Start-up Interview: iCreate-Shoes Allows You to Design your Own Shoes

Personalisation and Customisation of fashion items has become big business.  iCreate-Shoes is seeking to do for the 'brown shoes' market what NIKEiD has done offline for trainers and Spread Shirt for the humble T-shirt.  Here, Raquel Dobson, pitch-preneur at our recent Darwinian Business Event and founder of iCreate-Shoes talks to The NextWomen about gaining business 'common sense', her initial steps on the road to funding and her top 10 points of advice for any woman starting her own business.


Raquel Dobson impressing the investors

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

I have been in the Digital and Broadcast Media industry for over 17 years, having started my career in LA as a Casting Assistant in the Motion Picture industry.  Great experience that gave me the essential skills to work with creative personalities.

When I returned to the UK, I was bitten by the digital media bug, and joined a pioneering technology company who launched Video-on-Demand and IPTV.  That was an exciting time also as the web was just coming into its own.

Those years were totally different to the years before, and they started me on the path of gaining business ‘common sense’.

Since those early days, I have worked in start-ups, as well as in global brands, Sony Pictures & Disney-ABC-ESPN TV to name a few.  I now have a career that runs the spectrum of business disciplines, with good and bad experiences had along the way.  All of which has led me to where I am today – Founder and C.E.O. of iCreate-Shoes.

What is iCreate-Shoes and why did you decide to start it?

iCreate-Shoes is a platform where the consumer can ‘customise’ shoes online, and ‘personalise’ their shoes to express their own identity.  At iCreate-Shoes the ‘individual’ becomes the ‘designer’.

The iCreate-Shoes Holding Page
Our ‘interactive user-design interface software’ enables customisation by mixing and matching a variety of styles, materials, heels, trimmings and accessories.  Our software also enables many ‘personalisation’ USPs, taking the proposition further.

iCreate-Shoes is the first product line to launch on the iCreate-Style platform.  The ‘iCreate-Style’ brand is about providing a platform for personal expression, through designing something unique to you – for you, for your family, for your friends, you name it!

I am kicking off iCreate-Shoes now, because of how social network sites have changed the way we interact with the world around us – it’s all about connecting, showing who you are and expressing yourself to the world – and what better way to ‘express yourself’ than through shoes that make you feel your best every time you strut down the street in them.

It is also just about time that women get access to ‘comfortable’ sexy fashion shoes that don’t kill their feet or crush their toes – finally comfort/support and gorgeous shoes can happily co-exist!

How will you be different from the likes of NIKEiD?

NIKEiD lets users customise their trainers
NIKEiD is aimed at the leisure footwear market, i.e. trainers.  iCreate-Shoes, however, is aimed at the fashion footwear market, or what those in the industry call the ‘brown shoe market’.

Never has a term inaccurately summed up ‘fashion shoes’ in my opinion!  Fashion shoes, especially women’s shoes, are about making a statement, about expression – in my mind there is nothing ‘brown’ about that!

iCreate-Shoes will launch for women aged 16-66, with our primary market in the 26-46 age-group.  In the future, men aged 16-66, and children aged 3-15, will also be able to customise their own shoes on iCreate-Shoes.

Who is in the iCreate-Shoes team?

There are 3 teams collaborating to make iCreate-Shoe a success:

As Founder & C.E.O., I am bringing 17 years of media experience to the proposition.  I will be utilising all my knowledge, as well as my Film, TV, Press, Celebrity and Media contacts, to maximise the awareness of brand.

My technology partner has a wealth of experience in IT, Web and Mobile, having launched businesses across these industries.  They also have all the expertise, resources and staff to develop the website and facilitate its growth.  They are presently working with the likes of MissHighStreet.co.uk, PeerPex.com and PeachorLemon.co.uk.

My Shoe Manufacturer is, of course, vital to the business.  The manufacturers are an independently owned company based in China with over 25 year’s experience. With clients and partners in the UK, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Canada and USA, they produce shoes and boots for quality brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, D&G and Chanel.  Their expertise in providing the highest standard of finished product, customer service, and resolution of shoe issues such as sizing, comfort and scalability, is paramount to the success of iCreate-Shoes.

You are pre-website, pre-revenue, where do you see iCreate-Shoes in a year’s time?

Yes, we are pre-website/pre-revenue.  Though I came up with the ‘idea’ for the proposition in January 2009, and the business model was finalised in June 2009, I have only been pushing on investment talks since September 2009.  A lot needed to be in place, and many ‘right’ steps taken, before such talks could begin.

In a year’s time, I see iCreate-Shoes launched in the UK, and lots of ‘happy’ women’s feet out there, showcasing the designs!  I also see iCreate-Shoes on celebrities feet and on fashion shows presented by Gok Wan.

And that’s just for starters for year 1!

Do you have any previous entrepreneurial experience?

In seemingly unconventional ways, yes.

I have been a freelancer for many years, which teaches you to take responsibility and control, and be your own boss whilst working with other peoples’ business ideas.

I have also been doing Business Development, and Sales and Marketing for many years - thinking outside the box on business propositions that, those in the box, can’t see their way around.  It helps you see things in an entrepreneurial way.

How much funding do you require and what steps have you taken to achieve this?

£100,000 – and as we are a pre-website/pre-revenue, I have split that amount into 2 stages:  Seed Fund, and Launch Fund.  Though, of course, getting the full amount now would be ideal, so we can get stuck in and plough ahead for an Autumn 2010 launch!

I applied for SeedCamp 2009, and although I didn’t make it onto their final list of 20, as one door closed another opened, and I am now in touch with two investors I met as a direct result of the process.

The NextWomen Pitching & Funding event on 7th October 2009 was my first attempt at pitching to a panel of investors, and I came runner-up in my group of 5 ‘pitch-preneurs’.  A great experience and I am now in contact with a further two potential investors.

I will also be pitching at cmypitches upcoming event to 5 dragons and 30+ investors; am doing the ‘steps programme’ with g2i/Grant Thornton, as well as the Design Council, and have hit the AWS Challenge peeps and EU Funding.

Interestingly and contrary to popular belief, there is money from Governments for start-ups - you just have to knock much louder and jump through far more hoops just to get noticed.

I am also cultivating my own investor contacts.  Being in the media I am well-connected, and I am finding more interest is coming my way as I resolutely push on with the funding process.

I have been working hard, but it’s important to hit the ‘right’ groups, build up the momentum and get it going.

Has the recession had any impact on how you are approaching your start-up?

The recession is one reason I believe many people set up their own business.  If you can’t find the right roles for yourself because there is a lack of opportunities, or secure a role because too many people are going for what is out there - all of which are side-effects of a recession - you look at other ways to make your mark.

It is important to pick your market well because recessions do hit.  I am, for instance, setting up during a full-blown recession, but I am setting up in a market (fashion) that is holding up well, with shoe prices fairing much better than those for clothing.

I think it is also important to see what other countries are doing during a recession.  For instance, press in August 2009 revealed that the US had just invested US$100million into ‘customisation for online retail’; US$60million of which has gone to the ‘footwear market’ and US$25million of that going specifically to ‘women & kids shoes’.

Previously, investment for customisation of footwear had only been injected into the ‘trainer’ market. However, customisation for online retail has already been proven as profitable through the likes of Spreadshirt and Zazzle.  Customisation is taking off big time in the US, and also now Asia.

Once you start on the entrepreneurial road, there is no turning back, and really, there is no better time than now, during a recession, to take control of your career and future.

What single piece of advice would you give to a woman thinking about starting an online business?

I know you have asked for a ‘single’ piece of advice, and that I should answer the question with one ‘business’ answer, but here’s my ‘advice top ten’ that people ‘don’t’ give you before you start the journey, but of which you should get:

1.    Get connected! ‘Effective’ networking is vital to a start-up, and its continued success!
2.   Know your ‘story’; why you are doing what you are doing, and what you want to achieve.
3.    Listen to your ‘gut’ instinct, and always be honest with yourself.
4.    Take time out to think about the process as you do the process – very important.
5.    Surround yourself with people who are having the same experiences as you...as well as surround yourself with people who knew you before you started this journey.
6.    Know what you want but also be flexible – in that I mean the process can change day-on-day, so recognise what is a ‘good’ change for the business and for you, and what ‘isn’t’.
7.    Always, always, do your research, double-check and re-check your details and figures.  Keep your business plan updated with all the new data out there – vital – business plans are organic – move with your market.
8.    Believe in yourself always, and especially when it feels like no-one else does.  Things evolve, so learn to breathe and re-boot!
9.    Recognise when you have achieved something – however small it might be, it’s important to recognise every step you take.
10.    And last but not least, thoroughly ‘enjoy’ the process – however tough it gets (and it will), however frustrated you get (and you will) – it’s all about learning, and using what you have learnt.

Good luck. And hurry up. In 2010 it will probably become very common to design your own shoes. Here's an overview and comparison of existing possibilities to create custom shoes. Question: what will distinguish a 'custom shoe manufacturer' when the possibility to customize shoes as such is no longer unique?

Welldone Raquel!! As a Shoe designer myself, I know the challenges most people face with ''finding the right shoes / shoes that fit properly''

This could be a solution to the various feet problems out there. Bear in mind, that not everyone is creative so you will need to be on top of things.

Look forward to being of assistance in anyway small way I can. Goodluck!!

It's interesting reading this because our team has just spent 12 months putting a very similar business together. It's amazing how good ideas spawn at the same time around the world (we're based in Australia)! One challenge for your business I'm sure you're aware of is sizing. Getting sizing right is a real challenge, and is something that you'll need to address fast. Good luck Raquel! The customizable shoe space will be better off once iCreate-Shoes launches.

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