We had the good fortune of connecting with Steven Sashen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Steven, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
To say there was a “thought process” is a bit of an overstatement I’ve never had a job. Never had a resumé. Never interviewed for a job. I’ve only created situations where I could do something I found interesting that would allow me to earn a living. With regard to Xero Shoes, I had been making “minimalist sandals” based on ancient designs as a hobby. Then someone said, “I’m writing a book about barefoot running and if you treated this hobby like a business and had a website, I’d put you in the book.” I rushed home and pitched this opportunity to my wife, who told me it was a HORRIBLE idea and that I shouldn’t do it. I agreed with her. And then, after she went to bed, I built a website After I calmed her down the next morning, I said, “It won’t take much time and maybe it’ll make us car payment money.” Well, from day 1, it just took off and we’ve been playing catch up ever since.
Please tell us more about your business. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
To describe what we do at Xero Shoes, I ask people “Do your feet feel better at the end of the day than they did at the beginning?” If not, it’s because your shoes aren’t letting your feet do what’s NATURAL — let your toes spread, let your foot bend, flex, move, and feel. At Xero Shoes make casual and performance shoes, sandals, and boots that are so comfortable, we’ve had people email to say they accidentally got into bed still wearing them because they forgot they had them on. People wear our footwear for everything from taking a stroll on the beach, to climbing Kilimanjaro, to running a 256k 7-day race across Madagascar, to a night on the town with friends.
When I’m asked “What advice do you have for a budding entrepreneur?” I always respond, “Get a government job with a pension.” Being an entrepreneur is an almost never-ending challenge, with an almost infinite number of ways things could go wrong. I say that success is 90% luck and the other 10% is also luck. Then there’s a SEPARATE 100% where 90% is working your butt off, and the other 10% is, hopefully, being smart enough to put out the fires that started overnight despite the fact that nothing changed since yesterday. What I’m most proud and excited about is the number of lives we’ve changed. As my wife says, “There are more than enough shoe companies in the world. We don’t need another… unless your shoes change people’s lives and, happily, ours do.” I’m also proud that many of our employees refer to working with us as their “career.” Every day there are hundreds of challenges and the only way to overcome them is to do the best you can to take what seems like an appropriate next step… then check and see if you are right or wrong and start again either way. When we had been running Xero Shoes for about 7 months, some industry experts said to us, “We believe in you and we believe that what you’re doing is important. We would start this business with you, but we’ve been in footwear for over 35 years, so we’re not stupid enough to try to start a shoe company!” Lena and I replied, “We know we’re hyper-optimistic and naive, but that’s how anything ever gets done, so away we go…”
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First, the Celestial Seasonings factory tour. Nobody ever forgets their time in the mint room! Next, assuming it’s summer… we go tubing down Boulder Creek. We’d pick a random 14er and climb that. We’d jump in my supercharged Subaru BRZ and drive some curvy mountain roads. At some point, go to Lyons Classic Pinball with a fist-full of quarters. Hopefully, there’s a good show at Red Rocks. For food… Zaika for amazing Indian, Parma for incredible Italian. And, of course, strolling on the Pearl Street mall is a given.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The most important shoutout I can give is to my co-founder and wife, Lena Phoenix. Were it not for her brilliance, Xero Shoes would not be what it is today (happily, she says the same about me). The other is to my parents who, thanks to their weird genes, produced someone who thought they were crazy when they suggested I “get a job.”