Written by Matt Warren
26th February 2016 • 18 min read
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When Gil Kahana had a few friends over for a drink three years ago, he never envisioned that by the end of the evening he’d have a business idea.
The idea came when Gil playfully lifted his feet into the air and thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if my socks were animated’. He then spoke to his friend Humberto de Sousa about it and from that ChattyFeet was born.
Since that evening there have been many highs and lows. They took two years to find a suitable supplier and to educate themselves on the market. They also went through a total rebrand but this eventually led to them being featured in Time Out and British Vogue. They also went on to sell on Notonthehighstreet, as well in stores such as Tate Modern and John Lewis.
We spoke to them about 10 subjects, which you can see below…
- Getting Started
- Finding Funding
- How to get your first sales
- Working with Freelancers
- Helpful Websites & Books
- Predictions for Ecommerce
1. Getting Started
Was ChattyFeet a full time venture when you first got started?
H: We both worked full-time and we had to find a way to commit ourselves to the project. So we thought, how can we spend one hour together during the week? And then how can we spend two hours in a week? And then it just grows.
Was there anything that you had to learn really quickly at the beginning?
H: You need to become a salesman. You need to have the ability to lose your shy side and start talking with people. Go networking! It’s something that we are still fighting now but you’ve just got to do it.
You need to become a salesman and lose your shy side
G: One of the useful things we did at the beginning was to visit our producers and to hear from them and to see the actual knitting machine working. We then discovered that there is a certain area on the sock that you can’t create designs on. That translated into our design brief when we worked with
designers then. So get to know your product!
Another thing that helped was getting mentorship. We knew a person that had experience with working with socks, so we were lucky enough to show them what we were doing and get some feedback.
What was the idea behind the branding of your business?
G: When we started ChattyFeet our mission was to give people lots of excuses to get silly and to bring back the child inside of them.
G: I think in terms of age our customers are usually between the age of 24-45. They appreciate good design, they like to have a laugh and they are willing to wear funny products, like ChattyFeet.
Has your brand persona evolved over time?
G: I think the first time we had a major breakthrough with understanding our audience was when we realized that ChattyFeet is not a sock brand, but a gift brand. We sold to John Lewis and we were very happy that their buyer was interested in our product. Sadly the products in that context did not sell as well as in a gift shop.
When we started selling to websites like Notonthehighstreet and Tate Modern the performance of the product is much better. So this realization that people buy ChattyFeet as a gift changed our persona and made us realize that we need to think about how people are buying gifts and who they buy it for.
How did you finance the business in the beginning?
H: You didn’t need much money to start the business by itself, the most difficult part is growing the business. Therefore we launched on Kickstarter. I remember there was a blog article from a German website, and they were writing about the three worst ideas on Kickstarter and they were like ‘look at these silly socks’ and I was like, ‘ah man!’.
Kickstarter is a project that takes a lot of energy as well. And you need to very clear of what you’re trying to do.
Therefore we started talking with blogs that were writing about our subject. To keep them engaged we sent emails to explain how the socks looked, how they were being produced in the factory, how we evolved the logo through time. I think it worked out in the end because we got the total investment.
Taking to blogs helped us raise the money through Kickstarter
G: We also approached illustrators and puppeteers sending them emails about our Kickstarter project. We had 30 days to raise £7,500 so it was quite stressful, especially after we ran out of all the list of our friends and family. And we still had about 15 days left with half of the money to raise.
How did you find the right suppliers?
H: I think in the end it all comes back to communication: is it easy to talk with them? Do they come back to you very quickly? Are they nice to you or not? So I think you need to spend some time just looking for the right producer, the right people to work with.
G: I think it was more than six months until we found someone that we were happy to work with.
5. First Sales
What did you do to get your first sales?
H: The first sales were in Camden market. But that wasn’t the first objective, we didn’t go to the market to sell the product, we went to the market to expose the product.
As we touched on earlier, when we started selling online we realized that we’re selling a lot during Christmas time, why is that? We found that out by understanding our data, understanding analytics, understanding how people reacted to the products being online.
By understanding our analytics we realized we were a gift company and not a fashion company
We understood, maybe we are not a fashion product. We are a gift product and that’s the reason we’re selling more at specific seasons in the year. So we looked at the spikes on data and you can see clear – Father’s Day, boom, Christmas, BOOM…that was a good clear insight.
G: We had one of our first sale on a website called Fab through a flash sale. That was the first time that we sold our products in the thousands and that was a great moment.
We’re now selling on many different websites in different countries, so in Sweden and Denmark we’re selling on a website called Cool Stuff, that is very successful for us. They have lots of different products and this is the right environment for us.
How did you start marketing your product?
G: So one of the first things we did is to find partners to collaborate with. So we started to work with Notonthehighstreet. We started to see quite a lot of sales from there and it also helped us expose our brand on this platform.
The second thing we did was taking photos of our socks in different contexts. Whenever we were going to events, exhibitions we’d and post them on Instagram.
Another time we sent a sample of Kate Middletoe socks to the British Vogue and they Instagrammed the photo and that got more than 6000 likes. That also gives you a great feeling, that people care about it.
We decided to pick up the phone as well and contact Time Our Portugal. Our socks are produced in Portugal. Also that month we’d just had a collaboration with a school in Portugal. So that gave us a really good reason to speak with them. We told them about ChattyFeet and they loved it and they wrote an article about us.
Can you talk about your experiences with freelancers?
H: We work with copywriters, designers, animators, puppeteers and they’re making a massive contribution to the company. And I think if you are starting a business I would recommend doing exactly that: find someone, go out have a drink or a meal and see if there is a personal connection.
Want to use a freelancer? Take them for a drink and see if there’s a personal connection
Understand that you need to provide proper guidelines, a proper understanding of what the brand is about and a proper template of the boundaries of what they can do. The other one is not give them too much work. Give them one design and if you like it, give them another one.
8. Useful Sites and Books
What websites do you use to keep up with the industry?
H: It’s probably more technical design sites such as Invision. We also use online courses, I personally use Lynda.com and Skillshare. Lynda is also a lot more broad but you can get a lot of content there.
Any business books you’d recommend?
H: I remember when Threadless put a book out and in the beginning that was quite a motivational book for us. It was about how they came up with the brand, the idea and understanding their market place. It also gave us a lot of insights from business to design, to teamwork, to their motto as a business.
G: There are two books that I would really recommend to everyone, one is The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman and the other one is The Art of Choosing. The Design of Everyday Things really made me think about simplicity and how to create things that people would really enjoy using. The Art of Choosing was very relevant when it came to selling online. It’s a book about how we make choices.
9. Predictions for Ecommerce
What’s your predictions for the future of ecommerce?
H: It’s interesting to look at Apple TV and understand if people are going to have the same engagement with the bigger device. Also this year there’s Oculus Rift coming out. It will mainly be used for gaming, but how long before you have a e-commerce platform working on virtual reality? Will you just have your personal shop next to you? I’m sure you’re actually going to feel stuff and you definitely can browse. Will it have the same feeling of being in a shop?
Do you have any business heroes that you aspire to?
G: We’re always very curious so we’re always seeing lots of stuff online but there was one talk that really kept me interested and it was a video interview with Richard Branson and Elon Musk. In that case Richard Branson said something I really believe in and it’s something we’re trying to do all the time – finding people to collaborate with that are doing stuff better than us. And I find that really
frees your time and helps you become better at what you do, because it can free our time to do what we really like.
Are there any businesses you like or are you quite happy carving your own niche?
G: We are always looking for inspiration from other companies and I think what Innocent are doing on the website is really inspiring, especially how they tell their story and I think it’s a very approachable brand with also a sense of humour.
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Written by Matt Warren
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