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Funding announcement

Sneaker enthusiast group SoleSavy raises $2M, setting the stage for a community-driven commerce boom

Sneaker enthusiast group SoleSavy raises $2M, setting the stage for a community-driven commerce boom, SoleSavy

SoleSavy, a community built around buying hot sneakers and related items that are increasingly hard to acquire at retail, raised $2 million in a round that closed late last year. SoleSavy is a group of communities that is currently mostly hosted on Slack.

SoleSavy’s co-founders Dejan Pralica and Justin Dusanj founded the company in 2018 as a paid community for collectors and enthusiasts seeking pairs that were getting snapped up by bots or resellers. Pralica previously co-founded Kicks Deals, a sneaker shipping site focused on less than retail pricing and Dusanj is the former director of Operations at New Age Sports, a Nike retailer.

SoleSavy’s $2 million party raise includes investment from Panache Ventures, Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH, Turner Novak, Ben Narasin, Morning Brew’s Alex Lieberman and Austin Rief, Tiny Capital, Wesley Pentz (yes, Diplo), Matthew Hauri aka Yung Gravy, Ryan Holmes, Roham Gharegozlou and Bedrock Capital.

SoleSavy has built an engaged community (several communities, really) around the ebb and flow of the sneakerhead consumer universe (SCU). I just coined that, by the way, please make it a thing. The SCU is an interesting place filled with fascinating characters and behaviors. Every once in a while it pokes its head into the mainstream, whether via a documentary, a hot shoe release or a strong-arm robbery attempt. In 2021, I believe that we will see more of this world breaking out of its box into the larger consumer consciousness.

The trends that are leading us to this place are varied, but some of them have been front and center during the pandemic, as a decade’s worth of consumer behavioral change has occurred in the space of a few months. You only have to look at how hard it was to get a PS5 or Xbox One X or a GPU for the holiday season, and how many services, Twitter accounts and monitor groups rose up to try to help people do that to see what the future of shopping looks like.

I joked about not being able to buy butter without a bot, but it’s not far from the truth — nearly every category of goods has had its own shortages over the last year. But the mother of all limited goods category for decades now has been sneakers.

Every release is hotly anticipated and eagerly purchased by people looking for the latest shoe. The massive increase in interest in the sneaker as the marquee desirable item and the unwillingness of the biggest manufacturers to lose the hype halo has led to each drop being harder to get than the last. Second-market startups like StockX and GOAT have sprung up to facilitate those who don’t mind paying 30%-200% premiums on each release.

The solution for many lies in the countless “cook groups” that help buyers anticipate demand and stock for each drop and plan to purchase them on release date.

SoleSavy’s function is ostensibly to do just that: help regular enthusiasts to strategize and execute the release-day cop. But beyond that, Pralica says that the group has come to be about the community of people around those shoes more than the purchase itself.

SoleSavy is at its heart a Slack group (a series of groups actually that act as cohorts, leading people through the tiers of community that the team has built) with rooms that help people to understand what’s happening in sneakers, get the releases and commiserate around the culture. Pralica says that they’ve built that community out slowly (the waitlist for the group grows by 400 people per day) in order to maintain a positive atmosphere and to properly onboard new people to the group. They also have an app that drives push notifications and a podcast.

That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the U.S. and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis.

I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.

Though cook groups have been the “core” of the Discord and Slack-based communities in the sneaker world, other iterations have been booming too. Entrepreneurial communities based in the same hustle principles like Tyler Blake’s In This Economy and fanbase-focused groups around popular streamers top the Disboard. And bets on social token outfits like Zora are also focused on community as the glue that holds together a user base.

Community is the future of all commerce, whether you’re looking for a specific product (see the huge PS5 monitors) or want to steep yourself in a particular universe of product interest (the SCU). The trends that I’ve been seeing all point to 2021 being the year that community-driven purchasing breaks out of the underbelly of fandom and becomes officially “a thing.”

SoleSavy has been experimenting with a variety of ways to keep the community knit going, including live chats, get-togethers, and even a handsome custom community-designed Jordan 1. These efforts have driven the previously bootstrapped company to some impressive early numbers. Pralica says that SoleSavy is currently profitable, with $1.5 million ARR on $33 monthly subscriptions plus affiliate revenue and that their DAUs are at 90% — an engagement number that would make any retailer salivate.

Though the funding closed (very) late last year I thought that this would be a great kick-off story for the year ahead. Though SoleSavy seems to have a really compelling story and a great growth curve, I think they’re at the tip of a very large trend, one that we will see continue to build throughout the year.

More announcements from SoleSavy

Team announcement

Get to Know SoleSavy's Co-Founder and CEO: Dejan Pralica

Get to Know SoleSavy's Co-Founder and CEO: Dejan Pralica

Sneakerhead Dejan Pralica remembers not having the money for expensive shoes. Growing up in an immigrant family that fled the war in Serbia, the shoes he was used to wearing generally cost around $15. Things have changed remarkably in the time since, and he’s now running the sneaker community SoleSavy. Dejan came to Canada from Serbia when he was six years old, and his family moved in with his uncle. There were no luxuries, and that meant only buying the cheapest shoes when they were on sale. It was only when he started playing basketball in high school that he started to take notice of quality sneakers. “The basketball team was sponsored by Nike, and we got a pair of Nike Shox at the time. It was like my first real pair of shoes, and I still have them in the garage. “I remember the first sneaker I ever bought for myself; a lot of people would make fun of it now. But I got the Nike Roshes for like $90. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, wow, this is a nice-looking sneaker. It's affordable, it's comfortable. It's accepted.’ Because it was very, very popular at the time, even though now they’re kind of the butt of jokes.” Once Dejan got into his 20s and he could afford more expensive sneakers, he started to see how sneakers could be about connections with others, and celebrating moments and milestones. That interest went beyond just casual, and he started his first sneaker company with some friends in 2011. Five years on, he met SoleSavy co-founder Justin Dusanj, and things went to the next level. “Justin reached out on Twitter and said, ‘Hey, I love what you're doing for sneakers. I'm in Vancouver, let's meet up.’ We hit it off from there and stayed in touch, but I didn't really think much of it outside of him being a cool dude who likes shoes as I do. “Then in late 2017, we decided to do something. We just started spitballing ideas. This was an idea that we all loved from the beginning, and once we started looking into it, it just made sense. Everything came together really fast - it only took around a month until we had figured out the name, the brand, and what we were trying to do. We hopped on a plane to Los Angeles for the NBA All-Star weekend in February of 2018 with the confidence of a million-dollar company.” Dejan had studied graphic design since he was young, partly because it had helped him to learn English. He did all the branding for SoleSavy himself, once he and Justin grasped the idea of what they wanted the company to be. “It was just to make a positive impact in the lives of people who love sneakers. We just wanted to make that a better experience for them, where they like what sneakers say about who you are. I feel like those people are not represented in the industry, which is very much dominated by resale.” Initially, SoleSavy was a bit of an experiment, as they tried out different ideas to see what would best help them to achieve the kind of industry change they were chasing. They launched with 400 paying subscribers in September 2018, and things have only grown from there. “The next few years, I want SoleSavy to be that authority and that voice for the people. When brands and retailers, or when the media or senators, whoever it might be, when they need to consult someone on the state of the industry, I want them to look at us and see that we represent the people. Right now, the consumer's challenges and frustrations are being ignored.”

Team announcement

Get to Know Anna Bediones, SoleSavy's Director of Strategy for Women

Get to Know Anna Bediones, SoleSavy's Director of Strategy for Women

Sneakers are more than just a fashion item for SoleSavy’s new Director of Strategy for Women, Anna Bediones. Anna’s new role with the sneaker community company will be to advocate for the movement of women’s sneakers, and sneakers as an expression of identity. It’s a highly relevant role for Anna, who immigrated from the Philippines to Canada with her family. She says her Dad was an avid basketball fan, and that led her into the world of sneakers from a young age. “A friend of mine did a video with the Toronto Raptors about her Dad and his immigrant experience,” Anna says. “I bawled my eyes out watching it, because that's exactly the experience that we got coming here. We didn't know a lot of people, but basketball was a universal language. So it’s always been at the core of all of my interests or choices, and it was my entry point into sneakers.” Anna says sneakers quickly became part of her cultural identity, along with pop culture icons such as Sporty Spice, Aaliyah and TLC. She started collecting sneakers and got her first job at Footlocker at the age of 16. However, she felt somewhat isolated in the sneaker community because her friends weren’t into sneakers and she didn’t see many other females who were. “I've never had real mentorship, especially from a woman in this space that I wanted to be in. I've met some really great women along the way, but I never really found someone that I wanted to be like because I was always mindful that we had very, very, very different journeys.” It’s that mentorship and relatability that Anna hopes to be able to provide to other women and girls in her new role. By promoting women’s sneakers and the inclusive culture that goes with them, she hopes to be able to encourage females to pursue their sneaker goals. “We talk a lot about having role models that we can look to and promote an awareness of what's possible. For me, when I see another Asian woman who is doing something I've always wanted to do, it's like, ‘Hey, that's really cool that that's possible for someone who looks like me’. That's a big part of the change we can be part of, for women to be able to see themselves beyond the limitations they've been fed in the past.” “It’s about letting the next generation of sneakerheads know that there are so many possibilities within sneakers beyond just owning them. Being a sneaker influencer is a real thing now, working in media, working at your favorite brands, working with your favorite bands without actually having worked there. You have roles as engineers, within design teams, or even doing things like color design, which is a role in itself. We're just helping people discover that they can use their skill sets to create their own path in the future.” Anna likes to go running in her spare time and finds it almost meditative. She says running has also been part of her personal development, as it’s helped her to put less pressure on herself. “I'm a competitive person, and I used to compare myself a lot to past versions of me that were faster and in better shape. And I had to really just let go of all that in the last year and just be like, ‘Okay, you know what, just go outside and go running.’ So if I'm slower today than I was yesterday, that's fine. If I'm not, I had to just teach myself not to care.” The past year has been a big learning experience and an opportunity to recalibrate. She's learning to slow down and find other creative outlets. She co-founded Extra Goodie, a beauty company making clean products and natural skincare. She formed the company with a friend in 2020, looking to help women become inspired and confident in their natural beauty. She says it’s part of a journey she’s also on herself, trying to become more low-maintenance and self-sustaining in her beauty routine. SoleSavy just announced a successful $12.5M Series A funding!

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