In today's startup world, high burn rates and the need to raise multiple rounds of funding have become the norm. It's believed that this is the only path to "scalability" — a word that has lost its meaning through a decade of abuse. Before a company, particularly a social enterprise, can become scalable it must have a sustainable foundation that solves a significant problem at a micro level. DivvyUp is a sock company that began out of Florida State University’s entrepreneurship program and is a great example of how to build a viable base to mitigate the risks that comes with growing into a national brand.
The concept for DivvyUp was born after our team of undergraduates took a trip to the local homeless shelter looking for an opportunity to help. Expecting to hear food or housing, we were surprised when the receptionist claimed the shelter was desperate for clean socks. With sustainability in mind, we decided to take the TOMS Shoes approach and sell fun, stylish socks with a mission to give a pair for every pair purchased. Taking this route versus a non-profit model allows a startup to fulfill its societal commitment through a viable cycle. Instead of relying on monetary donations to give socks, the company must offer a value proposition to its customers, just like a traditional for-profit business: Create a product that customers love.
Due to limited financial resources and industry knowledge, we used a $400 loan from our professor and $1,600 of personal investments to act as a retailer for a few established sock companies. Reselling products for over a year allowed questions about sock manufacturers, customer discovery, and giving differentiation to be answered while generating revenue, mitigating risk, and building a brand. After developing a solid base, it was time to release version two.
On May 25th, 2016, we released DivvyUp 2.0 — a brand new website and DivvyUp’s first official 3-pack of socks. We took what was learned from customers and the industry to build a foundation that is supported by the pillars of giving and fashion. On the giving side, we used technology to take transparency one step further: The Giving Back page on the new site has an interactive map that shows where we have gifted socks and where we will be giving to next. Each month’s sales are dedicated to a new homeless shelter, with this month’s being The Kearney Center in Tallahassee, Florida. The 25th of every month also marks the launch of a new themed 3-pack, with each month’s theme a surprise; this month’s is the Tribal Pack — socks embodying earth, fire, and water. All of DivvyUp’s socks are threaded with a blue toe, connecting the socks we sell to the socks we give.
DivvyUp 2.0 was completely bootstrap-funded from day one – and we maximized the resources at Florida State such as student incubator space, free mentorship, and business plan competitions. Over the past two years, DivvyUp has won $12,000 through pitch competitions alone. This period has served as a great opportunity to validate big assumptions and make pivots where necessary.
With a sustainable foundation built, we’re now poised to become a scalable social enterprise.