Welcome to this e-commerce business success story! In this profile, we interviewed Adam Sherman, the founder of Viakix, a popular outdoor footwear brand. Our hope is that you find this interview to be enlightening and inspiring as you seek to start and grow your very own online brand!
Interview with Adam Sherman
Thank you for joining us for this e-commerce business success story! We’d like to start by getting an understanding of your backstory. How did you come to own your business?
So, I’ve taken a very unusual path into footwear. In the footwear industry, most footwear leaders are what’s called “shoe-dogs”. These are veterans of the shoe industry, who are the most skilled and most knowledgeable about shoes. I’ll just say upfront I’m definitely not a shoe-dog.
I’ve spent most of my career in biotechnology. For 20 plus years, I worked with teams to develop and launch lifesaving treatments for people with very rare, orphan diseases. This was a very rewarding career and one I enjoyed. But like many entrepreneurs, I often felt like a square peg being forced into a round hole. I’ve known from a very young age that I wanted to start and run my own company. But for a variety of reasons, I put those dreams on hold for a long time.
In 2015, I decided to pull the trigger and start Viakix. I had an idea from 20 years prior for amphibious water shoes and realized I wasn’t getting any younger. So, if I was going to follow my entrepreneurial passion, it was either now or never. I thought I’ve developed drugs for a living, so how hard could developing footwear be? Well, I’ve been eating those words for the last 7 years. It’s been hard!
But I continued to put my time in. I continued to learn. I continue to make my fair share of mistakes. And I keep pushing forward. And that’s how Viakix really came to be.
Terrific! Now, this article is about profiling successful e-commerce businesses. So – can you share your top 3 keys to running a successful online brand?
First, and I know this is a bit cliché, but know your customer. A lot of early brands think they know who their customers are, but unless they are talking to them, they may actually be surprised who’s buying their products or services. In the beginning we completely missed who we thought was our main avatar – by several decades actually. Now, we talk to our customers, and we ask a lot of questions. This helps us to not only know who’s buying our products but also how to speak to them. We pull this language directly into our messaging.
Second, I’m a big believer in kaizen or the Japanese term for continual improvement. Ever since the beginning, I took the approach of launch, listen, and then iterate. I look back at some of our first shoes and I get a chuckle at how bad they really were. But I learned that if we listened carefully enough, our customers will provide a development roadmap for us. And we’ve used this feedback to continually improve our footwear. And I think this has been a great strategy for us.
Finally, I would recommend getting the right people on board as early as you can. Not everyone will be skilled or knowledgeable in all areas. Figure out where your weaknesses are in your business and plug that knowledge gap with the right hire. Whether that’s a full-time position, part-time, or a contractor. As I mentioned, I moved into a new industry and was very green in the beginning. It wasn’t until I made the right hires that I was able to take the company to the next level. Today, I would say that we have footwear as good or better than our major-brand competitors. And I’ll also say that conversations and networking are both very helpful. And most of the time, these are free.
Excellent. Now, I’m sure it hasn’t always been that easy. Can you tell a story about one challenge, setback, or mistake that you’ve had to overcome on the road to success? How can others learn from your mistakes?
How long do you have? We’ve had our fair share of setbacks. I would say there’s no bigger pit in your stomach then having a lot of inventory that doesn’t sell, or worse, sells but there is an issue with it. In footwear, you can have fit issues which creates rubbing, blisters or can just be uncomfortable. What we’ve done – and what others can do – is to build time in their development cycle for customers or people you trust to use your product, test it out, and get their feedback before you place a large order. This will save you a lot of sleepless nights and money too!
Thanks for that. Now – we want to know what’s next! What new initiatives are you rolling out at your business and what results are you hoping to see?
We are focusing right now on trying to fill more of the top of the funnel. But the issue we are running into is that ecommerce is starting to feel more crowded. Not just the footwear space, but ecommerce in general. I know that if we get the potential customer exposed to our brand, we have the right product and story to capture and retain them. But doing so at scale and economically is a challenge. Unfortunately, this is no longer 2016 with cheap clicks.
We are starting to dip our toes into user-generated content and influencer marketing. So, this is really both a brand awareness and content play. We will see how this strategy plays out.
Sounds exciting! Any final words of advice for our readers?
I would just say that what keeps a lot of us from moving forward is fear. And that’s understandable in a world where our successes and failures are very visible with social media.
Even with this fear, you need to keep taking action each and every day. Even if that’s sending 1 email a day or developing 1 page for your website. You need to keep pushing your idea and company forward. Recognize, that you will run into roadblocks. You will have people who think you are crazy for pursuing your idea, and you will be stress tested. That is just par for the entrepreneurial course. But those who succeed are those who can live with the fear and still push forward. Listen, if I can do this, anyone can.
Brilliant! We want to thank you for participating in today’s interview. Hopefully our readers agree that there is a lot to be learned from your brand’s story. What links can our readers use to follow along with your journey?
I’m really not that active on social media, but readers can always connect with me through email or Linked-In. Your readers can also go through our customer support and the message will find its way to me.
You can check out the Viakix website at this link.