For runners, good support is of the utmost importance, and while many might think that running shoes are the way to go, Xero is here to say otherwise. Founders of a “barefoot” shoes and sandals company, Steven Sashen and Lena Phoenix appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank season four and have grown a business that now boasts a global presence! Here’s what he has to say about Xero Shoes’ revenue hike and net worth in this latest update.
With the entrepreneurial spirit and an idea that stemmed from pain, Sashen and his wife Lena created Xero Shoes (pronounced like “zero”). We sit down with Sashen to understand how the duo built the company from a small online business, and what makes them stand head and shoulders above an ocean of competitors.
For Sashen, success is not something he’s after. “I don’t use ‘success’ or ‘failure’ as a yardstick,” he notes. “Even if I made hundreds of millions of dollars, I wouldn’t think of myself as a ‘success.’”
As a runner himself, he’s here to create a niche for his invention, which he believes to be part of a revolution in this modern world.
Think of the shoe brand as a product of the great traditions our ancestors followed for hundreds of years. The unconventional, sandal-like running gear might strike some as an odd choice of footwear for such a task, but Sashen is backed by research—and more importantly, the real, positive results he has seen over the years.
“Big shoe companies have no evidence that they improve performance or reduce injury. There’s a lot of research coming out showing that true minimalist shoes, like ours (not the shoes that big shoe companies call minimalist, but aren’t), can be genuinely helpful, in addition to having unprecedented comfort,” he explains.
Starting from Zero
“After being an always-injured runner for years, I started running barefoot and found my injuries went away! So I wanted that barefoot experience, but with some protection—that’s where our DIY sandals came in,” Sashen says about how he came up with the idea.
Initially, the company pushed the idea of a do-it-yourself sandal kit. Because each person’s feet have a different shape most comfortable to them, the customizable footwear kit made Xero shoes a one-of-their-kind in the market.
“We started Xero Shoes in late 2009, when the idea of barefoot running started getting a lot of attention. We started the company as a ‘hobby business,’ but it took off much faster, and within three months, it was our full-time job,” he recalls.
The company prides itself on being a keen listener to its customers, and has always catered to consumer needs and feedback.
For Xero Shoes, one thing is pretty clear—comfort. Whether running, walking, or just lounging around the house, a person feels most comfortable barefoot, and what better than to have footwear that gives you a layer of protection along with the satisfaction of being fully relaxed.
“Your feet are made to bend, flex, move, and feel the world. One-quarter of the bones and joints in your entire body are in your feet and ankles; you have more nerve endings in your soles than anywhere but your finger tips and lips,” he shares about the anatomy of our feet.
This is where Xero comes into picture. The footwear design has a “natural fit (wide toe boxes let your toes spread and relax, a non-elevated heel for proper posture), natural motion (super flexible to let your feet bend and move naturally, low-to-the-ground [design] for balance and agility), and natural feel (the patented FeelTrue® soles give you just-right protection while still giving the ground feedback your brain needs for efficient, natural movement).”
An added advantage? They come with a 5,000-mile sole warranty.
Xero Shoes on Shark Tank
Back in season four of the business-reality TV show, Sashen and Lena went into the tank with the intention to make a deal. While their pitch seemed to do its job, the product’s unique design had the Sharks baffled at first.
The duo were looking for $400,000 for an eight percent stake in the company. The Sharks felt that they were asking for too much, considering they were selling a rubber sole with strings attached.
But the ergonomics of the shoe are far from just that.
The Sharks were dropping out one at a time, then Kevin mentioned that he didn’t have a shoe company in his portfolio and that he would like to give them the money, but for 50% of the company.
“We could have partnered with a Shark, but we turned down Kevin’s $400,000 offer because he wanted half the company,” he says, adding, “But Shark Tank helped our business dramatically. We did about three months’ worth of sales in the week following the show.”
Now, they do that much business in just about four days! Kevin’s loss?
Ask him about his numbers, and Sashen says, “Actually, our biggest problem has been not running out of stock every year! We’ve sold over 300,000 pairs of our lightweight, natural, casual, and performance shoes and sandals, and in 2014, our sales were estimated at $772,000. In 2017, $5.53 million.”
What’s Next for Xero?
Apart from stores in the U.S., Xero is available in-store in countries like Spain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Slovakia, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Japan, the U.K., and more. Sashen says they are also present online and ship all around the world. New brick-and-mortar locations are added every week.
“Every year, we develop more and more products—both casual and performance shoes and sandals. I can’t tell you what they are, though, until they come out,” Steven says, being coy.
But looking at their impressive numbers and sales, we’re sure the brand is set to break some records soon!
Steven, the Genealogical Entrepreneur
When we ask the man behind the wild idea where he gets his enterprising streak from, he credits his genes. “I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, so while they supported my entrepreneurial side, they never understood the actual businesses I created. My businesses were always much more risky than what my family did,” he quips.
Steven Sashen was briefly a professional stand-up comedian, and happily shares that he’s never wanted in on the rat race that limits most people’s careers to the nine-to-five slot.
He has been an entrepreneur all his life, and will continue to be one, no matter how wild his ideas get!
About starting a business, he says, “The best advice I can give is prove you have a business before you spend too much time or money. Make sure someone you don’t know will give you money for what you offer, and do this as quickly as possible. Don’t start something just because you think people will like it or need it.”