Neil Taylor, founder and CEO of fashion boots company Keuzi, talks raising more than $35,000 on Kickstarter, reaching the company's goal of $25,000 in eight days and conservation work.
What does your business do?
Auckland-based Keuzi is a company that makes fashion boots made from leather and possum fur, that launched two weeks ago. We want to be a new consumer lifestyle brand. I came up with the idea for Keuzi at the beginning of the year. I'd been wearing possum in-house shoes for two decades and thought 'gee wouldn't be great if I had something like this I could wear out[side]'. As I was travelling I researched various places in New Zealand and found that there was no fashion boot available and globally there was really nothing, so I thought this was a bit of an opportunity as something I really loved.
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I started looking at footwear and what footwear was available globally. I started reading the Ugg story and got quite excited and the Allbirds story and got even more excited and then I picked up a machine and decided that I was going to make these. I went down to New Plymouth to pick up my machine and as I was driving back I stopped in a brand new cafe in the middle of nowhere and I was talking to this woman about her cafe and told her about my venture. She said she knew the founder of Allbirds and that's now my business partner Nicholas Couch.
I made my first prototypes out in Waiheke Island and that's when we thought that we had got something here. We're continuing that global trend of using natural materials in footwear - there are several companies now making merino shoes and footwear, but no one is doing possum - and possum has incredible properties, way above merino. The whole idea was to take Keuzi boots globally using the crowdfunding model.
What was the motivation for starting it?
My puppy ate my in-house possum shoe so I was looking for a replacement boot that I could wear in and out and there was nothing on the market so that's when I decided to look into the market and create my own.
How big is the team?
There are three of us working on the business right now.
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Where is Keuzi at with its Kickstarter campaign?
The Kickstarter is going incredibly well, we're 125 per cent over our goal that you set, and it keeps growing every day with more and more people buying every day. About 65 per cent of our orders are from New Zealanders and 20 per cent from the United States.
We've had thousands of people to the website and 130 backers and the campaign and it has proven that there is a market for these boots and now we can work on our supply chain. The campaign closes in two weeks and we'll use the money raised to start manufacturing the boots. The delivery times are October and November so it gives us time to complete the exercise.
Did you spend lockdown working on the business?
Lockdown slowed us down, but it did give us more time for planning. We were setting up global supply chains, we would of been in our factories doing all of our R&D but instead we did all of our research and development here in Henderson.
Our boots are being made in India, but all of the possum skins and the preparation of those is done in New Zealand helping people in the industry. All of our design and development is also done here in New Zealand.
What's been the general response to your product?
It is a bit controversial, there's no doubt about it. We're getting a bit of push back from some of the animal rights organisations, especially in the UK and USA, but we are trying to be educational with our response. We knew that we would get some push back that's partly why we have a conservation focus and have a partnership with Forest and Bird so that we can teach people that possums are a pest here in New Zealand, that they were imported during the 80s and that this is not their home, and that they are seriously impacting our environment.
We partnered with Forest and Bird to help conservation of New Zealand. Every boot sold donates $1 to the organisation, but the contract is more complex, meaning that we will be one of their largest sponsors.
What are your long-term plans?
We define ourselves as an innovative consumer lifestyle brand and so we will extend ourselves in footwear and also move into apparel at a later stage. We have many ideas and see a lot of opportunities for the business.
What advice do you give to others who want to start their own business?
Do your swot analysis in detail and have a business plan as much as you can. Look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats because you don't want to get that wrong. Make sure there is a market for what you've got.