I had the pleasure of interviewing Gianluca De Stefano Co-founder of Gorilla Socks a business who has been selling socks that hep save endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in a town in south of Italy called Roccarainola, close to Napoli. It is a small town with about 8,000 people. I grew up wanting to be a football player (in the USA you guys call it soccer). That obviously didn’t go as planned. I left Roccarainola when I was 18. I was admitted at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. That is where I met the other Co-Founder of Gorilla Socks Gavin Kamara. We were flatmates. I spent the first 10 years of my life climbing the corporate career ladder with some discreet success. But I have always been fascinated about the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. After marring Marilynn my Spanglish wife I relocated to New York. Three things were material in the creation of Gorilla Socks. The Netflix documentary Virunga which brought to Gav’s and my attention the precarious situation of gorillas as a result of human activity, and the book from Blake Mycoskie “Start Something that matters”. The third one was a bike ride with Gavin along the Hudson River. He was in NYC visiting. That is the day we decided to embark on this journey and it’s just snow balled from there.
We make bamboo socks that help save gorillas. When we first started thinking of creating a business, we both had one thing in common: we loved colourful socks. That’s when we asked ourselves, how could we create cool, comfortable and colourful socks with a cause? This led us to use bamboo fiber which in many ways is a superior fabric to cotton - for a start, it’s the fastest growing plant in the world and it’s a lot softer than cotton and trust me you can feel it on your feet! As we grow, our objective is to diversify and use other eco-friendly fabrics to increase our reach. We are committed to develop as a sustainable brand. Supporting gorillas seemed a natural choice, the work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Viringa documentary have made a lasting impact on us and we are committed to supporting these amazing animals. Moreover, gorillas love to eat bamboo!
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
A couple of weeks ago I was in Atlanta visiting our partners at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund who are located in Atlanta Zoo. Alessandro my first-born and my wife joined. We took the opportunity to take Alessandro who is one year old to see the gorillas and he was struck by the loving gorillas who he calls monkeys (he obviously cannot see the difference at this stage). Since that day Alessandro keeps calling me monkey, he must see the similarity between gorillas and humans – plus I do have a beard!
Yitzi: What makes your business stand out? Can you share a story?
We feel that our business stands out not only for the quality of our underlying product, but for our commitment to help the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund with their pledge to save endangered gorillas. When their founder Dian Fossey arrived in Rwanda in 1967, there were only 240 gorillas left. In the last 50 years they have helped to grow that population to around 880. That is a conservation success indeed, yet the mountain gorillas are still critically endangered. We are strongly committed to support their efforts in any way we can. Today at least 10% of all our profit from every single pair of socks goes to the fund.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We started Gorilla Socks back in October 2016 and have already donated to the fund on four occasions. We are aiming to donate substantially more as we expand our business. We believe that we have a sound business model that can be scaled. Our immediate objective is to help raise awareness and money for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund but in the long term we would like to be a business supporting numerous endangered species.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I Started my Business” and why?
This was our first entrepreneurial experience. We had little or no know-how when it came to building and growing an ecommerce business. These are the five things I wished someone told us beforehand:
- We knew little about the whole world behind SEO. We believed that we could build traffic simply through Instagram and ads. While that may be true to a certain extent, we have noticed that the majority of our traffic is organic, which increases as our ranking on Google improves.
- From the outset we started collaborating with a fulfilment centre. That was wrong for many reasons. Fulfilment centres work on volumes, and we were a small fish in a big pond on day one. Our products were being sent with delays, which affected our customer satisfaction and reputation. On our website we pledge to send socks out within 2-3 business days. Also as a start-up you want to be as lean as possible while you test the viability of your product. Having a fulfilment centre meant we had fixed costs even if we had no sales.
- We paid for advertising in a renowned print magazine who contacted us. That was probably one of our worst mistakes. We got no traffic from the ad and it served no purpose from a SEO persepective. Money down the drain
- The importance of your shipping costs. Nail these down. Being able to provide a fast, reliable and cost effective way to deliver your product to the end customer is one of the building blocks for a successful ecommerce business.
- Customer targeting is something we learned later down the line. At the start we just went out and pitched our product to anyone, with little success. Today we know who our customer is and have been more effective in reaching him/her. This is a moving feast and we are continually refining the process.
Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a great respect and admiration for Blake Mycoskie. Toms is the company we look up to. He was innovator within entrepreneurship. When he started Toms, very few believed that the social enterprise model could work. Since then he has proved everyone wrong by building a strong brand and a successful business that is able to support those in need. He is the one person I would love to have breakfast with.
Yitzi: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Original link to the article in the Hoff Post Link