How Allbirds is Starting a Raw Materials Movement


with Allbirds

How Allbirds is Starting a Raw Materials Movement

How Allbirds is Starting a Raw Materials Movement 400 400 33Voices

Tim, Joey, and Jenna discuss their experiences launching Allbirds, how to synthesize advice and feedback with your vision, and the right time to rely on your intuition as a founder. 

Insights from Tim and Joey

On Starting a Movement

  • “We don’t think of ourselves as a fashion brand. We aren’t incredibly passionate about shoes. We are passionate about making amazing materials that are great for the environment. It’s the core of what we are doing and why we think in 2020 we’ll still feel really excited to come into work. We are trying to do something special harnessing raw material innovation to create great products that take a lot less, if anything, from the planet. We really want to be recognized for changing the face of manufacturing consumer products.

On Balancing Vision and Feedback 

  • “Our desire to do something simple and in some ways unremarkable was tested by 1,000 opinions. The ability to open yourself up to feedback but stay true to the thing that you want to create, the vision that gets you out of bed in the morning, is challenging.  If you err too far to one side – not being open to feedback or ignoring your vision – you get lost.”
  • “
You get incredible amounts of advice. We said no to things 98% of the time and yes 2% of the time.  It’s down to simple things like email lists being valuable and a suggestion that we should put up a sign-up window on our site when people log on. That doesn’t sound like a good experience to us so we don’t do it. People said ‘You can’t come out with one shoe. You need a collection with multiple colors to launch.’ We said ‘No.’ This is the shoe that is going to work for people. It’s a phenomenal experience, and we think that is good enough. Even down to the number of pages that it takes you to purchase something on the website. We want people to be able to buy things in three clicks so we designed the website that way. It’s constantly saying no to get to a really simple, crystal clear message and product experience for the company. I can’t understate how challenging that was.”
  • “Our approach has always been that a little bit of naiveté goes a long way. Ask as many questions as you can to get to the bottom of what people’s assumptions are rooted in and the foundation of why things haven’t been done this way before. For us, the answer was typically inertia. People do the same thing and once they start doing it they make assumptions that it’s the only way it can be done. Continuing to ask questions and get to the bottom of why people create assumptions helps you get better answers.” 
  • You have to have the courage to talk to experts and develop your own point of view. Open yourself to a multitude of ideas and entrust your team’s ability to boil that down to an insight and direction that makes the most sense for the DNA of your brand. No one understands what you are trying to create better than you. Synthesize your vision with all of the outside inputs.”
  • “We talk a lot about protecting our naivete. We don’t ever want to lose our fresh eyes, our ability to look at things differently, ask questions and find better ways to do things.

On Culture and Team Building

  • “Make sure that you have an incredible amount of self-awareness. When you understand that you don’t have the expertise or depth of experience to answer a question in a way that is rooted in history, not just intuition, you should quickly look to hire for that position.” 
  • “We try to be very systematic about building a great culture that will create a great company. We outline our unchanging mission and values and question what guide posts will allow us to get there. We also have a 10-year vision. It’s not a simple paragraph saying we are going to be the best at ‘x.’ It’s a three page document that outlines every function of our business and how we aspire to be great in each of those aspects.  It’s helped us create a filter when people are coming into our company to say ‘Hey, Here is our mission. This is the way that we like to work to match our values. This is the way we think we are going to achieve this in the next 10 years.‘ It  filters out people who don’t align with those life and business values. We might miss talented people but the one thing we will never do is sacrifice on culture, values, and a person’s character. There is irreplaceable value in understanding the depth and character of someone who is joining your team.”
  • “We don’t hire people because they want to make shoes. We hire people because they want to make a dent in the universe.”
  • “Transparency boils down to the specific actions that you take. Tactical things – like sharing board decks – translate into every single person in your company doing a great job.”

On Best Advice

  • From Mickey Drexler, CEO of J.Crew: “Trust your instinct or die. It begs the question: What exactly is instinct? I think it’s an ability to take in a lot of data points, ask a lot of questions, effectively synthesize, and then trust your judgment. You have to trust yourself and your team to arrive at a point of view and then have the courage to go for it once you make a decision. Open yourself up. Take in all of the information. Make a decision and then go forth with great clarity.
  • “The courage to be curious can take you a long way.”