Lisa Sommerhuber, Co-founder of Shoewap

Lisa Sommerhuber is the co-founder of Shoewap, the odd shoe swap, a community marketplace that helps people with unevenly sized feet and amputees get shoes that fit.

She has been bootstrapping the early stage startup with her co-founder Sumeet Sarangi and is excited about the launch of the marketplace this week. With her background in architecture and exhibition design, Lisa is working on branding, product and content and has grown an engaged community. Shoewap is supported by several UK and US charities and graduated from the accelerator FFWD London in June 2016.

Q: What is your background?  Why are you doing this?
A: I have unevenly sized feet! Like 10% of the population who have a full shoe size difference or more. When I want to buy certain shoes I have to buy 2 pairs to get 1 that fits, and I always compromise on style, comfort and price. With Shoewap I am scratching my own itch. I want to make shoe shopping fun for myself and people like me!

Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A:  I was traveling through South East Asia for a year, meditated in silence for 10 days and spent 9 days in complete darkness and solitude. Coming out of it, I felt no longer scared of losing control, and ready to dare this challenging venture.

Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Having a BOLD vision, and then having the courage, determination and perseverance to take one small step at a time.

Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: Creating a system where any important incoming information and everything that needs to be done can be stored until it’s time to do something about it, so you don’t need to worry about having forgotten anything important or what your priorities should be. Read/Listen to “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.

Having a section in your brain that is called “People and who they need to speak to”: Introducing people to relevant connections is one of the best ways to pay it forward and foster relationships. I send introductions – or recommendations for books, websites and apps - almost on a daily basis.

Story telling. You want to be able to communicate a grand vision that people can aspire to.

Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A:  I can be my fabulous self, haha! At my first networking events I thought I should buy a pair of jeans (nope, I don’t own any!) to “look like an entrepreneur”. Now I wear my bright blue silk dresses and butterfly earrings! I love that the only standards I need to meet are the ones that I set.

Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Tim Ferriss. I founded Shoewap while reading his controversial book “The 4h-Work Week” in Bali during my year in Asia. Of course, it’s been more like 80h-work weeks since then…

Q: What is the most satisfying or successful aspect of your business?
A: The countless love messages from our community, telling us how happy they are to have found us, how being able to access and afford fitting shoes will improve their lives, and that they no longer feel alone. I feel incredibly lucky to have found a real problem to solve.

Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A:  Thoroughly research any contractor you consider hiring. We were almost going to hire a company to build our marketplace. The pricing was unbeatable! The references they provided were great. Then, last minute, I emailed the companies they showcased as success stories on their website – and it turned out that they had not built their websites. What a scam!

Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources, where would you send them?
A:  Ask for forgiveness, not for permission! Sneak into events and conferences! Try to get to dinner or drinks with the speakers! When you’re bootstrapping you have to be cheeky and try your luck. And always wear your silk dress and butterfly earrings while breaking the rules.

Q: Any last words of advice?
A:  Do take time to write weekly and monthly updates to your friends, supporters, partners and (potential) investors. It’s a great way to establish a sense of familiarity and trust, to stay on their minds so they send you useful information when they come across it, and it’s a pleasant replacement for reminders. After sending my updates, people who owe me a response tend to get back to me without me having to nag and annoy them, so the conversation stays cheerful.