For this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we caught up with Aaron Roubitchek, founder of Ponto (formerly Loafs), and creator of The Pacific, the ultimate all-day shoe. Tune in to learn more about how he approached developing and manufacturing an eco-friendly and sustainable product as a first-time entrepreneur.
Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways
- Deciding to take the plunge as an entrepreneur
- Fighting the war on fast fashion while making a sustainable product
- Tips for making an eco-friendly product
- What to keep in mind as you move into the assembly and product development phase
- The benefits of launching a footwear product on Kickstarter
- Storyboarding and scripting a campaign video that converts while promoting the company ethos
- Why he chose to work with Enventys Partners and how he selected them from other crowdfunding agencies
- The Pacific on Kickstarter
- Start With Why
- Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
- The Alchemist
Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by The Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Click here to learn more and list your product – use coupon code ATOKK16 for 20% off!
Roy Morejon: Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners, the top full-service, turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over a hundred million dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding.
Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by BackerKit and the Gadget Flow. BackerKit makes software that crowdfunding project creators use to survey backers, organize data, and manage orders for fulfillment by automating your operations and helping you print and ship faster. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now, let’s get on with the show.
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I am joined with Aaron Roubitchek, founder and CEO of Loafs. Aaron, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Aaron Roubitchek: Hey, how are you doing? Thanks for having me.
Roy Morejon: Yeah, really honored to have you. I’m really excited about this project and any kind of project that we get to work on that’s eco-friendly. So with the shoes that you’ve created, made it entirely of recycled materials such as algae-based foam and chrome-free recycled leather. Really excited to talk today about where the inspiration came from and what inspired you to truly create Loafs. So, if you would, take us on the journey back of where the inspiration began.
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah. It’s from one form of anxiety to another. So it started about a year ago in June of 2018. I had started a company in a past life. I was actually in the Accelerator Program when I went to UCLA for something completely unrelated to this, which kind of sparked my desire to always get in entrepreneurship. But that was when I was at the age of like 21, 22, just kind of wanted to take a step back. Since then, my career has all been centered around technology. We spent about a year and a half at LinkedIn and the business rotational program, and then I’ve been at Google now for about two and a half years. But going back about a year ago, I believe it was May or June of 2018, something just didn’t feel right at work. I really liked my job, but I just felt like there was some sort of lingering anxiety in me that was searching for more that was unanswered at Google.
Through a series of sort of cathartic professional conversations with mentors, and parents, and friends, I started to debate whether or not going to get a part-time MBA was the right case. I talked to my dad about it and he’s like, “What’s the spirit of that?” And I was like, “To convince myself that I’m capable of starting a company.” He’s like, “That sounds stupid. You should set aside $20,000 for the rest of 2018 and try something.” So I put a deadline on myself around middle, early July. The next idea I had, I told myself I was going to pursue.
Then, I came to the idea of Loafs through this really heinous pair of wool loungers that I had when I still lived in San Francisco, I live in New York now, that were just gross. I’d had them for ages. I wore them to class in college. I probably had them for 10 years. I went to go buy another pair online, and they weren’t made anymore. Then, the wheels started turning, sustainable footwear, so many different interpretations of sustainability, something that’s comfortable of a slipper or a performance runner, but with the high-level aesthetic of like a dress shoe. A year later, the idea has, of course, changed a few different times, but that’s definitely what the impetus was back in like early July of 2018.
Roy Morejon: So when you were creating this new entity, Loafs, what was the process like there, and how did you go about deciding what features to include with the product?
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah. It was very much, and this is just kind of one of my life mottoes, of just one foot in front of the other and following momentum where it existed. So when I first started, out I was like, “Do as much as I can without spending a dime.” And that was like what? What does that entail? Okay, well I don’t know, fashion design and I don’t know manufacturing. So I went on upwork.com started interviewing fashion designers. The second fashion designer I found was Kiri, who is my co founder today. She owns a sustainable design agency abroad, helped launch big brands like Sam Edelman, went to UCLA, which is where I went. It just seemed very like a really good match. And then I reached out to the ocean cleanup who’s another organization we’re now partnered with just completely lying to be honest, telling them we were a mid-stage footwear brand, looking to do something like the Tom shoes model where for every pair of shoes you buy you take a certain poundage of plastic out of the ocean.
And the CMO got back to me very quickly. One week later after I got back from New York and it found Kiri, I was out there, launched facility in California and I was like, okay, I think there’s something here. I’m going to continue to follow this. And so it was, it was kind of a series of setting micro level goals. You know, when I started first started working with Kiri, I really didn’t know what I wanted through Kiri and some other connections I had, I got introduced to this footwear agency, a product called Femini who hosts conferences actually all over the world, but one specifically here in Los Angeles that I attended to. They were just kicking off their sourcing practice. All the guys that started it spent a long time in the Adidas and through sort of this network of people I met along with some actually fashion manufacturing textbooks that I bought on Amazon. That’s kind of what led to where we are today. I think my biggest advantages is being a relationship person. I think I got really lucky in meeting the right people. I’m very much a proponent of the harder you work, the luckier you get. I think the, the luck I had was meeting people who actually knew what they were talking about and through that I think I know to some degree still know what I’m talking about. It’s a never ending process
Roy Morejon: as it is. So what have been some of the challenges that you’ve encountered when designing your first eco-friendly product?
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah, I think the biggest piece of the sustainability debate is there are so many different interpretations of sustainability. So for example, you can make any shoe out of entirely recycled materials, but that shoe is still going to ultimately end in a landfill unless you have some sort of shoe buy back program, circular process esque type of thing. Long story short, you’re always pissing off someone. At least in the hardcore sustainability heads. And so I think we tried as hard as we could to suffice as many interpretations of sustainability as possible being the war on fast fashion, the whole concept of like buy less, buy better. We created a hybrid shoe that’s supposed to be a hybrid of a running shoe and a high fashion dress shoe, something that you can wear all day through multiple circumstances so you don’t have to buy a ton of cheaper shoes.You can buy a nicer pair that obviously a fits into different parts of your life rather harmoniously.
On top of that using different types of materials, the recycle material side, and we use all materials that otherwise would be less destined for landfill. We largely cleaned up our manufacturing process through using water-based adhesives, which are very toxic. And then on top of that for the natural carbon emissions that are still going to go into the atmosphere from our logistics, we’re the first to admit that we’re not perfect. We produced in China, we like to adhere to the concept of carbon offset, which is where on a per pair basis. We donate a portion of our proceeds to the Ocean Cleanup, which is an organization abroad funded by Marc Benioff, Peter Thiel that’s cleaning up the great Pacific garbage patch at quite a large scale. So those are kinds of the interpretations we found we were able to reasonably achieve Granted, I still think we’ll always be pissing someone off, but we are doing our best given how early stage and bootstrapped we are.
Roy Morejon: Sorry I had some feedback there. I think it came through clear but we can jump into the next questionnaire. So what tips would you have for someone looking to develop their eco-friendly product like this for the first time?
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah, of course. I think first and foremost reading. Like I said, I just didn’t see a lot of downside and that it was me going into it as my sort of pseudo MBA and how I sort of supplemented materials was reading within the realm of eco-friendly literature. So read a lot of the books written by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. And people who’ve worked in the Patagonia organization, I think they’re arguably probably the most sustainable organization on the planet across all stages of their value chain. In addition to that, I think setting micro level goals to sort of not make mountains out of molehills. I think that’s a lesson I think I would incorporate to just the entrepreneurial process in general, but specifically eco-friendly products. Eco stuff can typically be more expensive. It’s harder to find people who can work with those types of materials.
And so similarly to, like I said, when I set that sort of deadline for myself, I was like I’m gonna to do as much stuff without spending a dime on this idea to see where it goes and it went somewhere. Then I got to the next, I was like, okay, I’m going to set aside two grand and see how I can hash out this idea with Kiri, and it went quite well. And like I said, I’m very much just to follow momentum where momentum exists, one foot in front of the other and set micro goals to meet the macro goal. Otherwise, I think it will very much lead to a process of getting in your own way just by virtue of something that can easily seem like a daunting and an achievable task.
Roy Morejon: So what tips would you have for a company about to move into the assembly and manufacturing phase of product development given that this is your first run at it?
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah, definitely. I think, like I said, I think I’m someone that generally just leans on the side of mantras just to help get myself through what is naturally a anxiety inducing process. And I think in the world of manufacturing is just good things happen really slow. Like you’re going to expect something to happen really, really fast just by virtue of the impatience and like I said, natural anxiety that exists as a part of that process. But complications exist at every point of the way. So if you’re working with people in China, they have holidays at different points in the year that we do. If you’re a small company trying to work with factories who have really, really big brands. Those brands are going to be a larger priority than yours are. And as such, their willingness to open new tooling and put prototypes together for you isn’t going to naturally happen at the pace of which you think it should happen.
In terms of fostering those connections? I think I got really, I think I positioned myself well by going to industry-related events and meeting people in the industry who actually knew what they were talking about and by representing myself well and showing an eagerness to learn and listen, but also seeming motivated. It opened their willingness to work with us. I think it’s a combination of proper patience, networking appropriately, trusting people when you know you don’t know what you’re talking about. And also just having a natural expectation that things are going to get lost in different customs when sending them to China or Portugal or just things never happen naturally at the pace at which you want. I think initially we aimed to have this out seven months ago. It’s been a year, but I couldn’t be prouder of where we’re at.
Roy Morejon: Yeah. Patience, networking and building trust, right? So let’s jump into the crowdfunding campaign. I know the campaign we’ll be launching here very shortly, I think within the week. Let’s talk about how long you’ve spent preparing for the crowdfunding campaign and what made you choose Kickstarter to launch the Loaf’s brand?
Aaron Roubitchek: So we’ve been preparing, I think we have intended to do a Kickstarter throughout the entire time of working towards this. Reason being, for example, with a retail company, inventory management is always going to be what kills you. Forecasting inventory, forecasting demands. It’s a very, very complicated process in general. Within footwear, it’s incredibly complicated by virtue of the number of sizes, the number of colorways, and there’s unique tooling that needs to be opened up for each individual size. So for example, for an individual just style run across both men and women’s, you know, across conventional sizes that tooling can cost upwards of seventy thousand and so just by virtue of one, the inventory management complications that exist in general. But in this industry in particular, it was a really good opportunity for us because we only had to make two sets of tooling, men size nine and women’s size seven find models that fit into those sizes.
And then Kickstarter one, obviously predominantly used to pay for the tooling that is inherently expensive within this industry and two, helps us forecast demand in what is arguably one of the most challenging verticals to do that, especially as a cash strapped newer stage venture. So I think that’s sort of the reason why we did it. But in terms of how we prepared, I think given my background in digital advertising and branding, I think we really, really doubled down on our marketing. Really wanted to make it clear the why of why we’re starting this. As much as it is fun to make a cool product made out of interesting materials and things like that, we are very much of the opinion that a lot of companies tackle sustainability wrong, in that they make it a very fear ridden, shame driven dialogue. And because of that, we think it hinders people from wanting to on a more day to day basis, make consumer conscious decisions.
So especially with that, even within our, you know, our motto itself love the planet you walk on. It is supposed to be taken from an angle of empowerment, making people sort of seize the day. A very, very positive sort of opportunistic dialogue. And I think that’s why we took a little extra time to really think through sort of what are our brand values, really starting with the why and having that be incorporated so that when someone does ultimately choose to back Loafs it feels more than just a purchase of shoes made out of maybe some less than conventional materials.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So talk to me a little bit then about your campaign video. What was that process like and how did you decide what to include in your video and all the content that went through there?
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah, so I have, since I’ve been a kid, always struggled to write papers because I tried to shove way too much in them and I think I very much experienced that in the scripting and sort of story boarding of our video as well. Like I said, we try to tackle so many different parts of our shoe from the war on fast fashion, buy less buy better. It’s made out of all these crazy materials to post-purchase donation. There’s just so many components to the story that I think we really erred on the side of simplicity. But at the end of the day we really tried to approach it from the concept of why rather than what. I don’t know if you are, have ever read the book, Start with Why by Simon Sinek. The whole concept of the golden circle, it has to do with companies that truly developed a brand and develop a strong loyalty are the ones that make consumers feel that their product is simply an extension of whom they are.
And that’s exactly what we have looked to develop in this whole concept of the change maker. You know, we live in a time where our politics are more divided than they have ever been. People feel very, very disempowered. They feel very guilt ridden with all the issues from income inequality to fighting the climate. And so we really wanted Loafs to really symbolize to our consumers that this is more than just a shoe. It’s really a symbol of whom you are and of the fact that you care about the planet you walk on and that you want to do something as a part of this fight and to really start a dialogue.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So in talking about some of the considerations that you guys have made for the product and the materials that go into it. You have been working with us here at Enventys partners for a while now. What were some of the considerations that you looked into when choosing an agency to partner with for your upcoming launch?
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah, totally. As someone who works in the agency world, at Google, agencies in general are a rather honor less role. I work on an agency facing team here. So to hear good reviews about an agency is pretty astounding. And I will say as someone who grew up under a father who would make him research product reviews to a T, the fact that the number of bad reviews I found about you guys were incredibly minimal. And if anything four plus stars for an agency, I was like, it seems too good to be true. And so yeah, that’s ultimately why we ended up deciding to move forward with you guys. I really just enjoyed the way your guys’ entire team interacted with us throughout the entire onboarding process. It was very, very professionally done. And I think it was a more my gut versus my mind and yeah, so far so good.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. Well I’m glad we have been a Google certified agency partner as well for almost a decade now. So it’s great to actually work with someone as well on this side of the crowdfunding steam.
Aaron Roubitchek: truly living the dream.
Roy Morejon: Indeed. Well, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. You good to go.
Aaron Roubitchek: Ready
Roy Morejon: Let’s do it. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Aaron Roubitchek: I am someone that thrives in atmospheres where I can work with a great degree of autonomy. I think I’ve lived, I would just in general I went to high school, it’s a four year schedule, went to college, it’s a four year schedule, you graduate college, you’re told you’re supposed to go get this job. And I think there’s a great degree of creativity that’s fostered when you aren’t being told what to do all the time. This isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed my time in the corporate world and actively enjoying myself as we speak. But with that said, just being being able to captain something and more than anything just prove to myself that I’m capable of so much more than I think I am. But doing so in a way that’s outside the classroom. Like I said, I got to this idea kind of at a point where I was considering to go getting an MBA, just to consider, just to convince myself that I was capable of something. And now at a far more cost efficient rate, learning far more than I ever could have imagined, couldn’t have been a better decision. And regardless of where this goes, it’s been quite a good educational opportunity.
Roy Morejon: So if you could meet any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to have a walk with?
Aaron Roubitchek: It’s like, I don’t want to be corny, but the corny ones are so good. I’m just a huge Richard Branson fan. He is the absolute man in my opinion from all of his books, like Finding your- Finding your Virginity I think is what he calls it, called that because of Virgin records. Don’t worry, I’m not being inappropriate. He just has sort of a fly by the seat of his pants mentality, not that I entirely am like that. He’s generally very positive. He’s done a lot of good for the world and just generally as a well spirited man who knows what he’s talking about. So I would say of anyone I can think of off the top of my head, yeah sir Richard Branson.
Roy Morejon: So what would be your first question for sir Richard Branson?
Aaron Roubitchek: That’s a big one. What would you tell the sort of aspiring entrepreneur who’s currently in the struggle? I think that’s what makes a podcast like this so cool too is I think there’s a ton of content out there, whether it’s the how I built this podcast or just successful people like Richard Branson, Mark Cuban speaking retrospectively on what their success was, but I think there’s a major lack of content around people who are currently in the struggle. And so I would definitely start to get his insight on what would you ask someone in the struggle and sort of what were you thinking at the age of 23-24 whenever you were launching Virgin records? So yeah, I think that would go a long way for a lot of people who similarly aspire to be an entrepreneur.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So who did you look up to growing up as a kid?
Aaron Roubitchek: Oh man, that’s a big question. I didn’t really grow up aspiring to be an entrepreneur. I think my parents always kind of knew from the minute I started a snow cone stand. That was my first business when I was a kid. I think I bought buy it my first nice Nixon watch and it was very fulfilling to starting HaHa scooters.
I think the people actually ended up looking up to more baseball players. We are big Dodger fans as a house, dogs name is Scully after Vin Scully and so there were a lot of baseball players, I grew up in San Diego that lived in our area. Dave Roberts, who’s the current coach of the Dodgers, whom I’ve met a few times throughout my childhood. We had met him and Tony Gwynn and a few other just really, really good people a few times and I think I aspired to be like them and just how human and they didn’t seem like celebrities or these people who lived in other echelon of society. So yeah, I mean it depends on when you asked me. I think my aspirations changed over time as life took its course, but at a young age definitely it was more like sports figures.
Roy Morejon: Nice. My dad was a huge Orel Hershiser and Fernando Valenzuela fan as well.
Aaron Roubitchek: Sounds like we should introduce our fathers.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. So any book you would recommend to our listeners outside of a Start with Why, which is a great read.
Aaron Roubitchek: Yeah, I’m trying to think of what, so my favorite book of all time is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I can’t say it’s hugely relevant to the entrepreneurial experience. But one that is more relevant to the entrepreneurial experience, I’m gonna say The Alchemist. I actually read that recently. I’m a big fan of meditation and mindfulness, I don’t think it could be more relevant to the entrepreneurial experience in terms of not thinking too far ahead. There’s one thing to be said of planning, thinking for the future, mitigating potential downsides, but the whole concept of those inner dialogues, yourself telling yourself you can’t, forecasting for a myriad of outcomes, that will probably never happen.
The whole concept of mindfulness is really understanding your thoughts and avoiding unhealthy thoughts. Leaning further in on dialogues that are healthy and spending more time just in the world. The Alchemist itself is very much like that. Just kind of, it’s kind of a trust the process, kind of like what I mentioned earlier of follow momentum where momentum exists, not to get too spiritual on you. I think this is a more like actually, there is practical interpretation to it that I think is very relevant to the entrepreneur experience. So yeah, I would say that.
Roy Morejon: Awesome. I know you haven’t run the campaign yet, but really interested to hear your insights on what does the future of crowdfunding look like.
Aaron Roubitchek: The future of crowdfunding. What does it look like? As someone who admittedly has actually never bought a crowdfunding product, I don’t think I’m the most credible to speak to, but I’ll speak to it to the utmost degree that I can. I would say I think it’s going to continue being a major success. I think we live in a time where people are, consumers are starting to ask a lot more of the companies that they choose to invest their money in. I mean you’re seeing sustainability blow up like wildfire. Wildfire across one, the footwear space and lustwort the consumer space in general. And I think Kickstarter started the tip of the spear of where a lot of these more forward thinking companies start. And as a part of, like I said, this whole Instagram generation where people really do feel like the brands that they purchase are an extension of their values, who they want others to perceive that they are.
I think Kickstarter is going to be a major place to do that. I mean that’s the whole nature of the actual platform itself. It’s as much as you’re buying a pair of loafs or any sort of product over Kickstarter. You are investing in idea that you think will affect the world in a positive way. I don’t think this sort of entrepreneurial wave is going to stop anytime soon. Independent of minor blips and maybe on brief recession. So I would say if anything, I think it’s going to continue to be rather successful as a low risk option for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Roy Morejon: I hope so too. Well Aaron, this has been awesome. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check you out.
Aaron Roubitchek: So first and foremost we couldn’t be more excited to bring Loafs to the world. Like I said, we’ve put so much thought into this to truly try to make the most sustainable consumer conscious footwear product possible across a variety of interpretations of sustainability. I’ve been wearing them for quite some time. I cannot speak more highly of the product. We will never be featuring them at a cheaper price. They’ll be 89 bucks for the first two days of the campaign to be 99 after that. I think full retail longterm would be more on like the 130 to 140 range. But with that said, I think more than anything, as much as you’re buying a pair of shoes, you’re really investing in whom you are.
If you’re with someone that believes that the brands that you invest in are an extension of you, that your dollar is truly your vote. I couldn’t encourage you more to invest in this product and invest in this journey with us. We couldn’t be more grateful of everyone that’s been a part of this journey with us. And more than anything, don’t doubt yourself. Get out of your own way. Because I think I finally did that and I still have a lot more getting out of my own way to do. But like I said, the minute you started, a lot of momentum exists and one just couldn’t encourage people to follow their passions and whatever being entrepreneurial means to you to go about that. But first and foremost be entrepreneurial in a pair of Loafs.
Roy Morejon: Absolutely. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign and everything else we talked about today and of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the gadget flow and backer kit. Aaron, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Aaron Roubitchek: Thanks a ton Roy. Have a good day.
Roy Morejon: Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it, and of course, if you loved this episode of lot, leave us a review @ artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs, and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands on crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.