Justin Schneider, 28

Wolf & Shepherd, a retail and e-commerce company designing and selling footwear and accessories as well as doing footwear repair.

Employees: 7

Financials: Raised $250,000 from family and friends in January 2016; now raising $2 million from existing investors, angel groups, and early stage family and venture funds.

What led you to start your own business?

A background in footwear design.

Where did you get the startup money?

I sold illustrations of water-colored botanicals from a research project I had done with Mahery, a nonprofit in Madagascar, and National Geographic to get the seed capital, $50,000, to design and develop our first collection of shoes. Through a preorder campaign, we raised an additional $60,000 in the first month to pay the deposit on our first purchase order of shoes.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

Gaining traction with our customers has been the biggest challenge to date. With limited resources, personnel, and starting with no brand recognition, earning a customer’s trust and commitment to a new product proves to be incredibly difficult.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is to have a vision of where you want to be and aggressively go after making that vision happen.

How many hours a day do you put in?

I’m not sure I can keep count. I’d probably do a better job telling you the hours I’m not working. Maybe one to two hours a day is spent relaxing with my family. The rest of the time I’m working.

Has your youth led to any awkward situations, such as when you supervise older employees?

Definitely. Being younger mostly has its advantages, but sometimes it can be a barrier of confidence for some customers, manufacturers, and even employees who have skepticism in your ability to make things happen or follow through with your vision.

Would you start another company?

Right now, I can’t imagine starting another company. I haven’t yet stopped thinking about how to push Wolf & Shepherd toward being a leading brand in our category of footwear. The dream for Wolf & Shepherd just keeps getting bigger.

Could you ever work for someone else?

Probably more so now than ever before.

It’s humbling running your own business, and if this ever didn’t work out, I’d have so much more appreciation for how much thought and action goes into running a successful business. Interestingly, I’m finding that being the boss really just means providing your employees with the tools and training they need to succeed. I’m constantly looking for feedback from the team at Wolf & Shepherd and best trying to understand what I can do to help them better do their jobs.

What do you do to unwind?

I spend time with my wife, Hope, and our 1-year-old daughter, Stella. We like to go on bike rides on the Strand and hang out at the beach.

– Howard Fine

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