4 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Shoes

The unwavering popularity of high heels is proof that the world is run by men. Think about it. The very shoes that women turn to to feel sexy all too often just make us look stupid — we can’t walk, can’t dance, can’t comfortably do much of anything fun. If the world were run by women, the shoe of choice for stylish, powerful ladies would be the clog. But the times they are a-changing ...

Dawn Dickson was out in South Beach, Miami, dressed to kill and looking fierce — until she realized she couldn’t handle her six-inch, excruciating heels for a minute longer, and there was no accessible shoe store or backup footwear. A lesser woman might consider her night ruined and go home, but Dickson saw it as an opportunity ... and decided to call it Flat Out Heels.

Dickson's line of shoes, which can be dispensed out of vending machines and roll-up into perfect purse-size compacts, are in many ways a direct response to the needs of female feet everywhere. They are fashionable, durable, easily portable, and (most importantly) comfortable.

As a woman who is more likely to end a night out barefoot than not, I was intrigued. But I was impressed with Dickson for another reason — the woman has serious business chops! Reading up about Flat Out Heels, four lessons stuck with me. Any would-be entrepreneur would do well to take them to take some notes:

1. Know your audience

All too often, well-intentioned ideas go awry because the person dreaming up solutions neglects to turn to their target market to ask them what they want, what their priorities are, and what their vision for success is. One of the reasons Dickson was so successful is that she knows the woman she’s making shoes for. Dickson sent out surveys, studied the market place, and generally did her homework before creating Flat Out Shoes. “The woman who needs Flat Out Heels wants to be fashionable,” she explains, which guided her production process as much as the need for comfort and portability did.

Most successful entrepreneurs are in constant conversation with the people they’re creating products or solutions for in order to get their feedback, ideas, and input. For god’s sake, if you’re creating a shoe line for women, please, talk to some, hire some, give them some samples in exchange for their candid feedback. These people determine whether or not you succeed, so make them a key piece of your process.

2. Make it easy for people to get on board

One of the reasons Flat Out Heels are catching on is how freaking easy they are to buy, bring, and wash. Dickson sells her shoes online and in vending machines at clubs and airports — locations where women are likely to need a change of shoes. They roll up into balls, so they’re easily portable for an impromptu wardrobe change. And they’re washing-machine-safe, so they’re easy for their new owner to keep looking nice, even after some long nights out.

People these days are lazy. Blame Facebook (it’s OK — your grandparents blamed the microwave). Just make sure your product or idea is easy and attractive for people to try out.

3. Differentiate yourself

If you have a good idea, odds are there are already people doing it or something similar (if not, definitely investigate why). A good idea isn’t enough. You need to have a full and complete understanding of the market landscape — your competition, the challenges and opportunities you’re likely to face, and your audience — in order to find a niche you can make a name for yourself in.

Is Dickson the only woman out there making ballet flats? Of course not. But when you’re out in Miami and need a change of shoes ASAP, hers is likely to be the only shoe vending machine in sight ... for now.

4. When you have a good idea ... make it happen!

How often are you sitting around with your friends, throwing brilliant ideas around about meeting important, tangible needs? “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this yet??” you might ask out loud. Odds are, lots of people already have. But no one has taken the next step and invested the time, energy, and money to make it come to life.

You think the woman who invented Whiteout was the very first person who ever had the idea? Probably not. But I bet you she’s glad she got her stuff together to make it happen ...

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Hanna Johnson

Sassy social media marketer at a SF startup. Political junky and hot sauce connoisseur. Have traveled to every continent except Antartica. I'm working on that.

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