Maeve Wang: Revolutionizing Footwear with AI-Powered Custom Shoes – EP. 168

About This Episode:

Oooh, I know you’re going to love this episode!

Maeve Wang is a Harvard graduate and the CEO of IAMBIC, a company that uses AI to make truly customized shoes that are tailored to your exact foot.

This is one of those businesses that makes sense when you learn about it, but seems so out of left field for an uneducated person such as myself.

Finding shoes that fit, it turns out, is a big problem for 27% of the population and it affects a considerably larger percentage. It’s not just about comfort and fashion, it’s about health and fundamental wellbeing.

Beyond that, Maeve has a remarkable personal story and career, as she left the corporate world to become an unlikely founder.

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2:46 – (Maeve) “Iambic really started off as a solution to what was originally a personal challenge, and I was just someone who really struggled to find shoes that fit…I was just looking for something that was simple…something pretty basic. And I went through about 300 returns and exchanges within a three-year period.”
(Ross) “Get out of here.”
(Maeve) …“And that was both combination of online and in person. I had my boyfriend drive me to deep Jersey, Upstate, Connecticut, just to go to the most specialty shoe stores with the fanciest foot scanners that had literally the most advanced gait analysis systems, just trying to find something basic that fit and everything came up empty handed…my approach to it was through more of a B2B data analytics lens. And the original hypothesis was that footwear fit is a data matching issue. If we can get sufficient high-resolution data from a broadly available consumer grade device, i.e. a smartphone, and if we could get high resolution product data by working directly with the brands and retailers, then we could utilize a combination of 3D modeling and material science to match the two.”

6:28 – “We kicked off Iambic as this B2B foot scanner. So we did not start off as a sneaker brand at all…By 2021, we are so excited. We are testing this out with incredible folks in sneakers, hiking shoes, dress shoes, and we discover that lo and behold, footwear fit is not a data matching issue. It is fundamentally a design and manufacturing issue, that a lot of the data that was used to design shoes was not actually foot data that represented the US population. A lot of that data that had been utilized was from the 1950s and it was error propagation where that data was kind of warped and informed shoe molds, that then inform later shoe molds, that then inform the shoe molds that we use today…Ultimately what it means is that today shoes are really optimized to fit only 33% of the population. They exclude 27% of people who have non-standard foot shapes, and they leave everyone else in between.”

9:12 – “We realized that if we wanted to stay true to our mission of getting people shoes that are their best fit, that we might have to do it ourselves, we might have to start at that most individual level and we might have to build our own system from the ground up.”

12:04 – “Not all of your listeners will be able to see the shoe unless they’re on YouTube, but this is our sneaker and every feature here is designed with functionality in mind from the really clean upper – we describe it as business on the top, party on the bottom – and what you see, it has these ridges here – so you’ll see these ridges with this layer of red peeking out in between them. We call it our ‘sole print’ design. Think about it like your fingerprint…Everyone has their own unique alignment, balance and gait based on their personal foot strike or walking patterns…So we designed it so that these ridges actually serve as wear bars where they’re wearing out differently over time and reveal a layer of red…So when people are done with their Iambics, they have the option of actually taking pictures of their Iambics, different facets of them, sending them to us along with their feedback so that we can improve their next pair.”

30:49 – “I think management consulting is this incredible harbor for people for indecision. It’s people who don’t necessarily want to commit to anything but also don’t want to close any doors. I think it’s the reality of it. Most people who are consultants admit that, but it’s really a harbor for indecision.”

36:22 – “Some people say, entrepreneurship can be a really lonely journey. But for me, I’ve never felt that way because for me, it was always about the people around me who encouraged me and supported me even when things got really hard.”

37:01 – “That adviser who was at Delos, whom I met, he was one of the people who came on board to Iambic and helped us in this pivot. His name was Tyson, and he was like, ‘Maeve, I think you really have something here. I think that your vision for footwear, this is something that even more people can get behind. And he was one of the people who helped us set up our whole supply chain, helped us onboard Coleman Horn, an industrial design legend whose career literally inspired a Cameron Crowe film where he was played by Orlando Bloom…He was able to help us also augment our initial B2B digital health team and become like a real brand. He passed away a bit suddenly, though, last year…but he played such a big role in my journey as an entrepreneur, in such a big role in where Iambic is today that it’s always hard talking about him but you can’t avoid him and his role in our story. So in our next model, we’re actually naming it the Model T in his memory because he was actually the one who really set our more Tesla inspired rollout strategy because he just loved cars.”

42:05 – “It’s really just about where you derive that daily satisfaction, that sense of deeper fulfillment from in serving others, however you do it. So, if you’re excited about it, that’s what really matters, right? Like, I don’t really think that entrepreneurship is for everybody, and I actually would not encourage it for most people. You know, right? You have your own business, it’s hard when you are, when you’re responsible for payroll and when conversations that you have that might seem initially casual but might actually be game changer for your company, just take on higher stakes, right? That level of pressure is not something that I would recommend for most people and it’s not something that most people need in their lives.”

46:17 – (Ross) “I think a lot of people know the stress of worrying about whether you can pay your own rent or mortgage, whether you can take care of your family. That’s a very real stress that most people understand. But then if you say, ‘Okay, now imagine that you’re responsible for that, plus that for 8, 9, 10, 20, 30 other people. I have about 9 people in my team. So it’s not just my rent, it’s all of their rent that I’m trying to figure out, right? And each new person, each new supplier, each new vendor, it’s just that is something else that you are responsible for. And it becomes quite large, quite fast.”

49:35 – “What I always encourage people do was to just put a stake in the ground. You might be interested in finance and real estate and retail and you might be equally interested in all three, but in order to get anywhere, you have to put a stake in the ground and go for it. Understanding that you can always pick it up and put it somewhere else, but you have to put a stake in the ground first…But what I found is that a lot of people really struggle with that piece of advice. Just saying going all in on one direction. And I’ve actually really struggled to understand that.”
(Ross) “Because how do you know it’s the right direction? How do you know, how can you be sure, that it’s what you’re meant to be doing, right?”
(Maeve) “And my point was, you won’t know until you go down that road, at least to a certain degree.”

52:49 – “If someone were to truly go through that exercise of saying, ‘All right, I went all in on one direction, didn’t turn out right, went all in in another direction, didn’t turn out right, went all in on a third direction. It didn’t turn out like it was for me.’ I believe that they would probably learn a lot about themselves in that process and have a deeper understanding of what other paths or things would make them more satisfied. Because you’re not just learning about these directions that you can take. You’re really learning about what makes you happy, what keeps you engaged, right? …It’s like, ‘okay, I’m interested in retail.’ Why are you interested in retail? What about these roles that you started really exploring more deeply appeal to you? What are the patterns that you’re starting to see between those roles in retail and maybe those roles in finance, that linked together and you’re like, ‘Okay, even though these industries might not be the right place, maybe it’s the nature of that role that’s really exciting to me.’”

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