Two geeks and a genius: an Australian startup success

This week, when in Sydney, lots of people told me I should visit Shoes of Prey.

I didn't know what to expect before walking in.

Well, when I walked in, and +Jodie Fox met me while wearing shoes that looked like something Lady Gaga would wear. I later learned that lots of celebrities buy shoes from them.

But quickly I met the rest of the founding team who were definitely geeks. +Michael Fox  and +Mike Knapp. The three of them walked me through their business, and why a few Silicon Valley investors like michael arrington and +bill tai had invested in them.

Very quickly I saw tons of stories that could be featured in a Paul Graham blog post, or a Fast Company cover article:

1. The team complements each other and couldn't survive without each other. Jodie has the vision, the business acumen, and is one of the best pitchmen, er, women, I've ever met. While she was talking I kept thinking to myself "did Steve Jobs get reborn as a woman?"

2. New technology, from custom manufacturing, to 3D printing, to factories that can build one thing at a time, to extensive HTML 5 programming, to cloud computing makes this business possible. I don't think it would be possible to build this kind of company 10 years ago, and if it were, it'd take a lot more investment to do.

3. Culture is king in building a company. A few of my friends who are tech journalists say they can "smell" a good startup when you walk in and I get that. Most businesses you walk into and they feel dreary. This one doesn't.

4. Brand is built by what you can't see. Jodie pointed that out again as she helped me design a shoe for my wife. "Only she will see the color inside, but it will always remind her of you."

Anyway, what they do is let you build your own custom shoes. They say they have more than a trillion combinations. Looking around at some of the shoes they've made you can see the quality and design thinking behind this company (some of Jodie's own designs are on the wall and she clearly lives her own values).

One thing: they now have a "store within a store" inside one of Australia's top department stores. The conversion rate is 50% higher than online, by the way, which shows how hard it is to convince online buyers of the quality of this company's product without letting you touch it. HTML 5 doesn't get have the ability to let you run your fingers along the leather, feathers, or other materials they use.

Inside that store Jodie took an Apple approach, designing EVERYTHING the customer experiences, down to the music. Jodie says she designed that to include sounds of a shoe heel on different materials. Which is why I was thinking about Steve Jobs. His retail stores had the same attention to detail and he was the first CEO to ask me to look at the back of a computer and not just the front to see how well designed it is. Jodie has that same attention to detail, which is where great brands are built.

Add in the usual "Zappos style" customer service, where people can return shoes for any reason, and this company is off to the races. 

Want to make a woman in your life feel extra special? It's hard to think of something better than a pair of Shoes of Prey. Oh, and their email address? Get it? Hunting for a great pair of shoes. 

It makes me so happy to be around entrepreneurs like this, anyone else got a startup that's above and beyond?

#throughglass  of course.
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