Hello! Who are you, and what are you working on?
My name is Taylor Offer, and I am one of the co-founders of FEAT Socks, a custom sock company based out of Los Angeles, California.
We sell our socks primarily at our website www.featsocks.com, where we offer all kinds of fun designs. We pride ourselves on having a fun company culture, and we showcase this through our social channels such as Instagram and YouTube.
As the Chief Marketing Officer, I focus most of my efforts on the marketing, branding, and exposure for FEAT Socks. I work alongside my co-founder Parker Burr along with a few more employees.
What's your backstory and how did come up with the idea?
Well, I've always been an entrepreneur. During my undergrad studies at UMass Amherst, I started three different companies on campus. I started a company called Shack Shirt in my junior year, where I would sell customized t-shirts to fraternities and sororities.
On my first day of senior year, I met my co-founder, Parker in an entrepreneurship class. In the class I was flexing on my success from Shack Shirt, when Parker approached me explaining he also had a custom apparel business selling lacrosse uniforms. He told me he did over a million in sales. I was astounded.
We did this for the rest of senior year and ended up selling 20,000 pairs of socks.
He then explained to me his lacrosse customers were starting to ask for custom socks to go with their jerseys. So we decided to team up to make socks and try to sell them on campus. I had experience selling things on campus, and Parker had experience customizing apparel. That day, we bought 200 pairs of plain white socks from Ross and pressed designs on them in our dorm room with a heat press. We set up a stand on campus sold them all, making $2,000 in one day.
We did this for the rest of senior year and ended up selling 20,000 pairs of socks. The socks became very popular on campus. We were like the drug dealers for socks. We'd always have socks in our backpacks, and people would flag us down around campus trying to buy some socks.
What were some challenges you faced?
We quickly ran into production issues. We pressed the socks manually in our dorm room up to 4 AM every night, even hiring friends for $10/hour. But it wasn't enough.
We tried to do a production run in China. They sent us some great looking samples so we signed a contract for 5,000 pairs. But then they sent us socks that looked nothing like the samples - they were complete garbage. Then, we found another Chinese manufacturer, and this time we were more careful. We ordered 20,000 pairs. We got the socks, and they looked great, but they did not stretch, at all!
After two bad runs in China, we had no leverage with the factories, and they didn't care about losing our business. We ended up going through a distributor in the US. Although it was more expensive, the quality was guaranteed. It was worth it. We didn't want to deal with these headaches.
Did you go full time after graduation?
Like many kids out of college, I was pressured to get a real job.
Right after FEAT started, I got a job offer at LinkedIn in San Francisco, CA and had it lined up after graduation. I got accepted into the Business Leadership program, a "top tier" program (their words, not mine). I was just a kid from UMass, and this seemed like an opportunity I could not pass up. I told them about FEAT Socks in the interview process, and they were surprisingly encouraging about it. They were OK with me working on it while at LinkedIn.
The day after graduation, we locked down $250,000 from an angel investor through sheer luck. Our (now) investor noticed a friend of ours wearing FEAT socks at the gym, and we got connected. I went to work at LinkedIn at that time, but was working on FEAT Socks on nights and weekends. Meanwhile, Parker got a warehouse in Boston and went full time on FEAT Socks.
I worked at LinkedIn for about a year before I went completely full time at FEAT.
So when did you start to see some traction at FEAT?
On the weekends, we would go to retail trade shows, and through this, we met David Falk - a renowned sports agent who has many NBA clients. We had dinner with him, and we asked him to become an advisor for us.
David helped cultivate our relationship with Aly Raisman, the gold-medal winning Olympian gymnast. We linked up with her right before the 2016 Summer Olympics. We would bring socks by her house all the time since her hometown is right near our facility. We became good friends with her, which made the partnership deal organic.
Aly blew up during the Olympics, and this put FEAT on the map internationally. During the Olympics, we saw our sales jump from $20,000 to $200,000 a month after she posted pictures with our socks on Instagram. She boosted our Instagram follower count by 5x.
Have you had success with other types of marketing?
I believe social media is the most effective form of marketing, and we utilize most social channels like LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. We often offer free pairs of socks for follows and try all kinds of social marketing tactics. We aim to keep our social media content fun and interesting.
Snapchat and Instagram stories are a huge marketing strategy for us. We've learned a lot from MVMT Watches, who are one of the pioneers of Instagram e-commerce.
Right now, Instagram is our #1 focus for social media right now, but it's always changing. 8 months ago, Snapchat was huge for us. We used to get 20,000 views per Snapchat story, and then all of a sudden Instagram came in and we started focusing on that. But now, more companies are joining Instagram hype, diluting the marketing power we have.
What's next for social media marketing?
YouTube. We want to be the first company to get big on vlogging.
We moved our team to Los Angeles after the Aly Raisman deal and moved into the same building as Logan Paul, the famous YouTube vlogger. We saw the sheer amount of traffic Logan was driving through his content, and how passionate his fans are. Through living in the same building, we became friends with him and started working together. Through the power of Logan, we sold $500,000 in socks off two YouTube videos.
We started a vlog where we film fun stuff we do around the office. We believe working at FEAT is different than any other company, and we want to use our vlog to showcase that to the world. A lot of companies tout how fun and unique their culture is, but we want to prove it with our vlog.
It's important to find new trends. If something is working for other companies, it may be too late to do it for you. We were early to Snapchat and Instagram stories, but now I see all these companies hopping on the wave, but I know how late they are to the game. While they are putting all their money into Instagram, we are making bets on YouTube.
How many employees do you have?
We used to have 15 employees, but have recently cut back. We have found that it's easier to outsource most of the operational duties of the business.
Instead of paying someone to do customer service, we just outsource it to a 3rd party agency. We don't need to be the best at customer service. We're not Zappos. That's not our bread and butter. We're not operational masters of fulfilling and shipping. We're not Amazon. We recently outsourced all of that.
The only thing we want to be the best at - is having a kick-ass brand. So now, we are back down to 5 employees. Most of us are focused strictly on brand and marketing, specifically Instagram, YouTube, influencer partnerships and paid ads.
A big decision we made was to cut the cord on our sales team. We worked for many years to get into big box retail stores, and brought on some great people to help us. We thought that retail was everything since we started.
What is your approach to retail?
We chased Nordstrom for years. We were chasing buyers there to have meetings with us, and flying to Seattle often until we finally got a purchase order from them and a few other stores. We had the potential to be in 500 stores across the country. But, we decided to turn them all down. We had to ask ourselves, who's our target market? It's us. Would we ever buy a $15 pair of socks at Nordstrom? Hell no.
There are many downsides to selling in retail. We are not in control of our brand. When you are just a sock on the rack, you have less of a connection with your customer. We want the customer to find us through our brand and through our social channels. Retail is also time-consuming from a logistical perspective. Retail is expensive. Nordstrom wants a 75% IMU (Initial Mark Up). Which means if you sell your product for $12 at the store, they want to buy it from you for $3. We are not making any money on that. Why don't we just sell at a lower price point directly to our customer?
Retail is a dying industry. What's the point of running into a burning house? We are focusing strictly on e-commerce, and putting all of our efforts into that. Retail is good exposure, but we would rather go direct and sell to the customer for $8, and give $4 to Facebook, for example.
Future for FEAT
Nowadays I'm focused almost 100% on filming and producing content for the vlog. We are small right now, but getting 300-800 views per video. Small, but consistent. Being close friends with Logan, I have learned that you need to trust the process and build that back library of videos. It's all about consistency and quality of the videos, and the views will come. It's a bet, for sure, but we believe it could be the next big thing for us.
We are focused on growing the brand and our social following. We want to be a brand like Chubbies - everyone knows who they are. When you say the name Chubbies, people think of an awesome company where their employees do cool shit all the time.
I'm obsessed with marketing. All I think about all day is how we can grow our social following and brand. There are times when I hit a wall. But because I care so much, I go forward. If I was faking this, I would be miserable.
Advice for other entrepreneurs?
I busted my ass in college to get a corporate job, and at the time, I cared so much about that. Everyone thinks that you have to get a job and that is what you're supposed to do, the reality is who cares, society trains you want to work a 9 to 5, but it's like, who cares.
Find someone like Parker. He is the perfect co-founder and partner. We have been in some stressful situations since we started, but we have never had a serious disagreement or argument. Finding a founder is not something you can force, though, it must be natural. You have to be compatible as friends and as business partners. I've met a lot of people who think they need a co-founder and end up forcing it. If you don't have one, you don't need one. Needing a co-founder is an excuse. Start it yourself.
I think you also need some irrational confidence. We moved to LA on a big bet that we could meet people like Logan Paul and other vloggers. It paid off, but it was a huge bet. Making deals for those types of partnerships feel impossible, but we had the drive and confidence to pull it off. Same with vlogging, it's a huge commitment, but I know it's going to work.
If you work hard and network and get people to like you, then people want to help you, and that's the best thing we have going for us. But don't discount the power of luck. We got lucky with our investors. I got so lucky meeting Parker, funding our Kickstarter, and getting connected with Aly Raisman. Looking back, I don't know where we would be without luck.
There's a lot of advice out there to quit your job and start a company. My rule of thumb for is: if you need someone to tell you to do it, then you probably shouldn't. This drive should come from within; you'll know when it's time. You have to be super passionate about it. You can't fake it. You have to know it's what you actually want.
Where can we learn more?
- Website: featsocks.com
- Follow them on Instagram: @featsocks
- Subscribe to their YouTube channel: FEAT Socks