By Larry Kim
A lesson in never letting yourself be held back
When it comes to the entrepreneurship, most people focus on how they can grow a business. But, the reasons why a person should start a company don’t get nearly enough attention, particularly how powerful (albeit, a bit crazy) starting a business can be.
Entrepreneurship has the ability to unlock human potential, no matter what type of entrepreneur you happen to be. It allows people to craft their destinies by finding meaningful work that doesn’t just help themselves, but others as well.
John Cronin, a 21-year-old entrepreneur who is the mind behind John’s Crazy Socks, a million+ dollar business focused on making fun, creative, and colorful socks available to the masses. And he doesn’t let anything stop him from reaching for success, including Down’s Syndrome.
Founding a Company
John and his father, Mark X. Cronin, are co-founders of John’s Crazy Socks. The company operates online, though is physically based in Long Island, New York.
After his birth, John was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. He worked diligently throughout his life and, upon graduating from high school, decided he wanted to start a company with his dad.
As they began discussing the prospect, John’s first idea was a “fun store,” though the pair never quite worked out what that would be.
Then, they considered a food truck because John and Mark had seen a movie about a father and son operating a food truck, and it “seemed like a good idea.” But, they identified a problem. According to John, “Both of us can’t cook.”
The third concept was the winner, John and Mark’s unicorn of an idea was to sell socks because John had worn “crazy socks my entire life.” John believed it would be fun and creative, and the pair decided to give it a whirl.
John’s Crazy Socks Takes Off
During 2017, John’s Crazy Socks pulled in $1.75 million in gross sales, representing 42,710 separate orders. The online store sells 1,500 different kinds of socks, giving shoppers a lot of options from which to choose. Their inventory includes colorful variants of classic shapes including no-show, ankle, crew, knee high, and above the knee socks.
Plus, John had a knack for making the customer’s feel special. He includes sweet treats and a thank you note with every order that heads out the door. And, for shopper’s in Long Island, John will even deliver the socks in person.
The pair attribute much of their growth to positive word-of-mouth as well as a strong presence on social media. Additionally, many people identify with the story, and they have been fortunate to receive substantial media coverage, leading to significant sales increases.
John’s Crazy Socks also now employs a dozen full-time staff members, eight of which have some form of diagnosed disability.
“It’s imperative to hire people with disabilities, and not simply because it seems the right thing to do,” Mark stated. “Employers complain that they can’t find enough workers and here is an untapped pool of excellent labor. We look at what people can do and match our business to their skill set and we are better off because of it.”
“I don’t think we are doing groundbreaking work,” said Mark. “We are giving our employees an opportunity. We have seen tremendous growth because we give them an opportunity.”
Giving Back to the Community
The company also works to support the larger community. First, 5 percent of their profits going to the Special Olympics. Also, John creates “awareness socks” as a method for raising money for a range of charities.
Giving back is a core principle for the company, and is at least partially responsible for their relatively quick success.
When speaking about his diagnosis during an interview, John said, “Down’s Syndrome never holds me back.”
A Mission to Believe In
John believes the company is “spreading happiness through socks,” a simple mission that is easy to get behind. They give people a method for expressing themselves with greater ease, and in a way that works for many buyers’ lifestyles. (Hey, even Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada known for attending events in colorful socks, has a few pairs of John’s Crazy Socks).
Mark stated, “We both are absolutely committed to the vision we have. And we both know we need each other. I couldn’t do this without John. You probably couldn’t do it without me, right?”
“And we’re having fun. We’re spreading happiness. What’s better than that?” Mark adds.
What You Can Learn from John’s Crazy Socks
John and Mark’s success can teach a lot of entrepreneurs, and aspiring entrepreneurs, a thing or two about business.
First and foremost, they found a product and a vision they believe in wholeheartedly, showing just how valuable passion can be when it comes to achieving success. Even in the face of what many would consider adversity, John doesn’t let Down’s Syndrome stop him from reaching his goals and spreading joy to everyone who decides to visit the shop or buy some socks for themselves or others.
John participates fully in the business, doing a wide range of tasks from creating “thank you” videos to working as a “sock wrangler” (their title for those who help pick and pack orders) to giving tours and promoting the business. He also attended a business acceleration program where he learned about presenting, networking, and how to interact with customers.
Second, the company focuses on creating opportunities for others, giving back to the community, and treating their customers like gold, all of which help propel them forward. John’s Crazy Socks has an enviable company culture, one that is certainly worthy of being mirrored by other entrepreneurs, including fun activities like staff lunches on Fridays.
“We had this mission to spread happiness and that has to start here,” said Mark. “So, it’s important hat this is a great place to work.”
Plus, John’s Crazy Socks is determined to succeed, crafting a strong online presence through their website and social media, demonstrating that they also have the marketing chops to make it happen.
Discussing his takeaways from his experience starting John’s Crazy Socks, Mark shared, “It’s not enough to simply to sell a product. We are creating meaning and experience around that product. For us, we have a retail mission and a social mission and those are indivisible. If we only had the retail mission we wouldn’t be doing to business we are doing. If we only had the social mission, it wouldn’t mean as much. People don’t just buy socks from us. They tap into our mission of happiness and into the giving back that we do.”
He also added, when it comes to starting a business, his biggest advice is to “just do it.”
“We chose not to spend time to research and do a lot of planning. We decided to test a viable product and tinker with it, using customer feedback to guide us.”
He also recommended that parents of kids with diagnoses like Down’s Syndrome shouldn’t settle.
“John is the youngest of three boys, and you try to do the same things as a parent when you raise your children. We promote independence and raise the expectations of what’s possible,” said Mark.
He added, “There are more options when you leave school, like starting a business. We, as parents, sometimes we shelter our children too much. If we can let them go and be willing to let them try things, they’ll surprise us. I look at John and he shows up every day, on time and ready to work. He is focused, he works hard. He’s diligent and pays attention to details.”
Ultimately, John and Mark created something special, a unicorn of a sock business that brings smiles to the faces of thousands of shoppers today, and likely many, many more in the future.
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