Earlier this month, The Campus Companion and Category 5 Boat Shoes teamed up for a free giveaway. There are only 3 days left so don’t sleep on your chance to win a free pair. We sat down with CEO Jason Shuman, a senior at University of Miami, to hear a little bit more about the inspiration behind Category 5, what goes into making a great shoe, and what it’s like to be a student entrepreneur. His parting advice for college students is worth sticking around for.
Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind Category 5 boat shoes?
The inspiration behind Cat 5 came from the reoccurrence of overpriced low quality products being offered to college students. Essentially I was in chapter one day during the fall semester of my sophomore year and a company came in attempting to sell us sweatshirts with our letters on it for a little bit over $60. Later that night as I was unwinding from the day at my apartment and figuring out what my first lettered purchase was going to be.
I was looking down at my worn out boat shoes and thought to myself why not them. After a few hours of research with no results I decided to take matters into my own hands and eventually realized that many college students wanted the same type of products that I did and the dream for Cat 5 slowly became a reality.
What was the process behind creating a boat shoe worthy of competing with Sperry?
The process has been about 2 years in the making. Originally we were working with a manufacturer who made the original shoe that I had got for myself, but after they filed for bankruptcy I nearly saw my dream go down the drain. However, after telling my best friends about the idea, my passion for it was revitalized and it truly took off.
After selecting a top tier manufacture from a pool of 3, we’ve gone through almost 10 rounds of prototyping and a 6 month wear test on The Yachtsman to really make sure that it held up against the competition. There were late night Skype calls with our manufacturer and my business partners, along with plenty of exciting moments paired with the occasional let down. One of the most exciting moments for me was getting pairs of Cat 5′s for my friends, because they all started to realize that the product we have is one that will sell itself if people try it on.
How are you getting your boat shoes onto college campuses?
The Category 5 Class Meets Custom Campus Takeover is a 2 week program each semester in which our Campus Sales Representatives go around campus to market and sell the shoes. We spent countless hours over the summer putting together a program that is one of the highest paying rep jobs in the country. We encourage our Reps to work together in teams as it is a great experience for those looking to get into sales and marketing. Aside from the fact that the pay is great, we truly look at our reps as our lifeline and keep in contact with them regularly as we want to make sure that we are putting them in a position to succeed.
What are your long-term goals for the company and how does Category 5 fit into your life plan? Is this a post-grad thing for you and your friends?
We’re hoping that Cat 5 will take off and will be a lifestyle for us. Aside from the fact that there are worse things than working with your 4 other best friends for the rest of your life, we truly have a passion for Cat 5 and look at it like our baby. The number one priority right now is to increase our brand awareness and finish the development of The Women’s boat shoes. Furthermore, we’re working on getting custom pairs in Private schools. Furthermore, we hope that more country clubs and yacht clubs get involved as we have found a high level of interest from their members. We have one more major idea in the works, but The Campus Companion readers are going to have to wait until next Fall to hear about it if all goes as planned.
What advice do you have for college students who have great ideas but might not know how to take that next step?
Network, network, network. If someone has a vision for something, they can make it a reality and have an easier time doing it by speaking with the right people and learning how to get things done. The first step is basically to accept the fact that you don’t necessarily know everything and that you need to seek out the right people to speak with. Myself and my team over the past 2 years have met with numerous amounts of industry veterans to receive advice and although their thought process is a little bit more “old school”, if you can get learn one new thing from the meeting then you’ve achieved your goal. Furthermore, as an entrepreneur its a necessity that you can take constructive criticism and make changes accordingly. In all businesses there are weak points that you may not have noticed during the planning stages, but as new sets of eyes take a look at your model they may be able to help you in ways that you never would have noticed otherwise.
Lastly, I’m not going to say it is easy, but if you have a passion for something go for it and don’t be afraid of failure. You don’t want to be sitting at home 5 years from now when that product or website that you thought of before launched and the dudes running it are making big money. I’m learning something new every day and although the classroom is a great spot to learn things, their truly is no learning experience like the real world.