Johannes Quodt and Chris Wichert met when they were both attending Wharton business school. Bonding over their shared love of sneakers, the two founded Koio in 2015 — a luxury, made-in-Italy shoe brand that has quickly become a favorite among fashionable men and women who might otherwise gravitate towards brands like Common Projects for their understated, luxury sneaker needs.
The brand recently raised an additional $6 million in funding to help grow their brand, bringing their Series A total to $9 million. The Daily caught up with co-founder Quodt to find out what they plan to do with the money and how they see the brand evolving in the years to come.
You just got $6 million in funding. Congrats! What are you going to do with it?
It will allow us to expand the team and increase our product offering. We’re also investing heavily in research and development as we’re pursuing the goal of having the best-fitting, most comfortable, and most accessible luxury sneakers.
How much money did you start with? Where did that money come from?
Initially, we did a small seed round of $1.3 million that was led by Brand Foundry Ventures. We had lots of angels and friends participating in that round. With that money, we really worked on the look and fit of our early sneaker models.
You guys both have business backgrounds and met while getting your MBAs at Wharton. Why shoes?
Growing up in Germany, leather sneakers are a major part of the culture, as they embody European sensibility. Both of us remember saving money in hopes of buying high-end sneakers and we wanted to create a product that fulfilled that same desire we had, but at a price point that was more accessible [they start at $178]. People often see a quality pair of shoes as being something that is aspirational due to the high price point, but we believe that price doesn’t equate quality. We wanted to create the highest quality, Italian made footwear that is accessible for everyone.
Was it difficult founding a shoe brand without design experience?
While this was a challenge, we knew what we liked as consumers and we were able to create a successful brand focusing on consumer pain-points with traditional luxury brands. Due to our focus on the DTC channel, KOIO is able to provide the highest quality products to consumers at lower prices. KOIO is leading a consumer mega-trend: a reset of customers’ expectations and assumptions surrounding luxury.
We have also executed many amazing collaborations that connect with consumers through storytelling. In 2019, this has taken the form of, for example, the KOIO x Dominique Ansel collaboration. It told the story of the James Beard Award winner, Dominique Ansel, and his rise from a small French village to pastry chef stardom. The sneaker itself was inspired by the classic French croissant and included textures of its ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Each sneaker also came with a Dominique Ansel pancake mix so that customers can make fluffy pancakes when trying on their new shoes.
Were there ever moments when you thought the whole enterprise was going to fall apart?
When building a business, every entrepreneur has that fear in one form or another. There will constantly be people telling you that what you do is not right, or already exists. It is just part of the process. We believed in what we were doing, and that got us started and has kept us going. Of course it is helpful to get outside validation as well. When we see a great response to a new product from press and customers, it will further strengthen our belief.
How’s the business doing, really? Are you meeting your goals? What are your goals for the coming year?
In 2019, revenue is anticipated to grow by 130% year over year. We’re expanding into new footwear categories (Chelsea boots for example) and further strengthening our position in the sneaker market by adding more unique designs.
Do you consider yourself or your brand minimalist?
Our core sneaker, the Capri, is very much one of minimalist design. We made this shoe to encapsulate a versatile and high-quality leather sneaker that can accompany our customers to any situation. However, I would not classify Koio as a minimalist brand. We want to support our customers in their exciting and vibrant lives. And we love to tell stories of daring lives through the canvas of our sneakers. We do so by partnering with artists and creatives whose brand is closely aligned with ours. That is why our collaborations are typically much more colorful and playful.
Your shoes are made by hand in Italy. How long does it take to make a single pair?
More than just being made by hand in Italy, every aspect of KOIO is sourced from the immediate region surrounding our manufacturer in Marche. This means that the soles, leather, and even our shoe boxes are sourced in Italy. The average pair of Koios take about 4 to 5 hours to craft from beginning to end.
What are you wearing when you’re not wearing Koios?
We try to make KOIO as versatile as possible so we can always be showing off the brands we have worked to build, but on the off time, when we need something else, we wear classic Nike and Adidas shoes.
If the business went bust tomorrow, what would you do?
Hopefully, that doesn’t happen, but should KOIO hit an unforeseen challenge, we would learn from our mistakes and move on to recreate KOIO stronger than before!