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Building a Shoe Company after Struggling with Uncomfortable, Over-Priced Women's Footwear

Veragano was born out of a dire need to solve a common problem; finding a comfortable pair of high heels that are elegant enough for people to take us seriously at work.

It was a gradual decision made over the last two years as I was having a hard time finding a reputable factory in Italy to produce premium-quality shoes with a low minimum order quantity. Most factories will not take in a new client unless it has a budget of at least 1,000 pairs of shoes for its first order. However, we managed to find one by pure luck, through a consultant we have worked with for the first version of de Vera pumps, that has agreed to take on our project. For the most part, they found it interesting that I was envisioning something that has never been done by other high-end brands. To the factory owners, it was a personal challenge, after thirty years of making prototypes and production lines for brands such as Chanel, Sergio Rossi, Dior, and many other luxury fashion houses in which none of them were as concerned about Customers’ need for comfort other than their own design aesthetics.

When the deal was signed between the factory and my Company, I was over the moon. It was a milestone achievement for me personally because I have never dealt with a manufacturer as far as Italy over the Internet to start something like this, not at this scale, with such a low upfront capital.

Our first three customers came from acquaintances I have established a connection with ever since I started sharing pictures of the prototype of our signature collection, de Vera pumps.

With the limited time I have in any given day I was quite intentional when I network with professional women on LinkedIn. I knew exactly who I was targeting and knew exactly how to make them want to give our shoes a try.My idea for starting a collection of uniquely stylish, comfortable heels for professional women was validated when I saw a huge interest in the collection among a group of professional women consisting of founders, c-level executives and venture capitalists. They rushed to get on my email list to receive updates about the progress I was making with the de Vera pump collection. They also took part in my design processes, by providing me with a long list of their wants in a pair of heels that they could walk in comfortably, all-day while on the job. They already knew what they wanted mainly because they haven’t been able to find something as elegant and yet comfortable even with other famous high-end name brands. As a result of that, they always ended up carrying a pair of flats in their handbags just so they can switch shoes in the middle of the workday when their feet began to hurt.

I didn’t have any formal background in shoe design, let alone understanding the shoemaking process. However, I managed to get the collection off the ground after spending almost five weeks working with my design and production team in Italy. The owners of the factory were very patient in trying to explain how shoes are being made, and how every minor change I would make after everything was already set could affect their entire production plan and delay my plan for launch. But they also understood how I needed the collection to be as perfect as they could be since the women who were on my waiting list were the kind of women who would not compromise comfort and style.

I have not raised funds for this venture yet, and do not intend to start fundraising until we have gained massive traction from all of our bootstrapped-marketing efforts. As long as I can afford to fund the business, I will continue to do so and am determined to scale it on my own. This also means I may not be able to see profit in my pocket for at least a couple of years but with my undying passion for solving a huge problem for millions of women around the world, I knew I got this made for me, and it all will turn out great in the end. Furthermore, I enjoyed watching how my farfetched ideas materialize into tangible functional things.

Our target demographics are as follows:

Women between the age of 28 to 48, who work in an office environment, in California and New York specifically, with household income of $80,000 and above, including celebrities, high-profile public figures, single or married with one or two children, owned a house (on mortgage), are a career-oriented individuals, are a professional-growth seekers, have a passion for fashion and style, have a professional image to maintain (part of their personal branding), love interior decorating for home and/or office, enjoy traveling for work or personal, have an eye for positive imagery, and are a huge supporter of other women in business or leadership.

How did you fund the idea initially?

Veragano was entirely self-funded from day one, through personal savings and a line of credit. I am the only founder of the Company but I do have a founding team already setup from day one consisting of a Chief Strategy Officer, a PR executive, and another executive who focuses on Branding only.When hiring first employees, I look to hire only those who have a passion for fashion and style in their eyes. This is a lifestyle business to be enjoyed, not just a job where one can look forward to earning good money. If I see an employee begin to feel like a primary task has become a chore, I would not hesitate to fire her immediately.

I learned this from the factory owners I work with. They have staff who have been working for them for over 20 to 30 years until they are old and grey. They enjoyed every minute of their work and time at the factory. Their positive work vibes were infectious.

What motivated you to start Veragano?

I come from a family of self-made business owners. Back home in Singapore and Brunei, my family members run their own companies for over thirty years now, from a shoe-repair shop that grew from one to ten franchise-based shops to an employment agency that service manpower needs for DHL and FEDEX to running a transportation company with long-term contracts from Brunei government agencies. I think my innate nature for running a business has already been in my DNA, except that I have never tried my hands on making and selling tangible products until now. The only problem though, each one of us was expected to run our businesses from the ground up on our own without financial support from members of the family who were already successful in their own business ventures.

Most of my close friends and family members believed in my vision though. The only thing that they didn’t get was why I was making shoes for professional women only. It took me a long time to make them understand that my business decision was based on filling the gap that exists in today’s luxury fashion market. Nevertheless, they supported my business endeavors in so many ways I could have never imagined, such as sending women who fit in my target audience group to connect with me directly on Facebook or LinkedIn. They were always looking out for me, near and far. And so I have begun to garner a public following, especially on my personal Facebook profile page. I spent most of my free time connecting with those who follow my public postings, get to know them on a one-on-one level, try to understand their lifestyle and nature of work or business as I try to be as supportive as I can be to support their business ventures or careers as well by sending referrals their way.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

When things go wrong, I would take a time-out on myself for a few hours to a couple of days, to regroup myself in the way I think about those problems. I try as much as possible to avoid making decisions solely based on emotions. As women, we tend to feel a lot and as long as we are aware of our own weaknesses and we know how to handle them effectively, we can overcome any challenges.

My advice to those who are starting a business, a fashion brand especially, to not believe that you need a hundred thousand dollars to start a collection. With luck and good financial planning, you can start a collection with just a prototype and get the orders rolling in almost immediately. The only problem is finding a manufacturer who will believe in you. That’s when good luck is very much needed. But keep trying and never ever give up on a dream to build an empire and leave behind a legacy for your next generation.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Veragano has registered its trademarks and patent rights on a few IPs to date. While they are pending, we don’t massively advertise our prototypes or actual products to the public. In fact, our offline sales strategy is geared toward hosting trunk show events for our elite group of customers in secret. It’s a business strategy we are undertaking with informed calculated risk. In other words, one would have to be invited to our events in order to experience theVeraganodifference. This is how we intend to differentiate our brand from other luxury fashion brands in the market. This method of sales is very much appreciated by high-powered women especially.

What are your favourite podcasts?

My favorite podcast at this point is Support is Sexy, hosted by Elayne Fluker. I listen to it every morning after my meditation routine. Listening to one episode each morning has helped me set the level of productivity I needed to have for the day.

What are the next products you’re working on?

Veragano is still in its pre-launch stage at this point. The website will be launched by the second week of April. To date we have sold only 27 pairs on pre-order basis. It was a chance for us to get feedback from Customers and they too have been an integral part of our design processes ever since. We sold the shoes at $325 per pair, which was around 20% off in exchange for feedback and becoming our brand’s early adopters. We projected to be selling at least 100 pairs per week once we start our nationwide advertising campaign from mid April onwards.

We are looking to launch our extremely comfortable ballet flat collection right after we are done with the launch of our pointy-toe high heel pump collection.

We see ourselves rolling out collections of handbags and clothing lines in the next five years with a high chance of being backed by venture capitalist firms whose partners are already Customers of Veragano. Would I sell the Company? Yes, I would when the time is right and the offer for acquisition is excellent.

Company Name: Veragano
Founder: Rima McDonald



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