endur x CloudAdvisors: Today we sat down with Rob Fraser, the CEO and Founder of endūr, Canada’s leading performance sock brand for expression. Endūr bridges the need for a technically advanced pair of socks that meets the need for high performance sports with the comfort of everyday use.
Listen to Rob speak about his transition from being an athlete to a CEO, focusing on sustainability within the apparel industry, and more.
What makes your product superior to other athletic sock brands?
A few different things, there are other great socks out there and I’ll admit that. We decided to go directly to the consumer and take out the layers of the middlemen that drive the price up. Therefore, passing on a better value to the end consumer. That was one of the first things we looked to do. That was kind of a benefit awarded to us by building our brand the same time e-commerce was really taking off. Socks are great to do e-commerce for, because you can’t try them on in store anyway and they’re small and easy to ship. Beyond that, we also took everything that makes athletic socks great, so moisture wicking, blister free, arch support, supportive, durable, and more, but made them beautiful. We put really expressive fun designs on them, realizing that athletic socks previously, were pretty boring. We wanted to bring some life to them. We felt that as athletes, or as active individuals, socks were very expressive as a part of our team uniform or daily outfit and the other brands were kind of missing the mark there. We wanted to create what we call the yoga pant of the foot, an athletic sock that could go with you throughout the entire day, but also looks beautiful. I think that’s what generally makes us superior is a better price point, just as technically advanced if not more than anything else in the market, but looks 10x better.
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Rahul: Thank you for that answer. So your ability to go direct to the consumer allows you to have more margin to actually invest in the technology and other features that are valuable and therefore allows it to be a superior brand.
Yeah, that and since we're not using traditional buying cycles and quarterly cadences to sell to buyers to sell to their consumers, we're able to adapt to trends and what people want on a monthly basis, releasing up to 30 new designs up to a month. This is based on what our customers are telling us in real time they want. That's another value-add, is that if we hear our community saying we would love xyz, we would have xyz available in 30-60 days. We're only ever designing for our community and for our customers, not for buyers or people that are trying to make guesses on what the trends are. We're literally adapting to what people want.
Coming from an athletic background, what drove you to start your own company and how did you marry a passion of yours with the business side of what you need to do today?
I think that coming from sport, it taught me a lot of important business lessons like what it means to persevere and what it means to work hard for a long time with little return. In the early days of any business is very difficult so any entrepreneur looking to make it into business for the quick buck or to be their own boss, or any other cliches, is generally the quick way to fail. When I stopped competing, I found myself in a period of time where I was like “What’s next? What’s another big goal I can go after?”. Starting a business was something that seemed very large and hard to obtain for me so I just said I’ll go for it and see what happens. Basically, why I started a business in the athletic space is that I was just pulling on all my background experience. I knew the market, I knew where some opportunities were, especially in the athletic socks space, I literally was an athlete using socks to express myself. I was like these could be better.
How do we build a community among active individuals, talking more about the journey vs the end results, talking about perseverance and hard work, and getting up after falling down, all those great resilience building aspects that are so important both in activity and life in general. I think the athletic mindset, I call it, is very important and teaches you a lot about what it’s like to persevere and keep moving forward. I can’t stress that I knew nothing in business before getting started. For anyone that’s like Eendūr’s gotta figure it out or if it half sounds like I know what I’m talking about now, it’s really just been by doing and I can’t stress that enough. If you have a cool idea and want to do something just do it. You don’t need permission to start and you literally just have to get started. Know what you don’t know, ask a lot of questions, be humble, but simply just start. Don’t get analysis paralysis and never start.
What’s the biggest challenge the apparel industry is facing today, and how has Endür’s strategy adapted over its lifetime to overcome this challenge?
That’s actually a super timely question. I’d say if you look at the #1 impact of the apparel industry, it’s probably on the environment. There’s a lot of resources that go into making apparel, whether or not it’s just raw materials or shipping emissions or water use for all the manufacturing, and all the apparel ends up in the waste for the most part, even things that are donated. What we’re working on right now at endūr and what we’ve been working on for the past couple years is two things. We’ve reduced our plastic throughout the supply chain, so that includes removing all plastic use in our packaging, all plastic used in the socks coming in or at least limiting the amount of plastic, our HQ and our warehouse are both in lead certified facilities, which means everything is being recycled properly and we have energy efficient facilities.
So basically for all our inputs and outputs, we’re trying to limit the amount of plastic and energy consumption that we’re using and to take it a step further, we’re looking to start developing all our products from recycled materials, so this is recycled polyester nylon that’s being done right now in the process. We’re looking to change all our poly-mailers which are still plastic to compostable and offsetting emissions from shipping our products etc. That’s what we’re actively working on right now. Closing that loop in the future, we’d like to find a way to get the socks back to then recycle them back into new socks. Socks can’t be donated for reuse, they have to go into the landfill so we’d ultimately like to find a way where we can have a full circular supply chain, meaning that the socks are made from recycled yarns and when they’re done being used, turned into nylon or polyester pellets before becoming socks again. We’re kind of quietly in the background doing this and have done a big portion of this circular process which is super exciting.
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Rahul: That's really fascinating. I noticed on your site you have a subscription as a service, so a lot of your community members have bought into the idea of having regular shipments. Would that make it easier by extension then, to have reverse shipping built in, because they already have a monthly offering from you?
That's actually a really unique insight. Sort of, but when rolled out to scale, it would look like a subscription program if we equated it to Amazon Prime. You would join something called endūrBlack which would get you access to products discounted across the site and free shipping across the threshold with a return label. At the end of the year, socks which aren't going to be used go to a facility that's going to recycle it down. It would look like some sort of subscription process there where you're bought in, we're bought in, everyone along the process is invested a little bit in getting these socks out of the landfill and recreated into apparel to lead the plan of a better place. Still all to be determined but something we're actively working on.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned over your entrepreneurial journey?
I mean, one is that there’s always a lesson to learn and you don’t know it all. I think entrepreneurship is continually battling that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s really important to ask questions and continue to learn because generally the business will outpace you if you’re not actively trying to keep up with your learning curve and the things you need to be doing. I think the biggest lesson is that in anything in life, like the Krueger effect where when you learn a little about something, your confidence greatly exceeds your competence in the early stages, but as things go along, you realize that this is a lot harder and I know a lot less than I should. This leads to the valley of despair and eventually your competence reaches back up to the level your business is. It’s in that kind of year 2, 3, 4 where you realize there’s a lot I don’t know and realizing there’s always more you could know and realizing there’s always another level to business.
Every time you feel like you’re kind of winning, it’s good to check yourself and realize that there’s levels to this game and you should always try to remain humble, learn from people, and understand that everyone has different perspectives and you’re not always right. Entrepreneurs, by nature, are generally pretty hard-headed and confident and you have to be, that’s important and don’t lose that. But, understand that you’re not always right, you’re generally actually almost wrong all the time. There’s a lot of lessons to learn is what I’ve been learning and am continuing to learn and realize as things evolve over the past 5 years.
How do you capitalize on Endür’s social community in your business?
We do a lot of community building, it’s something we’ve done from the start. We’re a bootstrapped businesses, we have been for the past 5 years. Finding ways to build community through marketable channels that don’t cost money has been super important to us. It’s through ways like creating a brand ambassador network and incentivizing people that share our brand values and mission and giving them a deal or a free product to share with our brand values, and these people authentically live our brand values day by day. We look to align ourselves with those people. It’s creating VIP communities for our customers online through facebook groups where we can connect and interact with this community. These people have bought products from us and we say “Hey join this group, we’d like to get feedback.” We go in and stir the pot once in a while to ask questions. They also communicate with one another and ask about products. It’s super cool and humbling to go in there and read it from time to time. People end up selling the product for us because they’re talking about it and they love it. That’s the beautiful thing about building a community, is that eventually the message gets spread and people put their own twist on it and you see it come to life, the community and the culture really builds from there.
Beyond that, we put a lot of effort into our social media channels to make sure that we’re continually expressing what’s important to us, what’s exciting, what we’re doing. Bringing the community behind the scenes too, because people like to see what we’re up to and seeing what we’re doing. In this day and age with everything online, you’re seeing people a lot less. People want to know that there’s real humans behind the brand, that they’re human inputs and they’re not just getting something drop-shipped from another country with nobody involved. They like that they’re supporting 18 Canadians that are working on this brand. We’re just in Victoria in our humble office selling socks and doing the best we can so we like to get that message across, especially if we have a really angry customer. We’re like “Hey, we’d love to make this right. We’re human too, we make mistakes, and here’s what we’re all about.” It’s about continually having real conversations, remaining authentic, and just ultimately making decisions with the whole community in mind which is really important to us.
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Rahul: Makes a lot of sense. Just to expand on your Brand Ambassador strategy, something you said was really curious. You want to make sure that they live your values, that they're authentic and representation of that. How do you verify that or how do you have those conversations when you're attracting new brand ambassadors to represent you.
That's super important just because our brand ambassador program is methodically designed to not be transactional, we literally want to find people who do align with us and who are a great culture fit. We say we just want to put our socks on people who are already living and breathing representations of the brand. That looks like an evolution over time but ultimately what is is, is past customers and other people can apply online. We have some screening questions in there and ask for resources such as if they have a reference, an athletic resume, or an instagram profile. We then do a digital deep dive to see how they carry themselves throughout the past few years. From there, we don't go too much deeper, we try to get it through those questions. We've kind of identified what we're looking for. We ask some ambiguous questions to see them expand more and to see why it is important to them. We're looking for people to put in the effort first and foremost. At the same time, people are kicked off the ambassador program for falling out of line. We received a message that told us that an ambassador was doing something that didn't align with our values. It was pretty black and white for us. We reached out to the ambassador saying "Hey, we like you and you're great. We appreciate everything you've done but we can't have this. Unfortunately, we're going to have to ask you to leave this program." The same way in a company you hire and fire around culture, values, and performance, our first filters are culture and values because ultimately if we're out of line with those then the performance doesn't matter as much. It does matter obviously, but first for us, we need to be carrying ourselves with the respectful manner we all have agreed to and the manner in which we see the world, which applies to our ambassador program too. We screen for the authentic fit and get people out who maybe have fooled us or have changed the way they see the world which is no longer aligned with our values. This is super important because these are the kind of moves that may sink a brand over time, if you're not upholding your integrity. Values are kind of useless if you're not living by it. People will only give your values the credit they deserve if you are really truly living them and upholding them, making sure the consequences and rewards for breaking or living by them are there. They can't be flimsy and we take that pretty seriously.
Rahul: That's a really thoughtful answer. It sounds like being able to screen for values and culture is central to it, but actually having a process for accountability, where if people deviate behind the confines of that brand and culture, there are consequences for it. It's a dynamic program and it's something you continuously need to review.
Yeah, like in life, things change and there's accountability. We're ultimately held in account for our actions. By no means, nobody has a right to be on the ambassador program just like nobody has a right to work for endūr We have to show up to work everyday, we have to improve, our culture is based around continual learning and improvement. That's the only way we get ahead in this world and being a good person. Those are the things we really value and hold people to account and each other to account to for sure. Eventually, as the culture and the team grows, it's a bit of an immune system as well. It's a cool thing to see over time as well, when you're no longer the police officer as culture, there's a huge team of people here who understand why it's important, and able to teach others why it's important as well.
What have been some of the largest contributors to Endür’s success that other entrepreneurs can draw inspiration from?
I’d say we are continually getting creative. We say internally that we’re all wildly unqualified and that’s what the mindset is, that we’re just a bunch of learners that are continually battling imposter syndrome and we just try really hard and are open to making mistakes. One of our values is that we have no problem making a mistake once, we have a big problem making it twice, because we want to be learning. So that gives us permission to try new things and not be too worried about making the initial mistake. I’d say ultimately, we’re just unwilling to give up, it’s literally in our name, endūr. Our brand is built from perseverance and I look to hire and nurture people who have that mentality versus the past experience that someone else would filter for. I believe that you can give the right person the toolkit if they have the right mindset. If someone has the toolkit, and not the mindset, you can’t give them the mindset, it’s almost impossible. I look for people who really align to our values and who are willing to figure it out. Ultimately, that’s the person you want in your corner, who’s not going to be like “I don’t know”. They’ll be like “I’ll figure it out.” Those are the people you want to empower.
I’d say our competitive advantage is just the team that we’ve built and how we’re just a team of people who are going to figure it out. We’ve really built endūr as our own company, not because you have to do xyz or that’s how this or that person did, so we’re really dynamic and willing to change, willing to adapt, willing to listen to our customers. We just really don’t really care how it’s been done. We’ll respect that and ask our questions, but we’re building endūr because we think it’s fun, we love what we do, and I think that’s what makes us fun and what sets us apart.