I’m very excited to share my recent conversation with Braden Parker, who is the co-founder and CEO of Casca Footwear — a footwear company addressing over-consumption and enabling professionals to live more fluidly by combining durability, quality, and comfort in an everyday shoe.
Braden is the consummate entrepreneur. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him over the past year, and observing his many successes with leading Casca. Footwear isn’t an easy category to compete in, but Braden and his team have managed to carve out a space for themselves in the market with a big vision to match.
The best part about Braden as a founder is how open and helpful he is to others in the startup community. I hope you enjoy reading his responses to my questions as much as I enjoyed asking them. We cover a whole bunch of topics — from how he got started as an entrepreneur to raising capital, and everything else in between.
I’m really inspired by Casca’s ongoing momentum, despite this unprecedented pandemic we’re all dealing with. How have you managed to keep it all together personally and professionally?
Well, it’s certainly safe to say that the last 6 months have felt more like 6 years! I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from this experience has been dealing with uncertainty. You can try to plan for a hundred different scenarios, but at the end of the day, there will always be uncertainty. Accepting this and focusing on creating an agile organization has helped us to continue growing.
To keep myself as level-headed as possible during the last few months I’ve really leaned into physical exercise. There is a great hike in Vancouver called the Grouse Grind which I’ve been doing multiple times a week. It’s become an integral part of my routine and after a good sweat I always feel like I can see things from a broader perspective.
For readers that may not be familiar with Casca Footwear, what would you want them to know?
Casca resulted from our own needs as consumers. My co-founder Kevin and I couldn’t find a versatile, everyday shoe that would last for more than a few months and we saw an opportunity to create what we wanted for ourselves. The footwear industry is actually one of the most wasteful in the world. On one end, you have high-end footwear that costs over $500 per pair and can still be super uncomfortable. On the other end, the basics like Nike, Adidas, and Vans are available at a more accessible price point but they offer no support. Even though you might wear them for a year, they break down after a few months and ultimately end up in a landfill.
My co-founder Kevin was a competitive athlete growing up and he brings an analytical mindset for designing performance gear and sneakers from his background in sports. He worked as a designer with top footwear and athletic brands, so we took his expertise from a design and function standpoint — and my business and entrepreneurial background — to come up with a better way of doing things.
We took a step back, and looked at what technology and the future would enable. We knew 3D-printing allowed for customization, and believe in a future where the footwear industry is decentralized, custom, and on-demand. The result is everyday footwear that is designed to last. We use the best materials, design, and technology to offer premium materials that will last for up to five years. The average person buys seven pairs of shoes per year. We want to inspire people to be conscious consumers, to buy quality over quantity, and ultimately buy less shoes.
You’ve found this great niche in custom fashion. What do you see as being the endgame of this trend, and how is Casca investing in its technology to accelerate it?
I personally don’t believe this will be a trend. There has been great technological innovation around materials, manufacturing, and the entire retail experience. I believe that the future of retail will be equal parts sales floor, manufacturing, and community space. There is no doubt it will take time to reach that point, and the customization of the insole of our shoes is just the start, but we are excited to pave the way for this new retail experience.
What drew you to launch your own digitally native vertical brand? Every entrepreneur has their calling — what was yours?
What has always been inspiring to me about consumer brands is the connection you have with your customer. A brand helps to represent who a person is, what values they have, and what they care about. You combine those values with a strong product and you can have a connection with customers that lasts a lifetime — and even onto the next generation. For Casca that means addressing over-consumption and enabling professionals to live more fluidly by creating a shoe that combines durability, quality, and comfort.
How has entrepreneurship challenged and tested you as an individual? What have you learned from these challenges?
Entrepreneurship has tested and challenged me in every way possible — and there is nothing that I would change about that. Part of what I’ve loved about entrepreneurship is embracing the unknown and learning from all of the challenges. I’ve tried to flip failure on its head by seeing any challenge as feedback or a setback. As long as you are learning from these challenges and see things as being ‘delayed’ rather than over, you never truly fail. It sounds counterintuitive, but in my mind leaning into failure is what will make you succeed.
I know you to be a very open, generous, and collaborative founder — always willing to take intros to help others and share insights. What’s your leadership philosophy and where do you think this openness is rooted?
That’s a very kind thing of you to say! My leadership philosophy when it comes to helping others is giving without expectation of return. I don’t believe life is transactional. When I look back at where we are today, I know that Casca would not be where it is if we didn’t receive mentorship and help from others when we had nothing to give. I was fortunate to grow up with two great parents who are in education and made sure my brothers and I understood giving back, helping others, and doing things for the right reasons.
Speaking of inspiring people, Casca has a lot of great investors behind it. How did you get top tier institutional funds and prominent angels such as Tobi Lütke excited about your vision?
When we were fundraising, we had already designed and started selling our shoes out of a basement in Kitsilano. Sharing our shoes with investors and having them experience what we had built in real life helped to prove what we were capable of. Combining that with our vision, and how this investment was going to clearly get us to our next milestone as a company, really pulled everything together and painted a clear picture for investors.
With all the growing talk of revenue-based financing in the DNVB world, do you suspect venture financing will play less of a role in funding new brands? As a VC-backed founder, how would you suggest that younger entrepreneurs think about different financing options?
We are certainly in an interesting fundraising environment for DNVB’s. I personally believe we are in a ‘third wave’ of direct-to-consumer brands. In my eyes, to justify raising venture capital you need to have a very clear product differentiator, and for Casca that is the combination of customized technology with a brand. With the new fundraising alternatives on the market, such as Clearbanc, I do think that we will see pure DNVB brands either waiting to fundraise, or doing so with a lot more traction than in years past.
For younger entrepreneurs I’d suggest really taking the time to think about what kind of business they want to build. Venture capital is an incredible tool to help you accelerate your business very fast. However, with fast movement also comes increased risk, and dilution to a founder. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here, but I would recommend getting very clear about what kind of company you want to build.
Based on everything you’ve experienced so far while building Casca, what can we do more of in Canada to create a stronger sense of community around consumer brands, and generate more opportunities for economic development?
The founder community in Canada is incredibly talented. We have a lot of very creative and driven entrepreneurs that are building amazing brands in Canada. I think the best thing we can do within Canada is build that community up and create a stronger network effect between all of the companies. I’ve been fortunate to have met a handful of companies and founders by way of an introduction from others, but I do wish there was a more official group centred around supporting each other through the common challenges we all face, regardless of what product you are selling.
What’s one video, book, or other resource that you’d like to leave our readers with which is currently inspiring how you’re thinking about, and building, your company?
The one book that I’ve found particularly helpful through the pandemic is called The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. It is a great book that focuses on seeing obstacles as a catalyst for growth. I see obstacles as a “setback” towards our vision and this has allowed me to push through a lot of hard challenges. I don’t think that we’d be in the position we are in now if we didn’t keep going.
This interview was edited for clarity.
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