Transcript of Sushi Fridays EP005: Aaron Faison, Co-Founder of Worldie

Andrea: Welcome, welcome to Sushi Fridays. I am your host, Andrea Pascual. As someone who studied footwear and interned at a footwear company, I have a slight idea of how difficult it is to get a footwear business up and running. Very, very slight. That's why I needed to have this episode's guest come on because I think about what he's trying to achieve and I wonder, how are you doing this?

But he is. He has a big vision and a ton of ideas up his sleeve and his story proves that entrepreneurship takes time and iteration. I have the privilege of welcoming the one and only Aaron Faison, co-founder of children's footwear brand, Worldie. Can we start from the beginning? And the beginning is your choice.

So the beginning can be where you grew up, where you went to school, or we can get right into Worldie

Aaron: I was going to say, let's start earlier. The beginning is birth. So, uh, I was born in New York. Lived there for like a year or two. Moved to Cleveland. Lived there until I was about eight. Then moved to Detroit.

I was there until the end of high school. Went out to the east coast for school. Went to school in Philly. Studied business and then basically went into consulting for a few years after undergrad. So I lived in Chicago for a couple years, then Seattle. for a couple years and then went back to Chicago for three years for school.

I have my law degree. Also have my business degree. So I got my JD and my MBA in June and then I'm back in Detroit for a little bit and then I'm headed back to Seattle and about six months here. 

Andrea: Wow. How did you go from law to building a children's athletic footwear brand?

Aaron: Sure. So they're both things that I'd been interested in for a long time.

So since I was a kid, I was interested in being a lawyer and going to law school, but at the same time, I knew that there's a lot of people who have a background in law who do things outside of the law and do really cool things. So I kind of looked at it more as it's a good skill set to have. I wanted to understand more about the law.

I thought potentially I wanted to be a lawyer, but when I was, when I entered law school, I wasn't dead set on becoming a lawyer. So I tried it out. If I was going to be a lawyer, I was thinking about doing something related to startups or something in the sports and entertainment space. And as I went through law school, as I did some things outside of the classroom that were more practical, I realized that whenever I was For example, interacting with the startup.

I really wanted to be on the other side of the table. So the law stuff was interesting. It was cool to get to see it from that side. But I always thought, man, I really want to be the entrepreneur. And that's really where my passion lies. And entrepreneurship is also something that I've been interested in for a long time.

And I think it's just hard to be both an entrepreneur and a lawyer at the same time, so I felt like I kind of had to pick one and right now just my passion is with entrepreneurship, and I feel like if I do want to practice law, that's always there for me down the road, but, um, I'm just super passionate about this idea, and we can talk about the idea more if you want to do that.

Andrea: Absolutely. Let's talk about the idea. Why Worldie?

Aaron: Sure. So my background is. Well, I, I mean, I played a lot of sports when I was younger, started when I was probably four or five played pretty competitively from a pretty young age. I ended up playing club hockey in college, but soccer was my better sport.

And I could have played varsity soccer, but I decided to just kind of focus on academics instead. So I was a pretty good athlete, very passionate about sports. And essentially the first idea that we had. That I had, um, was for a shoe for people who had played sports competitively when they were younger, but are now playing a little bit more recreationally.

So something that is high quality, maybe it's a bit cheaper than the highest price things on the market because they have all these kind of like bells and whistles and new technologies that once you stop playing super competitively, you're just kind of like, why am I paying for something that looks a bit different but works the exact same.

So that was the initial idea I brought on my co-founder who has a similar background to me. He played, uh, football in college and we both were pretty interested in the idea, decided to test it. So talk to a bunch of people, ran surveys, um, things like that. And essentially what we realized was that the market is a bit small.

And also it's just hard when people get to that age, if they're in their late twenties, early thirties, it's kind of hard to get them to switch. Like if they love Nike or if they love Adidas and they've been wearing it their whole athletic careers, they're not really going to switch. And we started hearing a lot of people say that potentially based on what we were trying to do that the kids market could make more sense and eventually decided to just see if there was anything there.

So we went through that same process going to soccer practices, observing behavior, talking to the parents, asking them what they think about the shoes that are currently on the market. All those kinds of things. And we noticed a few things. So kids, they like playing basically as many sports as they can or engaging in as many different athletic activities as they can, but their feet are growing so fast.

Shoes are pretty expensive. Parents don't necessarily want to buy or maybe they can't even afford. A specific shoe for every single activity. So a basketball shoe, lacrosse shoe, football shoes, soccer shoes starts to add up and kids are also pretty fickle. So they might love soccer today and then tomorrow say they're never gonna play it again.

And then if you bought them a pair of soccer cleats and essentially that that money is wasted. So we noticed that. And we also noticed that there's not. I mean, most parents, they end up sending their kid to just about every sport in one shoe, which is like a running shoe or some kind of casual shoe. And we noticed that there really wasn't a shoe on the market.

Yeah. That is designed for sports, that works across all the different surfaces. And sports that kids play. So that's essentially what we're, uh, what we're working on. It's going to, it's a shoe that's going to work better than a running shoe on grass on turf, hardwood courts. And also we noticed just in general that a lot of these big shoe brands, they have a lot of different target customers, but really where they're focusing on is teenagers, big kids.

Maybe even young adults in terms of their athletic shoes. They're not really focused on kids who are just getting into sports. So we feel like that is an underserved segment. And if we focus our whole business model around basically making parents’ lives easier, allowing kids to have as much fun as possible.

Encouraging fun over competition or striving for something that a lot of people are never going to achieve. We think that there's something there and that we can build a business around that.

Andrea: Aaron says that there isn't a children's shoe on the market that's designed for all kinds of sports and the different surfaces of those sports that kids play on. What problem do you solve is an essential question to ask no matter what your business offers and an essential question to answer. After identifying the problem, Aaron's next challenge for Worldie is to actually now create the product.

What was the timeline from the idea that you said, okay, we're going to start this footwear brand to actually making your first prototype? 

Aaron: Yeah, so it's been a while. It's almost been two years at this point. So, uh, me and my co-founder, we met and I want to say November 2021. And basically in that same month, we started kind of like going after that initial idea.

And we decided to pivot probably six months. After that, and that whole time we were looking for a designer, the shoe designer to actually help us get that prototyping process started. We really didn't find that until about a year ago. So that first year was just focused on business planning, testing the idea, validating the idea, talking to potential customers.

And then over the last year, we've been working on design and prototyping in the first prototype that we've held in our hand. I think that came about 5 months ago. So it's been a long process and we're getting towards the tail end of that. That prototyping process and getting more into the testing and we're hoping to do a crowdfunding campaign at the end of this year.

So have the shoes ready to go raise a little bit of money. Use that to offset some of the costs of making that initial order. And then hopefully just starting to sell in the new year. 

Andrea: Were there any big challenges you had to overcome during that time? 

Aaron: I think just in general, so neither of us has a background in, in footwear or startups.

So, a lot of people, especially at the beginning, they didn't take us seriously. Also because we were students, they thought that we were just working on an idea for a class or... They thought maybe we thought we were interested in entrepreneurship, but really, when push came to shove, we weren't going to put in the work to actually turn this into a business.

So it was hard at the beginning just to get people to take us seriously if we ask for, you know, connection. So saying, you know, we're looking for a designer. Do you know anyone in your network? Maybe people would say something like, I'm not sure if you guys are far enough along, come back to me a little bit later.

And then maybe I can see if there's someone I can introduce you to. Also, just being a first time founder is difficult. We're basically doing everything for the first time. And there's a lot of, a lot of moving pieces, and a lot to keep track of, and a lot of things where you have to make a lot of decisions where you just don't know if it's the right decision or not, and if it's wrong, then maybe you just wasted, uh, a lot of money.

So, I think just being a first time founder. In general has been difficult and building in the footwear spaces is not exactly easy either

Andrea:  When it came to finding your designer. What was that process like? And how did you know that he was the one that you were going to work with? 

Aaron: So we initially we started with kind of like cheap designers because we didn't necessarily know how important the initial design was.

So we started with people on. People per hour, for example, up work. And I think we spent on the first design. We spent like 5 and we just got a two d like a two dimensional drawing just so we could start showing people what the vision was. We didn't think that that would actually allow us to produce it, but we wanted just something to show people.

And then we paid maybe like 25 to get a 3D printable file. And our plan was to print it at the 3D printing lab at University of Chicago. Which is where we were at the time, but then we sent the file to the people over there. We showed up and they said, we can't print this shoe because number 1, it's 1 inch by 1 inch.

So even if we did print it, it's probably not going to be that helpful. And then also there are issues in the file where it just made it. Unprintable, so then had to go back to the drawing board. I think we went back to people per hour or up work and got a 3D model, not 3D printable, but just a 3D model again, just to show people.

What the idea was and then eventually found our designer who he worked at Reebok for about 15 years. He has about 30 years of experience total in the industry, and that was actually just through cold outreach on LinkedIn. So I talked to, because sustainability is also something that's important to us.

So I reached out to someone who worked on a sustainable shoe at Reebok, and we talked to her about different sustainable materials, things like that. And then maybe a few months later, I reached out to her and I said, Hey, is there anyone, you know, Who might be interested in taking on this design project for us and then she connected us to our designer who he's basically like a freelancer now and it's kind of funny because since we've gotten a designer, basically, there's just a ton of designers who are reaching out to me asking if if we need any help.

Or there's a ton of designers who are coming across. My radar. So it's kind of like once you find it, it's super easy, but getting that first person to buy in and actually do the design for you was kind of difficult.

Andrea: Aaron shares with us how proving oneself as an entrepreneur is most def a thing. I can certainly relate. It's ongoing and it never ends, but he gathers his resources and eventually finds ideal help to create his product. Next up, Aaron talks about how he's been able to use his legal background as an entrepreneur.

Aaron: Yeah. So I think, um, just in general, a lot of people don't necessarily see how law can help you in entrepreneurship or vice versa. But I mean, part of the reason is because a lot of entrepreneurs, they're very risk seeking. They're very willing to take on risks. And in law school, they teach you basically to avoid risks and a lot of lawyers and law firms are very risk averse.

So initially it seems pretty hard to marry those two things, but I actually worked last summer. I was working at a startup, uh, dietary supplement startup and somewhat of a kind of a hybrid role between business and law. So on the business side, I was helping with fundraising. And on the legal side, there's a lot of, there's a lot of ways you can get in trouble in the dietary supplement space legally just with the FDA.

So you want to make sure that you're not making any claims about your products that are misleading or they're not true. So you don't want to say that your product is effective in a way that you're not actually sure it's effective or it hasn't really been tested and proven. And also another big no, no is you don't want to.

Say that your supplement works like a drug. So basically on the legal side, I was just looking through the company's advertising things that we're putting on the website, making sure that nothing was misleading and that everything that we were claiming was true had been proven things like that. And basically what I realized is when you work inside a company.

From a legal perspective, you can't just say no to everything, right? So if someone asks, is this okay? I mean, I guess your default can be no, but the answer can't always be no, because there has to be some solution, right? Like the company has to say something about the product and you have to think about.

What's the best way to get people to buy the product, but at the same time not expose ourselves to legal risk. And what we found was a lot of the  external law firms that we were talking to, they would just say no to basically everything. So they wanted us to make almost no claims about the product or its efficacy.

So if you do that, you're not, if people come to your website, they're like. This is a placebo because there's no, there's absolutely no benefits of this, right? So that was something that I thought was a pretty interesting insight that the law is a tool, but it shouldn't be a tool just to say no. It should be a way to help you assess risk and determine how you want to move forward.

So a lot of times I think entrepreneurs are, like I mentioned, they're, they're risk seeking, so they might see all these different risks and say, you know what, all these things are risky, but you have to take on risks. So there's some upside to all of these things. So let me just do all of this. And then lawyers on the other hand, they're like, yeah, there's some risk to all of these things and there's downside with risk.

So let's do none of them. And having seen both sides, so kind of acting in that legal role within a startup, now working on my own startup, having been in law school, I feel like I'm a bit better at assessing risks, determining which risks are worth taking, which ones are not worth taking. So I think just risk assessment and determining how much risk I want to take on has definitely been something that studying the law has helped me with as an entrepreneur.

Andrea: So if there was a sliding scale of risky and non risky, like, would you be sliding towards the safer end of the spectrum?

Aaron: I would say I'm more on the risky side of the spectrum, at least when it comes to life decisions, because entrepreneurship, I'd say, is a bit risky. But maybe when it comes to legal decisions, I'm a bit safer, because I feel like there's oftentimes there's ways to do the same thing, but do it in a way where you're not going to expose yourself to legal risk.

Andrea: On the topic of entrepreneurship. How do you balance work, life, everything else, growing your business? What's your MO? 

Aaron: I'm not very good at it. So I spent a lot of time working and when I was in school, so getting two degrees, my JD and my MBA while working on a business, I basically had no free time. So there's a lot of hobbies and things that I've enjoyed in my life that I've.

Kind of let go by the wayside since I started my business, which I know that's not, that's not healthy, but really the things that are important to me are beyond, like beyond working or seeing my family, spending time with my family, talking to my family, and then being active, playing sports, playing golf, working out, getting outside.

I like hiking, traveling and hiking, things like that. So basically I try to keep myself sane. By spending time with the people I love and exercising. And then beyond that, I kind of think at least right now I had spent all my other time working. 

Andrea: I hear you. And when it comes to your family and the people you love, how important are they to you in supporting your journey as an entrepreneur?

Aaron: Uh, there's, I mean, they're extremely important and part of it is just the fact that, I mean, almost all of my day is spent thinking about my business and working on my business. And sometimes it's good to just, Basically spend time with family or friends, they always tell me what I need to hear and tell me when I need to take a break or if, um, something bad happened and if I'm overreacting to it, things like that.

So just giving perspective and letting me know that even if something goes wrong or if things don't work out with the business that. You know, it's, it's, it's going to be okay. 

Andrea: So I feel like I have to seek support elsewhere, like different groups, different kinds of people. Do you have that same experience? 

Aaron: I do. I feel the same way in terms of. A lot of people like, uh, none of my friends or family are really entrepreneurs. So from that perspective, they don't necessarily understand what it's like day to day.

So I do, you're right that you do need that support network of people who know what it's like to be an entrepreneur. And I had that more in school because just in my MBA program, there are a decent amount of people who are interested in entrepreneurship. Now that I've graduated, I think I've lost that a little bit.

I mean, I can talk to my co-founder a little bit about it because obviously we're doing the same thing. But I think that's something that I need to be mindful of and I need to try to build that network a little bit more.

Andrea: I definitely do not want to be part of Team No Sleep. And I learned from Aaron that though balance is difficult, it is possible as an entrepreneur. Aaron also shares that support from friends and family means a lot. Super relatable for me as well. Next, Aaron tells us that he's not really a first time founder and he also shares what he envisions for Worldie in the future.

Aaron: I think for the most part, I would do things the same, but the thing that I regret is not going after entrepreneurship more seriously earlier. So I mean, I call myself a first time founder and I think that's right, but this is not the first time that I've tried my hand at entrepreneurship. So when I was in college, I had an idea in a similar space.

It was a sock idea. Um, it was this idea for a line of fashion forward office from the men's socks. And basically the idea, basically I was seeing that the office, this was about 10 years ago, I was seeing that the office place was getting a lot more casual. Um, people weren't really, or men weren't really wearing suits and ties.

They were wearing more casual pants, just like a button up shirt, but not necessarily a suit. Sneakers were getting more casual, socks were getting more casual. So, my idea was some kind of... New business casual company and it essentially it was kind of like athleisure and what that became but I wanted to start with socks because that's the really the easiest thing to do.

It's pretty easy to just get some socks made and start from there and I just didn't put a ton of time and effort into it mainly because I didn't know what I was doing and I ran into a roadblock and then I was kind of like, I don't know Where to go from here. So I did end up getting some socks made selling some socks, things like that.

But I kick myself because I feel like if I'd actually really worked hard on it and executed on my vision that I could potentially have a pretty successful business right now. I mean, that's easy to say right after the facts, but that keeps me up at night a little bit. And I don't want that to happen again.

So that's part of the reason why I'm working so hard on my business now 

Andrea: I get you the socks, keeping you up at night, they could be a cool add on to the Worldie shoes.

Aaron: They could be. Yeah, for sure. And they're pretty, they're pretty cheap to make. They're pretty easy to make. So. It's doable. 

Andrea: I want to backtrack to Worldie a little bit. Where'd you get the idea for the brand name?

Aaron: That was actually my co-founder who came up with that. So it's a soccer term, it's a, it's a British term and it's used to describe a really good goal. So we started, it started off as kind of like a soccer inspired company. We were thinking about doing soccer cleats at first before we decided to pivot and do something that's more multi use.

So that's part of the reason. And then also we want to focus on sustainability, so having something with world in it as well. Made sense for us. So that's the origin of the name. 

Andrea: I had no idea about that origin But when I do hear the name it it feels friendly and welcoming. So I love that. What is your big vision for Worldie? Obnoxious big vision.

Aaron: We have actually a ton. So the first one just in general, it's being the number one brand for young athletes so basically anything that an athlete from the age of five to ten needs sports-related. We want to be the brand for that. So whether that's shoes, socks, equipment, all those kinds of things in terms of products.

That's where we want to be in terms of sustainability. Um, in the shoe world, there's actually these shoes that you can basically plant in your backyard once you're done with them, and then they'll grow into plants. So from a sustainability perspective, that's. Where I want to get where essentially the shoes will just degrade once they're biodegraded once they're done.

Also, we hope to have more of like experiential stores. So the way we've described it is, I want to say Topgolf times, it's a lot, I think Topgolf times Nerf times Disney. And we have a few others sometimes that we add on, but I want to keep it somewhat simple. But basically these, these stores that you can go into.

Parents and their kids just have fun. So different activities for different sports. So maybe they're able to kick a football through some uprights. Maybe they're playing tic tac toe with a soccer ball and kicking it across the wall to fill in the X's and the O's. Um, maybe they're running a hundred meter dash and getting their time.

So really we want to have. Like I said earlier, we want to be really focused on fun and one of the ways that we can do that is creating these stores where kids and parents can make fun memories, have a ton of fun, maybe try out our products, hang out with their friends, things like that. Those are a few of the things that we're thinking about long term.

Andrea: I could see that happening. I'm already picturing that in my head and I love the idea of planting the shoes. 

Aaron: Yeah, I like that too. 

Andrea: Is it cool if I ask you five rapid fire questions just for fun? 

Aaron: Yeah, go for it. 

Andrea: What would be your last meal on earth? 

Aaron: Man, that's tough. It's crazy because I haven't actually really thought about that.

But I would say salad, probably a chicken Caesar salad with no dressing. 

Andrea: Really? You don't do dressing on your salad?

Aaron: No, I don't do dressing on my salads. 

Andrea: Okay. Who's your fave musical artist right now? 

Aaron: Miguel. 

Andrea: Oh, I love him. Miguel is dope. Okay. I don't know if I want to ask. I'm going to ask this one. Fave shoe brand outside of Worldie.

Aaron: Adidas. 

Andrea: Why?

Aaron:  I'm a bit of a contrarian so I like I like wearing things that other people don't wear I like the fact that it's European like it's has European influences. I mean, it's a German brand, right? So it's  definitely European. Also, it was always just more comfortable for me And I like the aesthetic as well.

Andrea: What's your dream travel destination? 

Aaron: Uh, the American Southwest. So, Phoenix, Las Vegas, places like that. 

Andrea: What are you most excited about right now? 

Aaron: I'm most excited about launching this business. I mean, we're going to have a working, basically a working shoe. And the next few months. So I'm excited to get that, sell it and then see it on kids' feet.

Andrea: What's the best way for people to find you and keep in touch with you? 

Aaron: You can follow me on LinkedIn. I'm Aaron N Faison on there. I post a lot about just experiences being a first time founder and then updates on our journey in the company. You can follow us. So you can go to our website, And you can subscribe and get our newsletters. We send those out every three to four months. So that's just, again, updates on things going on in the business. That would be updates on basically when the product is going to be available, things like that. And like I mentioned, we're going to be running a Kickstarter or some kind of crowdfunding campaign soon.

So if you follow me on LinkedIn, or if you follow our company on our website, you'll know as soon as that is available as well.

Andrea: One of the things I've learned from Aaron is that entrepreneurship looks different for everyone and bringing quote unquote unlikely skills in his case law into a footwear business is absolutely a useful thing. He's great at risk assessment and I'll speak for myself as a creative. It's something I don't have because what's risk?

I need to ask Aaron. What I also found interesting is that Aaron plays sports and though he didn't study footwear design, his mission is related to sports, something he knows and is passionate about. And from my perspective, Your why needs to be strong to care about your business and for you to keep going and going like Aaron.

To add to that, after our conversation, I had to ask Aaron who his favorite athlete and team was. It was LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Aaron has fond memories of going to Cavs games with his dad when he was young. As well, I asked what his favorite sports moment was, and it was when the Cavs came from being down 3 1 to win the 2016 NBA Finals over the Golden State Warriors.

Again, I want to sincerely thank our guest, Aaron Faison, co-founder of Worldie, for sharing his time with us today. If you aren't following Aaron on LinkedIn, go check him out because he really does share the ins and outs of building Worldie. If you have any questions for me, please send me a dm to sushifridayspod on Instagram or an email to sushifridayspod (at) gmail (dot) com. Please be sure to read the blog post about Aaron and this episode. It will be linked in the show notes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio and Amazon Music.

I am your host, Andrea Pascual. I'm a fashion brand owner and designer and a brand slash graphic designer. And I love to learn about other founder stories, especially along the realms of art design, fashion, music, and culture.

Thank you for listening to Sushi Fridays.