Founder and CEO of GREATS, Ryan Babenzien talks to us about starting his own company, the power of the smart phone and how he resets after a long day at the office.
With your background in Marketing, what sparked the initial idea for GREATS and how did your previous work experience help propel that?
I have been a long-time sneaker enthusiast. I say enthusiast because I wore all my sneakers and never "collected" them in the way people do today. The currency was wearing them, not saying you had them. As you may know I held marketing roles at both Puma and K-Swiss and it was during this time that shopping/discovery behavior was changing and if you had your eyes open, you could see where it was going. The smart phone is the most powerful commerce device in the history of mankind, and I knew people were going to be using this to buy sneakers, and everything else as well. Plus, my general attitude is to challenge the status quo and that's how GREATS was born.
Why was the direct to consumer model so appealing to you with GREATS?
Direct-to-consumer was really a flawed idea. What it should have been called is digital first or digitally native vertical brand. What is appealing about being digital first is simple, two generations of customers, let's call them younger, are discovering and buying digitally. Right, we all know this by now but five years ago that was a bit ahead of the curve. But we're always trying to go where the puck is going. The majority of our revenue is coming from mobile today.
How do you wind down at night and how do you recharge in the morning?
My fiancé and I eat out a few nights per week and I enjoy wine, so that's part of the wind down. First thing in the morning I'm getting in some exercise to get the day kicked off. I'll grab an acai bowl or make one at home, have one cup of coffee generally. Before that, I browse a few different news sources online, see what's on the calendar and then walk two blocks to the office. Rinse and repeat and that's my week.
How does your sleep affect your work life?
I'm glad sleep has finally become a recognized part of physical and mental health. Rest is important and I've never been one to burn the candle on both ends for weeks on end. I've always taken sleep very seriously and if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I feel it all day. My needs vary but seven hours is where I find my sweet spot to be.
How does social media factor in to the growth and has it changed the market significantly?
Social media, specifically Instagram is a key discovery point today and for many years to come. There are generations that discover on Instagram and that's powerful. GREATS has 150K followers on Instagram so that's a good amount of people to talk to and as our audience grows, they share more, our brand reaches new customers which is all part of our growth. The thing people need to realize is there is no silver bullet. Channel diversity is important and looking at growth holistically is key.
What is one thing you wish you knew at the start of your business that you learned along the way?
That I should have raised more capital sooner than later. We have always been under capitalized and it's much harder to operate a business that way.
What is your mantra?
An entrepreneur’s job is turning red lights into green lights.