Samy Liechti has built up a very nice subscription e-commerce business from Switzerland selling socks, underwear, and shorts. The company is 100% bootstrapped.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Samy Liechti: I’m Swiss and grew up in Switzerland. I went to one of the finest European business schools. I studied Business and Economics in Switzerland, Paris, and Toronto. After graduating, I worked in marketing and communications before I opened up my own company.
Sramana Mitra: In terms of dates, what are the time frames that we’re talking about? When did you come out of business school, for example?
Samy Liechti: I’m 45. I was born back in 1969. I graduated from business school in 1993. I founded my company in 1999. I was 30 when I founded a company 15 years ago.
Sramana Mitra: In the six years before starting your company, did you have marketing and advertising jobs?
Samy Liechti: I was in charge of marketing for McDonald’s. They outsourced their marketing to an agency and I was running the account. Then I went into PR. I did public affairs and worked with some big clients. Then, I shifted to more general communications. I was in charge of IPOs, financial relations, and all of a sudden, I was tired of not being my own boss.
Sramana Mitra: The dot-com thing was happening and you decided that you were going to start an Internet company? Is that what was going on?
Samy Liechti: Actually, it was a little different. In the mid-90s, an embarrassing incident occurred. I had a business meeting here in Switzerland with some Japanese customers. The meeting went very well and we were invited to a tea ceremony where I had to take off my shoes. The pair of socks I was wearing were not in the same life stage and didn’t have the same family background. It was embarrassing. I was, by far, the youngest in this group. I had this one sock that was washed out and had a hole in it.
This made me think about the interface of men and socks. I must say that I learned very quickly that these are two things that do not move. Man are lazy. Socks don’t move, so they hardly ever come together when they should.
That was when I had this idea to have a subscription service for socks catering to men. In the mid-90s, it was very hard to do that. It would have been a catalog business or a phone order business, but I didn’t like these industries at all.
I was in charge of the IPO of the biggest national telco in 1998. They were talking a lot about the future of Internet. I had a lot of time and I started writing a business plan about my subscription idea. Later, I met an old friend in the textile industry, told him about the idea and said, “Let’s start.” That was basically before the dot-com hype started. My motivation was not to build a dot-com company but to solve a problem.
Sramana Mitra: So, you launched in 1999?
Samy Liechti: We went live in the summer of 1999. We planned to do it in November 1998. We didn’t have a clue about the Internet and what’s going on there. At that time, I didn’t have a clue about socks or how to build a company. We didn’t have enough know-how. We didn’t have enough time and money. We just did it.