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The Lean Startup Model Brought SwitchFlops From High School Ceramics Class To $30 Million

Lindsay Phillips was only 16 in 2000 when she came up with the idea that would eventually become SwitchFlops, a business worth $30 million dollars today. Want to know how she got there? Following a classic lean startup model, of course.



Where’d you come up with that?

The idea for SwitchFlops came from a totally unexpected source: high school ceramics class. Lindsay created a clay flip flop with interchangeable decorative buttons and it didn’t take long for her to realize she had something that could be huge. Progressing to a prototype with Velcro straps was the logical next step.




Whether you’re still in high school or you’re 30 years out, the lesson to be learned here is that being creative and doing things outside your norm can lead to the best business ideas. Don’t isolate yourself in the tech bubble. Take a class! Get a hobby! LEAVE YOUR COMPUTER!


Give your mind a chance to be creative and explore and you’ll be amazed at what it can come up with.


But will anyone BUY it?

Before she even created a functional prototype (because, let’s face it, no one will ever wear a ceramic shoe, except maybe Lady Gaga), Lindsay was getting positive feedback from everyone she knew. Women loved the idea of being able to have one pair of shoes that could go with multiple outfits. Really, what’s not to love? Rather than needing 20 pairs of shoes to go with all your outfits, you’ve got one physical shoe that changes to match whatever you’re wearing.


Before you start spending money to turn your idea into a reality, do some research to see if anyone is even going to want to buy what you want to sell. Research can be as limited as polling family and friends, like Lindsay did, or as extensive as hiring a professional to do a formal market study. If people are as pumped about your idea as you are, that’s a sign that you have to go for it.





Think it’s gonna be smooth sailing from here on out?

Nope. Sorry. First of all, if you’re producing a physical product, like Lindsay did, you have to make sure your intellectual property is protected. In the case of SwitchFlops, this meant waiting four years to be granted a patent. Four years!


If you have a product that needs to be protected in this old-school way, keep that time frame in mind because it’s no small hurdle. Four years can feel like forever to a 16 year old or to someone in the tech startup world but if it’s something you need to move forward, deal with it. Keep working on your idea in the meantime, but know that it might take a little longer than you expected.




Once she had her patent in hand, it was time for Lindsay to turn that idea into a reality. She had her prototype and everyone was digging the idea, but no US company was willing to take the risk to produce an untested product. Lindsay had to bring her idea to China, where she found a factory willing to produce her first batch of 5,000 shoes.


Looking back it’s easy to say that the long wait and frustrating process of finding a manufacturer that Lindsay had to deal with were obviously worth it, but when you’re in the thick of things it can be really hard to remember that the struggle will pay off. Keep pushing through, believe in your idea, and do whatever you need to do to make it happen.


Even if it means going to China.


Who needs an official office?

Here’s where Lindsay’s story veers most obviously into lean startup territory. What are you going to do with 5,000 shoes that don’t have buyers yet? Rent a storage shed, obviously, and let it double as your office.


Brainstorm time. What else could serve as an office? Your bedroom. A sailboat. Your parent’s attic. A car. Buy an RV; those things are awesome and you can totally sleep and eat in them too, which takes care of the whole rent issue.


I’m being a little bit facetious, of course, but the point is that there are all kinds of options when it comes to physically housing your company. Your company is interesting and unique; why would you limit yourself to traditional office spaces?


To date, SwitchFlops has grown into a company that distributes their products in over 4,000 businesses nationwide and they’ve expanded to include accessories and other types of shoes. Lindsay Phillips is 28 years old, her company is worth $30 million dollars, and she rocked the lean startup model in order to get there, even though that term didn’t even exist yet. I don’t think we need more proof that this method is working.


Photo Credits

Author : Emma McGowan

Emma is a proud native of Burlington, Vermont, who has lived in six different countries over the past two years. She's living and loving the global nomad life and writing about technology and startups everywhere she goes. Check out more of her writing about tech on (the more titillating stuff) KinkAndCode.. Follow her on Twitter @MissEmmaMcG.

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