Metro, Business, Featured Story

SockCess Is Starting From The Bottom

When the man wearing tall socks with Drake’s face on them walked into Starbucks, I knew he was the guy I was waiting for.

Mo Abdo believes in the power of eccentric socks to boost confidence and share personality through appearance, just as people do with other clothing items. As the co-founder, co-CEO, and chief marketing officer of SockCess—a Boston-based startup subscription service for monthly socks—Abdo aims to allow that personality to come through for his customers.

“I have always felt that socks can make or break an outfit,” Abdo said. “People are making bold choices in basically every other apparel item they’re wearing—shirts, pants, everything else—and I think we’re at a point where you can’t overlook your socks.”

SockCess launched in early summer of 2015 with a model inspired by other subscription services such as Dollar Shave Club and Birchbox. Subscribers pay a monthly fee of $9.99 to have a new pair of socks—with either a business design or a casual design—delivered to their door. Stripes, dots, and bold colors mark the patterns that SockCess provides.

A 2013 graduate of Trinity College with an international studies degree, Abdo, who moved to Massachusetts in 1994 after his family escaped war-torn Somalia, has no formal business education.

Yet he found himself constantly reading books and following blogs about business and startup culture, and through a friend at Trinity, Abdo met Tali Oppenheimer, now a co-founder, co-CEO, and lead developer for SockCess.

The two began considering a potential venture into a subscription-based product, specifically with unique socks, in May 2014. They were bored with the bland sock options on the market, equally tired of going to stores to buy them, and recognized that they had a valid market in front of them, with few other companies boasting socks as their primary product and using a subscription model.

By the end of the year, Abdo and Oppenheimer started planning SockCess’s future in earnest, though Abdo knew the risk involved not only with a startup, but also with shifting the way consumers think about acquiring an everyday commodity.

“There was a lot of uncertainty from my end on the basis of changing a habit,” Abdo said. “We’re changing the way people go out and have naturally been doing things for a while—going to stores, buying socks. Any time you try to change the habit that potential customers or clients are used to, it’s going to be an uphill battle. My big thing was how open people will be to receiving socks in the mail.”

Since its launch, SockCess has remained self-funded, using the founders’ initial investments and revenue to continue producing socks in relatively small quantities through manufacturers in China. Though the company is not yet at a stage where it is ready to seek investors, Abdo said he hopes it will be part of the company’s strategic growth over the next year or so.

“I hope we have the opportunity to get to the point where we’re going to need investors to scale,” he said. “I want to make sure we have a good grasp on our company image, our brand, and how we want to continue portraying ourselves to the rest of the world. I want to make sure that’s sound in all aspects before we go out and raise money and go through that.”

Part of the company’s growth will also involve designing its own patterns for socks, which are currently designed by the manufacturers. Designs are, for the most part, exclusive for SockCess, but Abdo said SockCess’s third partner and creative director, Donal O’Sullivan, will soon try his hand at designing. The founders will also crowdsource and let customers submit ideas, as well as seek submissions from local college students in art and design programs.

With socks trending among young professionals as a way of injecting style and playfulness into an otherwise-traditional business outfit—without alarming their employers too much—SockCess has seen its subscriber base span primarily that demographic. Abdo describes the typical “buyer persona” as a young professional male between the ages of 19 and 35, though he said the company does have some female subscribers as well (the socks are unisex).

Working out of the library and cafes in Central Square in Cambridge, Abdo enjoys building his company in a vibrant tech scene, alongside fellow startup employees and other creative people to whom he can market his product informally and directly. It is helpful to get feedback quickly, he said, as opposed to sitting in an office trying to work out answers.

Among the answers SockCess is working out include continuing to understand its customers’ buying habits, maintaining that key injection of personality into its product, and exploring different purchasing options and subscription schedules, he said. Developing the company through these testing and learning phases will help solidify its grasp on the subscription product market.

Abdo is used to being bold, through his position as a startup CEO in his early 20s and also through fashion. (He chose to pair his unique socks with a floral-print collared shirt in retro, muted tones when we met.) That boldness and risk is the bottom line for SockCess.

“Those who make bold choices are perceived to be more bold and more confident,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to wear socks with Drake.”

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

October 1, 2015

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