UGG founder says drive needed for entrepreneurship

Courtney Wirths                                                                                                         Staff Writer

Brian Smith had just put on his new Pink Floyd album. The song switched and “Time” began to play: “And then one day you find 10 years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”

That was when the idea struck him — he needed to start his own business.

Smith, former CEO and founder of UGG Australia, had just moved to Santa Monica, Calif., in search of the next big idea when he came to his life changing realization: “There are no sheepskin boots in America.”

Smith meets with students following his lecture.
Smith meets with students following his lecture.

The now-famed entrepreneur spoke to the College’s students on Wednesday, Oct. 21, about the journey associated with starting one’s own business and having the determination to overcome the hurdles along the way.

“Brian’s story inspired me to be tenacious while attempting to achieve my goal in starting my own company,” said sophomore marketing major Neophytos Zambas, a member of the College’s Entrepreneurship Club. “Through his hard work and consistency, he was able to start one of the most successful companies in the world,”

UGG Australia began in 1979, when Smith and his partner borrowed $500 to get six pairs of sample sheepskin boots shipped to the United States. They took the boots up and down the coast of California, but the road to a multi-million dollar brand was not a quick one.

“Oh, you guys are going to make a killing,” Smith said, describing surf shops’ reactions to the boots. “But we only sell surfboards and shorts and sandals.”

So instead, the pair began selling the boots out of their cars on the beach and developing a following amongst surfers. The boots were appealing to surfers who were just coming in from the cool water after a day on the ocean.

“Once you set down a path, the universe will conspire to work with you,” Smith said.

Every time Smith made a major decision regarding UGG Australia, he explained it was accompanied by a wave of goosebumps across his arms.

“We all have some spirit or energy in us that knows our path,” he said. “Goosebumps are a message that you’ve chose between two paths a reinforcement.”

The brand began to grow. Smith learned that the best way to appeal to his customers was through great customer service and by using marketing that captured the authentic surfing experience.

In time, the company moved beyond surfers and then finally into casual-comfort footwear.

“Customer service will carry you,” Smith said. “Develop a rapport, because if you want longevity, that’s what you’ll need.”

It’s the loyalty of Smith’s customers that carried the company through its rollercoaster of balancing an ever-rising demand with drastic changes in management and trouble with financing and suppliers.

“Defeat isn’t real until the day you give up,” Smith reminded students.

One of the main ideas behind Smith’s presentation is the idea that one “can’t give birth to adults.” By this, he means that a business takes nurturing and growth before it can become something great and large.

“Brian Smith did not start his entrepreneurship path until he was 29, and it shows that even if students currently are not thinking about launching a company, the story he shared will plant a seed and inspire students to follow through with their business ventures years from now,” said senior finance major Tom Athan, a member of the Entrepreneurship Club.

Wednesday’s event was organized by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the College and co-sponsored by the College’s Entrepreneurship Club.

“(The SBDC at the College) Counsel and train local small business and students on starting, growing, sustaining and selling their businesses,” Regional Director of the SBDC Lorrain Allen said.

Allen hopes that students come away from Smith’s presentation remembering to follow their instincts, stay present, look for lessons in the obstacles and to never give up.

Most importantly, Smith stressed that students be passionate about what they do in the future and enjoy the path of growth in their business or career.

“I think the quote that Brian Smith brought to our attention will stick with us the most moving forward — ‘The quickest way for a tadpole to become a frog is to live everyday happily as a tadpole,’” said sophomore marketing major Nicholas Gallucci, a member of the Entrepreneurship club.