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Ep. 113 - A Global Cause to Change the World with One Pair of Socks at a Time with Prashant Mehta

Prashant Mehta is the founder of Conscious Step. It’s a sustainable sock company that uses the majority of its profits to support leading nonprofit organizations.

He was a finance and microfinance expert who left a career on Wall Street to pursue meaningful work. Prashant realized that both recognition and convenience were effective catalysts in inspiring action towards working for a cause.

Conscious Step is a social enterprise. They create comfortable and well-designed socks to fight for global causes in partnership with the most influential organizations.

Each sock design contributes to a different cause. It's amazing how socks can be used to help people!

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [00:40] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [01:50] Prashant’s humble beginnings
  • [03:12] Sponsor: Avalara avalara.com/honest
  • [04:02] Reason for starting Conscious Steps
  • [06:31] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [07:36] Conscious Steps was part-time before
  • [08:55] Scaling the business
  • [10:23] Mistakes for entrepreneurs to avoid
  • [13:08] Conscious Steps during the pandemic
  • [14:46] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.com/honest
  • [15:34] Advice for younger people with more time and money
  • [18:45] Outro

Resources:

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Transcript:

Prashant Mehta

Getting familiar with the most important processes of whatever company concept or whatever product or service you're selling is really invaluable as a founder.

Chase Clymer

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. 

I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show. 

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Chase Clymer

Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of honest ecommerce. I'm your host Chase Clymer. And today we welcome to the show another amazing founder [who’s] going to help share his journey of how he brought the brand to what they're doing today. 

It's a great brand. [It has a] beautiful website doing an awesome, impactful mission that they're on. 

So today we're welcoming this show, the founder of Conscious Step, a sustainable focus to sock company that uses the majority of their profits to support leading nonprofit organizations. 

Prashant, welcome to the show.

Prashant Mehta 

Thanks for having me.

Chase Clymer

Oh, you are absolutely welcome. So let's get into it. So I know it's every little boy's dream to grow up and start a sock business. So when did you realize that's what you wanted to do?

Prashant Mehta  

Yeah, I'm not sure it was always [what I want]. I think I wanted to be a pro basketball player for a lot of my childhood. And I think I realized that I wasn't following the curve that I needed around the age of 15. 

But in all seriousness, after I graduated, I studied finance, philanthropy and International Affairs. I decided to move to Australia where I'd studied abroad to just give myself an opportunity for more of a fresh start and a little more perspective with the direction I wanted my life to go and do that process of just trying to build self-awareness. 

In a stronger appreciation for life, I started to just want to volunteer more and find ways where I could give back. 

Through the process. The concept of conscious step came to me more because, you know, I found myself as a consumer who really wanted to stand out and be different with fashion, and who really wanted to find convenient ways to make it easy for people to understand global issues and give back. 

The theme conscious step really revolved around the first step towards global change being consciousness or self-awareness. The idea really just found it from that journey of mine.

Chase Clymer

That's awesome. And [to] everyone listening, I have been on the site. I’m buying a bunch of socks after this. 

Prashant Mehta

(laughs)

Chase Clymer

I'm excited about it. They look like they look amazing, and they do support some awesome causes. 

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Chase Clymer

So, what was that zero to one phase? When did you start ideating, “All right, we're gonna start a sock company.” 

Do you go through phases of what offerings that you wanted to get before you found a product-market fit? What was that shift into building this into an actual business?

Prashant Mehta

Yeah, you know, I'd say there were 3 things.

There was one the concept to reality phase of like even design work. I don't have any design background. So what I used to do is I used to go to top tier department stores in Sydney that were more relevant at the time.

And I used to just go to people who are just shopping or dressing up, and I would ask them to compare socks that we had designed online to our best sellers in the market. 

What we decided when we launched [the product] was we would launch patterns. We were more confident to better test the concept. So our gal pattern striped patterns, we knew people would buy that product on their own.

But we were unsure if people cared enough about sustainability and charity to pay a premium to have a better quality product that was similar to that. Because you can obviously get an Argyle sock for pretty cheap on the market. 

But getting a self-sustainable one with a story and a charity behind it is not something I don't believe anyone else really offers. Once we were able to do that, it made it easy to be confident in the designs we were launching. 

Step two was finding the partners in the manufacturing supply chain, which took about one to two years, I think what you notice is a lot of companies who give back don't actually have a desire to be-- I can't find the right choice of words-- philanthropic. 

They really are just giving back to help their own perception as a business as opposed to really caring about the problem they're solving. What we noticed when we were giving to charity, and trying to solve the UN Millennium Development Goals, which are now the Sustainable Development Goals was really important to build a company around sustainable consumption. 

And what we learned through the process was not just being sustainable and given a charity, the product had to be really good. So learning to source organic cotton and learning to you know, try different materials that fit and learning to get all the certifications.

Fairtrade organic, vegan, and 1% for the planet is what we hold at the moment we're all unique challenges to just learning about the industry and some of the problems that you know happen on both ends. I think the third, the third step was really bringing the concept and testing it to reality. So we launched Indiegogo crowdfunding back in 2013. 

And that allowed us to, you know, get feedback from people in our network and outside of our network a bit, just test the concept and get off the ground, I think, get it out of our own head and turn it into a business slowly.

Chase Clymer

Yeah, I think the “getting out of your own head and actually turning into a business” is probably the hardest part of it. 

I guarantee everyone listening here, you've probably got a great idea in your head, and you could make a good business out of it. It's just getting started is the hard part. 

Prashant Mehta

Exactly.

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Chase Clymer

So while you were researching and doing a little bit of product testing in the market, interviewing potential customers, Was this your full-time gig? Or were you working? Did you have another job until this started taking up all of your time?

Prashant Mehta

Yeah, I basically always had another job until it took me around two to three years of just doing this part-time to take the jump. And I'd say it took around three to four years from making the jump to, actually being able to provide myself with a salary or anything from the company. So it had been around a seven or eight-year journey to just [do] livelihood, to be honest at the same time.

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. Now, when you didn't take that initial jump, did you see any productivity increases? Were there any KPIs that were positively affected by EBM to truly focus most of your time on this?

Prashant Mehta

It's hard to say directly, I think just being able to put your full heart and energy into something is something we rarely get the opportunity to do in life, especially when we're passionate about it.

Because of life responsibilities and obligations sometimes. All I used to think about in my other job, all I used to do is listen to podcast, think about ways to work. 

Every day when I'd come home till late hours of the night, this was all I would think about or do so it was really a natural transition. It's never really felt like work, but just a desire to create something I'm really proud of.

Chase Clymer

Awesome. So let's dive in a bit here. What would you say? Where did you find your first initial traction? As far as marketing goes that you were like, Alright, we're onto something here. And I think this is gonna be something we can scale up and grow.

Prashant Mehta

Yeah, we designed a... so the product and packaging have always really gotten a good response. When we designed our initial box to create a story around three different causes, or really just create a really nice cycle, a box that told a story, we noticed it was very popular during gifting. 

What we saw every year was just the popularity of certain products we made, just made for an amazing gift for someone who really cared about a cause. And the concept really resonated with that. Originally, we wanted to make it easy for people to give back and understand without having to ask for money. 

Sometimes just raising awareness for something people care about means a lot to them, especially if it's had an impact in their life. I think that was really something we just wanted to make fun and easy more than anything as a company like these problems exist in the world. 

We don't have to... I think people refer to Susan McLaughlin. I think [that’s what] her name is. The one whereas like the intense charity talks that can really be tough, you know... sad, for lack of better words. And we want it to be more of an uplifting company that made it easy and fun to understand these issues. 

I think when you do that, the holiday season really is about giving back and socially everyone's primary focus in life to be happier people. So we were just really trying to facilitate that.

Chase Clymer 

That's amazing, right there. If you could go back in time and kick your own butt, what's a mistake that you guys made along the way that you want other entrepreneurs to watch out for in their own business? Or to steer them clear of? 

Prashant Mehta  

Yeah, I think I wouldn't say it's a mistake, necessarily, but sometimes the lack of resources or not having the confidence or the risk to ask for help. Just because of maybe overconfidence in yourself, or not wanting to share your idea with the world yet, or 1000 other reasons we can all relate to. 

But I think just being vulnerable, and asking for help, and putting yourself out there, and putting your idea out there is very tough for people. And that was really it. 

I'd say, in terms of regret, there's nothing specifically because you learn from your lessons. And I think that's something we often underestimate that those failures and lessons indirectly make us much smarter people. Because we know, naturally and instinctively not to do the same thing again. 

I wish I had more confidence to ask for help. I wish I drained people who are willing to help a little more and got more value out of them. I wish I was more open to getting critical feedback, and just embracing it more instead of trying to protect my ego at a younger age. 

I think as you go through certain years of an entrepreneur, for lack of better words, you get really tired and exhausted, you start on events. But after you've gotten so exhausted, you realize it's better to approach things with [a] happier mentality or a more positive mentality. 

And that positive mentality allows you to take challenges, situations and tough events and keep perspective when you're going through them.

Chase Clymer

Oh, I couldn't agree more. It’s something that I see. Often with the agency, when we're having initial conversations with potential clients that would work with us. It's like some of them will take feedback the wrong way. I think that's a limiting outlook if you are getting some feedback. 

And if an expert is saying, “there's an opportunity here, and here's why.” That's not because you made a mistake. No, it's just you just didn't know any better or whatever. It doesn't matter. 

They're outlining an opportunity for you to improve the business. And I think that's the better way to look at that is like, be gung ho be like, “Awesome, cool. Let's, let's do it. We got something we can work on.”

Prashant Mehta

Yeah, really. It's like it's almost a battle with your own ego, right? You're realizing that as you get older, that there are so many things that you don't have to take it seriously. But just getting loud advice can sometimes be invaluable when you get the little glimpse of perspective, someone intelligence offering you

Chase Clymer 

Yeah, I can agree just battle with your own ego. When I was younger, I was a weirdo when it came to competition and referrals. 

Prashant Mehta

(laughs)

Chase Clymer 

That's dumb. That's not real. Honestly, some of our best partners are direct competitors. 

It's fine. You know what I mean? Because we're all in this to win. We're all having fun. And it's all about building good relationships. And a rising tide brings up all ships right through like a quote. 

Awesome. So let's fast forward. Now, obviously, you know, we're recording this at the end of 2020, this probably won't come out until February, I'm guessing. But, you know, I'm assuming that you guys saw some kind of bigger sales this year, and some weird sales trends. 

I mean, have you guys been doing any differently in the pandemic, as far as how you're marketing or how you're changing your message or anything,

Prashant Mehta  

We just use the year to take the opportunity to incorporate a lot of our validated learnings from the past few years and integrate them into the brand and the company. From a process standpoint, for a small team, taking the brand learnings from what our customers think about us, we're looking to expand our company. 

This week, we'll be launching our sweatshirt range. And we'll be launching our kid’s sock range, which we've been working almost two years on, which is really exciting for us. And it's just an opportunity to try to take it as an opportunity to improve every step of the way. But this year has been like no other to be transparent. 

We are in a couple of 100 retail stores around the country and even more than that around the world, and [we’re] seeing a lot of those just not be able to function correctly. We’re trying our best to help them and be supportive as a mutual opportunity has been interesting. 

It's really sad to see what a lot of these people have gone through. And you just try to keep that perspective when you see other people going through worse challenges and be grateful for what you can and do the best you can every day. 

But there were definitely a lot of challenges [and] a lot of intense energy to get through them as a team. But if you said earlier you got as far as the people you surround yourself with. 

I think it really reminds you [of] how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. 

Prashant Mehta

Yeah, I would agree.

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Chase Clymer

I agree with that completely. But obviously, when you're kind of younger in the game, surrounding yourself with great people might come with a price tag attached to it. So if you had any DIY advice for some people that are just getting started that probably got more time than they've got money? 

Where would you direct them to kind of learn things? Or what would you say is worth learning yourself versus outsourcing in those first couple steps of the business?

Prashant Mehta

Yeah, you know, I feel outsourcing has been a rough experience. Because if you don't know what you [do], you assume that the person who's outsourcing it is an expert. 

And if you're not able to give them any critical advice, you're only as good as the quality of your outsourcing, which in many cases isn't as good as you might think it's going to be when you first sign up to outsource (laughs) as a personal life lesson.

I think just getting familiar with the most important processes of whatever company concept or whatever service or product you're selling is really invaluable as a founder. 

You can't rely on other people to do anything critical without being able to give them critical feedback to make your product and your vision what you expect it to be. 

Sometimes, if you're not able to put yourself in a position where you're kind of just taking what you get, then your product is only going to be as good as what you're lucky enough to get. 

I think developing the skill sets for me- having studied finance, international affairs, really it was just like starting all over again after college. 

You know, you learn about supply chain economics, you learn about you know, DPL systems, you learn about sales, you learn about processes that you didn't even know existed, you learn about charities and everything else in between. 

I can't say my college education prepared me for this, but my desire to be a better person and continue to acquire knowledge, really made it second nature to see the company grow alongside our goals.

Chase Clymer

Yeah, I think when you're building a business, you never stop learning. It's just what you're learning about changes as your business scales. 

Prashant Mehta

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer

Awesome. Is there anything I forgot to ask you about today that you think would be important to share with our audience?

Prashant Mehta  

No, I think just generally, in many indirect ways, it's never convenient to chase your dreams or to do anything that's worth doing in life. In many cases, we give ourselves excuses to why we shouldn't pursue a certain path or take a certain risk. But often in the midst of taking that risk or pursuing that path, life hands you new opportunities that you weren't prepared for.

You expand your range of knowledge and your networking, even though the path might not have gone to plan your perspective. Everything else that fuels you to be a happier person is very much aligned with anything taking those risks and pursuing those opportunities. 

So even though I think there's nothing convenient about what we talked about, you know, just the opportunity to be on the show with you and talk about my life experiences is a blessing. So thank you so much for having me.

Chase Clymer

Oh, no, thank you for coming on and sharing. And I'm sure there's gonna be a bunch of people out there that got some awesome insights out of this. Maybe [they] just got the energy to take that first step and get started. So that's what we're all about around here.

Prashant Mehta

Awesome Chase. Well, thanks again for taking the time. Was there anything else?

Chase Clymer  

No, I think that's it. Have a great 2020.

Prashant Mehta

You too, man. 

Chase Clymer  

Or 2021? (laughs)

Prashant Mehta

(laughs) It's gotta be better than this year but have a wonderful holiday. Chase, thank you so much for having me.

Chase Clymer

I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well. 

If anything in this podcast resonated with you and your business, feel free to reach out and learn more at electriceye.io/connect. Also, make sure you subscribe and leave an amazing review. Thank you!