Driving Disruption: Alan Guyan Of Made Plus On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industry

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Cynthia Corsetti
Authority Magazine

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Embrace a purpose-driven mentality — we believe in crafting with intention, ensuring that every component, every step, and every product we create serves a meaningful purpose.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alan Guyan.

Alan Guyan is an accomplished executive with a career spanning more than 25 years that encompasses product creation, manufacturing innovation, and business development within the realm of 3D printing. Throughout his professional journey, Alan has led diverse global teams, orchestrating the conception and launch of pioneering products and solutions across various sectors, including aerospace, medical, and footwear.

As the Founder and CEO of Made Plus Inc., Alan is reshaping the footwear trajectory by bridging consumer desires with efficient, waste-reducing manufacturing through an innovative platform. Previously, he founded Additive Accelerator, guiding startups and enterprises in harnessing additive manufacturing’s potential for refined workflows and revenue growth. Prior to that, Alan was the Director of 3D Design and Manufacturing Innovation for Under Armour’s Manufacturing Innovation Center, Lighthouse. In this role, he leveraged performance goals to innovate the product experience for footwear, apparel, and accessories.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My career journey has always revolved around my passion for crafting with my own two hands. As a third-generation journeyman machinist, I respected the tradition of precision craftsmanship from a young age. Born and raised in Ohio, I spent over a decade honing my skills at a cutting-edge machining firm.

Pursuing the art of machining led me to Maryland, where I embarked on various roles that broadened my horizons. My professional path wove through plastics manufacturing, pioneering 3D printing technologies, and a substantial tenure at Under Armour. While there, I assumed the role of the brand’s foremost authority on additive manufacturing, where I spearheaded transformative initiatives in 3D design and manufacturing innovation, creating groundbreaking advancements in the realm of sportswear. These accomplishments included the development of the world’s first 3D-printed training shoe and the revolutionary MagZip zipper technology.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Made+ is an Annapolis-based footwear brand, pioneering planet-positive manufacturing with a simplified approach.

Reinventing the traditionally tedious and wasteful shoe manufacturing process, Made+ leverages American-made micro-factories and a made-to-order system. Our team dramatically eliminates negative environmental impacts by reducing a complex 300-step manufacturing process to fewer than 50. This significant reduction leads to diminished carbon emissions, energy waste, water consumption, and excess material use.

What set us on this trajectory? It was the collective vision of our leadership team, all of whom honed their expertise while working with prominent brands. Together, we identified a compelling opportunity to curtail waste in the footwear manufacturing and design process. Simultaneously, we recognized the untapped potential to revolutionize forecasting and customization. These revelations ignited innovations that have become the hallmark of our mission to reinvent the footwear industry.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Direct. I take pride in staying actively involved in the growth and evolution of my team. I am direct and transparent — my team always knows where they stand with me and my expectations.

Work Ethic. My work ethic was instilled in me from a young age, driven by an insatiable curiosity to comprehend every aspect of a product’s journey, from inception to completion. That curiosity steered my career path — which began in manufacturing, followed by engineering school and industrial design school. I moved on to Executive Management of Innovation. However, no matter my role, that desire to understand the complete knowledge circle of a product or problem remains.

Vision. You must believe in your vision and your team in this startup phase. But don’t lose sight of where you are.

Be aware of the phase you’re in and stay focused. Right now, we’re smack dab in the middle of reality and planning for fantasy — for those big growth opportunities down the line.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

A hard decision I’ve had to make as a leader was determining the right moment to fully embrace independence and focus solely on the future. It’s like deciding when to rip off the bandaid, so to speak, and completely venture out on your own to start your business. And with that, when do you embark on a journey to raise funds for a company yet to be born? That process took me about six months. I had crossed a plane where I wasn’t turning back.

The true challenge of entrepreneurship surfaces here. Balancing existing responsibilities, whether your day job or consulting, while simultaneously nurturing a budding venture isn’t feasible. Launching a company demands a whole new level of commitment to progress and achieve sustainable success. It’s a perpetual cycle of reviewing and reinventing, fine-tuning your message, sustaining belief in your vision and inspiring others to share that belief.

Another pivotal choice I encountered was assuming manufacturing responsibilities rather than outsourcing production overseas. The choice presented a monumental tradeoff. By retaining manufacturing within our purview, we gained unparalleled control over the process from inception to completion. This control sets us apart significantly in an industry where few brands can make such a claim.

Lastly, the decision regarding where to plant our roots was a challenging one. We chose to establish our company in Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, a strategic choice despite the lack of manufacturing in the region. Situated near the water, we’re actively drawing talent to our company by creating an appealing place to work in a picturesque town that resonates with our vision.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

Disruption manifests in various forms, often reshaping industries in unforeseen ways. Take Uber’s impact on the taxi market, for instance, an upheaval that left an indelible mark and completely transformed the user experience.

Disruption can often seen as a double-edged sword, presenting both opportunities and challenges. Companies that successfully navigate disruptive changes thrive, while those that fail to adapt may experience decline or go out of business.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

We truly embrace disruption. Here at Made Plus, we’re not merely crafting shoes on American soil; it’s the comprehensive ecosystem that constitutes our brand that truly embodies disruption. From our innovative manufacturing processes and technological advancements to our locally sourced, made-to-order footwear, we’re redefining the landscape.

Our mission involves more than just producing products; it’s about reimagining the essence of what can be made in America. We infuse sustainability by reducing waste and incorporating upcycled materials. And to top it all off, we empower individuals to fully personalize their footwear experience. In essence, we’re revolutionizing the concept of footwear from the ground up, introducing an unparalleled level of customization and sustainability into the industry.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

One of the ways I challenge conventional wisdom is by actively seeking input from others and leveraging their perspective to inform my decision-making. This collaborative approach, coupled with a commitment to embracing support, has influenced my leadership style, which heavily revolves around the principle of empowerment. I empower my team to freely express their ideas, foster innovation, make informed decisions, and ultimately set them up to be successful. This empowerment is a catalyst for our collective success as a business.

I also take pride in my effectiveness as a leader. My passion lies in nurturing and developing my team, empowering them to achieve exceptional results and chart successful career paths.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

In 2021, I embarked on a journey to raise capital for Made Plus, our sustainable footwear venture. It was a time when raising funds was particularly challenging, given the economic conditions, and we faced resistance throughout that process.

Our most significant obstacle was the supply chain challenges that impacted the manufacturing process. However, rather than succumbing to those challenges, we shifted our perspective and viewed them as an opportunity. We saw the chance to reinstate manufacturing within the United States for a product category historically produced in Asia.

This experience taught us survival tactics that continue to shape our approach today. We honed the art of precise decision-making, relying on data-driven insights to guide our product development while concurrently building a factory.

My advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to embrace your challenges and adopt a different perspective. By shifting your perception, you can uncover innovative solutions that overcome obstacles and set your business apart in a competitive landscape.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

1 . We have an ethical material approach. For example, our premiere style, the SKIFF, showcases ethically engineered performance UPKNT technology. Each pair is upcycled from six plastic water bottles, free of excess foams and linings, and incorporates Azo-free dyes and upcycled components such as laces, webbing, and support structures. The SKIFF encapsulates our dedication to crafting contemporary, high-quality footwear from recycled materials.

2 . We employ a revolutionary made-to-order business model, significantly reducing waste while providing a design-thinking customization experience. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies, including 3D printing, knitting, and digital modeling, we offer personalized footwear tailored to each individual’s needs.

3 . We believe that every step matters, so we have reduced a complex manufacturing process from 300 steps to less than 50 — significantly eliminating negative outputs on the environment.

4 . Maintain a local-first approach, crafting products for locals by locals, fostering a strong sense of community and connection.

5 . Embrace a purpose-driven mentality — we believe in crafting with intention, ensuring that every component, every step, and every product we create serves a meaningful purpose.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

I never set out to be disruptive. I don’t think you realize you’re disrupting when you’re doing it.

For me, forging a new path became disruptive to foster competitiveness and innovation, often through optimizing processes to yield a new tangible.

With Made+ we’ve taken on this challenge. We enjoy making footwear and identified an opportunity to revolutionize traditional shoe manufacturing. We peeled back the layers of a broken system fraught with inefficiencies and a wasteful supply chain. Our goal was to eliminate the guesswork associated with demand and sizing, ushering in a wave of innovation that touches every aspect, from knitting techniques to materials and the technology used for decision-making. For instance, I develop intricate designs using 3D renderings, bypassing the need to create physical prototypes.

From here, our made-to-order model does away with overproduction, effectively reducing waste.

Simultaneously, it offers customers a personalized product tailored to their unique needs. In doing so, we address real-world challenges related to forecasting, profit margins, and waste management.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

I’ve made significant sacrifices to get ahead in my career. However, I don’t view it as a career; embracing disruption and innovation is a way of life for me. It’s a lifestyle that is not only about personal advancement but one in which my family can actively participate. We have the flexibility to establish innovative endeavors anywhere. That sense of freedom and fulfillment overshadows the sacrifices made along the way.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

First and foremost, the challenges I encounter regarding labor force development are shared by many in the business landscape. The workforce we have now in our country is primarily intellectually focused. Finding skilled artisans and navigating the changing landscape of remote work pose considerable challenges, especially as Made Plus pioneers new technologies that demand a technically proficient workforce.

Compounding the situation, we are a modest startup within a saturated market. We do not enjoy the advantages of large-scale purchasing power. On top of that, sustaining growth and sales and maintaining a consistent message all weigh heavily on my mind.

Reflecting on these concerns, once I identify candidates who fit our company, I invest significant time in onboarding them and helping them navigate their professional journey. The investment often pays off — supporting the growth of our brand and them as individuals — it’s a win-win.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

At Made Plus, we are setting a new standard for sustainable, high-performance shoes. If our mission could inspire a more significant movement towards reducing waste, that would be inspiring. I would love to see our brand encouraging businesses to value waste reduction and rethink how they manufacture their products.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Website: https://www.madeplus.com/

LinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/company/82280911/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/madeplus.us/

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.

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