“Hug The Haters” 5 Startup Tips with Jennifer Markham, Founder of LISSOM
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Markham, Founder of LISSOM and lover of all things footwear.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m an Aussie girl from Melbourne who lives in London and spends a lot of time in the US and Asia. I worked as an investment analyst, learning about many different companies and knew that I wanted to start one for myself. Shoes have that magical quality for me — there is something about the eternal quest for the perfect shoe that you just don’t want to take off.
I launched Jemima Vine in 2012 — making classic women’s leather flats that had a great following in the US and UK. But as my wardrobe evolved towards comfortable workout clothes that moved with my body, I wanted to create the same experience for my feet. After Pilates class one day, I had an ‘aha’ moment when I realized that I wanted to create a weightless, effortless shoe that helps you move as well off the yoga mat as you do when you are on it.
LISSOM is an old English word that means flexible, nimble, agile and this reflects both our shoes and the women who wear them. It took almost three years to create our simple, beautiful Flyte shoe and our website www.lissom.com launched in October 2017. We’ve had so many delighted customers since then and we are excited to keep spreading the word and introducing this empowering way of moving every day to as many women as we can!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
I love that our shoes are designed by women for women. We made the shoe to fit the exact contours of the female foot — so it hugs your foot all the way around and bans that “claw foot” which every woman knows — where you have to hold onto your ballet pump or flip flop with your toes. So uncomfortable! We had to convince some male designers and product developers at our factory in Asia about incorporating these features into our shoe and we knew that the only way that they would make the shoe exactly how we wanted it was to feel the sensations of our shoe for themselves. So, one of my favorite memories is watching all these men walking around the factory in our shoes saying they are so comfortable and understanding why we wanted to do things a different way! Now we get so many men asking us if they can wear our shoes and I expect that we will do a men’s range in time as well, because it doesn’t seem fair for them to miss out on the experience!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
LISSOM is a movement brand, not just a shoe brand. Our shoes are a whole new experience in the way that you move every day. Our customers tell us that our shoes are so light and bouncy, that they sometimes even forget that they have them on. It makes me smile when I hear people’s astonishment when they first put them on and then again, a week later when they say the shoes have completely molded to their feet and are more comfortable than their favorite slippers. It makes me feel like we’ve created something really unique and exciting.
Also knowing that from the outset we worked to create a shoe that not only feels good — but also works so well for your feet and body, is an important feature of our product to me. We’ve worked alongside New York celebrity podiatrist and movement expert Dr. Emily Splichal to develop these shoes. They help to improve the connection between your feet and your core (which so many shoes take away), but still provide enough support for pounding city pavements all day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Anyone who has started a company will find it impossible to single out only one person you are grateful for! There are many who have joined me on the LISSOM journey so far (with many more to come I’m sure!) and life has a funny way of making them appear just at the right time.
Firstly, I’ve been so lucky to have a family who has always encouraged me to be curious about the world and to think for myself. I have always had their unconditional support (and that of extremely dear friends) in times where I have questioned myself and what I was trying to do.
I’ve also had a designer who has worked with me from the start and despite being told many times over several years that we were making an “impossible” shoe — stuck with our vision and kept summoning the energy to forge ahead and test different concepts with me.
I’ve got a fantastic group of investors who understand what I am trying to do — it is important to be surrounded by those that will question and challenge you — but make you feel supported and who believe that you will ultimately make the right decisions for the business. Carrie Dorr who founded Pure Barre was an early believer in the idea and encouraged me to keep going through many technical challenges that we had. She really believes in investing in female entrepreneurs and helping to build a network of supportive, likeminded women.
The small but perfectly formed team at LISSOM believes 100% in our product and wants to help every customer feel informed and delighted about what we are doing. Even the environment we work in is very energizing — we share with two other start-ups working above a comedy venue in North London and often have ideas flying around to support each other. One of the companies is a video producer that has helped us make our Facebook brand videos — the most popular is a pair of shoes dipping into paint that has been viewed over 500,000 times. It perfectly captures the feeling of how our shoes mold to your feet like a second skin. If we hadn’t been sitting next to each other, the idea would never have developed!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The business is still in its early stages but from the start we’ve had a goal of improving the everyday lives of women by helping them move better. The shoes are vegan and we’re looking at introducing more sustainable materials where possible — we’re excited to be adding bamboo lined shoes to our range which will provide an extra layer of anti-bacterial comfort to our shoes. We’re currently looking at a handful of women focused charities that we would like to work with. It’s also important to me that everyone working at LISSOM feels like their wellbeing is supported — simple things like making sure that members of our team have time to go and do a workout during their working day and also having regular assessments with our resident podiatrist to help fix their foot and posture issues. We want to make sure that we can all move as well as we can!
Separately in my personal life I work at a charity shop in my neighborhood each Saturday. As well as helping others I think it is an important way of becoming part of a community. I moved to a different part of town last year and I found it a wonderful way to make new friends in the area. I’m really interested in the work Dr. Martin Seligman has done in his book on Positive Psychology which looks at volunteering as a powerful way of boosting happiness and helping with symptoms of depression. I’d like to help spread awareness of how beneficial volunteering can be and educating people on what programs they could become involved with in their community.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Entrepreneurs have to face constant challenges and the mindset with which you approach them will hugely affect the outcomes you deliver. Over the last few years I have practiced making meditation part of my routine — up to 40 minutes when I wake up each day. I would recommend this for everyone — it is the best way I have found to switch off from modern life and give my brain the space it needs to recharge itself and increase its capacity for creative thinking. I was exactly the kind of person with a wandering mind who didn’t think I could “learn” to meditate — but I am exactly the kind of person who benefits from it in a big way because it helps me to focus.
2) Don’t be scared to test your ideas as early as you can. It can be so hard to put your product out there in the very early stages — you feel very protective of it but it’s so important to get feedback from so many different angles that you haven’t considered. One of our most popular color sellers I had never even considered to include in the range originally — but when many people mentioned they wanted that color I knew we had to make it! Also, don’t just test your product with people you know (if at all) — go and find your target customers and listen to what they have to say. Before we even launched the product, we had a group of Pilates and yoga instructors who were actively testing the shoes and their feedback was invaluable.
3) Read the book “Hug Your Haters” by Jay Baer — it will make you feel really positive about how you can interact with your customers and energized to give them the best possible service. When you are communicating with most of your customers online, sometimes it can feel like it’s less personal, but we really try to show customers that we are thinking about their needs and their individual experiences with our product.
4) As a sole founder it’s especially important to surround yourself with people who you can talk to about the everyday ups and downs of running the business. Joining a group of fellow founders has been one of the best ways to do this for me and I’m always excited to be able to share things I’ve learnt with them as well. Pretty much anything you will be going through or encountering will be something that has been faced by other founders — even if they can’t help you it’s often just a big relief to know that you are not the only one that has been in that situation. It’s also a great way to hear about some helpful new technology and apps that we are currently integrating into our website. The most recent one is a visual customer review app — I really think that people do want to share their experience with our product through pictures rather than words and I’m excited to see what our customers come back with!
5) Having started two online brands in the past five years, I can really see how much more difficult it is to generate organic traffic as social media is increasingly weighted towards paid advertising. Make sure that you allocate a digital marketing budget from Day 1 that allows for you to properly test to find your audience. If you allocate a tiny digital marketing spend and expect it to grow linearly then it might be very difficult to get the information you need to optimize your target audiences.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
Breakfast: Arianna Huffington. I would love to discuss how much she’s impacted many lives with her Thrive work.
Lunch: Tyler Haney from Outdoor Voices. I’m so inspired by how she is selling active wear to a younger generation.
Dinner: Charlie Munger. Of course, I’d love to meet Warren Buffett, but I’d also be thrilled to meet the man who guided a great value investor into a great growth investor.
Could we also please fit in a meditation with Deepak Chopra?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!