Transcript of Sushi Fridays EP009: Brandan Ward, Co-Founder, Worldie

This was transcribed using AI. Please pardon any typos or errors.

Andrea: If there was a sliding scale from that started at risky and went all the way to risk averse, where would you be on that scale? 

Brandan: I mean, it certainly depends. I think I'm closer to, you know, risky. Like I,  definitely, uh, probably take more risk than the typical like attorney or, or law school student or whatnot.

And I think that's partly to do with my background. Like I was, I constantly like to take on different challenges and things like that. And it's not that I'm just being blind to the risk. It's just like looking at the, uh, the potential outcome, the potential benefit and kind of weighing it against like whatever, um, negative outcome can come out and really, I guess, making a decision based off of that.

I think. If I had to like put myself on the scale, I would say closer to risky. 

Andrea: Relatable for me as well. It's like the outcome is going to be worth it. Let's just go through all the motions first. It's going to be worth it in the end. That's how I deal with it.

Brandan: I don't know if I would advise clients the same way in which I have right now.

Andrea: Welcome, welcome to podcast. I am your host, Andrea Pascual. Thank you for listening. If you listened to episode five of Sushi Fridays, you would have heard Aaron Faison's story. He's co-founder of children's athletic footwear brand, Worldie. In this episode, episode nine, our guest is Aaron's co-founder.

It's also my first time talking to a co-founder in this capacity, and the reason why I wanted to bring him on was because I thought it would be a good opportunity to show another angle of how Worldie is being built. Our guest met Aaron in law school, and though they have similar education, they're also very different.

You are listening to episode nine of Sushi Fridays, and it's my pleasure to introduce to you Brandan Ward, co-founder of children's athletic footwear brand, Worldie. At what point did you know that Aaron would be your co-founder? 

Brandan: Well, when he asked me or approached me, uh, with the idea of, at the time we were going to be like creating a soccer cleat, or we're at least going to be testing the idea of a soccer cleat for former competitive athletes.

And so we were going to test it via like one of Booth's classes that they were offering. It was building the new venture course. And so we were going in there and we were also going to be a part of this, uh, this thing to the Polsky Center at the University of Chicago called a Customer Discovery. So that's where you kind of like go out and you talk to your target audience and you see whether or not this new idea or this, whatever thing that you're trying to create to solve a pain point actually resonate with that target base.

And then it really kind of morphed from there because, you know, obviously we're no longer a venture that's creating soccer cleats for former competitive athletes. We're building a multi surface multi purpose shoe for, uh, for kids. 

Andrea: When you made the decision to start building a footwear brand for kids, how did you and Aaron approach that?

Was like that in unison, let's both decide to do this. Or were there any challenges involved when making that pivot or change in your business? 

Brandan: You really want to like have your idea grow. You really want to see like your baby like take off. And so I think pivoting is kind of stepping away from that, that idea and moving in a different direction.

And so it takes a lot of like, swallowing of pride. And then also you want to make sure that you're doing the right thing. You don't want to be like, Oh man, I just gave up on my dream or gave up on my idea so early, uh, based upon like some, you know, conversations that I had with people who I thought were my target consumers.

Uh, so I think it, it really took a lot of like time, like. I believe we were first, like, presented with the idea of making a kid's shoe when we were talking to one of our professors. He was a negotiations professor,  Professor Wu back at, uh, Booth. And he, he heard the idea and he's like, Why don't you build like a basketball shoe for kids?

Like, what did you, did you hear anything that we just said? Did you hear anything about like what we were talking about? And so like, I think our first impulse when we heard, heard like the, the notion of pivoting, or at least were presented with that particular idea, was, I won't say like visceral, but it was like close to like, no, no, no, this, this guy just doesn't get it.

And then we started talking more and more with what we felt like our target consumer. Or who, who we felt like were our target consumers. And it just, it started to just kind of make sense that we needed to, we needed to make a change. And that really is like how it came about. When I say target consumers, I guess I mean like the parents in this instance, like those are the ones who are really like opening up their, their pocketbooks or whatnot, or, or your, or sliding their credit cards or whatever you hire, which way, you know, you complete a purchase.

But, um, yeah, so. What it looked like was us like reaching out to first people in our immediate network. So we started off with like former competitive athletes and started talking to them. And then some of former, some of the former competitive athletes were actually parents. And so by default, we started like talking a little bit about like their purchase process and some of that overlap with the purchase process for kids.

And we started noticing some of these pain points that parents had when it came to like purchasing shoes for kids. Um, especially like athletic shoes. And as we start seeing that pattern over and over again, it started kind of making sense to make that change. 

Andrea: What does that look like when dealing with that target audience who are  kids?

Brandan: So it's kind of like a two, a twofold approach. Thankfully, like I have like. My target consumer lives in my house because I have two daughters, but we've kind of used them as like guinea pigs and testing them in terms of like, what are their, uh, you know, what are their feedback relating to like the colorways or things like that.

But when it comes to like talking to like parents and things, it's just a matter of just kind of like just having a conversation, sitting down and listening to them talk about their, their purchase process, talk about like the sports that their kids participate in, talk about when they, when they look to buy, like.

Are they, uh, opportunistic buyers or did they go out and like plan to go buy a shoe? Are they doing it online? Are they doing it at a retail location? So just questions that we kind of ask just to get an idea as to like, what are the processes that our, our consumer goes through to, to complete a purchase, uh, a kid shoe purchase.

Andrea: Who would be your top competitors in the market right now? 

Brandan: I mean, traditionally it would be like the, maybe some of the bigger brands, uh, that have an athletic footwear presence like Nike, Adidas, Puma. Those are like the big ones when it comes to an athletic shoe, uh, especially that's what's on the forefront of a lot of people's mind when they ask us about like, how are we going to beat them?

Then there are some other smaller brands that are doing things in the space that are dedicated to like kids foot development and they're smaller, lesser known brands like play there's, there's also another brand that kind of focuses on toddlers and that's like jbirds, but like there's some, some brands that are like, you know, they built their model around like sustainability, like All Birds.

And so they have like a kid's offering as well. So there, there are a few brands that are doing some things in the kids space, like dedicated to kid foot development, not a whole lot that are like emphasizing like, uh, sports as well. So that's a bit where we kind of like differentiate.

Andrea: Speaking to Aaron, I know that your prototyping process was challenging and it's a long process. How do you know, or how will you know that you've completed your product and it's ready to sell? 

Brandan: That's a really good question. That's something that we kind of go back and forth with, uh, with our product developers, with our design team, even like with the marketing and branding team, knowing when we we've got it, like hitting that aha moment, like we're ready to, you know, start.

You know, mass producing this, I think it, it kind of goes back to Aaron and myself. Like, when do we feel comfortable with like this? When do we think that this is going to be something that just like, is that is a head turner and really gets people excited and gets us excited. We, we're definitely getting a whole lot closer to that.

As we get new iterations of the design, we're really happy with some of the progress that we've made. So we're anticipating if we can keep this momentum going, the early next year, we'll have something that we can kind of like show the world and say, okay, this is what we've been working on the past two years and be proud of it.

Andrea: How beneficial it is to have your target consumer as part of your family and living with you. I think that's so amazing as a fashion brand owner and designer, a segment of my target is also part of my family. So that's a plus plus to have for me as well. Brandan shares that Worldie is getting close to their final design, almost ready for production, and I'm so excited for him and Worldie because it's that feeling that is hard to describe of putting in all the work and finally being able to launch and sell your product after all the research and prep and iteration is done.

At the beginning of this episode, we opened on a question I asked Brandan about risk. And for me, putting your product for sale into the world, even with all the leg work, I feel is still risky, but you believe in it. You take, you take that risk. And that's why we're entrepreneurs. Next up, we talk about creativity, core values, life as an entrepreneur and how Brandan stays inspired.

How important is creativity to making decisions and building Worldie? 

Brandan: I think it's extremely important. Like creativity. That was probably the impetus behind us, uh, pivoting. Like you've got to be able to think a couple steps ahead and you also have like this goal, but you, you want to think of imaginative, imaginative ways to kind of get there and that all utilizes the creative part of your brain.

So like, I think it's like without it. I don't even know how a startup would, would be successful. So creativity is huge. Like Aaron and I just have like sessions where we like whiteboard things out and like what we want and from design to like business model. Like, I think creativity is like, what makes entrepreneurship exciting?

Like, that's just like, Oh, the challenge of like coming up with this new concept, this new idea, or this new way of doing an old, old things. I'm biased, but I 

Andrea: love that answer. 

Brandan: Feeding to the crowd.

Andrea: As an entrepreneur, my values are super important to me, like what I stand for. Do you have certain non negotiables that You not just live by, but also used to make decisions as a founder slash entrepreneur. 

Brandan: Absolutely. So we've worked and this is what we've kind of been spending the last, I'm going to say two months, but it's probably been longer than that.

Creating like our playbook, our toolkit that whenever we want to make some kind of decision, we can kind of refer back to. And so this like outlines our values, like our, our, uh, from just simple things, like, like fonts and stuff like that's not a value, but like, that's like something that you can kind of use to make sure that you're consistent and your message is consistent, but we wanted to make sure that anything that we do is an adherence to like our core values, like our core beliefs.

And so we want to make sure that those things are clearly defined. And anyone who joins us in the future can look back at and say like, okay, this is a clear belief system. I think that's extremely important and it's extremely important to get right. So that's why we've kind of been spending a whole bunch of time on simply because we think like, as we make these decisions, as things are moving, like.

Fast and in a hurry, we want to be able to like, refer back to it and make decisions that are true to those, to those beliefs. I think one of the, the biggest things for us is like transparency, like being able to invite people in from like transparency regarding like the journey of like, of worldly, like our, our journey as, as founders, people who have no idea about the footwear industry and how we went about learning more and more about it and how we.

When about building our network and how we went about designing a product, like I think getting people involved and allowing people in, it's like one of our big core values. 

Andrea: Transparency is so important, and as well, I feel like consumers value when the brand that they support is transparent. A question that I love to ask entrepreneurs, how do you balance your business with personal life, friends, and family?

Brandan: It's tough, but I think it's kind of all hat for me because I've been doing it. A balancing act for so long. So spent a lot of time in the military. So bouncing around and that, you know, obviously involves a bit of balancing and compartmentalizing things. And then once I got to law school with two young, young daughters, making sure that I am being present enough and also being able to, to knock out my studies and being on top of that.

And then. Throwing in, you know, Worldie, throwing in an, an, an extra program, throwing in, um, being a, uh, at the time we were on campus being resident head. So we were like in charge of like undergrad dorms. So it's always been like a ballot. Like, I feel like my life has always been like a balancing act. And so it, I guess it's just something that you kind of learn over time and you keep practicing.

There are going to be some times when you, you, you hit your head a little bit, or you, you screw up and you're not around as much, or you neglect your studies, or you don't spend as much time doing something that you feel like is important. So there is always going to be give and take. The more you practice, the more you like organize, the better you kind of get at it.

So that's, that's kind of been my approach with life, especially my adult life. So I don't, I don't see it as too daunting. But it's something that you've got to be cognizant of and very intentional about. 

Andrea: I totally resonate with that. It's like, you give yourself to one thing and then you put the other thing on hold and then you're like juggling 50 million things at once.

And you're right. You've been doing it for a while and I feel like it does take practice. How do you stay inspired? 

Brandan: I stay inspired by like, communicating with people. Like, constantly talking to people. Whether it's talking to our team, talking to people in the industry. Talking to people within our network that continues to grow, but hearing others stories with, you know, where they're at or what they've accomplished or what they're trying to accomplish or, you know, some of their aspirations, ideas, creativity, seeing their creativity.

That's inspirational. I do a lot of like listening to podcasts too. So when I'm not talking to people, I'm listening to people talk to each other. It's all like cool to see people doing, you know, unique things or challenging things or thinking outside of the box or, or going in a direction that a lot of people are too scared or don't, you know, too ignorant to go down.

So like, I think that is what kind of like motivates me. Uh, and then there's some, some obvious things like I, in, in my own home, like seeing my daughters like interact and do things and like wanting to, to be that, that example of wanting them to also like go down that creative path and be able to, to use their imagination and to think outside of the box and to, to solve things in different ways.

Like, that also inspires me and motivates me to keep, you know, keep doing things differently and keep like pushing on.

Andrea: Brandan's inspiration about hearing stories of what other people accomplished, their ideas, their creativity and aspirations struck a chord with me because sharing those stories is a big reason why Sushi Fridays exists. Backtrack to a couple days ago, Brandan's co founder, Aaron, asked me who my dream listeners are for Sushi Fridays.

I told him, A, they're fellow creatives and entrepreneurs, B, they're people who care about curating their lives with intentional goods and experiences, for example, style, culture, etc. And C, they're diverse people who care about sharing and listening to underrepresented stories. So this is the point in this podcast episode where I'm telling you straight, Worldie and Sushi Fridays are aligned because Worldie fits into all of the above categories and its co founder, Brandan, listens to the stories that we share.

Just wanted to point that out. Up next, Brandan shares how Worldie is working with advisors, how they fund their brand and their plans for Worldie looking ahead. What kind of professional help did you and your co founder seek out while building Worldie? 

Brandan: So as I mentioned, we were not versed at all in the footwear industry.

So like we have no, no experience going into it other than obviously wearing shoes. What we wanted to do was surround ourself with people who had that type of experience and that exposure and be able to bounce some of our perhaps naive ideas off them and get them to tell us whether or not that was feasible or how we can, you know, potentially make it feasible.

And so that led us down the path of, like, really looking for some strong advisors. Um, and that just meant networking a whole bunch, like seeing some people, uh, maybe on LinkedIn or, you know, in our own like circles and reaching out to them and just having a conversation and getting them, um, involved in the process.

Seeing how, how they reacted to some of our ideas and where they really passionate about it or where they kind of like, you know, just kind of patting us on the head and saying like, yeah, you know, give it a shot, but I don't think it will really make it. But we've definitely created some informal, a circle of informal advisors.

Down the road, we definitely plan on bringing some in, actually having them as part of Worldie by, you know, extending equity. It's been cool because sometimes you'll, you'll have a couple of conversations and you really like feel like this is, this is the one. And then later on, like, you know, after a few more dates, you're like, you know what, you know, this is, it's cool to have them around, but probably nothing long term here.

It's just like any, I feel like any other type of relationship you, you, you go and you meet and you talk and you, you learn about that person and they learn more about you. And if things match up, then yeah, I think it works. If not, then it was, it was cool meeting, but like, let's go our separate ways. So like, I don't know, that's been our, like our process of finding, you know, or, or trying to find an advisor.

And then that, the whole like lack of experience, lack of knowledge is one of the real reasons why we even like went down that way of looking for someone like that.

Andrea: Can you give us an example of specifically like what kind of things they would help you with? 

Brandan: So for instance, the supply chain. Regarding footwear is, you know, a little bit different and getting someone who has that type of experience and really understanding that and being able to kind of give us advice and things that we should be asking and factories that we should be like locating and all that stuff is very useful.

to us. So what we look for in an advisor is someone who has that type of expertise. So like, I think there's like a couple of breakdowns in terms of advisors. So they're expert advisors. And that's kind of like what we're really like looking for right now. Your strategic advisors. And then there's like general advisors.

So general advisors are kind of great. They can kind of give you advice on like any kind of like business idea. I feel like we have a bunch of those, not formally, but like informally, we have a bunch of business advice first. Okay. Um, general advisors, uh, strategic advisors. Uh, we have a few of those and those are the ones who kind of like help us with like certain like goals that we're hoping to accomplish, uh, in ways in which we can go about accomplishing those goals.

And then we have like these expert advisors who have been in the industry and they've been in specific, like. Parts of the industry, and they can really be useful assets when it comes to, like, making sure that we're navigating that specific part of the industry, uh, as well as possible. And because we don't have that experience, those those type of advisors are extremely important to the point where.

And I feel like they're deserving of equity because they need to be really a part of this. 

Andrea: I like the part about, as well, it's a relationship, so that's part of the equation. But yes, their knowledge is super helpful to growing Worldie. As a designer who also has a background in fashion, I know how costly it is to produce.

And I bootstrap myself. What does the funding process look like for Worldie? 

Brandan: So we're bootstrapping right now for a couple of reasons. The main one being we want to kind of make Worldie the way in which we feel like it's most beneficial. And if we pull in like outside investors too early, then that can kind of convolute or there could be like a, you know, be a little bit disjointed.

They're going to have their own opinions on what should be done. And we lose a bit of our voice on. We feel like having our voice at the very beginning is pretty vital because there's a way in which we won't want it to be set up. So right now we're looking at a kickstarter campaign or crowdfunding campaign on.

And that's again, still hoping to keep a bit of control as we really start to get worldly underway. Let's say we worked with a bunch of different orgs. But we've also worked with a bunch of different student groups, uh, one of them being the, uh, the Wisconsin Consulting Club or WCC. So what we've been doing is trying to map out like strategies, uh, going into a Kickstarter campaign.

And they've been very useful in providing like case study type of like approaches to like other campaigns who have been successful. And we've, uh, we've been like crafting our own like internal docs. Uh, based upon that and then also based upon conversations that we've had with, uh, other companies that have used Kickstarter, uh, as a, um, as a springboard to start their companies.

So I think that's been like our, our short term approach to fundraising is setting ourself up via bootstrapping and then following that up with a Kickstarter or crowdfunding campaign. But eventually we feel like we're going to end up having to have. Uh, outside investors come in, but we want to hold off as long as long as possible.

Andrea: Got it. Is Shark Tank in the cards? 

Brandan: Aaron, you know, he, I think he posted about something on Shark Tank or something like that on, on LinkedIn. I don't think that's in the cards for us. I mean, it's cool. Like get you a lot of exposure builds a lot of brand awareness, but I don't know, that's not a path that we've really considered.

No knock on any company that's gone through shark tank. I've watched a bunch of their episodes. It's super cool to kind of see. I just think that we really like kind of focused on on the product at this point on building the community around that product and really making sure that we get things right.

I don't know if we're, we're even at a, you know, at a spot where we're thinking about like presenting this idea in front of sharks. 

Andrea: What are your plans for Worldie? What can we look forward to? 

Brandan: So the plans for Worldie, short term, is to create a product that, though it's recognizable, it's like something that you haven't seen, especially when it comes to like kids footwear.

And then from there, we can build something that's like an experience. So beyond just like a product, but an actual experience. And we want to make sure that that's something that's even prevalent at our, at our early stages. Changing the website up so that it's very interactive as opposed to like, uh, an information dump on our part and like consumers come through and just kind of read or browse.

So the same thing we, when we start actually selling the product, we want it to be, be more of an experience. We believe that kids really love and remember those experiences. We want our brand to be something that like coincides with those, those memories. That was very amorphous, but yeah, that's just like overarching, like what we're trying to accomplish.

And so that could be like experience tours or, or, yeah, I get that. 

Andrea: Um, off the top of my head, I was thinking like Worldie community events or gatherings for families and kids. Have you thought about anything like that? 

Brandan: Absolutely. That's something that we've actually been brainstorming and working on.

I believe Aaron's had this idea of having like a I don't know if you're familiar with the, the NFL and its Combine that they have for its athletes that are just kind of entering the draft process, but having something like that for kids, obviously not to that level or with the type of pressures that they, the athletes feel at the Combine, but just something kind of fun where the kids get a chance to, to go out, run, maybe interact with some obstacle courses or whatever we might have set up.

And that could create like some user generated content, but it also like just builds that type of brand awareness and like what it, you know, and some curiosity so that we can get more people involved with the journey and understanding like what we're trying to accomplish. Uh, so we, we've even toyed with the idea and I think this is what we really leaning towards going with.

It's like some kind of grassroots marketing campaign where we're really, um, a part of a community and kind of grow, uh, in and out of that community. 

Andrea: Exciting. Yeah. I don't have kids, but I'd love to join one of your events. 

Brandan: No, you definitely don't have to have kids to come out. Um, in matter of fact, we, that's been like one of the challenges when we think about like a Kickstarter campaign.

So if you've ever been on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or the like, it's typically like a lot of people maybe who don't even have kids and like, or, uh, people within our network. Uh, you know, also are a lot of like college age students or recent grads of law school or business school, and many of them don't have kids.

And so like, how can these, these people be involved in like a company or a venture that's focused on kids, but where, and one of the ideas that we've kind of had, and maybe it was, uh, Brought up by some of the people that we've talked to is being able to kind of like give those products to people that you know who do have kids to like being a part of like, you know, the backers in a campaign that might not have kids can see that footwear go to, uh, you know, a kid that's within their own network or some kid that they, they, uh, that they know, or their cousins or nephews or whatever it might be.

Uh, it's just an opportunity to kind of like give at that point. 

Andrea: I can do that. Um, my nieces and nephews and friends kids will all get Worldie shoes for Christmas. So 

Brandan: It might be Christmas 2024, but yeah.

Andrea: Number one, and I've missed asking this question to my guests. So this is going to be my number one rapid fire question from now on. What's your favorite sushi roll? 

Brandan: Uh, why can't I think of it? A Philadelphia roll. Ah! 

Andrea: Ooh, yes. Who's your favorite athlete of all time? 

Brandan: Randy Moss.. 

Andrea: What's your favorite footwear brand and why?

Brandan: Again, basic. Nike. I liked it because that was something that I was introduced with early on and I thought they were super cool. Matter of fact,  I don't even know if anybody knows this, maybe my mom remembers, she like bought me some like Nike soccer cleats back when I was a little kid and I literally wouldn't wear those Nike soccer cleats or I don't even know if they were soccer cleats, maybe they're just like, I did, they were cleats.

Uh, I wore them everywhere. All the time, everywhere, cleats, everything. 

Andrea: All cleats, everything. What's one thing you're most excited about right now?

Brandan: Christmas. I don't know. The holidays. I love the holidays. Like, I think it's like an awesome time. That's, that's probably what I'm most excited about in the short term. But obviously, you know, we had a whole conversation on Worldie. A lot of excitement about that.

Andrea: And lastly, what's your number one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Brandan: Always will know your why and always go back to it.

Andrea: What a fun conversation. I hope this episode along with episode five, (please listen to it if you haven't) gives you a fuller picture into Worldie’s story, how they're building, and what they have planned.

I particularly resonate with Worldie's vision of creating an experience for their customers. As a fashion brand owner and designer myself, I also want to create an experience for my customers. For me, it's not just about selling the product from a website, which I get. It's absolutely about sales. After all, it is a business, but I truly care, like Worldie, about the community, about the events, about the i- person aspect, about my customers' brand sentiments, and how I can build that in real life.

Worldie gives me that inspo. 

I want to give a hearty thanks to our guest, the one and only Brandan Ward, co-founder of children's athletic footwear brand, Worldie, for having this conversation with me. I look forward to being a part of Worldie's future events and seeing how they grow. I also can't wait to see what their final shoe design looks like.

If you want to get in touch with Brandan, you can find him at Brandan Ward on LinkedIn. You can also check out Worldie on the web at worldiebrand(dot)com. 

Thank you. Thank you again for listening to episode nine of Sushi Fridays. We are now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music. Shout out Amazon Music Canada because we were recently featured in their indie podcast amplifier collection.

And as well, we are on YouTube Podcasts. 

Please, please support Sushi Fridays by giving us a rating and review on your favorite listening platform. And if you send that screenshot to me via DM on sushifridayspod on Instagram, I will hook you up with a complimentary brand identity consult. If you are listening to this podcast right after it came out, please check us out on Instagram at Sushi Fridays Pod.

I am planning an intimate sushi omakase dinner with fellow creatives and entrepreneurs, and I would love for you to be there. The details are on my Instagram. Other than that, thank you for listening. I will talk to you again next Sushi Friday.

This was transcribed using AI. Please pardon any typos or errors.