MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: THE PEOPLE'S MOVEMENT
By Chuck Scott
Late-morning sunlight streams through two skylights, warming the two-story building just off the Cedros Avenue Design District in Solana Beach.
Up in the loft office, CEO Kevin Flanagan is deep in discussion with design and marketing guru Mark Wystrach about their company’s new line of shoes for next spring. Flanagan jots down notes on a whiteboard resting on the floor as Wystrach paces, taking care not to step on the nearly two dozen color printouts of proposed shoe designs neatly aligned near his feet.
Satisfied they have enough new offerings for both their men’s and women’s lines, they wrap up the business meeting with a heartfelt hug.
Welcome to The People’s Movement
, a nine-month-old shoe company with a mission to produce products inspired by the working class in an environmentally conscious manner.
Running a start-up has been a major change for Flanagan, whose background includes 16 years with several of the top actions sports brands in the country and who had risen to Vice President of Marketing at Reef before leaving to start his own company.
“I'd always wanted to be an entrepreneur – an inventor or an entrepreneur, is what I thought I'd be as a child,” Flanagan says. When a hoped-for promotion to the president’s position at Reef failed to materialize, he said it seemed like the perfect catalyst to pursue that passion.
“I really viewed not getting that job as a blessing,” he says. “It allowed me to have the runway and the freedom to follow my dream.”
Flanagan called it “serendipity” that he knew immediately where to turn to start getting mentorship. The year before, while still at Reef, he had been recruited to serve on the board of SD Sport Innovators.
“I was aware of the suite of resources available to me,” Flanagan says. “But I think all brands have access to that intelligence, that same pool of resources.”
He gives SDSI huge assists in two key areas. The first was convincing him to make the leap in the first place.
“Deciding to be an entrepreneur was not a layup, because there's plenty of job offers, there's plenty of avenues that are less risky,” Flanagan says. He credits SDSI executive chairman Bill Walton with motivating him to make the move.
“You're in a room with Bill and he just talks about courage and he talks about overachieving and he talks about fulfilling your dreams and goals, and he talks about how nobody remembers second place,” Flanagan says. “And these things really sunk in and I said ‘I want to do this, I want to be a winner, I want to follow my dream, I want to have the courage and passion to do so.’
“I don’t think I would have had the courage to be all in. When I say ‘all in’ I mean 100 percent committed, no other jobs, no other distractions, no Plan B. That came from being around people that had done it, and kind of reinforced that it's possible. So I'm surrounded by people that are saying ‘Yup, entrepreneurship is a viable option,’ and Bill’s given me the motivation and the vision to say ‘Go for it.’”
The second huge assist SDSI provided was helping Flanagan raise $1 million for the venture.
“What I was told over and over again – and a lot of this mentorship came from SDSI – is that while it's risky to do a start-up, it's ultra-risky to do a start-up if you're undercapitalized,” he says. “So one of my missions when I decided to be an entrepreneur was to make sure we had the capital to go out and play with the big boys.
“I knew what those budgets were because I had worked for those companies before. I worked for Oakley, I worked for Globe, I worked for Reef, I ran ASR (Action Sports Retailer), so I know what a well-capitalized company looks like and you need to have that if you're going to compete.”
Flanagan says it was critical to know there were people lined up behind him to make sure the company got funded.
“Certain board members made introductions to people who wrote sizable checks, so that was simple referrals with no strings attached, which was fantastic,” he says.
In addition, The People’s Movement was one of three companies invited to the first SDSI Angel Group held at Walton’s home last summer, where Flanagan was able to pitch his venture to 40 prospective investors.
To prepare for that event, Flanagan went through the SDSI/CONNECT Springboard program and was able to hone his presentation with the assistance of fellow SDSI board member Jeff Kearl, Chairman of the Board of Skullcandy, CEO of Stance and an angel investor himself.
“Jeff played a key role in acting almost as a lead investor where he and I worked through the term sheet together and developed a term sheet that was both fair to the investor and fair to the entrepreneur,” Flanagan says. “So that was a key tool.”
Flanagan says the Springboard program is not for the faint of heart.
“It really tests you and challenges you,” he says. “The EIRs (Entrepreneurs in Residence) who show up don't show up to pat you on the back, they show up to point out where the pitfalls are.”
One important message he walked away with after going through the Springboard process was to play to his strengths.
“I spent weeks changing numbers, and decimal points and I had probably eight worksheets on cash flows,” Flanagan says. “On my first dry run I did a very academic presentation, one that I thought was in line with what they were looking for.
“The feedback I got was ‘Kevin, it's great you have the numbers, but you’ve gotta bring yourself to the presentation, you've gotta bring the passion, you’ve gotta sell the vision first and foremost. The numbers, people will dig deeper as needed, but don't lead with the numbers.’ Wow, that was a big shift for me. I had no idea, I was going about it all wrong.”
And passion is a big part of what The People’s Movement is all about, focusing on producing socially and environmentally friendlier shoes that use organic, recycled and repurposed materials whenever possible.
“It’s about taking into consideration not just the needs of the workers but the needs of the environment,” Flanagan says, “so that whole mantra of ‘Look good, do good, feel good,’ was important.”
The People’s Movement also partners with like-minded companies. For example, their shoes come in reusable tote bags produced by Bombastic Plastic, made from “up-cycles” plastic bags.
Now that they’ve met their funding goal, Flanagan says the company is in a great place, allowing him to get out in the market and sell the shoes rather than focusing on raising money and selling the company to investors.
“We sell wholesale to retailers who then sell it to the public, and we've opened up many key accounts, including American Rag, which is the lead trend store from Los Angeles,” Flanagan says. “We’ll probably be in about 150 doors by the end of the year.”
The People’s Movement also has a strong presentation at the Sun Diego at UTC, thanks to Dave Nash, another SDSI board member.
Just another way the SDSI relationship has been fruitful for Flanagan.
“If you're a coachable person, there’s everything that you could ever want,” he says. “The whole toolbox is there, from finance to legal to fundraising to opportunities to pitch your brand.
“If you’re hardheaded, it's not the place for you. But if you’re somebody that's willing to listen and learn from others that have done it then it's all there for the taking.”
Visit The People’s Movement
to learn more.