Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey guys! My name is Matthew Walters and I’m the founder of CODDI™, a boot company based in Chicago. We launched on Kickstarter in January of this year and raised just over 61K, doubling our goal of 30K. After 4 months of building and shipping the boots to the states, we finally launched our website this June.
At the moment, we have 1 boot called the Polaris:
In June, we did 2.5K in sales, July 2K, and August another 2K.
This summer we have only utilized free marketing (Instagram/Facebook/Reddit posts). We have not done any paid advertising yet as we are waiting for fall to hit as that is peak purchasing season for boots.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Without even knowing it, I always knew a lot about shoes. I grew up in a household where my entire family runs every day (my father is an All-American cross country runner and an Olympic trialist in the marathon while my brother is a professional running coach).
My life changed my senior year of college when we did our senior thesis. Instead of designing one product like everyone else, I decided to try and stand out by designing an entire company. I instantly fell in love with building something massive from the ground up.
After falling in love with a graphic design class in high school, design and shoes just seemed to naturally take its course in my life. During my Junior year, I entered a shoe design contest for Nike and placed it in the top 10. This initial success, while minor, seemed to be the catalyst I needed to really go all-in on shoe design.
Then in 2009, I studied Industrial Design at the University of Illinois. While others were building a well-rounded portfolio that would lead to being able to apply to a multitude of companies post-graduation...I stuck to perfecting my footwear design craft.
My life changed my senior year of college when we did our senior thesis. Our professors gave us the entire school year to design one product of our choosing. Instead of designing one product like everyone else, I decided to try and stand out by designing an entire company. For the next 8 months, I lived at the studio and designed a minimalist footwear company. I instantly fell in love with building something massive from the ground up. I wasn’t just the footwear designer anymore...I was now a graphic designer, packaging designer, the store designer, the marketer, the salesman...etc. Wearing a plethora of hats was addicting. I knew I wanted to do this for real later in life.
After college, it took me 6 months but I finally landed a footwear design internship position at Under Armour. From 2013-2017, I designed +20 shoes in the running, basketball, training and kids categories. While I learned a ton about design at UA, the most valuable part was traveling all around the world to see how shoes were manufactured.
After 5 years with UA, I finally felt ready to take that massive next step. I quit my job and headed back to Chicago to start CODDI.
The goal behind CODDI is simple: On one side of the boot spectrum, you have these beautifully handcrafted boots...but they are often heavy and an absolute pain to walk in for more than a couple miles. And on the other side of the spectrum, you have these super rugged hiking boots that can tackle any terrain...but the second you get into a social setting, the boot lacks style.
I want CODDI to live directly in the middle of performance and aesthetics.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Having designed shoes at Under Armour for 5 years, I was incredibly fortunate to know how the manufacturing process worked overseas.
Consistency is an absolute must. When people get excited about something...they put in 100 hours the first week, and then they burn out. I don’t care if you work for 5 minutes on something...if you have a dream, work on it for 5 minutes to 5 hours every single day.
I knew what to look for… but more importantly, I knew what steer clear of. I finally landed with a factory that I was recommended by a fellow footwear designer. After finalizing my design, I handed off a tech pack to the factory and within a week, I had my first prototype:
After 13 rounds of prototyping, 2 trips to Asia and months of wear-testing, I was finally ready to launch. I was able to afford building prototypes (<10K)...but there was no way I was going to be able to afford the initial order (~40K). That being said, I spent a month or so designing a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds for this initial order.
In order to have a successful campaign, I followed a couple of golden rules:
1 - Build a community before you launch.
I started a business Instagram account 8 months prior to my Kickstarter launch. I teased the boot for months..teased different colors..shared my Asia travels...etc
2 - Build a landing page to collect emails.
On each of my Instagram posts prior to the launch, I enticed people to click on the link in my profile to sign up for my newsletter. By doing so, I promised those that signed up that I would notify them first when my Kickstarter launched which would give them the best chance to obtain the early-bird pair of boots. After doing this for a couple of months, I ended up collecting over 1K emails. I used Mailchimp and connected it to my Shopify store.
3 - Get your family and friends to support you.
I asked my marketing friends for marketing help..and my designer friends for design help. I had my friends model in the boots. I had my family try on initial prototypes.
Anything I could, I connected with the people that mattered the most in my life. If they aren’t on my side, no way will strangers be on my side.
4 - Keep your Kickstarter page simple.
Tell your story. Put yourself in the video. Do not offer too many rewards. Only sell boots..don’t sell t-shirts and stickers. Stay in your lane. Sell boots.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I found Shopify to be my best option for starting an online store. I wear a plethora of hats for this company, but coding is not one of them. This is one of the only things I have let someone else have full control of...it’s been a really nice change of pace letting someone else have complete control over part of my company haha.
You will have strangers, colleagues, friends, and unfortunately even family tell you that your idea is crazy and that it won’t work. Let that type of negativity fuel the fire.
For me right now, it’s all about nailing down our exact audience. Who is actually caring about the boot? Going into my Kickstarter campaign, I tried to build the page to attract both the outdoor and the streetwear market. What I quickly learned was that the streetwear market was digging the boots, and people that hiked casually liked the boots, but hardcore outdoor enthusiasts were not on board. My boot was never meant to be a hiking boot. But instead, a boot that you can hike in.
After this realization, I have A: started to gear my photos, copy...everything to a more casual hiker audience while still attacking the streetwear market. And B: for my future boot designs (if I want to attack both markets), I am making sure the boot is actually hyper-hiking proof (waterproof membrane...laces that pull-up and hug the foot...etc).
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Marketing is something that I’m constantly trying to get better at. This company is still so young and outside of design, I really have no idea what I’m actually doing, but after chatting with friends and doing a mass amount of research, here are my current approaches:
Social media posts
I make it a point to post 3-4 times a week. Why is this not 7 days a week? Well, I only have 1 boot in 3 different colors. My worry is that I will bore my audience by showing them the same product over and over again.
Part of my daily job is to think of how I can create interesting and meaningful posts. I did a photoshoot a couple of months back where instead of using professional models, I enlisted my family and friends (the ones that believed in me the most) to model the boots. These posts get the most traction every time because there’s actual substance to the photo.
Male fashion Youtubers / boot reviewers
Instead of giving away the boots for free to Instagram influencers, I have been reaching out to YouTubers who create videos about the latest men’s trends. I do this for two reasons:
- Their youtube audience is laser-focused. The audience is only following them because they really care about fashion tips / new styles.
- Because while an Instagram story only lasts 24 hours...a youtube video lasts forever. You can google ‘men's boots’ and find videos from years ago at the top of the page.
A new venture for me is to get into some smaller retail shops. I was attracted to this idea for a couple of reasons:
- It gets my name out there. Yea my margins get cut, but right now I need people to know that I exist.
- The only way for me to learn is by actually doing. I might hate retail. It might not be worth it. But I won’t know if I don’t try. If you know how to swim, constantly jump in the deep end. There’s no harm to just swim out and jump into a different pool.
I have been reaching out to personal stylists that have younger male clientele in the Chicagoland area. Once I get them on board, for every sale they can make to one of their clients, they get ‘X’% commission. Another great way to get a couple of passive sales without losing too much margin.
I created a post in the entrepreneur subreddita month or so that got a decent amount of traction.
Going out at night
This might sound weird, but anytime I go out I at least get a couple of new followers or even a sale. What is one of the first questions people ask you when you first meet…. “So, what do you do for a living?”.
The second I tell them I’m a footwear designer and that I just launched my own company ...and the boots that I’m wearing right now are said boots...they usually get pretty interested and end up asking a lot of questions.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Outside of CODDI, I have a couple of other jobs so I can make ends meet at home with my wife (I coach tennis and do a bunch of freelance graphics/industrial design). At the moment, I am working for about 10 hours every day on CODDI. I have no partners and no investors. I run our social, website, fulfillment, design, customer service..everything.
Things with the company are great. I’m loving every second of it. Is it a smash hit right out of the gates? Absolutely not. But what I am seeing is 2 things:
- I get a sale once every 3 days..and this has been super consistent this summer which is great. I’m working really hard to get those numbers a bit up once fall/winter hits.
- The feedback from customers has been incredible. We have our occasional negative email, but over 95% of the customer interactions I have are people reaching out to let me know how much they like the product.
Some stats for June/July/August of this year:
- 6.5K in sales
- 6,600 website sessions
- .42% online store conversion rate
- 75% of sales come from mobile
- 25% of sales come from desktop
- 0% of sales made from paid marketing
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
1 - (Especially if you’re a designer)...put down the pen, pack up and go work at a coffee shop.
Find a table in the middle of the room. Don’t use headphones...and just work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entered a conversation with someone solely because they saw that I was working on a cool design in photoshop and they were interested in what I was doing.
2 - Consistency is an absolute must.
When people get excited about something...they put in 100 hours the first week, and then they burn out. I don’t care if you work for 5 minutes on something...if you have a dream, work on it for 5 minutes to 5 hours every single day.
3 - The goals/rules you set for yourself and the company are made up.
I wanted to launch my company in the fall of 2018. And when I couldn’t due to legal reasons, I was devastated. But wait, launching this fall didn’t actually mean anything. What’s the difference between this fall and the next? Yea, it was a goal I was trying to shoot for, but it ended up not working out. So instead of putting your head down and wanting to quit...get back to work...solve your problems...and launch when it’s truly ready.
4. Ask questions.
Ask dumb questions. Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot. We hide in the corner of the room too often because we don’t want to be judged. Be the most shameless person in the room. Realize that no one is actually judging you because everyone in the room is too concerned about other people judging themselves.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Sales Platform: Shopify
- Email Marketing: Mailchimp
- Sales Tax: TaxJar
- Fulfillment: ShipStation
- Customer Service: [email protected] aka me
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Easily one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me is from watching Youtubers. Watching a kid go from 5K viewers to 500K viewers is incredible. Not only do I find the video entertaining, but I get to see exactly what they are doing in each video that allowed them to not only grow but to retain that audience.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
1 - Do not quit your job to start your dream company. You have to play the game a bit smarter than that. What I did was this:
- I worked my 10am-7pm job
- Got home at 8pm
- Showered and cooked dinner by 9pm
- 9pm-3am I worked on my company
- 3am-9am I slept
I did this for 18 months straight.
If you want it bad enough, you’ll be able to fit it into your schedule.
2 - It’s cliche as all hell, but it’s true: you will have strangers, colleagues, friends, and unfortunately even family tells you that your idea is crazy and that it won’t work. Let that type of negativity fuel the fire. Let them be right. Seriously, think about it: Scenario A: They are right, it did fail, but now you have gone through a massive undertaking and learned a bunch / have met a ton of people. Or Scenario B: You succeed.
I’d rather lose a fight than be too scared to get in the ring.
3 - There is no such thing as ‘I don’t have enough time’. The second I hear that from someone, I know we won’t be close friends. Surround yourself with people that refuse to make excuses.
4 - I'm now immune to failure. Now, I’m not saying I don't fail...I fail all the time. But I'm now immune to letting failure affect me. We all need to change how we view failure. Let failures be your greatest weapon. Use them to learn and grow. Constantly take risks and fail. But instead of putting your head down and sulking, use them to build.
5 - I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes of all time. I have made it an absolute priority to live by this every single day: “You do what you love, and f*ck the rest.” - Little Miss Sunshine - Stop worrying about what your friends will think. Stop falling into societal norms. Do what you love. Plain and simple.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I would love to have someone help with the marketing side of things, but unfortunately, at the time being, we just don’t have the budget to pay anyone. But as the company grows, marketing and social media will probably be the first hires I make.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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