Local barefoot sandal company Xero Shoes will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank this Friday February 1, 9|8 P.M. CST. Owner Steven Sashen and his wife Lena will be pitching five investors, the Sharks, in front of over 7 million people on national television with the hope to get an investment in their company and take it to the next level.
I checked in with Steven via email after his trip to the Outdoor Retailer Show this past week about the upcoming appearance on Shark Tank.
BR You were a sprinter first and foremost, now barefoot runner. What caught your interest to go barefoot in the first place?
Steven When I got back into sprinting 5 years ago, at age 45, I hadn’t done any running in almost 30 years. And I was getting injured constantly for the first 2 years. A friend suggested I try barefoot running as a cure, and it worked. Basically, being barefoot pointed out some form problems I had, and when I cleaned those up (which wasn’t hard because running with those problems HURTS), my sprinting improved and my injuries disappeared. I’m a Masters All-American sprinter now.
BR It sounded like you started wearing them to the track and to the Barefoot Running club where Michael Sandler mentioned you should start making them for friends.
Once I made them, I wore them EVERYWHERE. After you get used to feeling the world, you never want to go back. I had made about 30 pairs for the local barefoot runners when Michael Sandler said, “I have a book that I’m writing… if you had a website for your sandals, I’d put you in the book.”
I rushed home, pitched this idea to my wife, and she totally shot it down. I agreed with her that it probably was a dumb idea… and then when she went to bed, I built a website ;-)
It took off. And within 3 months this was our full-time job. Three months after that we had the former lead designers from Nike and Reebok at our kitchen table, designing products for us, and it’s been growing like gangbusters ever since.
Now we’re just waiting to see how things change after Shark Tank. We know a number of people for whom it totally changed their lives and businesses, whether they made deals or not.
BR How did the success of the book Born to Run help your business?
Totally by accident, we started our business just as BTR was becoming popular. Plus, reading BTR was part of my inspiration to make my first pair of huaraches. So, if it weren’t for that book, we probably wouldn’t be here. Every time I see Chris McDougall, I kiss his feet.
BR From what I’ve read about Shark Tank, people not only go on for a chance to work with top notch investors but to also create a bit of buzz around their products. What made you decide to apply for the show versus going the traditional investor route?
We’ve done both, actually. I had been doing investor pitches for months before we applied to Shark Tank. And we have some amazing investors from Denver. But their funds were somewhat limited (i.e. we could have used some more cash to grow faster). The Sharks have deeper pockets, potentially more connections (depending on the Shark), and then there’s the phenomenon of being in front of 7.5 million people.
In fact, Shark Tank has become sort of a national investor pitch. We know many entrepreneurs who had been on the show who got calls from 50-100 investors after they appeared in the Tank.
BR What kind of growth your company has seen?
We’ve sold almost 28,000 pairs of Xero Shoes to people in 87 countries, from ages 1-91, and people use them for everything from walking to hiking, camping, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, yoga, Crossfit, weight lifting, jogging, running… even doing 100-mile ultramarathons.
We’re officially rebranding as Xero Shoes THIS WEEK (as soon as the website is done — it’s WAY overdue). We’ve hired the former head of Global Product Design from Crocs, who also co-founded Avia Footwear. We’ve developed some new products with his help that we’re very excited about (and, so are the retailers we showed it to here at OR).
BR Can you share any experiences or lessons that you walked away from the show with that we can learn from?
I won’t know if I’ve learned any lessons from the show until after the dust clears post-airing, but preparing for the show took a LOT of time and effort and what happens on the show is totally out of our hands — we were in the tank for much longer than the amount of time we’ll be on TV. The final product is made by editing. A lot of elements of business are out of your hands in a similar way, but nothing is more concrete than, literally, handing your life story to someone else to tell.
BR Looking forward to watching the show! Best of luck!
Thanks! My pleasure!
Formally known as Invisible Shoes, the company will officially be rebranded as Xero Shoes this week to coincide with the appearance on Shark Tank.
Visit XeroShoes.com to learn more about barefoot sandals, the benefits of barefoot running and to order a pair of sandals where you can make them yourself for about $20 or custom made for $40. There are many options in colors of soles, laces, accessories to personalize them any way you like.
Find out more about ABC’s Shark Tank at http://abc.go.com/shows/shark-tank