Welcome to Endicia’s small business spotlight, where we interview rock star business owners and ask them to share their secrets to success. We’re kicking off the series with a Shark Tank online business success story – Xero Shoes. I spoke with Lena Phoenix, Xero Shoes’s COO, to learn how her online business has coped with the inevitable stardom that comes from being on television. But first, some background on the company –
Xero Shoes was founded in 2009 by Steven Sashen and Lena Phoenix – a husband-wife duo with a passion for barefoot running. The Broomfield, Colorado-based business sells lightweight performance recreation sandals through its website and via select retailers across the globe. Their goal? Help people enjoy the fun and benefits of natural, barefoot-like movement, whether they’re taking a walk on the beach, a hike in the woods, or running an ultramarathon through the jungles of Costa Rica.
Following their initial business growth, Steven and Lena debuted Xero Shoes on Shark Tank in 2013. Here’s a clip:
Though they didn’t end up taking Kevin’s offer, their TV appearance resulted in amazing growth that has not slowed down. We caught up with Lena to talk about how the Shark Tank experience has changed them. Here’s what she had to say:
Endicia: So, what would you say is the biggest lesson learned from your experience on Shark Tank?
One thing we realized after being on the show is just how pivotal technology is to our online business – especially technology that can scale.
Endicia: Was that a hard lesson to learn?
Well, when our episode aired we were slammed with orders – over 3,000 in just a few days – and we didn’t have the manpower to keep up with that volume.
We did, though, have technology that kept up and that was crucial. As you guys know, we’ve been using Endicia for our shipping, which cut about 70 percent off our ship time. We’ve talked to other companies who didn’t have a system like Endicia and their post-show experience was hellish.
Endicia: Wow! How has that kind of growth impacted your technology plans for the future?
Since we expect to be doing this kind of volume on a regular basis, we’re spending much more time and effort on technology and automation … which is something we never envisioned when we started out by selling sheets of rubber out of a spare bedroom!
Endicia: I bet! What would you say is the biggest mistake you made during the Shark Tank process?
Similar to what I said above, I think our biggest mistake was underestimating the effect of being seen by 7 million people. We thought we had planned for it – we had additional inventory, we beefed up our website, we brought in additional shipping and customer service help – but we still were overwhelmed by the Shark Tank Effect.
Like many Shark Tank companies, our website crashed, and we were up all weekend answering emails and phone calls. I was amazed that people would call at 3 a.m. and clearly be expecting us to be answering the phones (which we were).
Endicia: Do you think you’d do things differently if you had to go through the process over again?
I’ll say this – the customers we got from Shark Tank told us more about our product and business than we ever imagined.
Xero Shoes came out of the barefoot running world. Even though we knew that lots of our customers were not runners, and didn’t know about the benefits of natural barefoot movement, we didn’t realize just how big the non-barefoot, non-running market really was.
Most of the people who contacted us after our episode were part of that non-barefoot, non-running market.
So, if we did it again, we’d focus on the fun and benefits of our “go everywhere, do everything, naturally” product, and less on the running.
Endicia: What is one thing that you weren’t prepared for and that took you by complete surprise?
Steven and I certainly weren’t prepared for being semi-famous! Since the show aired, we get recognized wherever we go, especially in airports, and especially when we’re together. Sometimes people recognize our Xero Shoes (which we always wear) before they realize it’s us.
We’ve had people say, “Hey, those are the shoes from Shark Tank,” look up at us, and get tongue-tied when they see that we’re attached to those shoes!
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