Lessons from Shoes of Prey co-founder Jodie Fox include being media-savvy, publicly visible and ready to run miles in heels.

By Lorraine Sanders (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

Growing your company can be painful. Just ask Jodie Fox, who recently stepped into a pair of 4.5” heels to run the 3km stretch from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach in Sydney, Australia for Shoes of Prey, the custom footwear company she co-founded in 2009 with ex-Googlers Michael Fox and Mike Knapp.

The resulting video of Fox jogging happily along in one of the 196 trillion pairs of shoes it’s possible to create on the Shoes of Prey web site successfully conveys the intended marketing message: that the ecommerce brand’s shoes are comfortable. But it reveals something else too. As a founder, Fox is hands-on, publicly visible and media savvy – things you’ll find behind many a company that makes it from early-stage startup to multimillion dollar revenues in two years.

That Fox is all three is no doubt a trifecta of positive attributes for the growing brand, which has raised $3 million in funding from investors that include TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington. More recently, the company is reporting 300% growth in the last 12 months, counts just south of 50 staff in four countries and is in the midst of a push to acquire more international customers.

We caught up with Fox to get the scoop on keeping brand identity cohesive when you offer a customizable product, the challenge of growing overseas, the promise of 3D printing and whether running in heels was really as easy as it looked.

Shoes of Prey is based in Sydney, but sells internationally and offers free shipping, a major win for a shopper living outside of Australia. That’s a hurdle that many retail brands have yet to successfully cross. How does Shoes of Prey make it work?

It is definitely a huge hurdle, but a really important one that I relate to as an avid online shopper. It’s a question of balancing margins and suppliers so that you know which costs you can absorb as a company [and] treat as part of your customer acquisition cost.

You recently ran 3km in a heels and posted a video of the experience. Honestly, just thinking about running that far in heels makes me cringe, but you seemed completely fine at the end. Didn’t it hurt just a little bit?

I’m not very fit and really hate running, so yes, it was a bit of a struggle from that point of view! However, my feet were great. My only regret with that video was not filming my feet afterwards to show that they were totally fine (yes, I realise that is kind of a weird thing to say!).

On a serious note, looking at this as a pretty savvy marketing move, can you tell us a little about how the video benefited your brand? Did you see any uptick in sales after it came out?

The video has had great success. We’ve been using it as a pre-roll ad and contrary to normal trend, most viewers watch it to the very end. Click through to the site and subsequent purchases have been positive, but we’re still collecting data to understand the extent of its success at the moment.

Customizable consumer products, especially apparel and accessories, give consumers a seemingly endless array of choices. When that’s at the core of your business, how do you keep your branding, from the aesthetic to the message, really consistent over time? What has Shoes of Prey done to make this happen?

Such a great question. I originally had the same thinking – that the product design being held by the consumer meant that we had to provide a brand that was a blank canvas. There is something in this at certain points of the customer experience, but we are more than just a service provider – we create the building blocks for you to work with. We also share our knowledge with you so you feel confident about designing and excited by your creation, so it’s up to us to have an opinion that we believe in and share with our shoe lovers to get them to their perfect shoe.

Shoes of Prey is one example of what happens when you pair fashion and technology. What do you think about the future of fashion tech? Should we expect more and more traditional brands to embrace new technologies and, if so, what technologies do you think are capable of changing the fashion industry in a major way?

I don’t really view technology as the reason to evolve and change. I believe that brands should be thinking about how they can deliver the very best solution to their customers in the most seamless way and then work back from there to develop technology to support that vision. Ultimately this is how we innovate and develop – not by looking at what technology already exists. This is why fostering the next generation of developers is so important and in a business like mine where the end consumer is gender-biased, particularly female developers who have an inherent understanding of the customer journey. Looking at particular technologies set to revolutionise fashion, 3D printing, once inexpensive enough and with more sophisticated materials, will change everything.

How important is a media-savvy CEO to a startup’s growth?

lorraine headshotAbout the blogger: Lorraine Sanders is a journalist, blogger and media consultant. She is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle Style Bytes column and writes regularly for FastCompany.com and others. She is founder of the blog Digital Style Digest and an inhabitant of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Connect with her on Twitter @digitalstyledig or @lorrainesanders.