The Sage Advice Podcast energizes business builders around the world through the imagination of our people and the power of technology. This episode features Brian Smith, the founder of the UGG® boots brand. An edited transcript is below.
Brian is the founder of the popular footwear brand UGG®. He started the brand in the 1970s with only $500 in start-up costs. Since leaving his post at UGG®, Brian has become one of the most sought-after speakers and business leaders in the country. His inspirational talks and media appearances on his breakthrough business strategies are widely attended by business builders of all ages from a diverse array of market sectors.
Tell us more about yourself and how you launched UGG® brands.
Brian Smith: Almost 40 years ago, I graduated college with a degree in accounting. I decided I did not want to pursue accounting the day I graduated because I wanted to get into something entrepreneurial. I’m Australian and I figured all the best trends were coming to Australia from California. So, I decided I would go to California and find the next big thing that I could bring back to Australia.
I arrived in Santa Monica and it took me a lot longer to find out the what the next big thing was. I was surfing one day and it was pretty cold outside so I pulled on my sheepskin boots that I’d brought from Australia and I went, “Oh, my God. There are no sheepskin boots in America.” At the time one in two Australians owned some sort of sheepskin footwear.
I just pivoted like every good entrepreneur does, and said, “I’m going to stay here and start importing sheepskin boots.” That was really the genesis of how UGG® started. It was not rocket science, it was about finding a gap in the marketplace and exploiting it.
Why motivates you and keeps you going?
Brian Smith: I built the UGG® brand to $20 million in revenue and then I sold it because it was getting too big for me to finance. I’m really an entrepreneur at heart. That led me to write a book about building the UGG® brand and using it as a business tool for entrepreneurs.
That led me to the stage. I am now a professional speaker and I love it. I love the feedback I get from the audience after my public speaking events. Audience members come up to me and say, “Oh, my God, Brian. I was going to give up my business, but now I see what stage of building my business I’m in due to what you pointed out.” That is the primary driver that keeps me going and continuing to help entrepreneurs.
Tell me a little bit more about that, about your desire to help entrepreneurs. Why do you want to help entrepreneurs?
Brian Smith: When I was starting out at UGG®, I read a book called Winning Through Intimidation, by Robert Ringer. I wrote down 21 points from his book and that was my guideposts in building the UGG® brand. Usually, I’d screw up, and then I would go back to my list and go, “Yep, there it is. I shouldn’t have done that.” It was such a great tool for me to know I wasn’t alone as an entrepreneur.
I wrote a modernized version of what to do. My book is called The Birth of a Brand: Bringing Up Your Business from Birth to Adulthood. It’s the story of how I built UGG® with all the ups and downs of owning a business. I wanted it to be a guidebook for entrepreneurs. It’s turned out to be a great tool and playbook for business owners on how to get up after setbacks. It’s all “boots on the ground” business tips.
Tell me a little bit about one of those situations at UGG® where you had to get yourself up off the ground.
Brian Smith: There was a period where I lost control of the company. I brought in new investors and I didn’t realize that in their minds, they bought the company, and they didn’t want me to be involved. I was super depressed there for a while and I rallied to get back on the team. A few years later, I ended up owning the company again through a fluke. I would never have gotten there if I had not rallied to rejoin the company. I decided what was best for the brands future, which was to really get UGG® out into the marketplace.
I learned that nearly always your most disappointing moments become your greatest classics. It’s one of the statements that I live by now and it is a big theme of my life. I try to spread that philosophy to other entrepreneurs through my book and my talks on stage.
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