It's safe to say that Kassie Rempel is a shoe expert. In 2004, she started a shoe catalog in Washington, DC that beautifully showcased shoes in print. Despite the recession, she grew her company Simply Soles into an online shoe retailer with a brick and mortar presence, writing an individual thank you note to every customer who placed an order. Kassie sold Simply Soles in 2012 and is now onto her second business, Lillybee with her business partner Lisa Palmer.
We caught up with Kassie before her F*it talk on Aug 20 to find out how she keeps her sanity in the crazy world of entrepreneurship and what decisions were crucial in growing two businesses.
Worn: You’ve sold a company and started a second one. What’s the biggest lesson you learned starting Simply Soles that you applied to Lillybee?
Kassie: When you have what you think is a great idea, you need to be able to tune out the naysayers. Many people are risk-averse, and you just have to find the way to appreciate them without letting their fears become your own.
Worn: You have a co-founder now at Lillybee vs. leading a company on your own at SimplySoles, what complimentary skill sets do you have that make the partnership work day to day?
Kassie: I wouldn’t want to do this without my partner Lisa Palmer. She brings so much to the table. Whereas she’s great at asking people for orders and money, I’m great at counting the cash. She’s awesome at social media, I’m really good at operations. Essentially, she’s external and I’m internal, and we both are grateful for each other’s talents. Running a business without a partner may be liberating, but it’s also really lonely.
Worn: From talking to you in the past, we know you were big on putting handwritten thank you notes in the boxes of SimplySoles customers. How do you maintain that level of personal touch while scaling a company? How important is that long-term?
Kassie: I loved that part of SimplySoles. At SimplySoles we sold other people’s products. In short, we had stiff competition for the products we sold. Our designer shoes, no matter how much we adored them, became commodities. People price shopped so we had to distinguish ourselves and I elected to do that with customer service, and adding the personal touch of handwritten thank you cards. We still wrote these cards until the day I sold the company.
With Lillybee, since we are now designing and manufacturing the products we sell, the challenge is more finding the customer, than getting her to place her order with us. Our product is licensed, which makes is unique, which is great. But it’s also a niche so not everyone out there knows to search for striped wedges or striped shoes to find out about us.
While we pride ourselves in the product itself, we still strive to offer a great experience for the customer and we do that by providing free shipping, having a quick turnaround time from when the order is placed to when it is shipped, and trusting the customer. If she says she didn’t receive the shoes, or the snap broke, or something isn't perfect, we replace the product no questions asked.
We stand behind the quality of the product and never want that to be in question for the consumer. In fact, we made a very expensive decision last year to walk away from our rainboots, most of which we had already paid for and many of which were presold, because we weren’t ok with the quality of the final production. We lost money, but we felt that risking our reputation had far more lasting consequences.
Worn: What’s one thing you wish someone had told you before you started your own business?
Kassie: Get a dog. There are lots of lonely nights when you feel alone and scared. I now have this mischievous bulldog who follows me around (when he’s not creeping away to pee on the carpet). I tend to work late at night, and I love having my fat little companion around to keep me company.
I do this because I love it. And no matter how broke we are, or who just quit, or what just hit the fan, he makes me feel like I’ll always be loved.
Worn: What do you do to keep your sanity in the crazy world of entrepreneurship?
1. I lean on my partner Lisa.
We take turns being the brunt of each other’s frustrations, taking no offense at each other’s complaints. No one else wants to hear you vent.
2. I rely heavily on my husband.
He regenerates and guides me - cheering when appropriate, hugging when needed, and redirecting me when my priorities are misaligned for too much time (let’s just say he’s very forgiving).
3. I meditate daily to find peace and perspective.
Everyday I find at least 3 things to be grateful for. It’s incredibly powerful when you turn to gratitude from disgust.