To succeed in e-commerce today, you need to look for unserved niches with unique products.
Sraman a Mitra: Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What kind of background did you have?
Bret Rasmussen: I was born in Utah, but my parents quickly moved to Indiana. We actually lived a few years in Italy until I was about eight or nine years old. Then we moved to Taiwan and then back to Indiana. I graduated high school in Texas and then I went to college out west here in Utah.
Sramana Mitra: What profession were your parents in that made you move so much?
Bret Rasmussen: My dad was in corporate finance and management. He worked for a Fortune 100 company – a pharmaceutical company. They transferred him to a few different job opportunities around the world.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you finish college in Utah?
Bret Rasmussen: In 2004.
Sramana Mitra: What did you study?
Bret Rasmussen: Business Finance with an English minor.
Sramana Mitra: What happened in 2004 when you finished college?
Bret Rasmussen: I got a job at a carbon fiber manufacturing startup that was trying to commercialize a patented carbon technology for use in towers and structures. They didn’t end up successfully commercializing it.
I started working for them while I was still in college and when I graduated, I worked for them full time for about a year. They had to downsize because we were unsuccessful in making it to mass production. They ended up laying off a lot of people and I was one of them.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do next?
Bret Rasmussen: I started applying for jobs and thought that now would be a good time to start a company. I always wanted to start a company. In fact, in fifth grade I wanted to start a shoe company. I had all these different business ideas including the shoe idea.
I started researching and trying to learn more about how to start a company and which industry would be the best to go into. I had tech ideas, software ideas, and a lot of ideas. I reached a point where I said to myself, “I don’t know how to do this.”
I figured that since I was going to learn how to do it anyway, I might as well do something that I’m passionate about. When I thought back, I realized that ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to start a shoe company. I was always passionate about footwear.
I thought that success increases with passion, so I might as well chase something that I was passionate about. That was when I decided to chase the shoe dream. I started networking, learning about the footwear industry, and learning how shoes are made.
Sramana Mitra: What did you learn? What was the hypothesis? What was the investment thesis of this company?
Bret Rasmussen: If you go back and look at my original business plan and what I was trying to create, it’s different to who we are today. I think that’s the case for 99.99 % of businesses that get started. What they think their business is in ends up having to pivot two or three times or more. That’s what we experienced.
What I want to be is a melding of lifestyles. I also believe that in order to be relevant to the customer, I had to do more than just be a brand. I had to create a product that was different and unique than anything else out there. I wanted to invent a technology.
I took the concept of combining the support and the proven comfort of an orthotic and built it into a shoe. I wanted to design a shoe around that concept. Imagine an orthotic built into the shoe. Most shoes have a flat thin flimsy insole that doesn’t give you much support.
I thought that we could use a molded plastic TPU, a highly flexible material, into the shoe. You could get a much better fitting shoe that is much more comfortable and performs better. That was the genesis for our technology idea. I thought that if I could come with a technology that was compelling – something that was better, faster and easier for the customer – then I thought that I could have a winner.