Have you ever loved a pair of shoes, but not the price tag? Daniel Abaraoha, a sophomore at Cornell studying Applied Economics and Management, knows the feeling all too well. Daniel and his company, Vita Shoes Company, are on a mission to provide people with shoes that make their feet (and their wallets) feel great. Furthermore, since the homeless shelters in Dallas, Texas (Daniel’s hometown) are depending on his company’s success, he is determined not to fail.
Daniel recently took some time to meet with Entrepreneurship@Dyson to discuss Vita Shoes Company and what it’s like to be an entrepreneur at Cornell. His insights are shared below:
Vita Shoes Company started when I was a kid. My family couldn’t afford much, especially a decent pair of shoes, and I would always be jealous of my friends. I loved the Allen Iverson sneakers, I loved the Nike Air Force 1’s. My shoes they were cheap, they would deteriorate really easily, and so I would spend time drawing shoes. Later on, that turned into making my own brand of shoes and wanting to make a brand that looked cool, but also so that people like me could purchase these shoes at a good price. It’s a shoe company that has a fresh feel, but also an emphasis on affordability. My shoes don’t have the exact mold of a running shoe, but they do have a strong, comfortable, and casual feel.
Who’s your ideal customer?
There isn’t really a model customer. We’re looking to get to people who are on-the-go and who don’t want to have a shoe break their budget. We want people to look at this and say, “I can use this to work out, go on a run, go to school, run an errand, and lounge around at home.” It’s supposed to be for everyday use, but we want it to have specific athletic functions as well.
Can you talk about your company’s efforts to give back to local communities?
When you buy this shoe, you’re not only helping your wallet out, you’re not only helping your feet out, but your purchase also goes towards helping someone at the Austin Street homeless shelter in Dallas, Texas. That’s a focus that I want this company to have, as well as being an affordable brand. I want it to be seen as being socially aware, because I’ve done years of work at that homeless shelter, and that’s where a portion of the profits are going. So when you buy the shoe, you’re serving a social purpose, as well.
I think there’s three in particular. 1) Marketing. I was reluctant in taking that class, but it let me see things like a marketing plan, target market, and different stages of marketing strategies…All of those tools really helped me. 2) Managerial Accounting. All of the budgeting, which is a huge part of that course, helped me with what I needed to have for my own company. 3) Business Management. It exposes you to so many different things related to the business world.
If there’s one thing you could go back and tell yourself before you started this company, what would it be?
I would tell myself not to keep it as low-key. I didn’t want to be that passionate or show a lot about the shoe company. I only told my mother and a few other friends, and I kept it very secretive until I reached a certain point… It wasn’t until the samples arrived, and I got excited about it, that people were interested in what I was talking about. I wish I could go back and tell myself to keep the passion alive, because if you’re not showing interest in it, no one else is going to either.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be pragmatic but always be ridiculous. What you think is a safe estimate is always safe, but it’s always good to be optimistic. Think, “Hey, I can sell 10,000 shoes!” It’s always good to be that optimistic, because I didn’t think at first that there would be any interest, but when I started sharing it with people, a lot of people were excited. A lot of people were willing to share that with others. I got letters from people who told me to keep it going and that they couldn’t wait to see the shoes. You should always aim to get the ridiculous amount, because if you shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you land on the stars. You also always have to show passion and interest for the project. You can’t act like it’s a side project. This is you. It’s a part of you that you’re going to put on a resume or tell people about, and you must show passion for the company–whatever it is.