Jack Erwin wants to reinvent the men’s shoe business with an ‘honestly-priced’ direct-to-consumer model

JackErwin logoA Q&A with Jack Erwin co-founder Lane Gerson. The New York City-based direct-to-consumer shoe manufacturer and retailer announced in early February that it has closed a $2 million Series A funding round. Investors include Crosslink Capital, Shasta Ventures and Menlo Ventures. The company was founded last year by Gerson and Ariel Nelson, and raised $750,000 in Seed funding last summer.

SUB: Please describe Jack Erwin and your primary innovation.

Gerson: Founded to provide us all with the opportunity to place our best foot forward, Jack Erwin carefully designs and produces a carefully curated collection of well-made, honestly-priced men’s dress shoes which are sold exclusively through our own online storefront.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Gerson: Men looking for a great pair of well-priced dress shoes. We offer classic, hand-crafted shoes which are timeless enough to support any wardrobe well into the future.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Jack Erwin from the competition?

Gerson: We compete with high-fashion, luxury shoe brands on quality and styling but through our direct-to-consumer model, we are able to offer our products at more competitive prices.

Courtesy of Jack Erwin.SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $2 million in Series A funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?

Gerson: We conceived Jack Erwin as consumers looking to find great shoes at a fair price point. Since founding the company, we have been overwhelmed by the early response to our product. Based on initial traction, we have become increasing confident that there is real demand for our shoes. We raised the Series A to take advantage of momentum and purchase the inventory needed to meet our out-of-stock list.

SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?     

Gerson: We plan to use the funds to purchase additional inventory. We are looking to fine tune our supply chain to ensure that all customers are always able to get into the pair of Jack they are looking for.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Jack Erwin? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Gerson: Ariel and I were walking around the West Village in May of 2012. Ariel needed a pair of classic dress shoes for a wedding. After leaving another store empty handed, we looked at each other, threw up our hands and started to discuss how bewildering it was that neither of us could find a single pair of shoes we loved at a price we could afford to pay. On that walk home, we decided that if we could figure out a way to produce a well-made dress shoe for $100, we could sell it for $200 as a Jack Erwin.

SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?

Gerson: We needed to find a person to help us design and produce our first line. By chance, Ariel was getting his head shaved at a two-seat barber shop during late summer of 2012. A gentleman named Bertrand was seated next to Ariel and was speaking to his barber about his job in the shoe industry. Ariel overhead the conversation, leaned over and asked this gentleman for a drink to discuss our shoe concept.

Two weeks later, we all had a drink to discuss the feasibility of making an amazing shoe for $100. Bertrand liked our idea, thought our concept was feasible and agreed to help us create our line. Bertrand has since joined our company full-time and is now head of product.

Courtesy of Jack Erwin.SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?

Gerson: The day the company was conceived, we spoke about how if we weren’t willing to purchase expensive dress shoes, our parents—Jack and Erwin—would probably hold off on buying dress shoes forever. We conceived Jack Erwin, named after our dads, to provide dress shoes simple and timeless enough for our parents to wear at a price point they were comfortable with.

SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?

Gerson: We do not plan to raise additional funding in the near term.

SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?

Gerson: The most significant challenge was finding the right partners to help turn our concept into a reality. From sourcing, to website development, to graphic design, to financing, we searched hard to find team members who are both passionate about our mission and great at what they do.

SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Gerson: We plan to continue to grow organically. In 2014, we will look to increase our unique content and social presence. We are also looking to establish relationships and partnerships with great people and organizations.

We continue to believe that if we can focus on offering a great product and a great price point, we will find people to try our Jacks.

SUB: What are your goals for Jack Erwin over the next year or so?

Gerson: Over the next year we wish to better streamline and systematize our processes. We also wish to further develop our brand and voice while consistently trying to improve our customers’ experience.

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