It was the most devastating day of Justin Kittredge’s life. He got a pink slip from Reebok, where he had hoped to work the rest of his career. He rose through the ranks over 12 years and served as director of the basketball division at the athletic footwear company. From that moment on, he knew wanted to start his own business.
In 2013, Kittredge kicked off ISlide — the Vistaprint for footwear — which he took from concept to market within six months. Through clever marketing tactics and partnerships, his slide sandals slipped onto the feet of numerous entertainers and pro athletes. ISlide got plugs on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, the Chelsea Handler Show and ABC’s hit business reality show Shark Tank. The company projects sales to hit $4.4 million in 2017.
ISlide lets you customize sandals with cartoon characters, sports logos, quotes, emojis, patterns, your name or your own photos for $50.
“Being a father and a coach, I understood the significance of team sports with youth and adults,” said Kittredge, a lifelong basketball player and world-record holder for free-throw shooting. “I realized how much kids and adults alike loved representing the teams they played for, and would do so with their apparel from head to toe. When they weren’t on the court or field, athletes lived in slide sandals.”
The slides cost about $15 to produce. The base is made in China. But the “secret” customization process takes place at the Norwood, Mass. headquarters.
“The biggest difference between us and our competitors is our speed, versatility and quality,” Kittredge said. “Our emphasis is customization and individuality.
“But our process allows us to do this at scale. Not only can you get a pair of customized sandals within a few days after purchasing, but they are so comfortable that you never want to take them off.”
The slides, made of rubber and synthetic fabric, feature adjustable straps and an egg-crate like footbed — known as Relief Pro Lining or RPL — which massages your feet. ISlide has a patent pending on a new model with a wavy gel sole and built-in arch support.
“They happen to be the comfiest slide sandals on the market,” said Kittredge. “ISlide’s motto is ‘Stand In What You Stand For,’ and our team has built the entire company based around that saying.
“We make a difference in the world every day by giving our customers the opportunity to create a product that truly means something to them.”
ISlide marketed the sandals by giving them to celebrities, pro athletes and other influencers in exchange for social media posts and tags. It secured a licensing deal with the NBA and partnered with DJ Khaled, who sells them on his website and via social media. Celebrity fans include Steph Curry, Marshawn Lynch, Dwyane Wade, Marcus Lemonis, Lebron James, Klay Thompson, Kobe Bryant, Antonio Brown, Carlos Gomez, Deione Sanders, Timeflies, Fabolous, Madonna, Justin Bieber and many others.
Antonio Brown, a wide receiver and punt returner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, made a cameo in the middle of Kittredge’s Shark Tank pitch and said he had sold 400 pairs in 24 hours on his website.
Walking on Eggs in the Shark Tank
Kittredge applied to Shark Tank three times and the third time proved to be a charm. ISlide has six investors and hoped to add a shark when Kittredge appeared in a September 2016 episode.
All of the sharks except for Robert Herjavec gave Kittredge the boot for overvaluing his company at $10 million. He asked for $500K for 5% equity. The price tag was sky high for a company that had $1.5 million in sales in its first three years and only $75K in net profits. What’s more, the sharks saw a commodity with no barriers to entry.
Herjavec offered $500K for 20% equity and said he could score licensing deals with major household names. Kittredge countered with $500K for 10% equity. But Herjavec wouldn’t budge. Kittredge walked out empty handed and cried in the post interview.
“I cried thinking about my team, not just my business,” Kittredge said. “I turned down the offer because it was not a good deal for our team and our investors. It would have heavily undervalued the equity of the investors who came on in the previous round of investment.”
After Shark Tank, ISlide entered into a partnership with Fanatics, the largest online retailer for licensed sporting goods. It received a licensing deal from Nickelodeon and is in talks to with other companies. It also jumpstarted design collaborations with French Montana, New Kids on the Block and other celebrities.
Staying One Step Ahead in Business
When asked what business owners should know about running a business, Kittredge said sales is the cure all.
“No matter how glamorous or not glamorous your business is or can be, sales are your lifeline,” said Kittredge. “Any marketing, press, partnerships, research and development, or any growth should, at some point, map back to in increase in sales. Don’t make any of these moves simply to make a move.
“Set a goal. Figure out how to get there and execute. If it doesn’t work, figure out why. Pivot and go toward a new goal. Just don’t forget to sell.”
Kittredge’s ultimate goal is to be acquired by a bigger company.
“There is no turning back. Failure is not an option,” he said. “Even bad days today are better than average days before. We are creating something as a team and we all have the same vision. It is powerful and motivating to be a part of this team. I feel very lucky to have the team I have today.”