Building a Mission-Driven Socks and Apparel E-commerce Business – Michael Mader of Hippy Feet

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 50:55)

PODCAST AUDIO

[sc name=”sponsors”]

Intro

While recovering from a traumatic head injury, Michael Mader of Hippy Feet was inspired to create a mission-driven sock and apparel company that would help people experiencing homelessness.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Michael Mader of Hippy Feet

00:00Introduction
01:12Why Socks?
02:25A mission-driven business
06:56Getting Started
10:47Value Proposition
13:37Different ways to give back
18:54How to grow a mission-based business when you are donating profits
22:26Driving sales
25:27Subscription model
26:57Selling internationally
30:49Competition
35:03Team
37:00Working with 3PLs
38:53Future vision
40:51Lessons Learned, Mistakes made
42:13Rapid fire round

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Michael Mader of Hippy Feet

  1. One book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs/business professionals in 2021 and why? (Response: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell)
  2. An innovative product or idea and the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Customer testimonials on your website)
  3. A startup or business in E-commerce retail or tech that you think is currently doing great things (Groceries apparel)
  4. A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Blake Mycoskie, John Webber)
  5. Best business advice you ever received (Response: Start doing shit as soon as you possibly can, and if you aren’t going to fail, fail small and fail fast)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Hey there entrepreneurs My name is Sushant and welcome to TrepTalks. This is a show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today, I’m really excited to welcome Michael mirror to the show. Michael is the founder of Happy Feet. Happy Feet is a Minneapolis based sock and apparel company dedicated to supporting the homeless community. And today, I’m going to ask Michael a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey, and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business. So thank you so much for joining me today. Trep talks, Michael. Really appreciate it.

Michael Mader  

Yeah. Thank you, Sam, for having me. I’m gonna correct you’re the crickets heavy feet. Not happy for you though. quite pronounced hippie feet. Yes.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So I apologize for that. So yeah, I mean, very, very curious, why? Why stocks? What’s interesting about creating a business about socks specifically?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, you know, I’ve always, I’ve always kind of enjoyed sox’s as a fashion item. The reason why is I used to work as a server and a bartender when I was in college to pay for school, and they always made you wear, like some branded bar t shirt, or whatever the name of the restaurant was, and, you know, pair of jeans. And so I was, let my personality shine through with a pair of socks. So that’s, that’s kind of my personal draw to socks, but socks. As a kind of mission driven product, we chose socks, because when we first launched hit the feed back in September of 2016, we launched it on a buy one give one donation model. So we sold a pair of socks, and that would donate a pair of socks to a homeless shelter. And at that time, socks are one of the most requested articles of clothing at shelters in general. So that is the two reasons why we chose socks for our business.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

But of course, as you said, you know, it’s a mission driven business. Did you when you started it, did you set out to create something to help the homeless community specifically? Or was it more of a business decision that, you know, we have the business, make it mission driven, and hopefully that will help to drive growth for this?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, we were always mission driven from the get go. We started the company with the goal of being a support group for individuals experiencing homelessness. And I mentioned the term support group, intentionally because I actually had an incidence when I was in college. That was ultimately the reason I decided to start ABC and the reason that I wanted to start a business that could help people expensing homelessness, and that incident was a traumatic brain injury. So I was when I was a senior in college, I had actually fallen off of a skateboard, I used to ride a longboard, and like to go down hills really fast. And I unfortunately, never wear a helmet that came back to bite me in the butt after I fell off my board one day and fractured my face in Scotland a few places. And that injury caused me to drop out of school as well as quit my bartending job. So for three months, while I was in recovery, I had to rely heavily on my family and friends, those that I consider to be my support group, to keep me going, you know, they were, they’re paying for my rent, they were buying my groceries, I had friends, like drive to grocery stores, to pick up my groceries to drive me to doctor’s appointments, I even had friends like take me out and to like a local state park in Wisconsin, so that I could get some fresh air and some sense of social activity. So I realized that without that group of individuals that I likely would have ended up experiencing homelessness myself, you know, if you go through a moment of adversity, injury, or just a minor setback in general, and you don’t have someone to lean on, or someone to kind of financially or emotionally support you. Homelessness is usually the end result of that. So I felt really fortunate to have this group of individuals supporting me and wanted to be able to kind of pay that good fortune forward. And so that was the initial inspiration for me, because I wanted to start a business that could act as that support group for people that were less fortunate than I was.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

I mean, two things. Based on that. I think, number one, head injuries are really bad, like I’ve seen, like the outcome is generally bad, especially for older people, you know, they fall and, you know, they get caught in their brand. That’s a really bad thing. And then I guess my question for you is with this incident, like, do you feel that it almost changed the way you looked at your life, you know, you wanted to, like, not just give back, as you know, supporting this community, but did you almost look at your life that you know, this is I’m getting kind of a second chance or I should do something greater than You know, just living for myself?

Michael Mader  

Absolutely, it did. You know, I like to tell people that I was a traditional college student in the sense that I was going to school and more so interested in the social elements of school than I was the actual education. So this injury was kind of a wake up call for me to actually, you know, focus on my education and, you know, be serious about my degree and my time in college. But it absolutely kind of made me look at the world with a set of rose colored lenses, you know, I kind of saw how lucky I was to a come out of that situation with without any severe or long term consequences. But B, I realized that I was just lucky to have family and friends, those that that were willing to support me during my time of need, and I wanted to be able to repay that good fortune forward. And so I was very motivated by just the kind of good fortune that I experienced. And, you know, it made me kind of pay closer attention to some of the problems in the world. And homelessness is one of those problems where, you know, I was able to kind of see through the typical connotations around homelessness and recognize, like, hey, like, some of these people just were dealt a bad hand or had a bad accident, or just a series of unfortunate events that led them to the circumstance that they are in, and they don’t want to be in that circumstance, they don’t want to be experiencing homelessness, they just need the opportunities and the kind of hand, the hand up to help get themselves out of their situation and back on our feet.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So you realize this calling, which is great, but you know, starting a for profit business is and and making it successful is definitely very different than having an idea and you know, having that inspiration, can you share, like when you had this idea? What did you do next? How did you actually go about what were the first step that you did to actually get a business started?

Michael Mader  

Yeah. So the idea was something that I began to work on rather than recovery. When I was a student at the University of Wisconsin River Falls, I was really lucky to have advisors and professors in my life that were no kind of willing to take me seriously, when I told them that I wanted to a graduate on time and B start a business directly out of college. And they were able to enroll me in some programs, specifically business model competitions, both locally at the university, and then at a state and then international level, eventually, that allowed me to kind of earn some funding for heavy feet. So I actually was able to win the Wisconsin Big Idea tournament, which is like a statewide business model competition, where you essentially like, go through the, you know, efforts that you would need to take to bring your idea to a viable business. And so I was able to win the kind of state level competition, I was awarded $23,000, of seed funding to go ahead and start hippie feet. And that was what we use for our initial funding to get this company off the ground. You know, at the time, it felt like a lot of money, of course, as a college student, but, you know, I very quickly realized how, how fast $23,000 can disappear. So once we had secured the funding, we looked to find our key partners, and we were trying to find manufacturers, that proved to be quite a difficult process, to the point where I wasn’t being taken seriously by any of the SOC manufacturers that I have reached out to. One of the values that we had instilled in the business and still have today is we wanted to make everything in the United States. So we were reaching out to domestic US based SOC manufacturers. And I would tell them, I’m a college student that wants to start a business. And that was enough for most of them to be like, yeah, we’re not going to work with you. We don’t, we don’t take you very seriously. Or at least they didn’t expect it to have success. And the manufacturer that we still work with today, I actually had reached out with via email and just said, Hey, here’s what I’m trying to do. I need to find a manufacturer for my products. And if you are willing to, you know, take a meeting, I’m going to fly to your facility tomorrow and meet in person. So I actually was able to get connected with this manufacturer out of North Carolina, I bought a plane ticket that night. And the next day I was on a plane to North Carolina to meet with this manufacturer. I was there for 12 hours in total before I flew back to Minneapolis, Minnesota, but I flew back with our first six products designed and ready to sell. So that was a part of the journey is obviously setting up manufacturing. We launched the business in September of 2016. On that buy one get one sock donation model that we started on. We are no longer operating under that model today. We can touch on that later. But we didn’t actually have a website until November of 2016. So we actually earned our first bit of revenue by going and setting up at fairs and different kind of vendor markets or holiday festivals. And we did so in the first kind of three months or two months of being in business for that website. That was how We made our money as we would go and sell products in person. And it was obviously not a very scalable solution. But you know, we needed to generate some revenue so that we could kind of try and grow and scale the business. And we’re able to do so in those kind of first couple of months to in person events. And then come November, we are really the website live and take advantage of the kind of holiday season and the sales that came with that.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And so the value proposition of your products and your business is really, number one is mission driven. Number two products are made in the US. But besides that, I guess, more of the design of the socks, or I mean, because socks is such a common thing like anyone can go to you know, any anywhere and just buy it, what is it that people are buying by buying the socks?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, so I mean, the the values that we kind of brought into this business from the day we started were three ish things, we wanted to have an impact on people experiencing homelessness, the mission aspect of our business, we wanted to make all of our products sustainability that are sustainably so we still make our products with either recycled organic cotton today, we are very, very strict about the materials we use to make our products very sustainably driven here at heavy feet. Obviously, we wanted to make our products in the USA. And then the the kind of fourth value that we added shortly after launching the business was to always improve the way that we give back, always improve upon the way that we are helping the homeless community. And so over the course of the last five and a half years, we’ve actually made several, several changes to our mission. And we started with that by one given sock donation model. Then we transitioned to an employment model where he was actually providing jobs to homeless youth. And then as of two weeks ago, we actually just announced in the middle of March that we are switching our model once again. And we’re going to donate 50% of our profits to charities that are helping young people ages 16 to 24, who are experiencing homelessness. So those are those are the four kinds of values that that lead everything that we do here at Happy Feet. But if you talk about like customer values, you know why they buy our products? We actually ran a survey a few months ago and asked our customers, you know, what, what are the reasons that you buy our products and ranked in order, it was because of our mission to help homeless youth. Because of our sustainability efforts. The product design was number three, we all just try and have fun and funky designs, we actually played really well into the kind of hippie part of our name, the 60s and 70s side elements that we try and model our products after. And then the fourth value that our customers ranked in terms of importance to them was the American manufacturing. So our mission is always going to be what we lead and make this lead our business and make decisions about how our business operates, we’re gonna always keep the mission in mind, sustainability is always going to be important as well. And then of course, you know, the American made products that are fun and fashionable designs are always submit to us.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And the reason that you change your the way you are giving back is because with the newer models, you know, first you are doing the 50 5050 or buy one get one, then employment are now to a different way, I guess giving 50% of the profits is it isn’t because do you change that? Because you can give in a better where you can contribute more in that way? Is that the reason? Or?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, that was that was the primary reason for this, this mission change. And I’ll actually walk you through the history of our kind of mission pivots over the last five and half years. As I mentioned, sort of the Bible given sock donation model, we donated 20,000 pairs of socks under that model. But it was actually my business partner and I that were going to the shelters to actually drop off the socks make donations, and in doing so we got to have conversations with the people that we were giving socks to. Now there was there would always be thankful for the pair of socks, don’t get me wrong. But you know, they’d say like, Hey, thank you for the socks, but I need a house, I need a job, I need health care, all these things that actually would change their lives, right, that we weren’t able to provide at that time. So you know, we wanted to have this deep and meaningful impact on the homeless community. giving somebody a pair of socks to us wasn’t doing that. So that is why we transitioned at that time to an employment model. Our first effort at an employment model is called pop up employment. That was where we would go directly to youth homeless shelters, and pop up in their drop in centers and say, Hey, we’re gonna be here for six hours today, we will hire you to package socks and we will pay you cash on the spot. If a young person wanted to work for an hour, that’s fine if they wanted to work for all six hours that we were there, that was even better and we would actually just kind of offer them employment for a day. And over time some of the young folks So we were employing started coming back every single day that we were there. And again, out of the desire to have the most meaningful impact on these young people that we possibly could, we decided that we were going to make this employment program go from a temporary kind of this pop up employment model to a long term form of employment. So from 2020, to the end of 2021. So for two full years, we actually hosted a six month job training program at hippy feeds office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we hired young people aged 16 to 24, who are experiencing homelessness to manage our warehouse. So we hired them to do things like sock packaging, order fulfillment, product assembly, screen printing, embroidery, basically, anything you can imagine happens at a warehouse. That’s what we employ these young people to do. And that program was really effective. However, you know, by introducing the employment model, heavy it was essentially functioning as two separate organizations, we were trying to sell products, reach new customers grow business, bring in revenue, that was kind of the for profit side of our business. And then we had this employment program where we’re trying to provide a pathway towards self sufficiency for homeless youth, that was the nonprofit side of our business. So it was a for profit business, we’re trying to do two things. And unfortunately, you know, it was incredibly complicated for us to try and do both things simultaneously. But it also wasn’t my area of expertise, you know, I have a marketing degree. So I’m good at selling socks, I’m good at marketing products. But I’m not a social worker, I don’t have the background in social work that would make me qualified to deal some of the issues that we saw come out of our employment program. I mean, this is a very vulnerable, vulnerable population that has gone through a lot that is going through a lot. And they’re just trying to kind of get back on their feet and put one foot front on it in front of the other. So we wanted to, you know, make sure that our program was the most authentic thing that it could be for these young people. And unfortunately, you know, having myself administer the program, it wasn’t bringing the expertise to the table that I thought it required. So the biggest driver for this change to the 50% of profits donated model is, we decided it was time to defer to the experts. You know, there are nonprofits across the country that are doing incredible work with youth experiencing homelessness, we figured we should fund those nonprofits rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and offer employment to young people on our own. I mean, a lot of these young nonprofits have employment programs already, they have housing facilities already. They have basically every type of service that a young person experiencing homelessness needs to get back on their feet, whereas hippie feet was offering just one. So we figured our dollars are better off being given to these organizations that are the experts on youth homelessness, and it can address all the issues that these young people are facing while living on the streets. So that was the biggest reason for this change is we wanted to be able to, again, have the deepest impact that we possibly can on youth experiencing homelessness. And we knew that by giving money to the experts, those that have the sort of social work background, those that have the nonprofit structure around them, was gonna be the best way for us to have this impact on homeless youth.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Any, any business that wants to create a mission based kind of business? I mean, of course, if you’re giving away 50% of your profit, that means you’re not able to invest that money in your business to grow your business. And, you know, let’s say, one year, your business business didn’t do as well as you had expected. And you don’t have that safety net to continue going or anything like that. I mean, it’s kind of a two edged sword, I think, you know, one on the one side, you’re you’re helping the people, but then you’re also hurting your business in certain ways, I guess. How do you see this? Two sides? What kind of advice would you give to anyone, any other business? Who wants to go the same way?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, you know, first of all, have you seen it is has always reinvest a good portion of our profits back into the business for growth. And it’s right, we’ve been able to sustain growth over the last few years, we were up 156%, from 2020, over or in 2020, over 2019. And then 2021, we grew, I believe, 45% over 2020. So we’ve been able to stay in the growth and reinvest, you know, our earnings back into the business. But I think one of the unique things about this new change to the 50% of profits donated model is hippies going to actually be able to have the same or greater financial contribution to nonprofits that we were paying wages through our employment program. So we’re actually gonna be able to give the same or more dollars and still maintain our profits, as you can imagine, trying to employ a bunch of young people experiencing homelessness. That was that was a costly endeavor. You know, we had to kind of try and create our own nonprofit if you will, but doing so under this for profit But model. So there were associated costs with that that weren’t just the wages. And so by removing this kind of complicated process of giving back, we simplify our business a lot more can focus solely on driving profits, creating more money to be reinvested into the business, but at the same time, more money to be given to nonprofits that are helping homeless youth. So my advice to any entrepreneur looking to start a mission driven company is a you got to be really damn passionate about the mission, you got to care a lot. If you are motivated by making money, don’t stop, start a mission driven company, go, go start a sheerly profit driven business or go work in sales somewhere and make a ton of money and let somebody else take care of the hard stuff. And you just worry about, you know, putting money in your own bank account. So if you are looking to start a mission driven business, you have to be really passionate about the business that needs to be what fuels you, what keeps you going and, and really what leads every decision that you make for their business, it’s, that has to be consuming, you know, and it is for me, I really want to be able to leave, leave this world knowing that I made a really deep impact on individual lives and actually change individual outcomes. And so that’s what motivates me. And that’s what keeps me focused and kind of very intentional about my work. But that would be my advice to other founders is make sure that you are incredibly motivated by the work that you’re doing and passionate about the work that you’re doing. And also be be nimble, the idea that you have at first about how you’re going to change, the world is going to change, and you have to be ready to change with it. So knowing that your first solution isn’t going to be your end solution is going to be a strength to be able to recognize, hey, sometimes you have to make those changes to achieve the goals that you want. So, you know,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

so you mentioned that you had your education and marketing. And when you started this business, but this mission, mission driven purpose. How did you use your marketing to actually get that message? To the market? How do you drive? You know, people to come to your website and start purchasing the item? Can you share a little bit about, you know, some of the things that you did at the beginning to really drive the sales on your website?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, well, unfortunately, the world have changed quite a bit, the last five years since I graduated. I mean, with the introduction of Facebook and Instagram and their ad platforms. That is how most ecommerce companies reach reach new customers. And that’s how everything has reached new customers. But then we had iOS 14 happen in the middle or start of 2020, where Tim Cook and Apple decided to restrict data to third party apps, meaning we have almost 99% less data than we used to on our customers. And so it’s become harder to reach people on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. But those are the two platforms that we still advertise on today and do a lot of our marketing on though, after iOS 14, we’ve gotten a lot more intentional about our email marketing efforts and our retention efforts, you know, trying to keep customers that have bought from us and turn them into lifetime customers now someone that is purchasing products from us on a regular basis. Other ways that we’ve kind of leveraged social media for our marketing efforts, recently has been through collaborations, we actually work with influencers illustrators, and artists on Instagram, not in the traditional sense, you know, I’m not too keen on on writing somebody a big check for them to, you know, post a photo of my product and then throw it away after they post the photo. I think a lot of influencer marketing in the past has been in authentic and I think customers are starting to recognize that in authentic in authenticity from some of these influencer marketing efforts. So what have you done is we’ve partnered with artists that actually designed socks for us, where we will reach out to an artist and give them the opportunity to design a pair of product, a pair of socks that we sell on our website, they in turn, will host to their following you know, sometimes they have half a million followers on Instagram alone, they’ll post their following and direct people to the hip repeat website, all those people become new customers of ours, that we can actually retarget with ads later that we have more data on because they’ve already visited our website. So that’s been another way that we’ve leveraged So social media to enhance our marketing is by actually working with artists, giving them a cut, of course of the revenue that’s generated from the sale of their their socks that they designed. But what’s really big and important about that is this bringing new traffic to our website that we’re not we’re not generating that traffic simply by buying ads on Facebook and Instagram. This is actually organic traffic that’s coming from I’m an artist page, they’re just sending those followers of theirs to our website to eventually become customers of ours.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

I noticed that on your website, you have a subscription model. Also, I was very curious. This with the Sox, does a subscription model work well? Or is it more like a one time purchase, or every six months or something?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, so our subscription model is actually new enough where I can’t, can’t give you as much data as I would like, we actually launched it like in the first two weeks of December. So it was kind of a like, last minute holiday gift type effort where, you know, folks could buy their loved ones or friends 12 months worth of socks. So far, I think we’ve gathered 60 to 70 subscribers on that, since about the 15th of December, I think we’ve only lost like a small handful, you know, three to four, maybe. So we’re hoping that we can keep those subscribers on for an entire 12 month period. But it’s just too too soon to sell. Obviously, the strong advantage of having a subscription model is it’s it’s consistent revenue, you know, it’s revenue that is automatic at the start of every month. And that’s something that is really attractive to us as a sock business, which, you know, socks as a product is quite seasonal, you know, we still do about 50% of our revenue for the course of a year in the fourth quarter of the loan. So we see a lot of our sales spike, kind of going into the holidays. So for us to be able to have consistent revenues through some of the slower months like end of spring or early summer. That is a really, really big benefit of having that subscription model. So we’re hoping to continue to grow, and we’re hoping that it can be this consistent source of revenue for us.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Are you selling internationally? Or is it mostly just North America?

Michael Mader  

We sell primarily to folks in North America, specifically United States, when we advertise, we only advertise to the United States. However, with our new collaborations, where we have influencers and artists design a pair of socks for us to sell on our website, that has actually brought in a decent amount of international orders. We actually partnered with an artists from Singapore, because that a pair of socks, so we saw a large amount of the orders from that collaboration coming from overseas. So that’s kind of the way that we’ve entered some of the international markets is through these collaborations where they are, you know, artists based in different countries, or artists that have followers based in different countries. So that’s been able to generate some international purchases for us. But in terms of where our focus is at, it’s still in the United States here.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Do you ever think about going more? Or doing more business internationally? Like because, of course, you know, the rest of the world? It’s, there’s, there’s a lot of people out there? Who can who can probably? Why would your mission and by I mean sort of the universal product? I am thinking, you know, from an E commerce business perspective, what kind of challenges you feel at this point? I think, you know, right now we are the ecommerce industry is, you know, a lot of the players are trying to reduce the friction for E commerce businesses to sell internationally, I think, in the next couple of years, maybe things will become a little bit, you know, a lot more easier for businesses to go international. But at this stage, what kind of like, do you even think about it? Or is it just too difficult to expand it?

Michael Mader  

To be honest, I don’t I don’t think about it all that much. I have friends that sell products internationally. And you know, the good thing for Sox is their lights are cheap to ship. So we can we can definitely, you know, make up for some of the increased shipping costs that we have to essentially push on to our customers. But yeah, we really don’t think about international shipping. And there’s the main reason why is I don’t think we’ve sliced enough of the pie here in the United States. I think we have so much opportunity to grow here simply in the United States, and we want to be able to, you know, seize all that opportunity before we start considering moving outside of the US. But I also think one of the challenges that we face in terms of of moving our business internationally is, you know, the world’s view on homelessness is not the same. I mean, it’s it varies so drastically amongst political lines here in the United States. You know, you have some conservative thinkers in the United States will view homelessness in what ways were more liberal thinkers will view homelessness as another way here in the United States. And so those kind of differences of opinions on homelessness are, are very, they range drastically across the world, where some countries look at homelessness in a different light than others. And so I think that there’s just a lot of connotations around homelessness in general we still have I’m making an effort to educate our consumers in the United States about why they should care about people experiencing homelessness and how they can care for people experiencing homelessness. But that’s not the kind of educational campaign that I think would be worth our time in some other countries right

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

now. Do you have any competition? I mean, for a mission based business? Do you have any, you know, real competition or because I mean, even though the product is kind of a commodity commodity, because you have a very strong mission, I guess, you know, another company has to come up with a strong, you know, equally strong mission to try to compete, you know, who the customer buys the soccer, you know, another product from Yeah, I mean, what, what business? Do you think you’re really like, what in the market?

Michael Mader  

So I can answer that in a few ways. I think in terms of competition. There are other companies that donate 50% of their profits to different causes. To my knowledge, we are the only company that donates 50% of our profits towards organizations that are specifically helping homeless youth ages 16 to 24. So I think that makes us incredibly unique. And I don’t think that there is another mission based business that can compete with the mission that we have in the sense of its ability to have a incredibly deep and meaningful impact. I mean, we even target youth for a reason, we specifically focus on young people experiencing homelessness, because when you are a late teen to an early 20, something, that’s where everybody in that age, room, age range starts to figure out who they are. And it’s where they start to kind of capitalize on the opportunities that are presented to them. So the reason we target youth is because we want to provide them opportunities now, before homelessness, and the cycle of homelessness kicks in, you know, if you live in the streets for an extended period of time, that takes a really difficult toll on your well being both physical and mental. Oftentimes, you leave that experience with, you know, some mental health issues, substance abuse issues, or criminal record things that make joining society again, really difficult. I mean, even finding a job becomes increasingly difficult if you don’t have record of a home address, or work experience. Or if you have a criminal record, you know, it becomes increasingly more difficult to get hired for some positions. So in terms of our mission, I don’t think there are many companies that can compete with us, in the sense of, you know, is their mission as impactful as ours, I think I think ours is very impactful and has this ability to to change individual lives. Now from a mission driven SOC company, we do have a competitor, they’re very large competitor. They’ve been funded more times than, you know, most people can count in terms of size of numbers. It’s called bombas. They are by one give one sock donation company. So for every pair of socks that they sell, they donate one to a homeless shelter, or they’ve sold and donated over 50 million products, which is amazing. But I will critique their mission because there are only 4 million people experiencing homelessness in the United States on any given night. That means bombas has given more than 10 pairs of socks to every single person experiencing homelessness in the US. Why do we keep donating socks? You know, like, it feels like there’s a much better way to use those funds and those resources than to just continue to give people socks that are experiencing homelessness. I mean, their situation is only being perpetuated by all of these resources going towards providing them with a tangible item, like a pair of socks when those resources could go towards housing, healthcare, employment and initiatives that actually changed their lives. So you know, and that’s not to include all the church groups that have you know, biannual sock drives to donate socks to their local homeless shelter. Hanes donates millions of pairs of socks every single year and they don’t mark it that either you have to go and search for those efforts. So I think you know, buy one give one as a as a concept. It’s, it’s, it’s outplayed. You know, it’s not it’s not impactful doesn’t work the way people want it to even Tom’s no longer does the buy one give one donation model because they’ve given shoes to places that don’t need shoes. They to switch to center profit center model, our neighbor, you know, here in Minneapolis, love your melon. They started by donating beanies to children experiencing cancer. They donated two beanies for every every kid in the country experiencing cancer, then they decided they’re going to give half their profit. So I think the need for sash within the homeless community has been addressed. It’s time for some of these businesses to focus their efforts on actually having a meaningful impact. You know, give money, give resources, give time, things that are actually going to move the needle and help people get out of their current situation.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

How much time do you spend being the CEO of a business versus trying to think about these, you know, social topics and trying to make The impact?

Michael Mader  

Well, I would, I would argue that that thinking as the CEO of a mission driven company, that is part of my role, right, like I should, I should always stay educated on the topic that we’re trying to address through our donations of profits now, and that being homelessness, so I think it’s very important for me to stay knowledgeable on the state of homelessness in the United States, and where resources are going, and how we can kind of either contribute to those resources or, you know, offer a new way of supporting people experiencing homelessness. So I think, you know, my all my time is spent on being the CEO of a mission driven company. And I include the kind of education that I give to myself about, you know, better ways to help the homeless community.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

What does your team look like right now

Michael Mader  

that we have three full time employees, myself included, and then we have of three or three to four virtual assistants that do some work for us. Both in like the customer service standpoint, as well as in some outbound sales for our b2b business, we have a custom socks business where we will sell branded products to other organizations like Microsoft, Pixar, and several major universities, Minnesota Timberwolves and NBA team here locally we’ve worked with. So that’s, that’s kind of our core team, three people internally full time, and then a few virtual assistants that help with some remote work. And then we have a fulfillment partner, we use three PL to ship all their products. They’re based in Chanhassen, Minnesota, so not too far from where we’re at, as well.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And you’ll find working with a three PL is that they’re responsible for shipping of the products like you don’t work with carriers directly. They’re the ones managing everything, it’s completely handled Correct.

Michael Mader  

For the first four years, or five years of being in business, especially when we operated our own employment program for homeless youth heavy feed operated or handled all of its fulfillment, you know, we we were shipping all of our own products, we manage our own warehouse, it was very time consuming and exhausting. To be honest with us, there’s a lot of work to handle, you know, the fulfillment for both a b2b business and an E commerce business. And we were trying to employ youth experiencing homelessness to do this work. And, you know, when those folks are worried about where they’re going to sleep that night, they’re less worried about what products go in which package. So there was some mistakes that were made and cost that we incurred as a result of those mistakes. And so I am very, very satisfied with working with our three PL provider, I think it is been a major benefit to HIPPI feet, since we chose to do so. I mean, it has freed up a ton of my time, I don’t have to worry about, you know, making sure orders go out every day or making sure that the young people are on task and, and doing the orders correctly. So personally, it’s opened up a lot of time, back in my day. And we’ve actually been able to leverage that time into increased revenue. I mean, we are coming off of the past few months, the first quarter of the year was our best quarter of any year in the history of heavy feet. And I credit that a lot to the amount of time that I got back in my day to focus strictly on revenue and outbound sales. So we’re you’re currently in the best position we’ve ever been. I think we’re about 130% up from the first quarter of 2021.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Well, well. What does the future look like for you for your business? Do you I mean, you’re pretty young. And do you want to continue just building this business? Do you see yourself in this business for you know, decades and decades? Or do you have like a plan for the future?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, I see myself building this business for a while now, especially now that we’ve just announced this new mission to donate 50% of our profits. I think that is going to be the advantage to us as we grow both from a you know, reaching new customers and new markets from that standpoint, but as well as from growing the impact of our mission. So one of the things that he’d be working on now is to expand the geographical footprint of our donations. Historically, you know, if you bought a pair of socks from us, we employed a young person experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But today, if you buy a pair of socks enlist in LA, we actually have a new partnership with a nonprofit called my friend’s place where we will be donating some of our profits to at the end of every year. We are announcing this new partnership in LA or have announced this new partnership in LA. But we are also announcing partnerships in Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Boston and New York later in the year as well. So starting to expand the geographical footprint of the business. Ways that I see this company growing into the future is primarily through E commerce. We will continue to focus our efforts on E commerce though our b2b business will always be A good revenue producer for us. We’re going to be expanding our product line. And we started with socks. But we’ve sold apparel and other types of knitwear in the past sweaters do really well for us in the fourth quarter. So we’ll continue to experiment with new products and find things that not only match the brand, but you know, kind of match the seasons that we’re trying to sell in. Yeah, my goal here is to continue to grow this business and be able to grow it to a scale that allows us to make some sizable donations at the end of every year and, you know, really help improve the lives of youth experiencing homelessness.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Now, I know you mentioned a few pivots in your mission. I know in every business, there’s always mistakes made, lessons learned, purely from a business perspective, do you know do you have like a biggest mistake that you made? And what was the lesson learned? What can others learn from that?

Michael Mader  

Yeah, we ignored SEO for like, two years. We just, we didn’t even think about it. Looking back, that was wildly foolish. So we spent the last three years kind of trying to correct our wrongs by ignoring SEO by spending a lot of time and energy and SEO and networks paid off. I mean, over the fourth quarter, last year, I think we were doing a little over $500 in revenue from SEO alone. I mean, that was just pure organic web traffic that was coming to our website and converting to, to be customers. So, you know, we ignored SEO early on, and that that costs us money. And it costs us time, you know, we had to go back and focus our efforts on SEO so that we could rank higher on Google and, and be findable to our customers. And so that was that was definitely a foolish mistake of ours early on as ignoring SEO. But I’m happy that we corrected that wrong and have been able to kind of reap the benefits of good SEO since then.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

All the marketing you’re doing in the house? Or do you work with like an external agency or something?

Michael Mader  

We currently do all of our marketing and how still Yeah.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Okay. So now I’m going to move on to our rapid fire round. And in this round, I’m going to ask you a few quick questions, and you have to answer maybe 112 word for sentence. So the first one is one book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs in 2022. And why

Michael Mader  

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, if you haven’t read it, definitely check it out. It is just a really good kind of study on high performing individuals. And you know, why they perform this high level, you know, what made them outlier. So I think it’s a really fascinating book. Some cool Hip Hop knowledge in there too, for those that like hip hop. But yes, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, that’s, that’s a good one.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And in order to product or idea in the current ecommerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about.

Michael Mader  

Yeah. I am excited about I think one of the things that I’ve seen recently, we haven’t implemented this for heavy feet. But embedding kind of customer testimonials on your website, where you’re actually working with real life customers that have bought your products, it kind of makes it more in person shopping experience, when you go to somebody’s website, and you have a video testimonial from a real person, a real customer who says, Hey, this is why I love this brand and this product and why you should buy from them as well. I think it kind of takes a lot of the things that people enjoy from in person shopping and applies it to e commerce. Like I said, we haven’t applied to anything for ABC yet. But I’m excited to see where that kind of trend continues in the future

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tool.

Michael Mader  

And I’m not super great on productivity tools. But a tip would be I’ve always found meditation to be really helpful. I actually haven’t been as consistent as a meditator as I used to when I was when I was younger. But I actually credit meditation. As one of the reasons I was able to recover from a head injury so quickly. And one of the reasons I was able to kind of accomplish a lot in such a short period of time after my injury and before starting heavy feet. I was at a point during recovery where I was meditating for an hour or two a day. So I dedicated a lot of my time to just trying to dive inward and understand myself and heal myself and be my best self. And I think that had a lot of positive benefits for my practice productivity as well as to be able to clear my mind at the start of every day or at the end of every day and kind of focus on what it was that I wanted to accomplish that day or the following day. That it was been or that has been a really useful technique for my productivity. I don’t meditate hours a day anymore today, but if I can squeak in quick 15 minutes in the morning I was find that I’m more productive that day. Okay,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

a startup or business in E commerce retail or tech that you think is currently doing great things.

Michael Mader  

Yeah, groceries apparel, the probably less of a startup these days. They’re 12 years old, but they’re based in LA, they are a sustainable fashion brand. They are fully integrated, meaning they, they’ve manufacture all their own products, they cut and sew, and they do the dye for all their products. But I think what makes them so innovative and why I’m such a fan, is that they are the one of the first and then definitely the largest veggie dyed apparel companies and the country, meaning all the dyes that they use in their products comes from vegetable waste. And so it’s very organic, very healthy, toxin free way of dying apparel products, and they’ve seen to master it. So I’m a big fan of what those guys do and hopefully heavy feet and brushes apparel can work together and the near future might have might have some work in here. Yeah. Oh, cool.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Appear entrepreneur, a business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you.

Michael Mader  

Yeah, I got several obvious an obvious one is Blake Mycoskie, CEO and founder of Tom’s, I guess, former CEO and founder of Tom’s he was one of the first dudes to kind of introduce mission driven businesses. And he too made several pivots to the way he gave back over the course of his journey with TOMS. I mean, they started with a buy one get one donation model and they ended up giving portions of their profits to different initiatives like education, health care, and clean water initiatives and third world countries so and domestically. So I think that’s somebody that I look up to you as a mission driven founder. There’s definitely a handful of dudes locally that I look up to and respect as well. One of them is a guy named John Webber. He is the co founder of a company called Woodchuck USA. He’s no longer with with Chuck USA, but he’s now with another startup in Minneapolis here. And the reason that I look up to John is he is always always picked up my calls man, he’s always answered and listen to any of the problems that I’m dealing with and as offered solutions, and its solutions that oftentimes were experience, he’s gone through and experienced the same problems. And so it’s somebody that I trust a lot and will always continue to reach out to when I have questions or issues I need help dealing with.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Please kind of mentor for you. Yes, actually, final question, best business advice that you have ever received, or you would give to other entrepreneurs.

Michael Mader  

I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you my advice to other entrepreneurs. And I’ll tell you the best business advice. My advice to entrepreneurs is start doing shit as soon as you possibly can. I mean, I started working on MPP, and college, if you think that you’re going to be interested in being an entrepreneur at some point or another in your life, start yesterday. Because you can only get better, you can only fine tune your skills. And the only way to fine tune the skills of entrepreneurs, unfortunately, to fail at being an entrepreneur. And if you aren’t going to fail, fail small and fail fast, so that you can keep moving forward and make pivots on to either the next idea or the next business. And again, I’ll go back to be passionate about whatever it is that you’re doing. You know, I’m not, I’m not too much of, I don’t want to say fake it till you make it but be passionate as as often and always as you possibly can. You know, if you are passionate about something, you can oftentimes power through whatever problems you’re facing. So if you’re passionate about something, oftentimes you’ll learn about that thing, and you don’t have to fake it to make it. Now the best advice that I got was by my college advisor when I came to them, after the first month of recovery from my head injury, I sat down with like a notepad that I had scribbled the like, outline of a business plan for hippie feet. I sat down with his advisor and I said, Hey, I want to start a company. I want to take all the classes that I was supposed to take in the fall and missed because of this injury. I want to take them online in the spring and I want to take all my spring classes in person. I want to take 30 credits and start a business he told me to drop out of school because I wasn’t a good student and told me to go enroll in a trade program. And that was like the only option I had for a career. It’s the best advice because I was so pissed off that he told me that that I told him where he could shut it and immediately started finding other people that talk to you to help me get this business off the ground. And I think that that experience was a huge motivation for me to prove that guy wrong and whether he meant what he said or not. He actually was hoping that I would be motivated by his kind of, you know, non-motivated statement. I think that that experience really motivated me to be the best person that could be the best entrepreneur I could and to prove him wrong. So that is the best, best and worst advice I’ve gotten so far.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

That’s That’s awesome. Those were all the questions that I had today. Michael, thank you so much for joining me today. Trep talks. If anyone wants to go buy your products, what is the best way they can do that?

Michael Mader  

Heavy fit.com Perfect, perfectly happy with that. hrpp Why hippie viewed? Yes.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Thank you so much again, Michael, for joining me today at Dropbox. Really appreciate you sharing your story and also some great business advice. So really, really appreciate it.

Michael Mader  

Awesome. Thanks. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Also, get inspired to Create a Profitable Online Business with Dinesh Tadepalli – Bringing Edible Spoons to Market to Reduce Single-Use Plastics


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.