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Episode 6: Our Origin Story… The Fairytale & F-Ups

Episode 6: Our Origin Story… The Fairytale & F-Ups

In five years goodr has grown to over 60 employees, is sold in over 1,500 stores in 30 countries, and has won multiple awards. It has been a fairytale... haha… kind of...

Why the Santa yeti you ask? Because it feels like flocking Christmas! Season 2 of the CULTURE goodr podcast kicks off with this very episode and we know you’ve been waiting for it like a child waits to see their overflowing stocking on X-Mas morning. Starting a brand is a GRIND, and we’ve fucked up too many ways to count. Let’s get into it...

In 2012 goodr CEO Stephen Lease (let’s refer to him as SDL for simplicity's sake) ran his first marathon. He always kind of jogged, but realized he didn’t hate running. He trained for the LA Marathon, and at mile 16 the clown show started. He eventually finished in five hours. Still in one piece, he read Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run," and signed up for another marathon. Ultimately, SDL fell in love with it and shaved an hour off of his marathon time. It’s that classic runner’s tale. You know how it goes.

In April 2017 Stephen ran a 100 mile ultra race in Zion. So yeah, you could say he was majorly hooked. During a training period was when his “awakening” happened. The dorky belt, ugly overpriced sunglasses, he looked in the mirror and didn’t feel like himself. Fashion was something he took pride in, and this “running” ensemble was nothing close to fashionable.

What could he do to improve this situation? And the mission began with… you guessed it… sunglasses!

Stephen sent out a survey to the peeps in his running group. He asked over 100 people, “Blue sky, if you could design a pair of running sunglasses, what would you want?”

The answers rolled in and stacked up as follows:

1. Look good

2. Affordable

3. Not slip when you sweat

4. Don’t bounce when you run

5. Protect your eyes

The fifth thing people want in their running sunglasses is protection… which is what they’re made for! Convinced that running shades are hideous, expensive, and over-engineered, he set out to design a pair that are all run without the extra bullshit.

SDL wanted these sunglasses to turn into a commodity, making people feel comfortable buying them on the spot. Having these guidelines allowed goodr to be able to say “no” to things. For example, silicone grips cost more money, so our OG sunglasses feature a grip coating instead.

Finding a manufacturer with no contacts was the hardest thing to do. Out of a billion contracts, 30 got back to us, a handful could speak English, and thankfully we were able to find one that we were able to grow with.

From here we hit up a couple of eyewear shows in the United States, most notably a big one in Vegas (which the person writing this blog thinks was more likely a solid excuse to go play in the City of Sin).

The Hong Kong Optical Fair is what’s UPPPP. SDL went to Hong Kong on a 3-day turn-around. Never again will he do that. But it was seriously worth it to meet the people behind the scenes. The entrepreneurs willing to go meet with the manufacturers are the ones that succeed. And realistically, it will save you 6 months of emailing.

goodr was designed to be a D2C brand. Stephen’s marketing background was CLUTCH. “I used up every favor I had starting goodr.” Thanks fam.

The budding business did a pre-sale that shipped in December, which was fulfilled by hitting up his large run group. Kickstarter was a part of the launch a YEAR later. “We are not a fucking Kickstarter brand!!!” SDL passionately expresses. Kickstarter served as a glorified pre-sell. goodr wanted to launch 20 more colors. The Kickstarter goal was set at $25K and hit $44K. It forced us to get our content together. Create an anthem, imagery, etc. and beyond that, Stephen says, “I wouldn’t advise Kickstarter to ourselves.”

The anthem came from Kickstarter, that was the first really funny brand piece. “If you’re not embarrassed by your first launch you waited too long.” It was nothing special… it was not a master diabolical plan. We saw a problem, found a solution, and pivoted. We spent more on our OG apparel buy than our first sunglasses order. People don’t give a shit about goodr on a tee when they don’t know the brand. (Now that’s changed… check out our latest apparel drop here). The brand became a true reflection of the personalities of the founders: Keri, Ben, and SDL.

Key pivot points in the developmental stages of goodr:

1. Apparel. Fail.

2. D2C. We started on Amazon in Spring 2016 and when strangers started to buy goodr, that was a milestone. Yet the founders still couldn’t afford to quit their jobs.

3. A wholesale program was created overnight. (If you’re looking to go B2B, ask yourself, can we make a profit? How do we make it as easy as possible? For baby goodr, this meant ordering blank retail stands on Amazon and printing the top displays… gangsta style.)

4. Content!!! We saw the value of putting the effort into our content, especially as we started to have the resources to fuel it. SHOUT OUT TO KERI BLUNT.

May 2017 was the most influential period on goodr’s short historical timeline. We’d sellout, buy as much inventory as we could, and sellout again. We created FOMO, but it was no way to run a business. A birdy, slash smart friend, planted the idea that if we got better terms with our manufacturer, we could buy more. We took these wise chirps of wisdom and made the call to negotiate better terms. Game changer. Our bank at the time gave us a $100K line of credit, and in that moment it felt like we won the Super Bowl. SDL walked out of his consulting job in the middle of the day, (some say popping bottles of André champagne from each hand) and goodr went from side hustle to start-up.
In 2016 goodr graduated from an LA apartment to a storage unit. Then came the 800 square foot Cabana >> we started renting warehouse space >> then moved into The Hangr, a 6,000 square foot spot, >> and THEN brought our distribution fully in-house in 2019 with the 35,000 square foot space, known as The Lagoon. Every 14 months we grew out of our location, and now everyone works at home, so wtf.

Along the way we won some key awards, which further validated what we were trying to do. “There is not one thing that we did perfectly. We did 50 things well, or 50 things goodr,” expresses Stephen. We made our first press kits by hand and sent them to the running media gurus of the world. In 2016 Runner’s World Magazine made us Gear of the Year. Our sales didn’t balloon overnight, but it gave us massive credibility and allowed us to enter the conversation.

goodr has always been the “budget pair” of sunglasses, with quotes that say things like, “These are actually ‘decent’ shades.” We don’t care if we’re called decent. It was a write-up that went along the lines of, “They look like they’re for partying, but they’re also made for running,” when we realized that people actually GOT us! When we are displayed on a page surrounded by $200+ sunglasses it feels like a game on Sesame Street; one of these things is not like the other. Our second style, the BFGs, went on to also be named Gear of the Year in Runner’s World Magazine, and Men’s Health. Shortly after, the company was named one of the Best Places to Work in Inc. Magazine. All of this was incredibly rewarding. What a rush.

BEAST goodr launched in Fall 2018. This was when we solidified that we are an eyewear brand, versus a strictly run brand. If we were a run brand we’d start making hats and water bottles… Nope. We know eyewear, and we grounded ourselves in this knowledge. Our BEAST vertical covers the OCR, CrossFit crowd. Then goodr branched into BIKE and GOLF.

Throughout the journey of expanding we had to reset our expectations. You have to grind and build community in order to build it the right way. Shit didn’t blow up like we had hoped. It’s like you’re a brand new company every time you launch into a new space. We had three booming models and then the fourth model that came out, the Super Flys, crashed and BURNED. “We just thought we were putting on our pants and making gold records.” Sorry SDL, not the case. Get ready to experience haters and trolls, as well as other brands throwing shade. We realized we needed to keep innovating and out goodr, goodr.

Early on we forgot to check a single-use coupon box… lost $60K on that one…

QC was a learning curve too. Sunscreen was causing the coating to peel on one batch of product. That cost us big. Our reviews tanked, we had to pull all of that product, and at the time we had no backstock of product. “You have to be really good at adapting because you’re never going to be able to plan for every scenario.” And if Covid didn’t reinforce that mentality, we don’t know what will.

Stephen does not like revisionist history and wouldn’t tell past SDL a thing. But if he has to play that game he’d tell his past-self to buckle up and trust his gut. SDL is quite a pro at taking the lessons and moving on. “The big things that we’ve fucked up on have put us down paths in a really wonderful direction.” That’s some Enneagram Type 7 way of thinking.

As for advice for someone who’s got a groovy idea:

“Learn to love the work, and find the fun in it.” You better love the journey, you better love the grind. It’s not going to be all roses and daisies. Also, start your company as a side hustle. That way you won’t have to compromise paying rent (which is stressful AF). And most certainly don’t be afraid to pivot.

One pair of glasses that you’d never make again: The Kickstarter pair. We told people we wouldn’t make them again, so we won’t. They were only available through Kickstarter. And also we’d never do Kickstarter again.
Proudest moment: How we came through Covid as a team.

What would you want a do-over on: Nothing… but if he had to pick something, inventory buying. Not having our shit together early on caused unnecessary stress.

Favorite goodr donation: The 100-mile club.

What’s one thing that you’re most excited for: Tomorrow. We have some really dope stuff coming up. We’d tell ya but then it wouldn’t be a surprise.

If you don’t recall, Circle Bar is the segment where we answer one thing we’d like to “circle” back on. It is named after our favorite Santa Monica bar.
People think goodr is an overnight success, and that is absolutely not the case. goodr is the sixth company SDL started or has been a part of starting, and he has never sold and made a profit on a company. He’s failed numerous times and was able to compile all of his learnings and build a thriving business from them. goodr is a fairytale, the journey is not as fairy-taley as you’d think (which makes it worth sharing!).

If you’re trying to start your own business, walk yourself through these steps:
1. Identify a problem

2. Create a solution

3. Do a competitive analysis

4. Design your value proposition

5. Find a partner

6. Define your market (business model and margin)

Launch as quickly as you can! We launched without packaging! Our product was in ziplock bags… how embarrassing… but that goes back to that quote: “If you’re not embarrassed by your first launch you waited too long.”

Next week we’ll cover our values of fun and authenticity! Hip hip hooray, welcome to Season 2!

Tune in Now: Listen to the Episode Here

Get to know the dynamic duo

Meet the hosts

stephen lease

Stephen Lease is the CEO (Chief Executive Octopus) of goodr and the co-host of the CULTURE goodr Podcast. Since Stephen co-founded the company in 2015, goodr has grown to over 140 employees, with award-winning sunglasses sold in more than 5,000 doors worldwide. Stephen’s spirit animal is an octopus, he’s soul-bonded with a basset hound, and he is 16% flamingo.

shaun tinney

Shaun Tinney is the Dean of goodr University (Head of Learning and Development at goodr) and the co-host of the CULTURE goodr podcast. When he’s not helping goodr employees level up their behaviors, he’s writing and performing music. Recently he released his first EP, Living Driven, about the quest for self-reliance, fresh perspective, and creative freedom.

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