Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stanford is Feelin-goodz

On Sunday night, after a long day of New Orleans brunch, a bus tour, and an iron-chef challenge, the Stanford team huddled around a coffee table in the Hilton Lobby with our entrepreneur Kyle Berner. At first we contemplated trying to fit all 10 of us standing on top of the coffee table (one of the challenges from earlier that night was fitting the whole team in a very small area, an outline of a martini glass drawn on the ground). But instead we began asking Kyle about his business. Before long we were throwing questions at him from all angles: “What is so special about these flip flops? Why Thailand? What truly motivates you? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” As the conversation continued, Kyle’s passion began to infect us all. Before long we were all huddling around the table as Kyle sketched his supply chain on a cocktail napkin.

Kyle’s business has interesting challenges, and we are working hard to address them. He has stumbled upon a truly unique product: A flip flop that is incredibly comfortable (and what else truly matters in a flop?) and is also made from natural rubber instead of petroleum-based plastic. But the really exciting thing about his company, Feelgoodz, is not the product, but Kyle himself. Kyle is fully dedicated to the values of social entrepreneurship. He is donating some of his profits to causes in Thailand, and is certified as a “B Corp”, a new definition of socially responsible business. He is being mentored by a director on the Whole Foods board, John Elstrott (also one of our speakers this week), and aspires to fulfill the socially responsible values that Whole Foods has championed. Kyle also wants to be an example for the New Orleans business community through his entrepreneurship AND his social responsibility.

However, Kyle’s ambitious goals cannot be achieved unless he addresses short-term problems. He has secured test orders with 3 regions of Whole Foods, spanning around 80 stores. This is an incredible opportunity! Kyle only found out about the 3rd region yesterday afternoon, and he burst into the Stanford team room looking happy and dazed to share the news with us. But now the real work begins. Kyle, along with his business partner, Joel, his best friend Lee and other collaborators, will tour the country in an RV this summer promoting the product. 4 members of the Stanford team, Charles, Sara, Kevin, and Eugene, are helping him figure out what to do during the tour and in the stores to make the pilot a success.

Kyle also has another problem. He has to scale his number of units from ~500 per month to thousands. Other members of the Stanford team, Ashley, Luke, and Jiang, are working to evaluate different production scenarios and calculate capital needs. And helping Kyle plan his next trip to Thailand!

The atmosphere in the team room is full of energy and excitement. Groups of 2-3 students huddle in corners, while Kyle and Lee take turns with each team. “What if we bring in a giant piece of rubber for people to jump on?!?”, Kyle exclaims!

Still much work to be done in room 2110 of the Tulane business school campus.

Sonia H. Kastner MBA
Class of 2009

Stanford Graduate School of Business

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