Interview with subscription service startup London Sock Exchange
Recently we came across a rather interesting little startup called the London Sock Exchange, a quarterly subscription delivery of stylish mens socks. Intrigued to learn more, we had a chat with co-founder Oliver about the business, and what it's like to head-up a subscription delivery service.
Hi Oliver, first off can you tell us a little about London Sock Exchange and where the idea came from?
The London Sock Exchange sells a single product: a sock subscription for men. Sign up and you receive new socks in the post, and can also recycle your old ones.
The initial idea came from some basic things about the men we knew to be true:
1) Most blokes have too many socks in their sock drawer 2) Most of those socks are odd, holey, or just a bit old 3) Men never replace the socks or throw out the old ones 4) Everyone loves wearing new socks but no-one loves going out to buy them
So we designed a service which could solve these challenges: a service which designs and curates stylish socks for men, delivers them on a regular basis and takes care of the old socks too.
We soon realised in doing so we had a product which appeals to two markets. Firstly, men who wear socks. And secondly, people who need to buy men good presents on special occasions, like Christmas time. That's why we decided to offer two ways to buy our subscription - either for yourself, on a rolling quarterly basis, or as an annual gift for someone else.
Who are the team behind the business?
Like socks, I believe that the best management teams should be well suited and come in pairs so I run The London Sock Exchange with my business partner Dan Zell. Having first met at school all the way back in 1994, as two chubby 8 years with a shared passion for socks, we now run the London Sock Exchange alongside our day jobs. Dan’s background is in marketing and mine is in finance so our skills nicely complement each other. It means we don’t step on each others toes too often.
How important do you think it is for men to have swish and stylish socks and do you think that men are paying more attention to this item of clothing that might have been somewhat overlooked in the past?
Having worked in the city for a number of years, it has become clear to me that socks are one of the few items of clothing that men can use to express themselves (it’s rather rare to find someone in a pink shirt with blue spots and matching trim). A stylish pair of socks can be a conversation starter, an insight into someones personality or most importantly, if worn correctly, the perfect accessory to that day’s ensemble.
We have really enjoyed some of your sock related punnery and we would love to hear some sock related jokes if you have any!
The sock puns do seem to go down well with our subscribers. So much so that we even run a sock pun competition on a Sunday for movies and song titles. The most recent winners have been ‘Wool-E’ and ‘Legging Go’ from Dis-knee’s Toe-zen.
As for a joke…What’s a pirate's favourite sock design? AARRRRGGHyle
How would you describe your startup journey up until this point? What have been the major ups and the downs thus far?
It’s been really exciting. It’s a cliché but we’ve both learnt a huge amount and really enjoyed the ride. The low point was probably during our test phase when we ordered 150 pairs of some very stylish, blue and mustard yellow socks with a repeat elephant print pattern on. When they arrived from China and we tried them on they felt a little small - we soon discovered that we had been missold Childrens socks. Fortunately we now design all of our own socks so this won’t be happening again anytime soon. The Biggest high, probably the first time our fully finished product fell through our letterbox – we were like kids opening their Christmas stocking.
How are you guys hoping that the business will progress over the course of 2016 and beyond?
In 2016, we’re really going to focus on making sure that we look after our subscribers and make sure they receive the best possible experience. We’re both strong believers that good old fashioned word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool these days - especially when you think people can be exposed to up to 5,000+ adverts a day. If we do this, then the growth and progress should hopefully follow closely behind.
The subscription business model is one that has been getting a lot of attention recently, as an insider what do you think are some of the key drivers of growth in this area?
It’s been big in the US for a while now with companies like Dollar Shave Club but it’s been less of a phenomenon in the UK. I think it’s only natural to see growth in this sector as people become more well-off financially but increasingly time-poor. If done well, signing up to a subscription business doesn’t just make your life easier it also gives you that feeling of excitement each time that box drops through the letterbox – and who doesn’t like a bit of excitement every now and then!?
Are there any key pieces of advice that you would like to pass on to anyone who is in the very early stages of creating a subscription service type startup?
Yes, when thinking about setting up a subscription business, I’d recommend starting small. First, get a test product out to a small number of subscribers. Then work at iterating the product and really understanding what your customers want. Don’t worry about trying to make sure everything’s perfect ahead of launch – it’s unrealistic and will take too long.
Aside from your own, are there any other subscription businesses that you think offer something really worthwhile to the market place?
If you want to know what makes a good subscription business, look through your recent credit card bills and see what you're repeatedly buying or paying for regularly. This could be as simple as coffee, work shirts, underwear, laundry, dental products, toilet roll, gym powders and of course socks. Any of these ideas have the potential to work if they solve a problem for a target audience and the branding and service helps capture the imagination of the consumer.
Is there anything that members of the Startacus community can do to assist you in growing and developing the business?
You mean, apart from buying 150 children socks with elephant prints off us!?
Like most start ups we’re trying to get our brand and message out there so we’d love it if people checked out our website www.thelondonsockexchange.net or helped support us on social media. If anyone in the Startacus community would like to get in touch or think they might be able to help us make the business a sock-sess, then we’d love to hear from you via [email protected]
Thanks for the chat Oliver and all the best of luck with the business!