Down in Silicon Valley, the current fashion focus apparently isn’t on suits, ties or pants. As the New York Times puts it, it’s all about “flamboyantly colored, audaciously patterned” socks.
That trend isn’t just isolated to the Bay Area — it’s happening all over the country and two best friends from the University of Washington are cashing in with their sock company, Strideline.
Born in the same hospital just a few hours apart, Riley Goodman and Jake Director have been buddies since Day 1. Among other things, the guys always had one goal in common: to start a business together.
“Our first idea was a T-shirt company when we were in the third grade,” Director said. “Needless to say, it didn’t get off the ground.”
Strideline, however, has.
After realizing that their online college class scheduler program wasn’t going to last, the two fraternity brothers focused back on a sock business that began quietly a few years earlier.
During their senior year of high school, a friend and lacrosse teammate suffered an accident and made Goodman and Director realize that anything can happen at any time.
“It was a ‘seize the day’ moment for us,” said Director.
So the two locked themselves in a car and wouldn’t leave until they had a concrete idea. That idea ended up being socks, but not just ordinary ones — socks that had designs of city skylines.
The pair pooled together their $700 in graduation money and designed some mockups using Microsoft Paint — yes, Microsoft Paint.
Then they started targeting lacrosse players who liked to wear crew socks. Results were fantastic — the first shipment of 1,000 pairs sold out in just three weeks.
“Everyone loved the designs and they loved the colors,” Director recalled.
The initial supply came from a manufacturer in Istanbul that the two had randomly found online, a decision the co-founders admit they made too quickly. Nonetheless, it worked.
“It is a miracle that we didn’t lose all of our money on that first shipment,” Director said.
Maybe it was just meant to be for the two entrepreneurs, whose business has simply taken off. After researching the competition and reestablishing a higher price point, revenue for 2012 was $640,000. This year, still with just two full-time employees, Strideline expects to bring in an astounding $2-to-$3 million.
And oh yeah, the co-founders are still knee-deep in their senior year of business school at the UW, where they also participated in the Tech Stars-esque Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator. “Our professors have been very understanding,” said Director, “but it is a top priority for us to finish school.”
For much of their college careers, they also lived in the fraternity. Distractions aside, it ended up being very beneficial for the business.
“We definitely had a lot of people to do market testing for us,” Directors said of his housemates. “The house has been amazing and it worked for us. It is definitely a little crazy at times, but we are still getting our work done.”
What started as a $700 company out of their parents’ garage has grown into an absolute beast of a business. Strideline sells their socks for about $14/pair across six cities at more than 30 independent stores and has national distribution deals with Lidz, Zumiez and most recently Nordstrom. They’ve also got 3,000-plus followers on Twitter and nearly 14K likes on Facebook.
“Guys that could — and do — wear any brand/style in the entire world, and they’ve chosen to wear Strideline socks,” Director said of Snoop and Lynch. “It’s truly a dream come true.”
The work is only becoming harder from here as business booms. Director and Goodman have traveled to China or the Philippines several times now in the past year to do quality checks on all their runs. They’ve also spent a lot of time building out the infrastructure, as well as the front and back-end of the website.
Still, though, the collegiates are enjoying themselves. “Most people ‘go to work,’” Director said. “We get to do something we love every day.”
Once they graduate later this year, the founders have plans to expand cities as well debut new product styles down the road. The vision is to have a premier sportswear company that competes with big boys like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.
As for advice for college grads — or anyone, really — looking to start a business?
“If you have an idea that you believe in, take the first step and do it,” Director said. ”You’ll be amazed at the doors that will open up for you along the way with hard work and perseverance if you just take the first step.”