Currently providing collegiate and NBA fans with quality, as well as affordable, customized sunglasses to support their respective team, Society43 is quickly on its way to becoming THE licensed sunglasses provider for sports fans around the world.
In addition to their business efforts, Society43 is also dedicated to giving back to the global community. In line with their company mantra, “Community Over Capital”, Society43 has helped to establish and support their partner non-profit–Two Feet Project, an organization dedicated to using soccer as a tool in bridging cultural divides in Kenya.
We spoke with Society43’s CFO, and Marin’s own, Caleb Iorg to pick his brain on his personal inspirations and goals, as well as about the history and future direction of Society43. Check out the transcription of our interview below…
What exactly is Society43?
Society43 is a company that makes licensed sunglasses. Our motto is “GameDay, Everyday” and we mostly make ‘Wayfarer’ style sunglasses in team colors with team logos. We sell these sunglasses at stadiums, online, and at retailers around the country.
Where is the name ‘Society43’ derived from?
The first collegiate sports team, started in 1843, was the Yale rowing club. The very next year, Harvard said, ‘Hey, if Yale’s going to be doing it, we’re going to do it, too.’ So, then Harvard started a rowing club, as well.
Again, acknowledging this sentiment, we (at Society43) look back at that time as the start of collegiate (sports) competition; and, in recognizing said history, we wanted to tie into it. So, we look at it as: While the style may change, the tradition goes all the way back to the beginning. That’s why we’re Society43.
So, fandom seems to be an overarching theme, within the company, touching on that sentiment: What are the origins of Society43, and how did you become involved with the company?
I first met Jason Bolt, the founder and CEO of Society43, when he moved out to Eugene to do a post-baccalaureate pre-med program at the University of Oregon. I was, in school at that time, getting my business degree, and we went to a ‘Ducks’ game together.
The game was Jason’s first at Autzen Stadium; so, it was his first time seeing how crazy all of the ‘Ducks’ fans truly were/are–they’re really passionate. The stadium is really loud. Everyone is wearing green and yellow… I mean, people show up in banana suits. Just ‘Google’ pictures of it. They look ridiculous….I’m admittedly one of those crazy fans [laughter]…So, Jason looked around and noticed that everyone was wearing green and yellow—head to toe—but they all had generic black sunglasses on. That’s when the light bulb went off that: Hey, why not make green and yellow sunglasses in a popular style, that’s affordable for students?….That’s really where the idea started.
Initially, we started with no licensing — we just made green and yellow sunglasses with our company logo on the side–and we would sell them at the bookstore; we sold them outside of the stadium–we just started selling shades… and people went nuts over them. We sold sunglasses to 25% of the student population [at U of O] in our first year (2010).
That’s really where it all kicked off.
So, this is a true grassroots origin story?
Yeah, absolutely… we actually did projects in business school around this. We talked about: Is this cool? Is this successful because it is unofficial – it’s kind of ‘underground’ – or would getting licensing make it more broadly appealing? And, while I acknowledge there were solid arguments for both sides, we ultimately decided that licensing was the way to go.
What do you see the goal of Society43 being?
We want to be THE licensed sunglasses brand. When you think of cool, well-designed sunglasses, we want you to think of us.
Right now there’s not much when it comes to licensed sunglasses, especially at an affordable price point. You can get Oakley’s for some teams, but those will sell at $150-$200. If you want to get something that’s $20/$30/$40, you really don’t have very many options; and the options you do have are… frankly… they aren’t very high quality. You’ll find them at Wal-Mart. What we try to do is make a really high-quality, well-designed product, that is still affordable in that $20-$40 price range.
Who makes up the Society43 team?
There are three of us on the management/executive team: Jason, who is our CEO and Founder, myself, the CFO/operations manager, and then we have a creative director who does all of our product design, marketing, web-design—all of that. The three of us make up the core team and then we have twelve employees, in total, who do everything from design, to customer service, to managing sales reps, to all of the above—whatever needs to be done.
So you started with Collegiate teams; expanded to the NBA: Do you have any plans to expand further?
Most of the major (collegiate) teams are in our licensing base–we currently have 80 NCAA teams. Last year (2013), we added the NBA to our licensing base and that’s been really successful… On, a slightly tangental note: I love the Warriors’ shades…if you haven’t seen those yet, you have to check them out and let me know what you think…
I have checked them out…And, as a true Warriors’ fan, I must say that they’re definitely awesome…
Sweet, glad you like them. Getting back to your question: we’re, indeed, working on expanding to include other professional leagues. We’re talking to the MLS—that’s probably the next major sports league on the list, for us-it’s the fastest growing sports league in the country and they’re pretty excited about us. From there, the two biggest ones we’d like to include would be the MLB and the NFL.
Why do you believe people have connected with, and really bought into, Society43?
I think that people realize that we’re just as big of fans as they are. And, when you have a product that’s designed by fans, it’s naturally going to resonate with fans.
Obviously we can’t be fans of every team, but when we go in and design a product, we look at the local culture in the respective team’s city. We try to pull from uniforms and pieces of the team’s history to really create a product that incorporates everything that is important to the fan. When you do that, and you do it well, customers are all over the product because it connects with them, instantly.
Touching on your internal mantra of “Community Over Capital” – how have you incorporated this mantra into your business practices?
Said mantra is a really important part of our business. It’s one of our founding principles. The reason for this is that both Jason and I got into business because we felt like we could make a bigger impact on the world around us, both locally and globally, through collective action–our business–rather than through individual action. In growing a successful business, we’re able to really multiply the effect that we have around the world. The biggest example of that is the Two Feet Project.
What’s the Two Feet Project?
A good friend of Jason’s – they grew up together – had traveled, with Jason, to Kenya a few times while they were in high school, and he had this idea to start a non-profit in Kenya focused on the youth.
It’s a really significant need in Kenya. I’ll have to double-check the stats, but I believe that 70% of the country is under 30 years old (60% of Kenya’s populace is between the ages of 15 to 35). This percentage is so high because the average life span in Africa is very low. So, the youth are really the ones that will shape their community—they’re really the ‘going forward’ population of Kenya.
The Two Feet Project focuses on using soccer as a tool to bring communities together. There’s a lot of tribal rivalries and violence in Kenya, so, they (the operators of the Two Feet Project) use soccer as a way to teach sportsmanship, brotherhood, peace and that kind of connection across tribal lines. It’s been really positive.
Jason and I went to Kenya, in 2012, and that was really cool to see the soccer team that we helped start. Getting to meet the kids and talk to them about what it means to be a teammate and a positive member of a community was especially awesome.
Wow… that’s an inspiring endeavor you guys have undertaken. What’s the current state of the project and where would you like to see it go moving forward?
The goal is to increase the number of teams. It’s a mentorship program; so they hire a coach who is committed to the program and then they build a team around that coach. Each person (on the team) has to meet certain requirements of community service and that of certain behavior to be on the team. Then, as a reward for that, the players get jerseys, equipment, and the opportunity to play on the team. Right now, there are two teams: there’s the Society43 FC—we think it’s awesome they chose to name it after us… we didn’t tell them to… they just wanted to… and that was really cool—and then they started a women’s team, who called themselves the Society Starlets–we think that’s pretty awesome, as well.
Ultimately, they want to bring the project back to the States, because, as I mentioned earlier, we want to be involved locally, as well as globally; and there’s a lot of opportunity for the same type of mentorship, and community involvement, locally.
For people interested in supporting, Two Feet Project, what’s the best way for them to get involved?
Awareness is a big one. Two Feet Project is on social media: so, sharing; liking that, and staying up to date about what they are doing is one really easy way to help out.
Obviously, with any non-profit, finances are certainly always a need. If people want to donate resources, which doesn’t always have to mean donating money–equipment is a common need—that’s also truly helpful…anything that can get the word out is really what helps them build up their base and allow them to move faster, in terms of reaching their organizational goals.
Jumping to a more personal note: how has your passion for sports affected your business pursuits?
Well… it’s made life a lot fun. I tell my wife that I have to watch football on Saturdays to see what all the fans are wearing–it’s market research [laughter]…
A tip of the cap to you, sir…that is clever…
[laughter] It works out well…but, on a serious note, our passion for sports, in our business, really helps us identify with the customer. If we don’t like what we’re doing, then we won’t do it. We’re only going to put products out there that we like and that we think are well done. We trust that since we’re fans, fans are going to like our products and the things that we do.
How do you believe Marin has influenced your entrepreneurial spirit?
My first job in Marin was at a small business–Boundary Solution, located right in downtown Mill Valley. I worked there my junior year and senior year of high school. It was a one-man-show–in managerial terms… and I was an employee there to help out. That job gave me a taste for what it was like to worke in a small business setting–the challenge–you know, some of the good times and bad times that come with the territory—and understanding of what that life was like to operate your own business.
I really enjoyed it. I liked the control, and the impact you could make, when you’re in a small company. You don’t feel like you’re one tiny cog in a machine; you really feel like you have an impact on everything that happens. I think that being able to work that job, and make the connections said job availed me, gave me my initial taste of entrepreneurship. From there, it was just a matter of finding the right opportunity to really take advantage of said truth.
So, you feel that you’re applying those same principles that you learned from working at Boundary Solutions to your current business pursuits?
Yes, definitely. That job gave me a foundation for what it takes to run a business–the kind of effort and determination it takes to run a small business. It’s definitely not easy; and it can be kind of grueling—a lot of hours—but if you’re passionate about it, and you believe in what you’re doing, then you can achieve it. I think that foundational thought process certainly came from that first job I had in Mill Valley.
What are your personal and professional goals going forward?
That’s a good question [laughter]. I haven’t created a 10-year plan… I just really love the business we’re in, right now; so my main goal is to grow Society43 as large as we possibly can. We are very ambitious, and very motivated, and we see a great runway for us to build a well-known brand. With that in mind, I would say my goal, professionally, is to continue building the business and leveraging what we’ve built to impact communities, like what we’re doing with the Two Feet Project. Personally, I’d say that, no matter where I end up in business, I want to be doing something similar to this, where I can have a significant impact on an organization and that that organization has a significant impact on communities around it.
How can people connect with Society43?
We’re very active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. So, follow us, like us, tag us in your pictures–if you get some shades… and, if you’re ever in Portland, we have an open office, so come on by and say hi.
Any other words for the people of Marin interested in following their own passions?
My biggest advice for people would just be to find something that you’re really passionate about doing, so that when you’re working hard it doesn’t feel like work. If you can find something that you really enjoy, and you can make a living off doing it, then keep doing it as long as you possibly can.