“I remember waking up and thinking, ‘Oh God. I have to make five videos today,’” she says. “I was working non-stop but there was something in me that wasn’t being fulfilled.”
That something turned out to be socks with ears.
Kay had always been a sock enthusiast, but she could never find socks that felt alive and told a story. She posted a YouTube video showcasing sketches of socks with funny faces and floppy ears. A few minutes later, she had her first customer and a new business was born.
MooshWalks now sells tens of thousands of socks a year, she says, which can be purchased on her website, Amazon Exclusives and in 13 select stores across the U.S. So how did a former Ringling Bros juggler turned YouTube star, with zero business experience, become a sock mogul? Here she shares the secrets of her success.
1. Make the customer king (or queen).
“When I started the company, I wanted it to have the best customer service. Now I have customers who come back seven or eight times because of it. Each design of MooshWalk socks is a different character with a name and backstory. I include a signed, personalized card so that my customers not only buy my product -- they adopt it. If someone has problem with their order, they get it handled right away. Sometimes I run specials where I sign the packaging of socks. I also try to engage with my customers individually on social media when I have time.”
2. Mind the gaps.
“Don’t follow trends. You have to look at the industry that you’re pursuing and figure out what’s missing. How can you stand out? Where are the gaps? I didn’t want to start another colorful sock company -- I wanted my socks to be unique. Nobody was creating socks with ears so I was able to fill a need people didn’t even know they had. Find for your own gaps and fill them with awesomeness.”
3. Learn to be lean.
“Like most small entrepreneurs, I build my business from paycheck to paycheck. Whatever money I make, I invest right back into the company. So I’ve needed to figure out creative ways to cut corners. Free marketing is one good way. I’m lucky because I already have a fan base on social media to market to, but I also want to reach people who don’t know me. To do this I give away a free pair of socks each month to someone who has joined my mailing list. I’ve also set up an ambassador system that rewards my customers with free socks and coupon codes when they send business to my website.”
4. Dream about your dream while you’re awake.
“When you wake up every morning, your first thought should be, ‘What am I passionate about? How can I make my company better?’ If you’re not passionate about your idea, maybe it’s not worth your time. Every morning I wake up thinking, ‘What can I do that will make MooshWalks stand out and be different?’”
5. Listen to your customers.
“You can learn so much from your customers. Try to meet and engage them as much as possible. For example, some of my customers told me that they couldn’t wear my socks with skinny jeans, so I asked my manufacturer to make some pairs without the ears. I’ve also learned a lot from potential buyers. Before I re-launched MooshWalks last year, I opened a pop-up shop in Los Angeles to see how strangers reacted to my socks. Talking to them, I realized I was focusing so much on my core audience of teen girls that I was neglecting other markets. Now you’ll find mom, dad and baby socks on my site.”
6. Share the love.
“I’ve learned that most successful business people are excited to share their knowledge, not withhold it. That’s why when people with drive and passion come to me with a business question, I’m happy to give away all my secrets and tell them exactly what I do. True satisfaction for any human is to help someone else. It makes us feel like we’ve done a good deed. But it’s also good business. When I give other entrepreneurs a solution to a problem, I’ll likely be the first person they’ll want to help back.”
7. Be everywhere.
“Some people think you shouldn’t sell your product in too many places for fear of oversaturating the market. I used to agree, and sold my socks exclusively on my website. Not anymore. I’ve learned that different people shop in different ways. And if you can be there when they’re doing those things, you win”
8. Reward your best customers.
“Personally, I love rewards programs -- I like to spend money and get free money back. And I’m not alone. My loyalty program has been very popular. If a customer buys a couple pairs of socks, she qualifies for free shipping. If she buys five pairs, she qualifies for 25 percent off. If she buys six pairs, she gets a free pair. People love to be rewarded for accomplishing something, and a loyalty program does just that.”
9. Fail forward and never stop learning.
“As a small-business owner, you will make so many mistakes and burn through a lot of money. Don’t let it discourage you and give up. If you fall backward, it’s harder to get up. Fall on your face and you’re one step closer to figuring out another way. I love failing -- it makes me smarter, stronger and more likely to get creative. At the start of my business, I lost money sending new socks to customers who said they didn’t receive them. I quickly learned to set up a tracking system so that didn’t happen again.”
10. Have a reason why.
“You need to have an answer to why you’re starting a business. And it can’t just be to make money. Your business will require 200 percent of your brainpower and, as in my case, a lot of your own personal savings so that you can constantly innovate. To keep you motivated, you have to be driven by a purpose. I grew up very poor in a small Russian village. I could never afford the latest fashion trends, so I made the best with whatever I had to work with. The reason I created MooshWalks was to give girls the ability to stand out and be unique. That’s my why.”