Small-business owners, what are you doing to stand out from the crowd? Each week, we focus on an entrepreneur who has lessons to share that we think will resonate with other small-business owners.
Dave Mesicek, co-founder of socially responsible footwear supplier Common Soles, answers our questions, answers our questions:
What are you doing to stand out from the crowd?
At Common Soles, we sell flip-flops to raise money to build awareness and provide support for economically disadvantaged factory towns around the world. But unlike similar companies like TOMS Shoes, which donates a pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair it sells, we’re focusing on high-level needs, such as education and health care. At the same time, we’re working with the factories to design better manufacturing processes and labor policies. We’re also trying to lift these communities, which typically receive the least value in the footwear supply chain; we’re attempting to flip that model around and bring transparency to the footwear industry by forging connections between the factory workers and consumers. But we’re not a charity. We’re applying business principles and profits toward fulfilling our goals.
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
Knowing that my work is designed to benefit those I care about — my family, my partners, our customers and disadvantaged communities. Wearing flip-flops to the office is also pretty cool.
What’s the biggest challenge of owning your own business?
Freeing up time for the people who matter most in my life.
Name: Dave Mesicek
Business: Common Soles, a footwear maker.
Location: Wellesley, Mass.
Year founded: 2009
Number of employees: 3
Web address: commonsoles.com
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve overcome?
Making limited start-up funds last. Because the down economy made borrowing from traditional sources like banks and venture capitalists almost impossible, we had to launch the business with our own savings, which amounted less than $3,000 between me and my partner. To stretch those funds further, we got creative. Our website was built using free software called Joomla. We leverage social media for marketing, rather than running expensive ads. And we build partner relationships based on trust, not dollars.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Not remaining focused on our core objectives. In a for-profit business, big money-making opportunities can be tempting. And when the opportunity to sell our products in mass retail outlets presented itself, we jumped at the chance. But at the end of the day, it didn’t make sense, and our brand positioning was lost. In addition, we ended up consuming more time and resources than we, as a new company, could afford to give.
What’s the best business advice you can offer?
Leverage your personal and professional networks as much as possible. Networking can provide a big lift to a business and should be part of every small company’s toolbox.
SmartMoney.com provides news, information, and tools for business professionals and growing businesses. All content provided by SmartMoney is © 2009 SmartMoney®, a Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and Hearst SM Partnership.