"Who's Hot?" Entrepreneur Interview
Our "Who's Hot?" Entrepreneur of the Week is Robert Smith a current NFL free agent and co-founder of Sole Simple LLC. Robert was born and raised in the Clifton section of Staten Island, New York and later relocated to Carteret, NJ for high school. He continued to further my football career at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania. After graduating from Saint Francis, he went on to continue his masters in Technology Education at Jackson State while also finishing his last year of college football as a redshirt senior.
After finishing his college football career, Robert continued to pursue his dreams to play professional football. Smith went on to compete in the Washington Redskins Rookie mini camp, played professional football for the Hamburg Huskies in Hamburg, Germany, and recently did a private workout for the Baltimore Ravens.
While still pursuing his professional football career, Robert and his cousin Ryan came together to create a sneaker boutique business called Sole Simple. "We created the business together because we both have a passion of collecting sneakers throughout the years since we were in high school. Now, we have our online web store open and we are soon to expand our brand to our first store front."
We talked with Robert Smith in an exclusive interview, check it out below!
Question: What sparked you to start your business? How did the idea come about?
Smith: What made me want to start up Sole Simple is my motivation to find a way to pay myself when I couldn’t find a job. I always had an obsession for sneakers growing up as I was constantly going to sneaker conventions all throughout NYC when I was 16. Meeting people to trade, sell, and buy sneakers from others was an experience at a young age. When the job hunting was tough, I would sell some of my sneakers from my own collection to pay myself. After I graduated college, I came up with the name “Sole Simple” because to me it is a very unique name and also the idea of turning a hobby into a paycheck is really easy and simple.
Question: What advice would you give to young people looking to start their own business?
Smith: I advise all the young entrepreneurs to make sure that they’re 1000% invested into themselves first before they invest in their brand. Too many people try to start a business and are not confident in their brand which leads to failure in the long run. Confidence is a big factor because you have to stand firm on why your products and or services separate your brand from others. If potential customers see that you are not confident in your brand, they will take their money elsewhere. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should someone else believe in you?
Question: What are some of the necessary skills that you've seen are needed to run a successful business?
Smith: Some skills that are I’ve personally seen that are needed is time management, self discipline, assertiveness, and work ethic. If you can master those four skills in your business, it will lead to great success throughout the years.
Question: What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Smith: The failures that I’ve faced in the business is sometimes investing in some sneakers that end up being easily accessible which everyone in the market calls “bricks”. Sometimes being caught up in the hype too much can lead to no gain in the return of the investment. The good thing about it is that sometimes you can return them and get your money back. One thing I’ve learned is to always do research extensively before you put your money in it. Self assurance is the best insurance in my book.
Question: What motivates you?
Smith: My mother really is my motivation. She is the one who instilled great values as a man to always strive to want more for yourself and to never be content in anything I do. She really is the MVP in all of this!
Question: How do you generate new ideas?
Smith: I tend to read books, listen to music, and create time for myself to think on how I can make my brand bigger than what it is now. I have a strong tendency to overthink every situation and that’s where I start thinking outside of the box. I try to create at least 2-3 ideas for my business everyday.
Question: How do you define success?
Smith: Success is when you realize that your blessings will always be bigger and better than your burdens. Financial success is great of course but making sure that you are mentally and spiritually wealthy is even better. You can have all the money in the world but if you’re not right within, how do you expect to win? I believe that everyone is successful in their own way, shape, or form.
Question: How did you build a successful customer base?
Smith: A great customer base starts off with a great reputation on social media. I started my customer base on social media where I would post up pairs of sneakers I wanted to sell on Twitter and Instagram. I started selling locally at first and gradually I would have random people hit me up on social media all throughout the U.S to purchase. I would write up an invoice and when they paid me, I would ship the sneakers to the address the customer provided. My customer base grew even bigger when I was playing professional football in Germany. When people in the U.S couldn’t get their hands on a pair of sneakers that sold out, they would hit me up on Twitter and paid me to ship it to them from Germany.
Question: Do you believe there is a formula to being a successful entrepreneur?
Smith: Besides supply and demand, I don’t believe there is a set formula to be a successful entrepreneur. Nowadays, there are so many people who have became successful entrepreneurs in their own way that it is hard for anyone to duplicate it. Just because your formula is working for your own company, doesn’t mean it will work the same for someone else’s brand. You have to find your own niche and capitalize on it in every way possible.
Question: Who is your greatest inspiration?
Smith: As an entrepreneur, I would have to say Jay-Z because he embodies the definition of a businessman all the way. That transition from being a rapper to a successful business owner is something I strive to have especially being that I’m a professional athlete. As I listen to some of his old albums, I realize that he always had a mindset that separated him from other rappers in the industry.
Question: What is your favorite aspect of being a business owner?
Smith: It’s a beautiful feeling being able to pay yourself and not having anyone tell you what to do or how to do it. Being your own boss and having your own hours is nothing short of immaculate to say the least.
Question: How do you go about marketing your business?
Smith: I balance social media marketing with traditional marketing. While marketing on social media, My partners and I would attend sneaker conventions, entrepreneur mixers, and other social events handing out business cards to people who fit our target market. I’m a firm believer in making sure to marketing the business on all avenues as much as possible.
Question: What sacrifices have you had to make to keep your business running?
Smith: I sacrificed my social life. I’ve been so busy that I have less time to hang out with friends because every minute and hour has be productive towards expanding my brand. The party life ain’t going nowhere and I rather spend my money on my business than to spend it on things with no value. I treat my business as if it was of child of my own.
Question: What company or business do you admire most other than yours and why?
Smith: Flight Club. They’ve been successful in the industry for several years and still continue to be. I aspire to have that longevity and strong reputation that they have in their business.
Question: Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
Smith: I can see myself opening several locations outside of NYC with my partners and changing the sneaker head culture to something better than it ever was. People will see Sole Simple globally!
Question: Is there anything else you would like people to know about your business?
Smith: Yes. We have an online store up right now and I need everyone to follow us on all of our social networks. We are doing sneaker preorders on each release and we sell high end streetwear brands as well.
Follow Robert Smith on twitter @solesimplellc