Shooii – Online Footwear Retailer Serving The Youth Market, Founded By David Prince And Mark Campbell: Start-up Profile
By Oliver Milman
While working for footwear giant Footlocker, Dave Prince realised there was a gap in the market for an online venture that delivered shoes to eager young consumers.
After teaming up with Mark Campbell, Shooii was born. Below, Prince tells us about the idea, his grapples with websites and suppliers and why he wishes the investment market in Australia was a little easier for start-ups.
Can you explain a bit about the background of the founders?
I come from a footwear retailing background and have been in the business for close on 18 years. Most recently, I was with the Footlocker group – the world’s largest retailer of athletic footwear.
I have had a close association with product and buying disciplines. Mark Campbell joined a short time later, also from Footlocker.
He brings both product and planning experience but also brand marketing skills. So he's a very valuable guy to have around in a start-up!
Where did the idea for Shooii come from?
About two years ago I started to witness a large number of consumers shopping on international eCommerce sites and my suspicion was that it was not just about the lure of different products being available from overseas sites, but also a broader change in consumer purchasing behaviour.
The footwear industry is worth $2.5 billion dollars a year in Australia and I figured there's room for a youth-focused model within the competitive mix.
Shooii started to take shape with a notebook and a pen. I mapped out the business plan over a two-month period and then decided to leave my job to chase it full-time.
The business plan morphed into an investment document. I put together a board of experienced directors and listed Shooii on ASSOB to raise funding.
As the funding rolled in we hired one role at a time and that's how we arrived at this point.
How have you differentiated yourself from the other shoe selling sites out there?
Our Shooii mantra is about being different at every juncture of our business. Our key differentiators are:
The site looks pretty impressive – can you explain how you went about the process of building it?
Thanks. It was quite a task to build a site like Shooii, but we had some expert help on hand via the team at Josephmark.
The initial brief was to throw out conventional and build new features that would excite and engage consumers.
At each turn, we tried to “think different” and be innovative. We have tried to keep the site very clean and reduce noise where possible, allowing the product to be the focus.
How did you go about getting stock for the business?
Initially, it was very difficult as suppliers were reluctant. We met with each supplier and pitched them the concept, including mocking up their brand in the site and showing off the key features.
It was very time consuming, but well worth it in the end. We have been quite selective in the brands we stock. We don't stock brands that are over-distributed or cannot hold their respective RRPs.
We want to build long-term relationships with brands that represent the very best quality and value to our consumers. We see our role as being 'curators' and putting together edited ranges from each season.
Who, exactly, is the target market for Shooii?
Our target market is the 18 to 25-year-old female and male footwear consumer who need cool stuff pronto and follow seasonal trends closely.
Our core customer appreciates a personal element to online shopping, with customer service given priority status.
We have been reaching this customer through a variety of digital marketing channels including targeted adwords, fashion bloggers and focused PR.
Our marketing strategy is primarily digital for its cost efficiencies and reach, but we run this in parallel with good, old-fashioned word of mouth.
If we impress the pants off a customer, they are likely to tell others in their network. So we put a lot off effort into the customer experience.
What would you say was the most challenging part of starting the business?
Raising capital at Shooii has been the most difficult and time consuming task. Australian VCs are very risk adverse and we didn't tick all the investment criteria boxes.
So we had to hustle quickly and found funding via the Australian small scale offerings board (ASSOB), which connects investors with primarily early stage start-ups.
We have been fortunate to raise almost three rounds of funding and now we are looking to close round three shortly and open up our final round.
On the whole, capital raising is a tough game and consumes almost 60% of every week. I'd much prefer to spend this time working on the business but, hey, it’s a necessary evil if you want to build a web platform to a high level.
What would you have done differently, given the chance?
That’s an endless piece of string! But if I had to point to one item then it would be capital raising.
Having not raised funding before, I wish I'd been more realistic about how much time it would take up and that, short term, it can be a disadvantage. What I mean by that is it can slow your progress. You can only go as fast as your bank account will allow and that can be frustrating for young companies.
If we could have done it without funding, our speed could have been greater. But, in saying that, I don’t think we could have built a site like Shooii without the right funding in place.
Finally, what are your short- and long-term ambitions for the business?
Short term, we'd like to close out our capital raising with a cornerstone investor to invest further into inventory, marketing and our team.
Long term, I'd like to see Shooii grow into a great Australian brand that builds a community of people united by the love of shoes and, by doing so, become a major player in the online footwear space.