In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Ben Hui, founder of Lonowear, a sockless, eco-conscious sneaker. Lonowear is made without glue and uses breathable and odo-resistant tree fiber. Learn about how a shoemaker whose grandfather started one of the first shoe factories in Hong Kong turned his passion for shoes and sustainability into a novel product.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How Ben saw his perfect niche after being in the shoe game for 10 years
  • The process of making an eco-friendly shoe differs from making a traditional shoe
  • Why Lonowear decided on a zero-inventory model
  • How to solicit and manage customer feedback when launching a new product
  • Why Lonowear chose to partner with an agency to launch their project

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript
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 Gadget Flow. 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.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today we are talking with Ben Hui, founder of Lonowear. Ben, thank you so much for joining us today.
Ben Hui:
Hey, thanks for having me.
Roy Morejon:
So I’m really excited to talk to you for one, because obviously you’re pretty excited because you just hit the launch button on Kickstarter. So really excited to get your overall initial thoughts and get all those butterflies out of your tummy in terms of the campaign being live. You’ve already got thousands of dollars coming into the campaign right now. So let’s talk about Lonowear and creating this sockless, odor busting, eco-conscious sneaker. Where did this all start? What was the inspiration to create LONO?
Ben Hui:
Well, I’ve been in the shoe business for over 10 years now so I’ve done a lot of shoes. Most of them are really low quality, like with the cheap materials, without any consciousness in mind. So a couple of years ago I was like, maybe I should start doing something different, something better. Something that fits into my profile. So I had this idea of creating eco-conscious sneakers with good quality, good materials, and a mission in mind which is to transform the footwear industry into a more sustainable eco-friendly model.
Roy Morejon:
So with 10 years of shoemaking, I guess just out of my own personal curiosity to kind of go off track, why would a shoe company make shoes with inferior products? Is it just what the consumer demands, they’re more or less typically looking for the cheaper shoe option than something that’s obviously eco-friendly and potentially better for the world?
Ben Hui:
Yeah, I think that’s the problem nowadays, right? People expect everything to be fast, to be cheap. So they get everything from a dollar store and then they just wear it for a week and throw away, get another pair. It’s just the way it is now. So I think we’re all trying to change that habit. So try to create better shoes with a decent price, not overpriced, but you pay for what you get. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So let’s talk about kind of the shift then from 10 years of making, let’s say lower quality shoes, like you had mentioned, to making a high quality eco-friendly shoe. What was the process there like to change the factory or building out different settings or molds or whatever it may be in terms of deciding what features to include in a higher quality shoe?
Ben Hui:
Yeah, totally. Well, the shoe making process is the same. It’s just about finding the right materials, working with better factories with a better management. Also it involves a lot of communication back and forth with the factories because they are not used to making shoes that is made out of trees or made out of bamboo. They got to find ways to work things out. So I think that is the most challenging part of the transition, which is to [inaudible 00:03:56] and to work with the factories, with new materials, new techniques. How do we improve, let’s say the breathability of the upper without sacrificing the durability or the functionality of the shoe itself? So that part took a while. That’s why it took us almost three years to come up with this shoe.
Roy Morejon:
Incredible. So in talking about those challenges, I’m really interested to hear a lot about the organic materials in the shoe from the algae to castor beans. How do you go about doing that initial research on high quality eco-friendly products and then being able to turn those into a textile that’s blendable, breathable, and can form and create a high quality performance shoe?
Ben Hui:
I think one of the advantage we had was that we were in the shoe business already for quite some time. So we go to different kinds of shows worldwide, we sell a lot of new stuff, new materials, new technology. I think it just started off there getting new contacts, talk to the right people and then just get everything together and then start working on our own lab, our own factory, our own stitching line, our own [inaudible 00:05:11] machines. It’s a lot of research as well. Trial and error. I guess I can put it that way.
Roy Morejon:
Certainly. No, I think every entrepreneur can appreciate the trial and errors and the failing forward, if you will, in terms of finding new things and making sure that there’s a consumer demand for it.
Ben Hui:
Yeah, exactly.
Roy Morejon:
So in speaking of the consumers, with the Kickstarter campaign just launching this morning as we record this and dozens of backers already in there, thousands of dollars raised, talk a little bit about why crowdfunding and Kickstarter was the approach that you guys wanted to launch this shoe with?
Ben Hui:
Yeah. So me, myself, I’m a shoe dog, so I only know how to make shoes. I don’t know how to promote things. I’ve never been into retail. So I thought Kickstarter or crowdfunding would be a good way to showcase my product, my idea, my project, without going through the whole marketing process. So that’s why I went with Kickstarter to try to kick things off.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. So with this being your first Kickstarter campaign, talk a little bit about some of the prep work or things that you’ve learned along the way.
Ben Hui:
Oh yeah. It’s hard work. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. It’s not like, you got something, post it online and there you go. It’s not as easy as that. We did a lot of research, we looked at a lot of previous successful projects as well to try to get the idea of how it worked, how to attract people, how to present your product, how to tell your story. We went through I think almost 20 different templates for the story for the campaign page itself. Looking back at the first couple of ones we were like, wow, we’re so glad that we didn’t go on with it.
Ben Hui:
But it’s definitely frustrating because there’s a couple of times that we thought we were ready, but then ends up, we start showing to people, get some opinion and then we just say, “I think something’s missing. Something could be done better.” So we just kept grinding on, keep working on it. At the same time I have to manage the development myself because I’m not only doing the marketing for Kickstarter, I’m also trying to make the shoe better itself. So I’m working left and right, here and there, trying to make the shoe better and then trying to make the campaign better.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. It seems like most entrepreneurs are wearing multiple hats, especially when they’re going into a launch and also making the product. Something that you’d said just earlier was managing feedback. So you were able to produce shoes and get customer feedback from the actual consumer trying them on or giving you some feedback on the product itself. How did you go about managing their feedback and how many different iterations did you make until you said, all right, the shoe is ready to go?
Ben Hui:
Yeah, exactly. I think we made over a hundred prototypes. Right now we’re at 8.0, so it’s the eighth version of it. So what we did is we invited a lot of the local crowd. We engaged in the yoga society because they love things natural. They like to feel natural and they like to wear nice outfit and comfortable shoes. So I thought that would be a good target to hit and to try on the shoes. So we actually send over a hundred pairs to the yogis out there, test it out, kick it up and just whatever comments, feedback, we’ll take it, bring it back and work on improvement, just back and forth, back and forth. I think that’s how we come up with what we have now. Yeah. We’re still not a hundred percent. I think we will be in a week or so. We are very close to perfecting the shoe itself.
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Yeah. It looks like you’ve set an aggressive shipment date of May of this year. Does it look like you’ll still be able to hit that with all the improvements you’re still making?
Ben Hui:
For sure, there’s no doubt. I think one of the advantages we have is that I’ve been in the industry for a while. [inaudible 00:09:39], you’re talking about manufacturing, you’re talking about QC, you’re talking about inspections. I think we’ve got all this covered so manufacturing won’t be a problem at all. So yeah, we’re just looking forward to get these shoes into people’s feet.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely, as are we. I mean, you’ve been working with us here at Enventys Partners for a while now. What were some of those considerations when you were choosing an agency to partner with on your launch?
Ben Hui:
Well, Enventys is one of the top partners to pair with when it comes to Kickstarter or like crowdfunding campaign. We did some research, we talked to other companies and then we just felt like Enventys would be a good fit for our profile in terms of footwear category.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Yeah, no, the team’s been stoked to work with you and obviously super excited on the launch this morning. So give me an idea of what’s the biggest takeaway that you’ve learned throughout the whole process, so, getting prepared and then finally launching on Kickstarter today?
Ben Hui:
You mean what I would do differently if I do it again?
Roy Morejon:
Sure. Any nuggets of wisdom for our startup listeners and entrepreneurs out there?
Ben Hui:
I think I would have thought about everything. Just think twice before I act. That saves a lot of time, headache or money. Just making sure things is right before moving on to actually executing it. I think that’s the one thing that I learned to sort of speed things up a little bit, because I think that’s also my problem because I have an idea, I need to see the results to see if I like it or not, if it works or not. I think that’s sort of like my personal problem that I sort of need to learn from this process so that I can be more efficient next time.
Roy Morejon:
Certainly. I think the carpenter phrase on that one is, measure twice and cut once.
Ben Hui:
Yeah, exactly.
Roy Morejon:
After the campaign, what are you guys going to be doing next?
Ben Hui:
Well, we will be launching our brand to the public. We’re planning to do a zero inventory retail model because I feel like after making thousands, thousands of shoes in the trading business, I just feel like there’s so much stock. There’s not enough feet in the world to wear all these shoes. And there’s different colors, different size. There’s always overstock and I think that’s the major problem in the waste material or garbage problem or landfill because people just don’t need that much. So we want to make things exact, like whatever people want, we make whatever they need with no extra.
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Well Ben, this is going to get us into our launch round where I’m going to rapid fire a handful of questions at you. Are you good to go?
Ben Hui:
Okay.
Roy Morejon:
Let’s do this. So what inspired you to be a shoe dog, an entrepreneur?
Ben Hui:
I think it’s in my blood. Shoes is in my blood. It all started with my grandfather. He actually started one of the first shoe factories in Hong Kong here. And then I feel like shoes is just in me. So I just have to make it great, make it better, make it work. I think that’s the main inspiration for me to try to do this, to try to grind this out no matter how hard it is.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. So if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?
Ben Hui:
Probably Phil Knight, the founder of Nike.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Great book by the way too, Shoe Dog. What would have been your first question for Phil?
Ben Hui:
So would you like a pair of LONO’s? I think what captures me is his passion. Although he didn’t come from a shoe manufacturing background, but he was a runner, he was an athlete and he understands what people need in the field. I think that’s very important. I think that’s something that I can learn from him. I think that’s a valuable experience that he had in the track and field that sort of translate into what he did back in the days to start Nike and to become successful. I think that’s what I would ask him. How do you translate your hobby or your interest into something that is very successful?
Roy Morejon:
So Ben, you’ve got a dozen different color variations on the shoes, which one’s your favorite color?
Ben Hui:
I like ink. I like the all black. That would be the go-to for a lot of people as well.
Roy Morejon:
Do you think that’s going to be the best seller?
Ben Hui:
I think so. I believe so. We also have a couple of [inaudible 00:14:45]. Some neon colors coming out. It’s kind of spoilers, but yeah.
Roy Morejon:
Stay tuned for that. I love spoilers on the show. Last question, Ben. In the launch round, and I know you’re just launching your first campaign. You just hit the button not even an hour ago. But give me your insights in how you feel or what does the future of crowdfunding look like to you?
Ben Hui:
I think it will be a good platform for sustainable eco-friendly products to showcase themselves because everyone is looking into how do you make a better world? How to better themselves? Just how do protect our earth, right? I think that’s the trend right now, but a lot of brands and in the market, they are not really doing as much as they could. So people will be looking into places like Kickstarter or crowdfunding for these options. So I think that would be a pretty big sector of crowdfunding, which is sustainable and eco-friendly products.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. I hope they open up a brand new category just for that because the world needs it all.
Ben Hui:
Exactly.
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful. Well, Ben, this has been great. This is your opportunity to talk to our audience, give them your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where they should go and why they should check out Lonowear.
Ben Hui:
Awesome. Yeah. So, LONO is all about quality. It’s all about using the right material with the right mindset that we should all try our best ability to try to do something better, to try to protect the earth we are living in right now. So I’m doing my part, using my expertise in shoes. Try to make something better, try to offer something better for the world. And it’s a good looking shoe, it’s sockless. It’s sockless because we’re using tree fiber, which is breathable and odor resistant by itself. And we didn’t use any glue on the upper to maximize the tree fiber properties so that translates to your feet directly. So it’s comfortable, it’s eco-conscious and it’s cool looking. So I hope you all support us.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Well audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the Kickstarter campaign and everything else we talked about today. And of course, thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors the Gadget Flow and product type. Ben, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.
Ben Hui:
Thank you for having me.
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 love this episode, 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 time.