You know the expression – if the shoe fits… The problem is, not every, say, size 7 is a perfect size 7, and often our feet aren’t even both the same size! And not everyone can afford to buy custom made shoes.
Custom SOLS is helping to make sure that the shoe fits much better.SOLS is a leader in the 3D printing space and SOLSinsoles are one of the world’s first applications of 3D printing introduced to the consumer market, pioneer of custom mass-manufacturing.
Says founder Kegan Schouwenburg, whom AlleyWatch named one of the Hottest Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2015, “Since launching in July 2013, SOLS has raised a total of $19.3 million in funding, grown to a team of over 45 employees, and established a network of over 300 medical professionals who provide medical-grade SOLS in every major market. The SOLS platform connects the dots between hardware-agnostic scanning, generative design and digital manufacturing to make custom mass manufacturing a reality. By enabling people to have easy access to relevant, far-reaching and custom-fit products, SOLS is striving to bring the world of 3D printing to the mass consumer sector.”
All of which has inspired the confidence of investors including Lux Capital, Founders Fund, Tenaya Capital and Melo7 Tech Partners.
Tell us about your product.
Our first product, SOLS, is a dynamic insole customized for every unique individual. The product is made possible by the SOLS mobile app, which captures six photos of an individual’s foot, extrapolates a series of unique data points and measurements, and generates a pair of SOLS that are then 3D printed and delivered in less than a week.
SOLS are designed to fit into any pair of flats, and provide comfort without sacrificing style.
How is it different?
We’ve set out to innovate the orthotics industry that has been chronically overlooked, and address consumer needs head on. For so long, we’ve been shoving our feet and our bodies into products that don’t fit us because that’s what we have to do. You have a set amount of sizes, and so you pick the size that mostly fits you. But everyone is unique! So why aren’t there footwear options that address this individuality and provide a custom fit for every individual? We recognized this problem and we decided to solve it. With SOLS 3D printing technology, a perfect fit for every individual is possible. Some of the benefits to our process include:
Time – Our process is 100% digital, and the digital fitting takes less than 10 – 15 minutes.
Cost – For many, orthotics today are prohibitively expensive. One of the great things about digital on-demand technologies (3D printing) is that by minimizing overhead and wasteful costs like inventory, they make it possible to align cost and value in a way never before possible.
Custom – with SOLS advanced technology it’s finally possible to build a customized insole to fit a person’s 100% unique makeup.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
SOLS is for people with mild to serious foot pain or those wanting to improve their overall foot health and daily comfort. The foot ranks low on the list of body parts/functions that Americans see as important to their health and well-being. However, almost 8 in 10 Americans have experienced foot problems as a result of wearing uncomfortable or ill-fitting shoes.
- 50% say their foot pain has impacted their quality of life
- 66% of American’s wish their shoes were more comfortable
- 77% of US adults experience foot problems (on average each person reporting two separate kinds of foot ailments)
- Of the 50% of women surveyed that wear heels, 71% experience pain while wearing them
What moved you to start the company?
SOLS is a culmination of a few experiences. On one side, I grew up wearing orthotics. Not only were they weird, but they also meant not being able to wear the shoes I wanted to wear. On the other, I’ve been experimenting with 3D printing since college. I distinctly remember saying back in 2005 or 2006, ‘One day, this is how we’re going to make everything.’ I hated the idea of prototyping something digitally, and then seeing a less perfect version ship from the manufacturer.
In 2014, I got my chance to make a change. I had been working to help build U.S. production at Shapeways, so I was in the center of manufacturing and could see the big potential that 3D printing would have on the market. I remember thinking, ‘What market is no one looking at? What application is no one addressing? Why is it 2014 and my feet still hurt? Shouldn’t someone have fixed this by now?’ I knew at that moment that if we were to build something on a mass scale, it wasn’t going to be about customizing the outside of shoes, it was going to be from the inside out.
What’s your business model?
While we’re currently only available through medical channels, SOLS will be expanding into the consumer space in the next couple of months. Consumers are also now able to pre-order SOLS on our website.
What was the funding process like?
You just have to keep going. My biggest learning was that nothing is committed until the money is in the bank. You pitch, you learn, you incorporate those learnings into your pitch and you pitch again until the story is on autopilot, and there’s nothing left to poke holes in. Then you close.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
We’re building software, we’re scaling in medical, and we’re building factories. All of this is hard. All of it is more expensive than an app, but all of it is incredibly valuable and will ultimately enable us to have a superior product and experience. While some VCs see and understand this, many don’t.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
They were looking for an answer. Everyone wants to be a part of the product and company that propels 3D printing out of the hobby sector and towards true mass-customization. It’s the holy grail. SOLS makes sense from a product, tech and market standpoint. You can’t deny it, and it’s easy to model. Our challenge isn’t the idea, it’s the execution.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Launching direct to consumer, launching smart SOLS, and continuing to grow our medical team and iterate on our value proposition.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Figure out what you want to achieve and how much it’s going to cost. Then go get it.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Scale, scale, scale. We’re focused on improving our market penetration in podiatry, physical therapy and chiropractic while simultaneously launching our comfort and performance offering DTC. We’re excited about partnerships around this, and are particularly interested in working with brands and companies that are passionate about bringing custom care to everyone’s shoes. We see huge opportunities across health and wellness, corporate programs, military, warehouse and distribution, sport and obviously fashion. The challenge is not where we go, but when, and making sure it is happening strategically.
Boots, stilettos, mules – what are your favorite shoes to wear around town?
I love my United Nude platform booties and wear them everywhere!