What can 10 socks teach us about business

What an interesting story!
That’s what I first thought when I came across 10socks.com. Hoping to learn more about the company and how they got the inspiration for their fun and fresh business concept, I recently contacted the company. Intrigued? I had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with Nicolai Valentiner, CEO of 10socks.com (he is actually the CEO for 10socks and sumisura.com since the two companies have merged), and he graciously agreed to conduct a quick interview for sneezr.ca. Before you head over to 10socks.com (they have a really neat website), check out Nicolai’s answers to my interview questions:

Jenan: Nicolai, thank you once again for doing this interview – I really appreciate it.
Your story is very captivating and very easy to understand and retell. For example:
Understanding your product is super easy;
Ordering your product seems very easy;
You offer free delivery worldwide;
Your whole website is super easy to navigate (it’s basically one page);
So my first question to you is: How did you get to be so easy to deal with?

Nicolai: The idea behind the whole 10socks concept was to make things simple and uncomplicated. Therefore, the website should reflect this! And it should be simple and easy to deal with for the spectator, or customer if you will. The site is originally from 1999/2000. It hasn’t changed since, and I think that says something about the value of simplicity.

Jenan: To be effective at marketing, you need some kind of organizing principle for your outreach activities. What can you tell us about your organizing principle for your marketing activities?

We have several approaches for our marketing activities. 10socks was started as a very small set-up. Apart from the website and the hype that it received in the beginning, 10socks.com was mainly marketed through guerrilla marketing using the urban environment, and also through extensive PR. (Non-forced PR, I might add!) So, there really wasn’t that much planning – in the beginning. Naturally the story is different now. 10socks is part of Sumisura.com and now all activities are measured and weighed. ROI is important and traffic is key to success – the right traffic! SEO is crucial for us, and we have achieved a very good position on organic searches. Of course, our niche and the products uniqueness adds to this fact! We have also used some selected offline channels, including print ads in large business papers (always with a hook and an online code so that we are able to measure the effect). The most important thing for us is a call to action message…

Jenan: How did you chose your niche?

The founders of 10socks originally thought of the idea due to their irritation of always losing a sock – never a pair. And this would always leave you with an odd pair (yes, socks wear different according to your feet!). Also, because socks just aren’t the sexiest thing to go out and buy, they are almost always just a by-product when you get a new shirt or suit… So why not be able to get a whole box with enough socks in it to last you a bit? It’s easy, convenient, and fun. Many of our customers fell for the concept (first purchase), but subsequently have bought their second or third box due to the quality. Socks may not be sexy, but they are essential and they should be of good quality.

Jenan: What perception do you want your customers to hold when they think of your business?

I’m glad when I get all the positive feedback from our customers stating that both the quality of the product and the service they receive are high. I want my customers to be left with a good experience, and maybe a story they will tell others.

Jenan: Any advice for someone considering starting a niche business? (I often refer to this as the “If I started today…” segment.)

If I started today … I would look at what doesn’t work for me in my day to day life. What annoys me, and how could I make it better (in the context of shopping). If the idea is good enough, the customers will follow – convenience is not enough in today’s market, you need a hook of some sort. Packaging the product in a (believable) story is always viable, and storytelling will never die out. But, remember, the story needs to be real, genuine, and truthful (or at least believable).

Thank you for your time Nicolai!
August 2010