By Justin Biel, trends editor at Grow Wire
⏰ 7-minute read
- Goodr co-founders Stephen Lease and Ben Abell brought fun and fashionable sunglasses to the running industry with their startup in 2015.
- Quality product plus the brand’s irreverent approach to marketing and sales helped Goodr sell over 1 million units in 2019.
- To sustain growth, the founders relied on a strong company culture, smart onboarding processes and a productivity-first mindset.
Before Stephen Lease and Ben Abell co-founded Goodr Sunglasses, they were just two dudes who really liked to run. Both men took up the sport in their twenties, and before long, they were entering races, joining clubs, signing up for marathons and doing a bunch of other things that avid runners do.
Then one day, as Lease got ready to head out the door on a training run, he was struck with an epiphany.
“I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I looked like the biggest tool in the world,” said Lease. “I was wearing a Nike compression hat, lame sunglasses and a run belt.”
Lease, a guy who describes himself as being “into fashion,” called Abell and explained the sad state of things.
“I hit rock bottom today, bro,” Lease said in a hyperbole he’s well aware of.
He describes this moment as “the awakening” because it was the seed that became Goodr.
Over several months, runs and conversations, Lease and Abell discussed what they considered the runner’s gear dilemma: a plethora of over-engineered, overpriced products, none of which were very cool.
They also proposed what they thought was a better, or “gooder,” solution. They theorized that the running industry was ripe for a different kind of gear company, one that took pride in providing fun and fashion along with function.
In March 2015, Lease and Abell co-founded Goodr with a mission to make sunglasses that runners would want to wear. The company has since expanded its line of eyewear to other sports, like cycling and golf, while also catering to everyday people looking for cool sunglasses at a low price.
Today, Goodr sunglasses sell via 1,400 retail accounts across 50 countries worldwide and has sold over 1 million pairs of shades.
The "Goodr Anthem" summarizes the aha moment that led to the creation of the Goodr brand.
Eyes on the prize
At first, Lease and Abell weren’t sure which kind of running product they wanted to create. During training sessions with his run club for the L.A. Marathon, Lease observed an interesting phenomenon.
“I noticed that 80% of the crowd were wearing fun, normal sunglasses,” said Lease. “Very few people were wearing performance eyewear.”
“I noticed that eighty percent of the crowd were wearing fun, normal sunglasses.”
Lease and Abell wondered if sunglasses could be the right product. To find an answer, they went on a market research quest, asking friends in the running community what they wanted from a pair of shades.
Their research determined that their new breed of runners’ sunglasses needed to:
- Look good.
- Be affordable.
- Not slip when the runner sweats.
- Not bounce during a run.
- Protect the eyes.
All that sounded doable to Lease and Abell, who set out to make good-looking sunglasses at an affordable price that would satisfy the requirements of the everyday runner.
Goodr follows a design philosophy Lease and Abell call the “4 Fs” — fun, fashionable, functional and “‘ffordable.” It’s turned out to be a winning formula.
If all this sounds like an easy journey from “Hey, we have an idea” to 1 million units sold, you’re overlooking a lot of sweat, experimentation and innovative management techniques.
A Goodr-produced graphic shows the "problem" with most running sunglasses and the Goodr solution.
Launching and growing Goodr
Besides being friends and running buddies, Lease and Abell spent a decade in business prior to founding Goodr. Lease was a marketing director; Abell was a corporate lawyer. Both had experience with entrepreneurship and startups.
Still, neither had production or manufacturing experience. To produce their first product run, they sat down and emailed more than 100 sunglass manufacturers through Alibaba, a global wholesale platform that connects buyers and sellers.
“Thirty manufacturers got back to us; ten of them spoke good enough English that we could do business together; three of those were open to producing samples; and one of those three became our first partner,” Lease said.
The co-founders self-funded an initial run of six colors and 1,800 units, the minimum order quantity (MOQ) required by the manufacturer.
Goodr's Firebreather's Fireball Fury shades
At launch, Goodr took a direct-to-consumer (DTC) approach. Lease and Abell built a website and tried some basic Facebook advertising, which led to an initial sales jump, but things leveled off after the 2015 holiday season.
Next, they tested the product on Amazon, which led to a consistent and growing number of sales.
“We were selling 30 or 40 pairs a day,” said Lease.
Amazon served as a crucial marketplace in terms of proving the product. Goodr has experienced problems with Amazon, such as the marketplace putting defective product back into stock after customer returns, but “we deal with it for exposure and sales,” Lease said.
"For the first two years [we were selling through Amazon], we'd sell out a product, then take the money and buy more product and sell out again," said Lease.
"For the first two years, we'd sell out a product, then take the money and buy more product and sell out again."
Goodr's Shaves Legs, Grow Beard shades
By late 2016, a handful of retailers contacted Goodr, and the company scored its first wholesale accounts. In November, Goodr nabbed a notable press feature: “Runner’s World Gear of the Year.”
To build on this success, Lease and Abell attended The Running Event, the premier trade show for specialty running retailers.
“We got a bunch of inflatable palm trees, flamingos and beach chairs [to display in our show booth],” said Lease.
A ridiculous-looking booth featuring an affordable, quality product caught the attention of buyers. Interest escalated from there, and by January 2017, Goodr had 75 retailers on board. A year later, the company had over 800 retail accounts.
Sales have continued to expand since Goodr’s first 1,800-unit run. Today, to fulfill demand for its DTC and wholesale accounts, the company ships 82,000 units each month.
Growing the Goodr team
That kind of growth brings the need for a team. Currently, 55 employees work out of Goodr’s headquarters in El Segundo, California.
Goodr employs some offbeat onboarding strategies and innovative management strategies that aligned with the company culture. The brand’s recipe for hiring and onboarding:
1. Set the tone.
To be considered, each applicant must first submit a drawing of an octopus fighting a pirate. The odd, irreverent requirement doesn’t assess an applicant's ability to succeed in their role. It does, however, set the tone, showing potential employees that Goodr as an organization doesn’t take itself too seriously and places a high value on having fun.
The Goodr website reinforces the company’s dedication to having a good time above all else. “We’re recklessly committed to fun … BLAH, BLAH, BLAH sunglasses,” reads the footer.
Goodr's marketing illustrates the brand's reckless commitment to fun.
2. Build an onboarding process.
Every Goodr employee must complete a three-month onboarding process that includes a personality test called the Enneagram, which Goodr’s “chief relationship officer” suggested “because it allows team leaders to engage and manage people at a deeper level,” said Abell.
The process also includes a 15-minute “connection call” to meet every other employee, a 60-minute walkthrough with department heads and a quiz with flashcards that tests employees on the information they’ve learned during onboarding.
The quiz ensures the employee has completed the onboarding steps, rather than serving as a make-or-break assessment. And like most all things Goodr, it’s fun and borderline bizarre.
A question on the quiz might be, “What is Stephen [Lease’s] spirit animal?” (Answer: It’s the octopus.
The onboarding process helps new hires not only connect with the team but also get a comprehensive view of company infrastructure and culture.
“It's been total trial and error for the onboarding process,” said Abell. “We are constantly tweaking it based on employee feedback and our learnings.”
3. Make productivity the priority.
Beneath Goodr’s fun culture are highly efficient processes. A primary method Goodr uses is a productivity strategy developed by efficiency expert David Allen called Getting Things Done (GTD). The GTD framework includes a work management system to drive greater performance, capacity and innovation.
4. Use innovative management practices.
Goodr utilizes many forward-thinking management techniques. For instance, employees communicate only through Slack — no email. After their first month at Goodr, employees are required to be in the office only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the company uses a flat reporting structure in which employees work with “mentors” instead of bosses.
People are excited by the non-traditional work environment and freedom offered at Goodr, said Abell. Still, empowering employees with this kind of freedom requires hiring a specific type of personality and a level of oversight.
“This kind of management only works if people can manage themselves and their time,” said Abell. “For us as leaders, it requires that we can determine if work is getting done without looking over someone’s shoulder.”
“This kind of management only works if people can manage themselves and their time.”
Goodr assesses each team member’s project goals at the end of each quarter. One key assessment, autonomy, measures how well an employee shows that assigned work is getting done.
“If they can't show day-to-day and at the end of the quarter that they are delivering on their job requirements, it sparks a larger conversation about their role and if change is needed,” said Abell.
Clear responsibilities, tasks with deadlines and accountability checks like these allow the Goodr founders to run a tight ship, even when they’re not physically onboard.
🌱 The bottom line
Goodr made a name for itself in the running industry by breaking with tradition. Instead of following competitors, the company appealed to customers with an irreverent, comical brand supported with products that looked better, performed “Goodr” and cost less than pretty much anything on the market.
Plus, they proved that fun business can be good business.