Saturday, October 23, 2010

Interview With Cause Haun, SeeKaiRun

Featuring Woman Entrepreneur

Cause Haun
Founder, SeeKaiRun

[Category: Mompreneurship
Kids Footwear]

It is marvelous to see how a mother's instinct can drive new creations. A mother's choosy attitude towards providing the best for her child can actually turn a woman into an entrepreneur - a Mompreneur. I had the privilige to have email interview with Cause Haun, Founder of SeeKaiRun, who formed a new line of shoes when she could not find the right pair of booties for her first child. See Kai Run® is a family-owned and operated business located outside of Seattle, Washington. The idea was born when founder Cause Haun was on a quest for the perfect first pair of shoes for her son, Kai. Unable to find shoes in fun, cutting edge styles that still promoted the healthy development of growing feet, she created her own line of shoes that satisfied all of these needs. Read more about her story.

Q. I would like to start by knowing more about your background – your education and past work experience. Do you have entrepreneurial roots?
At the inception of See Kai Run, I was working as the director of a before and after school care program.  Prior to that I worked in the international education field, mostly with non-profits placing international exchange students in volunteer American host families.  I do have a BBA in International Business, but besides that, I've had to rely on instinct rather than formal business training.

Q. Is this your first entrepreneurial venture? If no, then which were the earlier ones? Are you still involved in them?
See Kai Run is absolutely my first entrepreneurial venture.  Beginner’s luck, I suppose!

Q. What market segment and industry are you addressing now?
We are currently in the children’s footwear market for ages 0-3. This includes a soft-soled baby bootie line called Smaller and a first-walker line, See Kai Run, which features flexible soles suitable for outdoor use.

Q. What inspired you to start See Kai Run?
When I was looking for a first pair of shoes for my own son, Kai, I was not able to find exactly what I wanted – cutting edge styles that were healthy for growing feet. I knew there must be other parents who felt the same way.

Q. How did you validate your business idea before formally starting your entrepreneurial venture (See Kai Run)?
I spoke to independent children’s store owners in the Seattle area who confirmed that their customers would love the option of buying these shoes.

Q. Which part of your entrepreneurial journey did you find the most difficult – Spotting an opportunity, validating your idea or executing it?
Executing it.  Once it was clear that the business would be successful, I needed to hire staff and the venture became business owner rather than entrepreneur, i.e. I now had to deal with personnel issues in addition to creating unique shoes.

Q. What convinced you that the shoes, which you had designed, would sell?
Soft-soled booties were very popular at the time and parents in the US had been educated that barefoot is best for growing feet.  There were no shoes that had flexible soles that were suitable to wear outdoors.  I intuitively knew that hard soled shoes would not be comfortable after being used to soft-soled shoes.

Q. There are already so many brands for shoes available in the market, especially brands like Reebok and Nike. They too have shoes for kids. But these brands have a positioning, which is difficult to replace. How did you manage to position your brand?
When we came out with See Kai Run, we really created a new category in the children’s shoe market. Before us, there was not really a flexible-soled, first walker category. Doctors had found that while barefoot was best for developing feet, a flexible sole for outdoors was the next best thing.  Slipper-like booties such as Robeez were really popular, but shoes for first walkers were predominately stiff. Beyond that, we created a look that appealed to parents, but still offered features of a healthy first shoe (Our shoes are accepted by the APMA – American Podiatric Medical Association). Also crucial is using quality materials and maintaining high production standards.

As we’ve grown, we’ve stayed true to our roots. We offer exceptional customer service, keep our selection fresh with new styles twice a year, and maintain our position as a boutique brand.

Q. What is your approximate sales turnover now? Are you profitable?
Last year we broke $5 million in sales and have been profitable from Day 1.

Q. Did you start this venture alone, or with a co-founder?

My husband is my co-founder.

Q. How did you manage all the work of a startup on your own? When did you hire your first employee?
We hired our first employee approximately one year after founding the company. 

Q. How have you funded your business (starting from when it was incorporated)?
The initial investment needed to start the company was small and we used our savings.  Since that first shipment of 2,000 pairs of shoes, we have been profitable and have remained self-funded.

Q. What have been the challenges of executing your business venture – finding the business partner, financing, recruiting, selling, getting a shelf-space in the retail shops etc. Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
Early on, the challenge was not to overthink the possibility of rejection, but to just take one step at a time.  Once I saw success in the product, the challenge became balancing the need for inventory during astronomical growth while maintaining a positive cash flow.  After the major stress of inventory was under control, personnel management became the focus and challenge for both me and our management.  I’m happy to say that I have learned great lessons as a result of all of these challenges.

Q. Would you like to convey any message to our readers or share some tips on Mompreneurship?
I would encourage any potential entrepreneur to trust their instincts on what product is needed by their customer.  I would also encourage entrepreneurs to seek out and listen to the advice and input from others, but to not let it overpower what you believe to be true.  Never be afraid to create your own path to success even if it looks different than current convention.

Q. Did your education and past work experience help in any way to be a mompreneur?
My degree in international business gave me exposure to some of the issues that See Kai Run faces today.  I also managed a large group of employees in the past which taught me many things.

Q. Last, but not least, a little about your family – how did you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids and the new venture?
My husband and cofounder, Chen Gang, is from mainland China and came to the U.S. at age 26.  Kai was our first born son and we have a second son named Ocean.   Kai is now 8 and Ocean is 5.  It has been difficult to handle a growing business alongside a growing family.  I’ve often struggled with how much time See Kai Run has needed from me in order to prosper.  However, I’ve thought of that time as an investment in our family and it has paid off.  I now work part time, around my other family obligations and could not be happier!