Two Students Find Startup Success Selling Socks
Two college buddies in high-tech Seattle are striking it rich in the very low-tech industry of socks.
Yes, socks. Jake Director and Riley Goodman (pictured) make crew socks with stripes that feature the skylines of U.S. cities. They run their company, Strideline, from their frat house at the University of Washington.
With no prior experience, the pair invested $700 each in 2009, their senior year in high school. They found a manufacturer in Istanbul by sending a mass email to manufacturers all over the world — and ran into some Customs problems — but quickly solved them and went on to sell out their first run of 1,000 socks in just three weeks.
“As we learned more, [we realized that] it’s such a miracle these socks came, because we didn’t know anything about the manufacturing process,” Director says. “We just sent out the money via Western Union. The guy probably should have just taken it.”
U.S. Customs Call During Social Studies
But he didn’t. When the socks arrived in the U.S., however, they didn’t just show up on Goodman’s doorstep like he thought they would. Instead, Director received a phone call during his third-period social studies class, asking him for the necessary paperwork to clear customs. After filling out the necessary forms, the pair found themselves with their first 1,000 socks.
Sales increased fivefold over the past year, growing to some $640,000 in 2012, Director says. The partners project sales to grow to $2 million or $3 million this year, thanks to retailer Lids, which now distributes Strideline socks nationally. Strideline currently offers city socks for Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, and Portland, Ore. More designs are slated to launch later this year, he says.
Why socks? The pair had thought about starting a business since they were in third grade. After a lacrosse teammate’s car accident, they decided life was too short to wait until they were older. They considered clothing for each part of the body, working from head to toe, and came up with crew socks emblazoned with the Seattle skyline.
No Business Experience? No Problem!
With no real business experience, Director and Goodman filed their initial paperwork with the help of a business consultant — not from their parents, they say. (Goodman’s dad is in construction development, and his mom is a horticulturist; Director’s dad is a CFO, and his mom has worked in finance, too.) Yet the duo did all of the early work themselves, including idea conception, product design, sourcing, accounting, sales, and marketing.
Goodman and Director’s only retail and business experience? “We both worked at a lacrosse retail store throughout high school,” Goodman says. “In college, I held a job as a server at a local pizza restaurant, and Jake was the head lacrosse coach at Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle through last season.”
As the business grew and they began selling online, Goodman’s mom handled shipping out of his old bedroom, and the partners stored boxes of socks in their parents’ garages.
Skipping School for Manufacturing Trips
Director and Goodman, both 22, are now seniors in the Foster School of Business. Running Strideline while attending college presents a few problems. “Our professors have been very understanding, but missing three weeks of school to travel to China definitely presents its challenges,” Director says, adding that they both plan to finish school after a fifth year of studies.
To make managing their workloads a bit easier in 2012, they divided up their duties: Goodman focuses on sales and marketing, and Director handles operations and sourcing. They’ve also hired various part-time employees, such as an accountant, a design specialist, a customer-service manager, and a social media manager.
“We will add staff if we find that we can’t handle the volume of business ourselves,” Goodman says. “[But] our goal is to continue to keep our overhead as low as possible for the next couple of years.”
Their next learning experience will be navigating the ins and outs of renting office space. They plan to move later this year.