Elevator Pitch: Willi Footwear

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Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we're talking with Brad Munro, CEO of "interchangeable thong" company Willi Footwear.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea

Thongs, flip flops, sandals, jandals… whatever you call them… have remained the same since their inception. We wanted to innovate this iconic product and address the major pain point of the dreaded ‘blow-out’ – when the plug snaps off so the wearer has to embarrassingly walk around with no footwear. Apparel, at the intersection of fashion and technology, has moved forward over time, but it seems the humble thong got left behind. We wanted to develop a range of summer footwear that addressed the blowout issue and also allowed the straps and bases to be interchangeable while keeping the product affordable, comfortable and fashionable for the millions of users around the world.

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

The best way to find out if you have a viable product is to see if people will pay for it, use it and tell their friends about it. Initially, we launched the product on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, where, to our amazement, we earned around $50K. We self-funded the rest of the business with individual loans, family investment or business loans. Now we are growing our business through distribution around Australia, overseas markets, online vendors and also by collaborating with other brands and products.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

The marketability is built in to our product. Most, if not all, of our competitors’ products are what’s known as a ‘me too’ product. This is a product that already exists but has been branded differently in a variant of colours or materials. The problem is that these products do not offer anything special to the customer. The patented boomerang plugs on our thongs is what differentiates us from the competition. This allows the bases and straps to be interchangeable and has been designed to pull through instead of snapping of if placed under duress – for example – someone steps on the back of your thong while you’re at the pub.

What's the biggest challenge facing your business?

The biggest challenge we face in our business is that we are a seasonal product. Sales, marketing and income is all based around the summer season or the warmer six months of the year. The other half of the year includes a lot of planning, development and production processes, which means a lot of money spent and not much money coming in. To rectify this, we have started exploring international markets sooner than we originally planned. We have managed to garner a lot of positive interest with international distributors due to our product’s uniqueness. International expansion is a timely and costly venture but one that we deem necessary for the long-term success of our business.

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

“Workflowy” is an app I use to organise my business strategy. As the name suggests, it is great for work-flow and planning. Entrepreneurs usually have so many things going on in all aspects of their business. Quite often I’ll have ideas or hear suggestions and record them in the ‘Workflowy’ app. If it’s worth pursuing, the app provides great tools to develop the process that needs to be undertaken to achieve that particular goal.

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Be Unique – Solve a problem!

If you think you can sell the same crap that everyone else is selling but with your fancy new logo attached – you’re wrong! It will fizzle out faster than you can say “but I’m the uber of my industry, aren’t I?” If you are not unique and solving a problem, you will be facing a much harder uphill battle. You need to go deeper. Be different to your competition and above all else solve a problem. What can you do for your customer that will appeal to them and make their life easier or more enjoyable?


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