Kevin Lamar | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin Lamar


Scott Seamans, the founder of Crocs, started SoftScience in 2013 with John Duerden, the former president of Reebok. They set out to “take comfort casual footwear design to a new level,” according to SoftScience’s corporate history.

Kevin Lamar joined the Denver-based company as CEO in 2016.

The Mistake:

We didn’t do enough market research.

When SoftScience started up, we were targeting the podiatric market, people with plantar fasciitis and other types of foot problems. After a couple years, we expanded and started trying to sell to the broader consumer sector. Initially, we targeted millennials.

We made a lot of assumptions about who was going to be our core market, but we didn’t actually know what they wanted. There was a lot of market research about millennials and how they’re driving the economy, and we thought that’s where we wanted to be.

We designed a shoe for a market, rather than asking what this market wanted in a shoe.

When I came in, I saw that the company was not going down the right path. We took a step back, listened to the market, got into the trenches, and figured out what was working and what wasn’t.

We did more research and found that our shoes skew much older. There are some millennials with foot problems and lower back problems, but not a lot. On top of that, there’s the clunky look of our shoe – when you’re solving someone’s foot problems, they don’t care what the shoe looks like. Millennials don’t have as many foot problems, and they were looking for something more attractive.

We lost a bunch of upfront investment capital, don’t get me wrong, but we were able to pivot quickly and come back from that.

We designed a shoe for a market, rather than asking what this market wanted in a shoe.

The Lesson:

You’ve got to be able to pivot when things are going wrong.

This kind of thing is really hard for a new company, especially a small one like ours. We did our best to understand our product and bring it to the right market, but we didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars for market research and communication; we had to go with the best information we had at the time.

Maybe we could have seeded the market a little earlier to see what millennials thought. Maybe we could have gone into a few stores, possibly placed product on consignment, and tested things out. That would have been a good way to get some feedback.

A lot of times, companies don’t come back from something like that. This company was able to see what was happening and pivot toward a new target market.

One of our core markets now is fishermen. The shoes are comfortable. They’re lightweight. They don’t slip. They’re anti-microbial. You can stand in them all day. They’re just right for that activity. It’s similar for hikers.

That’s the type of thing we didn’t know as a company when we were starting out. This market, which I affectionately call Bubba’s market, is huge for us. When we speak to the right people, they love what we’re doing. They’re even embracing the aesthetics of the shoes.

Once we got our message aligned, things started taking off. We just had our biggest month of sales ever in January.

SoftScience is on Twitter at @Softsciencecorp.

Photo courtesy of SoftScience.

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