About this episode

Meet John Wilson, co-founder of STANCE. STANCE has turned socks into one of the world's most exciting accessories in less than five years.

If you think about denim you instantly think of the brand Levi’s. If I were to ask you to think of an iconic brand for sunglasses you would probably say Oakley. And,,, if I were to ask you to name a major brand of socks, you would probably be stumped. Until today, that it is. That is the significance of STANCE. The global market for socks is $20 billion and STANCE entered the game a few years ago.

John was 39 years old when he co-founded STANCE. That age bucks all the narrative standards when it comes to startups. During our time together he shared his belief that entrepreneurial abilities and tendencies show up differently. I tend to agree. So, as you listen to John share his journey, remember how fortunate we are to hear about the building of a future icon because like all founders, the beginning was far from iconic. This is John Wilson’s startup story.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • His early childhood, entrepreneurship not being a part of his life, and discovering a love for surfing
  • Getting his first job at a surf shop, the lessons he learned, and how it set the stage for his journey
  • Attending college at San Diego State, getting a degree in Marketing, and being hired by Oakley just prior to graduation
  • What it was like for him going from one side of the retail counter (in-store customer sales) to the other (sales and manufacturing side)
  • His progression at Oakley, what he learned, mentors he learned from, and how he evolved
  • Entrepreneurship is sometimes incredible and sometimes there's a whole lot of hardship to it
  • His decision to leave Oakley and take a position at Reef to eventually become their VP of Sales and later, president
  • How the conversation about starting STANCE began and his transition away from Reef
  • Learning everything he could about the sock category, from merchandisers, retailers, and designers
  • Setting out to make the sock category more than just an afterthought, the start of STANCE, and where they are now

“I think everybody has entrepreneurial DNA strands they just show themselves in different ways and at different times.”
—John Wilson, STANCE

Resources from this episode

STANCE: https://www.stance.com/
John Wilson on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-wilson-05416321/
Oakley: https://www.oakley.com/
Reef: https://www.reef.com/
Clairemont Surf Shop: https://www.instagram.com/clairemontsurf/?hl=en
The Startup Story on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thestartupstory/

Article $50 offer: https://www.article.com/startupstory

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EPISODE CREDITS

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Contact him today at https://emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory

Special Guest: John Wilson.

Episode transcript

The Startup Story - John Wilson

John Wilson: Hi, this is John Wilson, cofounder and CEO of STANCE, and this is MY startup story.

James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

[00:27]
James McKinney: Before we jump into this week's episode, I just want to say thank you to all of our listeners in the UK, all of you that have given a written review. I appreciate you, Tara and Aaliyah, Carmen Casey, Anna Banks, Arthur Embry and Jessica Bark, for taking the time to write such great reviews. All of them gave the show a five star rating and simply wrote how much they appreciate the show, and the authenticity of our founders. As our show reaches more and more countries, I want to make sure I honor my commitment to give you a plug in the episode so thank you to all of my UK listeners.

So for all of my listeners everywhere, if you have found any value in The Startup Story, please leave a written review in iTunes and plug your brand, URL, or social media accounts. If you do that, then I will read your review in an upcoming episode and it will become like a mini ad that lasts for years to come. It's just my way of saying thank you for taking the time to leave a review. The written reviews mean a ton for being discovered within the iTunes platform. Climbing the charts on iTunes is not just about listeners, but it's about engagement. Listening is one way iTunes measures engagement, but written reviews have a multiplying effect. So please leave those written reviews. Now, let's jump into this week's episode.

Our guest this week is John Wilson, cofounder of STANCE. STANCE, in my opinion, is the key brand within the sock category. Now, think about what I just said: the key brand within the sock category. For those of you that are in the apparel industry, you get the significance of that statement. For those of you, like myself, that are not in the apparel industry, let me set the stage for how iconic STANCE is and maybe that'll help tee up how amazing this interview is.

If you think about denim, you instantly think of the brand Levi's, right? That's because they are THE brand when it comes to denim. Now, if I were to ask you to think about an iconic brand for sunglasses, you would probably say Oakley. If I were to ask you to think of the key brand for athletic shoes, you'd probably say Nike. Now, if I were to say name a major brand for socks, you would probably be stumped. That is the significance of STANCE. They are becoming that icon category brand. STANCE entered the $20 billion sock category. Yes, the global market for socks is $20 billion. They entered the $20 billion sock category just a few years ago and can be found everywhere, including major league baseball here in the states. In fact, a few baseball players in this year's World Series will actually be wearing STANCE socks as well. So as you listen to John's Startup Story episode, just remember how fortunate we are to hear about the journey to building a future icon because, like all founders, the beginning was far from iconic.

[03:09]
John Wilson: My dad was a police officer for 30 years for the San Diego police department, and my mom was at home with us when we were younger, but then went on to work at Costco. It was actually Price Club, and then it was acquired by Costco so she worked there. They were not entrepreneurs.

[03:25]
James McKinney: It was all about stability for them.

[03:26]
John Wilson: It was, it was. And in fact, funny little side story, the first job that I landed out of college, I was the outside sales rep for Oakley, the eyewear brand in Southern California. Prior to that, I was working at a surf shop and I did all the buying, I was the manager, so I had a great rapport with the Oakley rep. We sold a ton of Oakley. When I came home and told my dad, I said, "Hey, here's this opportunity. I'm really excited about it. It's a sales position." He's like, "Okay, well how much do you make? How does all that work?" I said, "Well, you can make some pretty good money and it's a commission job." He's like, "Wait, wait, wait, wait. Commission?" I go, "Yeah, it's commission." He goes, "No, don't take it. Don't take it."

Because for him, the thought of being 100% commission paid salesperson was like no, don't even think about it, right? So I chose, even though I respected my dad and always went to him for advice, I chose not to listen to him on this one, so I'm glad I didn't and it worked out great. But I wasn't surrounded by that as a child growing up.

[04:27]
James McKinney: So you're one of three. You're the youngest of three, all boys right?

[04:29]
John Wilson: Correct.

[04:31]
James McKinney: Obviously there's a level of competition that comes with being among just boys and brothers. So growing up, there's obviously conversation about what you want to do with your life, and there's probably a one-upmanship when it comes to siblings. But when you look back through say high school years, what did you think you wanted to do, and what were your older brothers doing?

[04:54]
John Wilson: My oldest brother went on to college. He played football in college. He was into acting and writing, and theater, but at the same time he was an athlete and played quarterback. He was a quarterback for the college team, so kind of an interesting package there. He was great. Then my oldest brother left home right after graduating from high school. He actually went on to work for Costco and just went straight into that, got married, and started his life. He was just eager to get after it. I grew up playing all different kinds of sports: soccer, baseball, basketball, football, golf. I loved everything. I just loved sports, I love competing. It was a great outlet for me.

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I got turned onto surfing. Always loved the beach. Mom would take us down there when we were kids all the time. Man, once I got in the water and on a board and stood up, and rode some waves, I was like okay, this is it. There's just something about it and I got locked in on it. I've been addicted ever since. Through that experience, I started shopping at our local surf shop. It was called Clairemont Surf Shop up in San Diego, and I remember going in there all the time and looking at the people that worked there and thought, "I can't believe these people get paid to work in here." So fast forward a couple years later, I got older, I developed a relationship with the people that worked there because I'd go there all the time. They had an opening and so I put my name in the hat, and got hired.

[06:16]
James McKinney: And you thought you made it.

[06:17]
John Wilson: I was like oh, this is the best. I can still remember to this day the first couple weeks of working. I'm sitting there thinking I'm getting paid to sell surf boards and wet suits, and I get employee discounts on all this stuff. I think I signed over my first few paychecks straight to the owner because I was like buying stuff.

[06:31]
James McKinney: Always, always.

[06:35]
John Wilson: But yeah, it was crazy. The thing was it just allowed me to like just pursue a passion and actually get paid to do it. That was really cool, but I can tell you that was a really powerful unlock for me as a young person, because it's something I feel like I've tried to run with my whole life.

[06:54]
James McKinney: So when you finished high school, that's an easy next chapter for an individual because it could potentially be the end of academia or there is higher education. So what did you do after you finished high school?

[07:07]
John Wilson: Yeah. So I went to college and it was interesting because clearly, I wanted a degree. I wanted to go straight into school, but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to study. So I started junior college first and then from there I transferred to San Diego State. It was a little bit of a challenging dynamic, because my parents weren't in the position to cover all the school and send me wherever. So I went to San Diego state and I actually carried a pretty heavy workload. So I'd work Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Then I'd go to school Tuesday and Thursdays and I'd go to school all day. I'd just line my classes up all day Tuesday and Thursday. So it took me a little longer to get through school, but I did. I finally got my degree in marketing.

[07:48]
James McKinney: When did you decide on marketing? Because obviously that plays a key role in the rest of your journey, but you went into junior college really not knowing what you wanted to do. You were living the life, working at a surf shop and being able to sell within the trade that you loved so much. So when did you know marketing was it?

[08:08]
John Wilson: Being at the store, one of the things, it's very similar to when I first started going into the surf shop and I would see the manager working the store, and I'm thinking, "Wow, this person's getting paid to work here, this is incredible." I thought the same thing when the sales reps from the different manufacturers would come into the store. So the Oakley rep would come in or the Quicksilver rep, or the Volcom rep. I'd look at these individuals and I'd think, "Wow, they're getting paid to go and sell these amazing products to all these cool stores all over California. If I could do that, that could be my next step."

So in talking to some of those individuals, I really started to realize that a marketing degree would be really good for me because I felt like a career in sales was something that was attractive. I always thought to myself when I finish school, if I can get a job as a sales rep, representing one of these top manufacturers, that'd just be too good to be true. I felt like marketing, unlike the other majors at the time when I was going to school, was like the best all around education for me to get. I really felt like it could complement all the real world stuff that I was learning at the store. Because yes, it's a surf shop but it was a great store, super successful. It's been there for 40 years. So I learned buying, I learned inventory management, I learned customer service. I started as a sales person and then became assistant manager, manager, buyer. So it really gave me a great education on retail and consumer behavior, and the manufacturing world.

[09:33]
James McKinney: Isn't it amazing? You might have walked through your life before, but isn't it amazing as we're sitting here talking about all the things you learned at the surf shop, how that has played a key role to where you are today as the CEO? The breadcrumbs of life cannot be avoided. I think when we can acknowledge those breadcrumbs, for all the entrepreneurs listening, when they can acknowledge those breadcrumbs and give some thought to what is happening in your life is where you start finding what you're great at, what you were created to be doing, and where you're going to succeed at as opposed to just coming up with an idea, thinking, "Oh, I can make money on that," and going with it. It all kind of falls into place.

So when you decide on marketing, you finish up at San Diego State. Were you still with the Clairemont Surf Shop at the time?

[10:21]
John Wilson: Actually, I was really lucky. I was hired a month before I graduated, and I was hired by Oakley to be the southern California sales rep.

[10:27]
James McKinney: So before you graduated?

[10:28]
John Wilson: Before I graduated.

[10:29]
James McKinney: Got it, okay.

[10:30]
John Wilson: So right about that time, when there's lots of on campus interviews going down and people were in suits and ties, I was sitting in my class in a t-shirt and shorts, and excited about the fact that I had this job. I actually even started working some of the territory before school officially ended, but it was really nice to kind of have that lined up and I could just transition right into that straight out of school.

[10:53]
James McKinney: So when you were hired as a territory sales rep, was it what you thought it was going to be? Because you had exposure on the retail side of what the sales reps did, but it's always different when you're in the mix. So a marketing degree will obviously speak to the sales cycle, but it's a whole lot different than being a sales rep. So what was it like for you to go from one side of the counter to the other?

[11:21]
John Wilson: You know, it's interesting you say it that way because I say it the exact same way. That was what excited me about it. I thought I've got all this great experience on the retail side of the counter, now I get to hop over to the manufacturer side of the counter and learn even more. I'll tell you that it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be because you tend to just see the kind of more the front end, glamorous part of when the reps coming in, taking their crew out to donuts in the morning or going for a surf, then showing them the latest collection and you see all this great product.

But what you don't see is all the hard yards on the freeway and behind the steering wheel. And all the operational side of collecting the order book and dealing with credit and customer service and production, and getting the order book delivered on, and getting paid from the retail base. And then dealing with so many different personalities and so many different types of stores. Because with Oakley, it's a very diverse distribution network. So I did all the surf, skate, snow and I did golf and I did bike. Going to RVR in Carlsbad and dealing with the head pro there as the buyer is a very different experience than going to say Hanson Surfboard up in Encinitas and dealing with that team.

So it taught me a lot about how to navigate through different personalities, different retail environments. But there was quite a few eye opening experiences for me that made me realize that, wow, this is actually a lot more hard work than I'd anticipated. But I loved it, because I've never been afraid of hard work. I've always been driven to do my best, whatever it is that I'm doing. But man, it was an incredible experience.

[13:01]
James McKinney: So how old were you in this season of life, where you're working for Oakley?

[13:05]
John Wilson: I was 24 actually.

[13:06]
James McKinney: 24. Married yet?

[13:08]
John Wilson: Nope. Had a girlfriend.

[13:10]
James McKinney: Girlfriend, but-

[13:11]
John Wilson: And it was the girl that I married.

[13:13]
James McKinney: Girl that you married, okay.

[13:14]
John Wilson: My wife, Laura.

[13:15]
James McKinney: The reason I'm asking these questions is that your responsibilities always play a role in how we choose our careers, kind of the progression of it, the opportunities we seek. It plays a role in the ventures we choose to start. So you're working for Oakley at 24. That's a new side of the business for you, you're succeeding in it. Not married yet. What was your trajectory inside of Oakley? And then when did you get married and how did the responsibility of a wife start changing the way you think about your future opportunities?

[13:48]
John Wilson: Yeah. So I was an outside sales rep for three years and then was hired to be the head of sales for the US.

[13:55]
James McKinney: Oh wow.

[13:56]
John Wilson: Yeah. It was quick progression so to speak.

[14:01]
James McKinney: That's incredible. You must have been killing it.

[14:04]
John Wilson: Yeah, talk about a humbling learning experience of going from one side of the counter to the other, and going from one geography of southern California to then national geography, all channels of distribution. A seasoned rep force, seasoned sales management team. It was definitely-

[14:19]
James McKinney: By 27.

[14:20]
John Wilson: … a handful, yeah. I was like whoa, okay, it's go time. But there was a great mentor of mine, Mike Parnell, who's the CEO of Oakley and Jim Jannard is the founder of Oakley, and both those guys were super inspiring to me. And so Mike, who was the CEO at the time, Oakley had gone public, needed somebody to come in and help lead the sales charge because he had all these new responsibilities of being in the public environment. So I had that opportunity to get in there and get after it. I got to work with some of the best sales people on the planet, some of the best sales leaders. Then really learn the inside workings of a manufacturer. Of course, you're exposed to that on the sales side but not until you're really working with the team and leading the team. Everything cross functionally eventually channels its way through the sales organization from marketing a product, to finance, customer service, you name it. So at one point I was thinking, "Maybe I should go back and get my master's," and I quickly realized I'm getting a master's and then some through my rep experience and then this sales leadership role.

So my wife and I got married and the interesting thing about what you're sort of asking about, getting married and having a wife, and the impact on my views and my career, I will say I was definitely of the mindset of okay, I've got to finish school, then I've got to get a job. Then I'll ask Laura to marry me, then we'll get married. And then we're going to have to have a house, and then we'll have kids. It was just like the classic knock everything out. It wasn't until we had our first child Keenan, our oldest son, and I was hanging out with him as a newborn that I thought, "What the heck? I totally over prioritized all this other stuff. If I would have known it was going to be this cool, I would have jumped on this a lot sooner."

That was the beginning of some great life lessons around I think what happens sometimes is when people think about starting a company or they think about this idea of being an entrepreneur, I think that we tend to, myself included, we tend to put too much weight or value on the potential downside of failure or if something doesn't work out, or the challenge and struggle that it's going to cause financially or whatever. Once you get into it, you realize, "Oh, I'm not dying from any of this." You know? So it's been interesting lesson for me along the way that's come from having a family, and my faith, and my friends. All that stuff really helps to try to keep things into perspective.

[16:50]
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love that. Because I think so often, to your point about the fear, so often entrepreneurs or want-repreneurs will be afraid to take that step because of what that could mean as a family. I think part of it too is if you approach it as a family too, with the dialog and the discussions, it's all the more better for it. My kids, they're older now and so they've seen me through a few different transitions. Because of the dialogue, they understand what entrepreneurship is like. Sometimes it's incredible, and sometimes it's a whole lot of hardship to it. If that is the road that they take, then they'll be more informed because of it.

So you're climbing the ranks in Oakley. You're head of sales for the US. Married, first kid Keenan at the time. So now you're probably 29?

[17:35]
John Wilson: I was 28.

[17:36]
James McKinney: 28. Obviously you're not at Oakley now. What happened inside of Oakley and how much farther did you go before the next transition?

[17:44]
John Wilson: Yeah. So I remained head of sales and then I received a recruiting call from Reef. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Reef, the sandal brand, and they do apparel footwear. Founded by two Argentinean brothers, Fernando and Santi. They had built this really cool business and I was a big admirer of the brand and the product. I used it, I bought it while working at the shop and also working at Oakley. So when I received that recruiting call, I wasn't really looking for a job per se, but I was at least interested enough to go and meet with them.

Long story short, they needed a head of US sales and were really looking to transition from this kind of smaller family run business that they two of them had started, and wanted to build a director level leadership team, and put a CEO in place, and really take the business to the next level. Although it was a smaller company, it was private and it was really focused on primarily the surf distribution. I felt like I could bring a lot of things I had learned at Oakley to bare. So it was appealing for me to kind of go downstream so to speak, and start back with a smaller company and help them grow and evolve. That was an awesome experience.

[18:56]
James McKinney: At this point in time though, Oakley obviously they're public, they had to have been huge. Obviously I don't know what their financial situation was when you were 28, but they were a massive global brand at that point. There had to have been some interesting conversations between whether it be you and Laura, you and your dad. Talking about stability, because now Oakley had proven to be stable for your dad, right? And now you're looking to leave that for, and I don't know if Reef was necessarily a startup, I don't know how young they were, but they weren't nearly the size and visibility that Oakley was at the time.

So what were some of the conversations taking place in that time? That is really an entrepreneurial breadcrumb, because you're now wanting to leave something stable, known, secure for something a little bit riskier and wanting to build something, right? Because you said that was why you wanted to leave, you wanted to build something.

[19:50]
John Wilson: Yeah. I think kind of the cool thing about working in the surf industry and cut my teeth at retail, I was actually exposed to a lot of really amazing entrepreneurs who in the US kind of like created that marketplace. So Bob McKnight who's the founder of Quicksilver, Richard Walcott who founded Volcom, and Bob Hurley who founded Hurley, so had seen these entrepreneurs do their thing and pursue their passion, and build these great companies. It was always inspiring to me. Then working for Jim Jannard at Oakley and seeing what… talk about a creative force. It was incredible. But even Steve O'Connell, the founder of Clairemont Surf Shop, he's an entrepreneur through and through. So I learned a lot about culture. I learned a lot about how to treat people, how to reward your people, how to be great with customers. It was really like exposure to these entrepreneurs that on some level, some of it conscious, some of it subconscious, started to kind of stoke this flame or desire so to speak of oh man, it would be so amazing to do something like that one day.

Then when I was approached by Fernando and Santi, the founders of Reef, these guys talk about a classic entrepreneur story. They come to the US, they barely speak English. I think they had like $4,000 between the two of them, and they build this incredible company. They did a bunch of different companies prior to starting Reef, but they were just like oozing the entrepreneurial vibe. So when I spent time with them, even though it was a smaller business. It wasn't a startup by any means, but it was earlier stage company and much smaller than Oakley, I was super inspired by their energy and their optimism, and their competitive spirit, and how they were thinking about story telling in the marketing side, how they were thinking about product. It was another like set of entrepreneurs that just got me fired up. That's what drove me to want to go down and be a part of it. And I felt like I could contribute to it.

[21:47]
James McKinney: Now hearing more about what kind of that inner fire that was burning for yourself, it makes sense that Reef was that next step for you. Because it sounded like they were just kind of providing more and more fuel to inner fire of just wanting to do something. And so what was that experience like within Reef, having come from that huge company like Oakley at the time? Because sometimes there's some tension that, from your experience at Oakley, you saw what it takes to get there. I assume you didn't want to just bring that over into Reef, or maybe you did. What was some of the learning opportunities you had inside of Reef?

[22:24]
John Wilson: There was a lot of pages out of the Oakley playbook that I just straight transferred right across. Okay, we're going to take this stuff. I know this works. This is great. There's an opportunity to apply it here. But then there's other things that you need to do that are specific to that business and the needs that Reef had at the time. Whether that was how the sales and credit team interacted and functioned together, all the way through to how do we want to think about build outs and brand spaces within our retail partner stores, and everything in between. I think that all the way through to STANCE, that's the great thing about being a part of companies like an Oakley or a Reef, or even a Clairemont Surf Shop is you get to take the stuff that works really well and try to avoid the stuff that doesn't.

[23:11]
James McKinney: I love that you keep throwing Clairemont Surf Shop into the mix with Oakley and Reef, because I am such an advocate for small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone of the US, and I know everyone kind of points to the huge brands, but it's just not true. I think it's like 70% of employment is under the umbrella of small businesses, so I love that you just keep throwing Clairemont into that mix and giving them love for that.

[23:35]
John Wilson: Super impactful. Met my wife there.

[23:38]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[23:39]
John Wilson: I've got a lot to be thankful for from that experience, for sure.

[23:42]
James McKinney: That is so cool. So you're with Reef, you're building this. You have this fire to start building something for yourself. So how did the conversation come to be about STANCE? Where did this idea come from and then what was that transition out of Reef like?

[23:56]
John Wilson: Jeff Kearl, my business partner, he and I knew each other just through the industry. He was the chairman of the board for Skull Candy and we had met through some mutual friends.

[24:07]
James McKinney: You met while you were with Oakley or while you were at Reef?

[24:09]
John Wilson: When I was at Reef, yeah. We just had like a good connection. I met him at this SIMA surf summit down in Cabo. Thought he was a really interesting guy and had good conversations with him. And so in 2009 in the middle like June time frame, he had reached out like, "Hey, I want to get together with you and talk to you about this idea that I'm contemplating." I was like, "All right, okay sounds cool." He's like, "It's this category that I think is being neglected that I'd love to get your feedback on." So I go and meet him for a breakfast.

Because he was at Skull Candy, I just for whatever reason thought that it was going to be some new consumer electronics category. Obviously the success of the iPod and all that kind of stuff, and Skull Candy was crushing it.

[24:51]
James McKinney: Especially '09. '09 is the iPhone or '08 was the iPhone.

[24:59]
John Wilson: So it was interesting is we get together for this breakfast, and Jeff's a great storyteller so he proceeds to give me this whole story for probably close to an hour before he even says anything about what the category is. I'm thinking is he ever going to tell me what this deal is all about? So then he finally comes around to saying, "So I feel like the sock category has been really neglected, and I think it's a big market opportunity," and blah, blah, blah. When he said it, I actually thought at first that he was kidding around, but then he kept going like straight faced, onto his next topic or point about it. I was like, "Well, he's not kidding." Then of course I started, after the initial kind of like what, I started thinking that's actually kind of interesting. I never really thought about that, and you're right. It just kind of started affirming. Because being in footwear and apparel, and obviously working with retailer for by that time almost 20 years, I had some understanding of the marketplace and I felt like actually I saw a lot of similarities to what Oakley did and really building its leadership position in eyewear, what Reef did in building its leadership position in sandals, and how both those companies became synonymous with those categories.

My wife's reaction, which you brought up a little while ago, was pretty interesting because I went home and told her. She's like, "Hey, how'd your conversation go with Jeff?" and I said, "Well…" She goes, "What was the category?" and I go, "This is not going to sound very sexy, but the category is socks." She's all, "Socks? That you put on your feet?" I'm like, "Yeah, socks. I know. It doesn't sound sexy, but here's the deal." Lucky for me, she was supportive of it from the get go. It was weird. It wasn't like there was some crazy lost in translation. So what we did is we ended up just doing a bunch of market research and homework, talking to people in the industry that we knew, designers, merchandisers, retailers, and just kind of pressure testing it. What do you think about the category? How are you handling?

And what we found out is that everybody was treating it as an afterthought. The manufacturers on the apparel side and footwear side were, the retailers were. You go into some of these stores and there'd be a box in the corner on the floor. It's like oh, there's the socks, or no they're under the counter. There's some belts and wallets, and there's some socks there. But yet they all had these big footwear sections and they were selling tons of footwear, tons of apparel. It's unusual to see a market as big as socks is globally and have such a fragmented competitive landscape. To be a high consumption product, high margin product, and it was all those things that we just sort of like got educated on and came to the realization this is an opportunity, and let's go for it.

[27:36]
James McKinney: So for a second, I want you to help us as the entrepreneurial student, what eyes did you have where socks became an opportunity? How does that even cross one's mind of… Someone goes to a surf shop, prior to STANCE's existence, I just can't think of anybody that would have pointed to socks being an opportunity. What were you and Jeff seeing that socks was an opportunity? What lens did you have? Were you looking at the storefronts or the retail layout, and just you saw a lot of things represented but not socks? Help me understand how you saw socks as an opportunity.


[28:23]
James McKinney: I hope you are loving this episode of The Startup Story. Before we continue on with our episode, I want to let you know about some exciting Startup Story news. We are preparing to launch our very own YouTube channel. Yes, The Startup Story will be expanding our platform to YouTube.

Now, as you can tell the listener experience is critical for me for the podcast, so viewer experience is obviously going to be critical for me for the new channel. I was not about to just record this from my office. I needed to make sure I had some great looking furniture. And yet, furniture shopping is terrible. Over eager sales people, poor quality pieces, and terrible customer service. So in my search, I discovered Article. I was able to get everything online on my own. No show rooms, no sales people, and incredible pricing because there are no retail markups. Look, I'm bootstrapping The Startup Story. I have to be frugal. Article was an amazing resource and I cannot wait to announce when the channel is live so that you can see what I've been working on.

But look, you know I'm all about entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs, so when I reached out to Article, they gladly put together an offer for all The Startup Story listeners. It's an amazing discount, too. If you visit Article.com/startupstory you can get $50 off your first purchase of $100 or more. Once you visit Article.com/startupstory, the discount will automatically be applied at checkout. Like always, in case you can't remember the URL we'll include a link in our show notes. I hope this hookup helps you in a big way. All right, enough about the update. Let's jump back into our episode.


[29:51]
James McKinney: Help me understand how you saw socks as an opportunity.

[29:55]
John Wilson: Yeah. Maybe the best way to say it is it just was so neglected. The product was neglected in terms of design and quality. The in store merchandising was neglected. The way a footwear company was treating even some of the biggest footwear companies. They were just licensing it out to other people. Not everybody, but a lot of the big players were and the big apparel players, they were just licensing it out. So it was like this $20 billion plus global category that was being neglected by retailer and manufacturer alike.

[30:28]
James McKinney: $20 billion category that was an afterthought.

[30:31]
John Wilson: Yeah. If you asked 50 people in 2009, and even today for the most part, but if you ask 50 people in 2009 what sock brand comes to mind, you'd get probably 30 different answers. There's now Levi's of the sock category. There's no Oakley of the sock category. There's no Nike of the sock category. It was just oh Gold Toe, Wigwam, Smartwool, you just get a whole variety of names. It was unusual because if you look at most all other categories--denim, footwear, eyewear, pick your category--you're going to have these say one to three brands that most people are going to bring up.

But we found with socks, it was so far from that it wasn't even funny, but yet it was something that people wore every day and at the time, it was a stat I think it was the average consumer went through 30 pairs of socks per year. So you have high consumption, high margin, huge global market, fragmented competitor landscape, and something that was just being completely neglected. I would say that another big drive for us was we were actually really motivated by the idea of doing something that was unexpected. So even the way in which you ask me the question, like what the heck, how did you see, that was part of the attraction. It was part of the attraction to do something that was unexpected and unique, because it's really, really hard to do that in footwear and apparel.

[31:55]
James McKinney: Was there part of yours and Jeff's dialog thinking, because to your point that there was something exciting about trying to do something when the response is that, like socks? Was part of it you were going and saying there's a chance that this thing is just going to fail, but man I want to give it shot and see if we can make socks relevant.

[32:15]
John Wilson: Yeah, absolutely. The fact that when we went and told people about it, that most people were scratching their head, going, "Wait, what? A sock company? Seriously?" the fact that they thought that it was weird and couldn't get their head around it in a way, that was the affirmation. Okay, we're onto something here because people are having a hard time understanding it and getting it. I guess there's some advice or some learnings in there if you're somebody who has an idea and a concept. Not to say that every time, but if you go around and you tell a bunch of people about it and they all completely get it, and there's no surprise, there's no nothing, it's just, "Oh, yeah, yeah, it totally makes sense," again not to say that it's a bad idea, but it maybe might not be as impactful as you would want it to be. For those that are going around sharing an idea, and everybody is a little confused by it, and there's a couple people that get it, I don't know, it seems like that's where a lot of the magic happens is when it's not so obvious.

[33:15]
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, I love that. I love it. So you and Jeff decide to move on this sock, and we'll just called it STANCE now because we know it's STANCE. You decide to move on STANCE. Having come from the retail side, and I'm just trying to think through again as an entrepreneur, what are some of the challenges that's going to be? Obviously consumer adoption but also did you start out with the thought that you were going to go through retail, or was it direct to consumer? What was your day one sales strategy?

[33:42]
John Wilson: Yeah, we attacked both. And that strategy came from both of our experiences at the time, where Oakley had a really nice online business, and Oakley was one of the first brands to go direct online. I remember this because I had to deliver the message at a global sales meeting that we were going to sell accessories online on the website, and I thought I was going to get physically attacked by the sales force because they're like, "What? You can't do that." But they were one of the first. So I learned from that.

Jeff with his background, he's an entrepreneur, he's an angel investor in a lot of different companies, really switched on the tech side of things. And so we both kind of had enough of this ecommerce background to understand that hey, this is going to continue to be big and we have to be there. So we launched our website on day one. Socks were available on STANCE.com right out of the gate, and then we went after 75 specialty retailers across the country that they were cut across surf, skate, snow, and then kind of street and lifestyle. They were the influential retailers that we knew would serve as a really nice launching point for the brand, and a really cool place for people to discover STANCE.

[34:59]
James McKinney: Like Tilly, like those?

[35:01]
John Wilson: Not in the beginning, no, but places like Surfside Sports and Huntington Beach, 17th Street out in Virginia.

[35:07]
James McKinney: Oh, so the icons of the industry.

[35:08]
John Wilson: Clairemont Surf shop in San Diego, and just iconic skate shops and snowboard accounts. Those are the stores that really brought a lot of authenticity to the concept and the idea. Yeah, then we were really able to kind of build and expand off of that.

[35:26]
James McKinney: What was your process from, again, those early conversations to flipping the switch on the website and having product in store? How long was that time period? How much testing did you do? Did you go the route with consumer feedback? Because part of what makes STANCE really unique and why my son loves them so much, which is why I'm aware of STANCE, two years ago he just starts buying these STANCE socks, is the unique designs. The expression that one can have of themselves through STANCE socks. Was that something you discovered in that period where you weren't for sale yet? Or is that something that came after the fact?

[36:03]
John Wilson: Well the answer to that question, go back to an earlier question which you asked about why socks, how could you see something happening in socks? What we felt like was the sock was kind of like that last piece of real estate so to speak in the overall apparel and footwear kit that hadn't been properly branded and that actually was lacking in design. So we felt like we could give the consumer this new outlet of expression. As we developed the product strategy, yes that idea of creativity, expression, originality, those things were definitely the key ingredients behind how we thought about the brand position and the product strategy.

Jeff and I were the first two to jump on it, but then we also hired Aaron Hennings, Taylor Shupe, and Ryan Kingman, and it's really that group of five that we refer to as the starting five, the cofounders, and it was Aaron and it was Kingman thinking through how are we going to be positioned as a brand, what is going to be the essence of the brand. That was really driven by Ryan who was our head of marketing, and then Aaron who handled all the design and creative. Really gave the aesthetic to the product. And then Taylor Shupe, who was overseeing all of development and sourcing and production, he was the one that was able to really bring the quality and the fit and the comfort to life.

We had basically a year before we shipped product into the marketplace, and it was during that year that we worked on what we wanted the brand to represent, the product strategy that we kind of felt would go hand in hand and complement that, and then the quality and the premium position we wanted to take in the marketplace, and then distribution and everything else.

[37:50]
James McKinney: Oh my goodness, this is unbelievable.

[37:53]
John Wilson: If you go to why start something, why be an entrepreneur, to be able to create something from nothing, it's hard. Very hard, but it's fun. It's rewarding. And then if you fast forward to where we are today, it never gets old to hear somebody say, "Oh my gosh, I love your socks. They're so comfortable. In fact, I threw out all my other pairs of socks and now my whole drawer is STANCE." To know that on a daily basis, whether it's a pair of STANCE underwear, or a STANCE t-shirt, or a STANCE sock, people are putting our product on and it makes them feel good. It's comfortable, they feel like they look good, and it's reflective of their style or how they're feeling that day. Just knowing that we're a part of somebody's day like that, it's really cool.

For me, that's I guess an influence on why do something like this. And I will say that it goes back to seeing through my Oakley experiences, and Reef experiences, and then watching other companies like Pat Tenore and RVCA, or Andy and Chad the founders of Nixon, and seeing what those people were doing to excite the consumer and create great products that consumers loved. Like man, if I can be a part of creating something like that, then it's just got to be so rewarding. Those are the things that got me pretty excited about it.

[39:17]
James McKinney: It's funny. I guess I'm jumping ahead, but it's funny that you talk about Nixon. When we think Nixon we think watches of course, and when you think about brands, in '09 when you guys were having this conversation about socks, Instagram wasn't there. It was not a thing. Nowadays, there are so many brands that start from Instagram. Movement, and they sold for what $1 billion? I think I'm overshooting that, but there are so many brands that start from Instagram that don't even go the retail route. Retail starts asking for them because they start having a following, but they don't start with retail. What are some of the things that you think of for new up and comers that have an idea for a category, an apparel category, a brand category, whatever the case may be, when it comes to leveraging some technology resources that are out there to prove concept, before you even spend a dime and risk something? What's some advice you have for some of those newcomers out there that want to try and at least prove what they're doing?

[40:22]
John Wilson: Yeah. Well I think now more than ever, what's been proven over and over is there's no set formula. There's no you've got to do it this way, you've got to go here, go here, do that, do this. Man, tomorrow you could have some new channel of distribution that is born out of a new technology, a new social tool or whatever. It's exciting and it's also, it's intense because you want to be where the consumer is shopping. And you want to be as easy to access as possible. So I think my first place to start with advice would be don't go into it with any like preconceived notions of it has to be done this way.

There's so many different ways to do it now, because if you go back 10 years, you go back 20 years, it was a lot more formulaic on how you would build a distribution strategy to sell to a consumer. And also, how you might try to test to see if your idea is valid. Now with technology, there's so many different things you can do to A to B test, whether it's through social platforms, whether through a website, whether it's through blogs. You name it, you can access consumer insight in a lot of different ways to pressure test that proof of concept. And that's exciting. I don't want to say it makes it easier, but it definitely, there's more tools today than ever to test the waters before you say okay, man I'm going.

[41:47]
James McKinney: There's a lot of tools out there too in the manufacturing side where you don't necessarily have to buy a ton of inventory to help test some of the brand concepts that people may have. There's small run batch manufacturers that, with the, and again not suggesting I know anything about manufacturing, but like with Ali Baba, there's all kinds of resources someone could have for small batch testing on something. Things are just so different now.

But when you look back on the growth of STANCE from '09 to first product in a store, online, what was that time period?

[42:20]
John Wilson: December through to August, so December '09 to August 2010, so a little less than a year.

[42:27]
James McKinney: Less than a year from conversation to first product online or in store.

[42:33]
John Wilson: Yep.

[42:35]
James McKinney: Unbelievable.

[42:37]
John Wilson: Yeah. It was.

[42:38]
James McKinney: That is so fast.

[42:40]
John Wilson: And actually, we were trying to go faster. We actually wanted goods to ship in the fall time frame. We wanted to hit back to school, because we knew that was typically a busier time for socks. This is a good example of something that was bad in the beginning but then turned out to be like a blessing in the long run. And it was the first set of samples that we received that we were going to then go to market with and sell for the fall back to school timeframe, and when the product came in, the way it was branded was all wrong.

We didn't have the circular icon logo down there. We had a different stitch line concept. We were trying to play off this thread thing. It was like Christmas morning we open up the samples, we're in our little office, we're all excited like this is the first collection. And every pair we pulled out, the energy in the room just got lower and lower, and we got more and more bummed out. We just had it all laid out on the table. It was one of those things where it was just like a group buzz kill, let down. We all knew. It wasn't like anybody in the room was going, "Oh, these look great." No they don't. It was all of just looked at each other and thought, "This isn't it. This cannot be our first impression."

We were really stressed about it because we were burning cash and we wanted to be in market for back to school, and we knew that if we changed this now, it was going to delay the launch until more holiday timeframe. So we stressed over it pretty hard, but just came back to the idea of you know what, we've got to get it right, so we're going to be late. But hw it did is it ended up pushing us in the direction of what we have as the current icon and the placement of it, which to me has been one of the best things about the brand and the product. But I can tell you, from that opening of t he first sample box to receiving the new version and the circle icon, it was stressful and anxious and frustrating. But at the end of the day, it was one of those things that turned out to be a… it forced us to do something better.

[44:41]
James McKinney: You mention burning through cash. Up to this point, self funded? Was it debt vehicle, or did you go venture capital from day one?

[44:51]
John Wilson: Partly us combined with some angel investors, and then there was one institutional investor, Mercato Capital Partners out of Salt Lake. Greg Warnock, who Jeff had a longstanding relationship, he saw… Actually, he didn't even see a business plan. He just heard the concept and was fired up to invest in us, and like threw a check down on the table so it was pretty cool.

[45:16[
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[45:17]
John Wilson: But it was mainly like friends. Friends and other angel investors, and ourselves.

[45:24]
James McKinney: Within 10 years, gone through series D. You have a footprint on almost every major coast on the globe, correct? You're represented everywhere. But you started as a sock company. When did the extension of the brand start taking place, where you're now having more product offering? Because Oakley started as sunglasses and now they do so much more. And you were there for that expansion as well. If I'm not mistaken, Reef is while it's primarily sandals, they have t-shirts but that's it, correct?

[45:58]
John Wilson: They do board shorts, and they've done… They've done actually kind of everything over the years. Cut and sew, and board shorts. It's hard, though, to extend into other categories. When you become known for eyewear or a sandal, or in the case of Vans footwear, it's really hard. You look at Vans today. Their apparel business is amazing, but it wasn't always like that and it took them a long, long time to be able to transition from this footwear positioning into apparel.

[46:30]
James McKinney: Vans could have slayed socks. They could have.

[46:34]
John Wilson: I'm pretty confident they sell a lot of socks.

[46:40]
James McKinney: I am too, but they could have slayed socks. So what was the conversation around extending it to other pieces of apparel?

[46:46]
John Wilson: It was this idea that we knew that the brand had depth and breadth beyond socks. So we always looked at it as born out of the sock category, but positioned with the ability to extend into adjacent categories such as underwear and t-shirts.

[47:05]
James McKinney: I do want to get to the underwear conversation down the road, but that wasn't product one though, it was t-shirts right?

[47:11]
John Wilson: No, it went socks and then underwear, then t-shirts.

[47:15]
James McKinney: Oh, it went underwear second. I thought underwear was after. Okay.

[47:19]
John Wilson: No, tees are still new. They're just a little over a year.

[47:21]
James McKinney: So how does that conversation flow from let's start making underwear? The reason I ask this question is because when you look at the apparel billboard of a human being, you can see the shirt, you can see a jacket, a hoodie, whatever the case may be. You can see pants. Some cases you can see a belt. Shoes you see. Socks are more prevalent now, especially as pants become higher and higher, socks are a really big deal now. Underwear is the thing that you just don't see. So what made you think that you could take the creative expression that has made STANCE so powerful, and translate it into something that's never going to get seen except for the person wearing it?

[48:01]
John Wilson: And maybe their significant other. Yeah, that's the only downside I guess about the underwear category, is you don't get the credit like you do if somebody's wearing your t-shirt. But the same with socks. You get credit, but it's not always front and center. We felt like it was such a logical extension. We were getting a lot of consumers asking about it, a lot of customers like, "When are you going to underwear? When are you going to do underwear?" Interestingly enough, there's a lot of the same dynamics at play in the underwear category. This is back in like 2013 or 2014, where it was pretty fragmented. There's a couple brands out there doing some good stuff, but there… it was just all over the map. We felt like we could take some of the same fit, quality, comfort, proprietary innovation and we could leverage that same thinking and philosophy into underwear and create a great product. Better than what was in the marketplace. So one of those pinnacle proprietary innovations was butter blend, and that's something we created-

[49:06]
James McKinney: Your fabric is so soft.

[49:09]
John Wilson: So soft. It's buttery.

[49:10]
James McKinney: It really is.

[49:11]
John Wilson: It's been such a great development for us, we've actually taken that and we've leveraged it into socks, and then we also leveraged it into our t-shirt collection. It's always top selling in all three categories. So we felt like we could give the consumer inner confidence of knowing I've got something on that's super comfy and it fits great. You should see how amazing the design is.

[49:35]
James McKinney: When you look back in your life's journey, it seems so clear to me that it was just building blocks, building blocks, building blocks all leading you to this moment where you are now. Do you see the same thing?

[49:52]
John Wilson: Yeah, hindsight is always 20/20, right, so yeah I do. I see there's so many things around the value of people or the appreciation for great cultures, the appreciation for great design and product quality, really creative storytelling, really good leaders and mentors from Steve at Clairemont to Mike and Jim at Oakley, to Fernando and Santi at Reef. My cofounding partners that I get to work with today, there's so many common threads that are woven through there that you don't… they aren't as visible as you as you're going through these different phases of life and career. But yeah, as we sit here today and look back upon it, and you start to kind of rehash the story, you can definitely see some themes there that have had a massive influence on me and how I think about my career, how I think about the business and the people, and what it is we're trying to create. I feel really fortunate and blessed by all of that. It hasn't been easy. There's been great failures along the way, but there's a lot of good things there.

[50:59]
James McKinney: Has there been a misstep in STANCE? I feel like for the growth you've had as fast as you've had, there couldn't have been missteps, or if they were you guys recovered super fast. So were there missteps in the growth of STANCE?

[51:11]
John Wilson: Yes. Key is plural. Yes there's been plenty of missteps along the way, and I think it's just whenever you have that misstep, you just have to be super honest about it and learn from it, and just get moving past the misstep.

[51:27]
James McKinney: What was the most painful one? What was the one you learned the most from? Let's put that in a positive light.

[51:34]
John Wilson: There was two. One I already talked about which was the logo situation, and the placement and how we're going to treat it. Then another one was only a couple years into it, where we ended up getting a cease and desist letter from a ski company that said that our logo looked like their logo. They said we had to stop using it. We had it on packaging, we had it on our website, we had it on our business cards, on order forms. We had it on all the product. I'm like what? What are you talking about? Our design, it doesn't look like yours and you guys had no influence at all on our design or anything. At first, we just tried to brush it off like wow, you know, whatever we disagree. Then sure enough, they pressed it and pushed it, and it finally got the point where they're like, "Okay, we are going to now sue you."

It was a much bigger, huge company. Talk about some stress. We had hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory. All the stuff had been built up around our logo. And now we were faced with having to abandon it and start over, and that's what we had to do. We had to get rid of the icon. It was the icon. Not the word mark, but it was the icon itself. We actually connected with an industry friend of ours, this guy named Eric Crane, and Eric actually redesigned the logo for us. I can tell you the logo is so much better that he created and so of course we had to go through, we worked out a transition deal with this company.

We got through it. It was painful. It was costly. It was expensive. But we ended up with such a better icon, and if you compare that icon with the original icon, there's like no comparison at all. So it's kind of another one of those things where it was a misstep, maybe we should have done our homework a little bit more and searched out, and had it vetted further, but we didn't. We were just young and going fast. So it came back to bite us pretty hard. It was super tough to work through, but once we got through it and now we have what we have, it's like so much better.

[53:36]
James McKinney: That's awesome.

[53:37]
John Wilson: So lots of missteps and it's just all about knowing you're going to have them, and the stuff that's working well figure out why it's working well and try to do a heck of a lot more of that. And the stuff that's' not going well, figure out why it's not working and stop doing that as fast as you can.

[53:55]
James McKinney: That is so good. Well, as our time comes to an end, my two favorite questions are the ones that I wrap up with all the time. One of them is about gratitude. The reason that I love this question and that I always ask this question is that because I believe that if we forget the contribution that so many people have made in our lives to get us to where we are today, that we will begin to think that we got here by ourselves, on our own doing, on our own sweat. That will ultimately begin to isolate us because we think it's about us. That will then lead to our failure.

So when you think back on your journey, who are all the people that you point to with such immense gratitude for their contribution to your startup story?

[54:42]
John Wilson: All the people that I've mentioned thus far, plus specifically my mom and dad, my wife and her parents, and her whole family. Actually, the buddies that I started working at with the surf shop are still my closest friends to this day, so we still know each other, still hang out, our kids know each other. Tim, Rob, Jimmy and Chris, like those guys. I don't know where I'd be without their support along the way. And my kids, too. My wife and kids, the provide that just anchor. They provide perspective that you need. And like I can sit here today, knowing that if it wasn't for all those great people that taught me about loyalty, that taught me about hard work, that taught me about perseverance, that taught me about how important team is, man if I didn't have all those people in my life, I would definitely not be here. I would have never had the courage and the confidence to say yeah, let's start a sock company. It wouldn't have happened.

In fact, we have five company values at STANCE, and one of our values is gratitude. I'm not just saying that is, but it's actually my favorite or the five values that we have. Because I think when you're grateful, it keeps you humble, it keeps things in perspective. You don't take it to serious. Obviously, we're competitive. We want to produce great results and everything. I don't know, it's just something about it that you don't want to take the people and the experiences for granted. And it's easy to do sometimes in that you're going fast, and you're working hard. You can develop blind spots. If you have values like that, that are a part of your life, and in our case a part of the business, it kind of keeps bringing you back to what's really important.

[56:23]
James McKinney: Gratitude will keep you connected, period. From a values perspective. I'm assuming grateful for our distributors, grateful for our clients, our vendors. Knowing all the people that contribute to the success of STANCE, or The Startup Story, or anybody's venture. Maintaining a heart of gratitude keeps you connected, and like you said grounded. So thank you for sharing that great list.

[56:47]
John Wilson: Yeah, it's specifically to STANCE, all our partners around the world, all of the reps that are out in the field, all the distributors that we have, all the service providers that we have. The team that throws out blood, sweat and tears all the time here in the building. This is definitely… we always say, I just said this the other day in a meeting, it's like STANCE has always been a team sport, and it always will be. So it's super important to remember that and it's definitely not about one person. The reason why we try and invest a lot in the culture and establish the values is we want to create an environment that transcends time and people. That's not just hinged on one individual. We've got a lot of work to do there and we're not perfect, but we put a lot into trying to create something special.

And I can't forget, just a special call out to my father-in-law, but also my wife at the same time. But my father-in-law has been this great role model for me over the years because he's an entrepreneur. He has his own private equity firm, but prior to starting that he had founded a company in the medical manufacturing business. He's just been there for me over the years, whether it's a business topic, a family topic, anything about faith, and how to balance all that out. Faith, family, friends, career. It's not easy. I've got five kids, and my wife and I have been married for almost 25 years so there's a lot to navigate there, but he's always been like a rock and a really good anchor in helping me to kind of put faith at the center of my family, and everything has just been something I really, really appreciate because it keeps a lot of things in perspective, and it takes away a lot of the traditional anxiety that I think comes along with taking risks and doing things that you've never done before.

[58:28]
James McKinney: I love it. That is awesome. So my final question, your swan song of The Startup Story if you will. We've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners right now at a very macro level, unpacking your journey. But I view The Startup Story as a digital mentor. So for right now, as we wrap up your startup story, I want to take it down to a dialog between you and one persona listener. Maybe it's you want to speak to the frustrated entrepreneur, the one who's been doing this for some time and is just discouraged with a lack of traction or they're always having cash flow issues, whatever the case may be. Just the challenges that come with entrepreneurship. Or maybe it's the want-repreneur, someone who has a 9 to 5 job, married, kids, mortgage. There's some narrative that gives a level of fear to not move on their dream. Or maybe they're 60 and they just simply think I'm too old to do this, which we know isn't true, but it's a narrative people wrestle with. Or lastly, the defeated entrepreneur, the one who has been punched in the gut time and time again, and is now just getting ready to hang his or her hat up and call it quits. I would like you to have a conversation with just one of those people.

[59:41]
John Wilson: Well, if we had another hour I could actually speak to each one.

[59:44]
James McKinney: Because you've been each one at a point, right?

[49:46]
John Wilson: I've been there, yeah, at each phase. But maybe to the want- repreneur. We didn't start STANCE until I was 39. I guess when you think about it in today's terms, it's probably like an older start as an entrepreneur. And I had worked for two other great brands. So you can start anytime. Don't put too much emphasis, or don't over wait all the possible bad things you think could go wrong by starting something that doesn't actually work out. Because I think that's what holds a lot of people back, is they tend to get somewhat paralyzed by the fear of failure, or they get held back by what might seem insurmountable and something that, "That's not me," or, "I've never been that way."

Just the word entrepreneur or entrepreneurship, or being entrepreneurial, that's intimidating for most people. I actually just had a conversation about this the other day with a couple employees here at lunch time. One of the employees was expressing to me that they've actually never thought of themselves as an entrepreneur, and that the word was actually intimidating because I think to some of the earlier points you made, people think of a Jeff Bezos or they think of a Mark Zuckerberg and it's like oh my gosh, I'm not like that. But in reality, I think everybody has entrepreneurial DNA strands, and it comes in all different shapes and sizes and forms, and at different times. So my encouragement is if you've got that itch, and you've got an idea, seek some great wisdom and advice. Don't be afraid to go and get started. You've just got to get started.

[61:27]
James McKinney: What John shared with you at the end of his startup story is absolutely everything. He was 39 years old when he cofounded STANCE, and that age bucks all the narrative standards when it comes to startups. I share his belief that all of us have entrepreneurial abilities and tendencies that show up differently. For some, the entrepreneurial journey is as a tradesman or crafter, selling their wares locally. That's entrepreneurship. For some, it begins at age 13 when their grandma gave them a 3D printer for Christmas and they started to make something and sell it on Etsy. Or maybe it began at 65 when the scrunchie trend makes its second go around, or is it third go around? Whatever it is. And that same grandma is a master sewer and starts making them to sell online. Both of those are entrepreneurial. Just because your idea may not become a category icon like STANCE does not mean you are not an entrepreneur. I'm so thankful for John sharing that perspective with all of us. Find what you're passionate about. Share with other people. Put some thought behind how to move forward and just get started. You are far more capable than you've give yourself credit for. Go get yours.

I hope you have found some real value in John's The Startup Story episode. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So if you have found any value in John's startup story, then please give him your feedback. If you own or have purchased any of their products, he wants to hear about your experience. Whether you're buying or shopping experience was at one of their 18 stores, or maybe it was online. Email them your thoughts and feedback at info@stance.com and let them know you heard John's episode on The Startup Story. That'll help me a lot. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for John Wilson and STANCE in a major way, and provide your feedback at info@stance.com. and if you buy a product from them, because you just learned about the brand from this episode, then please let me know. Tag us on Instagram. In fact, tag STANCE and The Startup Story in a pic of your STANCE products.

And now for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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October 29 2019
John Wilson, founder of STANCE

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