Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Steven Sashen. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Steven, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Well, it wasn’t really my idea. That is, I never planned to start this business. Let me explain. Fourteen years ago, when I was 45, I got back into sprinting after a 30 year break. And for the next two years, I was getting injured constantly. A world-champion runner suggested I try getting out of my “normal” running shoes — padded, motion controlling, arch supporting — and see what I learned by running barefoot. In short, when my bare feet were on the ground I could feel the form problem I had which was clearly causing my injuries. More, that same feedback led to a natural change in my gait — basically, running how I had been was painful, and running with better form felt great. My injuries abated. I became faster… I’m a Masters All-American sprinter, now. One of the fastest guys over 55 in the country. Well, I wanted that natural, barefoot experience all the time, but I didn’t want to walk around barefoot, let aloe argue with restaurants and stores about whether it was legal to be shoe-free in their establishments (BTW, it’s totally legal). So, I found some rubber and nylon cord and made myself a pair of sandals based on a 10,000 year old design that is the essence of what footwear should be: something to protect the bottom of your foot and some way to hold that protection onto your foot. Other runners wanted these “barefoot sandals” and that became a little hobby business. I wasn’t trying to make money, just give people shoes that would help them have the same life-changing experience I had. One day, a running coach said, “If you treated this sandal making hobby like a business and had a website, I could put you in a book I’m contracted to write.” Well, I RACED home to pitch this great opportunity to my wife. I’d been an Internet marketer since 1992 and I’d built hundreds of websites, so this was a no-brainer. My wife, though, had other thoughts. She said, “It’s a horrible idea. It won’t make any money. And it’s a distraction from more important things. Don’t do it.” I agreed and told her I wouldn’t. And the she went to bed and I built a website ;-) She kinda’ growled at me the next morning, but I said that I could easily market the site with very little effort and, in 3-4 months, maybe we’d have a business that paid enough to cover our car loans. I was wrong. It only took me 6 weeks. And by that time it was clear that Xero Shoes was going to be our full-time job. More importantly, from the feedback our customers gave us, that our simple DIY sandal kit was, in fact, revolutionary. Getting out of modern running shoes and into something super simple and deconstructed allowed people’s bodies to function more naturally — no posture-changing heel lift, letting your muscles and ligaments and tendons replace cushioning, not cramping your toes, letting your arch support you instead of getting weaker by being “supported”. As my wife — and co-founder and President of Xero Shoes — says, “There are enough shoe companies in the world. We don’t need another. UNLESS your shoes change people’s lives.” We’ve become MUCH more than a DIY sandal company and, happily, have changed the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people all around the world.
Steven, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
When people ask me what I do for a living, I ask them a question: “Do your feet feel better at the end of the day than they did at the beginning?” They never say Yes. I reply, “That’s because your shoes aren’t letting your feet do what’s NATURAL. We make shoes, boots, and sandals that are so lightweight and comfortable, we have customers tell us they went to bed still wearing their Xero Shoes because they forgot they had them on!” For the fun of elaborating: Your feet are made to bend, flex, move and FEEL the world. One-quarter of the bones and joints in your ENTIRE body are in your feet and ankles; you have more nerve endings in your soles than anywhere but your finger tips and lips. Comfort and performance come from using your feet naturally. That’s what Xero Shoes let you do. There are three components to letting your feet do what’s natural. And each one sets us apart from footwear from Big Shoe companies (I call them “Big Shoe”): – Natural Fit — wide toe boxes let your toes spread and relax. A non-elevated (zero-drop) heel for proper posture. – Natural Motion — super flexible to let your feet bend and move naturally. Low-to-the-ground for balance and agility. – Natural Feel — the patented FeelTrue® soles give you just-right protection while still giving the ground feedback your brain needs for efficient, natural movement. Plus they’re affordable. And while most running shoe companies say “Replace your shoes every 2-500 miles,” we make ours so durable that they have a 5,000 mile sole warranty. What I’m most proud of is that we’ve built a business that genuinely helps people, we bootstrapped our way here, we’ve been profitable, and we did it all by telling the truth. More, we have a great team, where people refer to working here as “my career.” This is, in no small part, because Lena spearheaded building an organization that treats everyone as an equally valuable part of the business. Every role in the company is necessary for building and growing a company, and we acknowledge that in many ways, including a profit-sharing inspired bonus plan that is split evenly among all our employees. Similarly, we let our customers share in our success when, in 2017, we let them invest in Xero Shoes through one of the first and most successful equity crowdfunding raises. What I’m happiest about is that I’ve built this business with my wife. Running the company together has been the most satisfying experience of my life.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
Lena and I had a unintentional “life pivot” in 2009. But let me back up to 2000-2001. In that time we began some clever real estate investing that allowed us to effectively retire. We had enough passive income that, if we continued to live modestly (we’re both frugal people), would support us for the rest of our lives. Then, in 2006, when my last friend said, “I’m becoming a real estate investor,” Lena and I both remembered 1999 when everyone became a day trader… just before the big crash. So we thought the same thing was about to happen in the housing market and we started getting out of real estate as fast as we could. When the 2008 crash happened, we were spared. But we also lost our retirement income. Frankly, we had no idea what to do next and, at one point, were down to a couple months worth of savings. Luckily, that’s when Xero Shoes started. Lucky not just for us, but for the people we’ve helped with our products and the millions more we’ll help in the future.
How did you build your audience on social media?
In late 2009, Social Media wasn’t much of a thing. There were some Google groups, there were some blogs. Youtube was just getting traction, and other video sites were growing as well. I had two ideas that built our business: 1) Find the places where people where gathering and talking about what we were doing — basically, people interested in barefoot running, many of whom had read the book “Born To Run.” 2) Participate in those conversations and offer VALUABLE content for them. So, I made a handful of videos showing, really, how to completely rip-off our entire business! I showed how to make your own sandals. I showed how and where to buy materials. How to walk, run, or hike in our minimalist footwear. I gave away the whole thing. It happened, though, that it was less expensive and easier to buy our complete DIY kit than doing it on your own. Then I took those videos and included them in blog posts on our site. Then I made other videos — comedic, informational, provocative — and shared all of them on every video platform. I then found websites to link back to all those videos (which then linked back to our website, of course). In addition to driving traffic directly, this also boosted our search engine rankings. For about a year, I had over 30 of the top 50 search results for any keyword I cared about. Clearly, the Social Media and search engine landscape has changed quite a bit in the last 12 years. But the gist is the same: Find out where people are already talking about what you do, and ENGAGE in the conversation. Become a trusted source, and offer value to the community.
- Website: https://xeroshoes.com
- Instagram: https://instagram.com/xeroshoes
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/xeroshoes
- Linkedin: https://linkedin.com/company/xero-shoes
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/xeroshoes
- Youtube: https://youtube.com/xeroshoes
- Other: https://instagram.com/xeroshoes https://pinterest.com/xeroshoes