy to replicate and too difficult to differentiate. Steven welcomed the competition then and he still does now. His willingness to accept competition was inspiring. It says something about how much you believe in your business when you welcome imitators. In business, as in life, competition can make us better and also exposes our weaknesses. That’s why Xero Shoes has continued to expand its product line despite doubters, and even attacks from larger shoe brands.
"Your job is more about creating a relationship with your customers than it is about the product itself. We’re just trying to build a successful company. Make good products. Treat people well. And make money for people too."
We hope you learned something from our conversation with Steven. We certainly did!
If you're interested in learning more about Xero Shoes, be sure to visit Xeroshoes.com and check out their awesome products.