Ida Sports – The Ultimate Female Football Boot

Meet Ben Sandhu, Co-Founder of Ida Sports, the Ultimate Female Football Boot Designed for women, by women.

We recently sat down with Ben to find out how Ida Sports is changing the game and hear more about his entrepreneurial journey.

Where did you get the name for your business?
We were looking for inspiration from women in history to possibly name the company after. I was just cycling home one day and thought of Ida B. Wells, the African-American suffragette, and civil rights activist. I just thought it was easy to spell and it had a good ring to it – so that’s why we chose it.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
The whole thing started with Laura Youngson my co-founder, setting a Guinness world record last year for the world’s highest altitude soccer match. It brought together women from twenty-five countries to highlight gender inequality in sport.
Laura’s got a typical female foot, she’s a size thirty-seven. Her whole life playing football at an amateur level around the world she’s always had to wear kids boots and she was just really annoyed about it. Laura started talking to the women on the trip and they had all experienced the same problem. So last year when she was doing her Masters in Entrepreneurship she started looking into this problem in depth. She did a big survey of female players in Melbourne and the consensus was like ‘yeah, I think that there’s a real problem here’.
Laura and I met playing indoor soccer last year and she started telling me about this problem and I just couldn’t believe it. I’ve played sport my whole life, and as a guy, I’ve just been able to pick a shoe off-the-shelf and that was that. So Laura and I have been working on IDA for about eleven months now.
What were the first steps you took to transition your idea into a business?
I guess it’s all about sequencing. As a start-up, you don’t have a lot of money obviously, so you need to figure out what hypothesis you need to test in order to be able to go to the next step. The first question for us was, can we actually build a shoe ourselves? The first prototype was literally just a sole that Laura baked in her kitchen. We got a shoemaker here in Melbourne to stitch the upper to that and then we took that to Jordan for the next world record to test on a few players and see how it felt. I think we had about five players try on the shoes and they said it was the comfiest shoe they’ve ever worn. We thought to ourselves if we could make a shoe in our kitchen that literally falls apart after two weeks, and people think it’s the comfiest shoe they’ve ever worn, then we can try the next thing.
The next thing was getting prototypes made through RMIT’s footwear course. Basically, every shoe is made on the wooden block that you wrap the leather around. It’s called a last and every football boot is made using a men’s or boys last. We made a female-specific last, we made prototypes at RMIT, and we tested those with probably about twenty athletes and they all said ‘yep this is good.’ Now we’re trying to figure out how to get them produced in South-East Asia. We’re going to start with an indoor shoe, Laura was wearing them at Pitch@Palace. We’ve been told by athletes that outdoor shoes would be the biggest purchase for them, so we want to start with something low risk. The idea is to start with something at a lower price point that could also double as a lifestyle shoe. We’re making those as a way to get to revenue faster. We’re hoping to get those around March or early April 2019.
What are both of your backgrounds?
I’ve been lecturing at RMIT in a course called ‘Enterprise Beyond Profit.’ I went to the UK to play semi professional cricket about five years ago and I stayed on and did my masters in business. Then I started working in a mixture of tech startups and an accelerator that was all around social innovation. I was doing that for a few years and then I moved back to Melbourne to work as a consultant in an accelerator program, then I quit that to do this lecturing gig to fund my shoe dreams.
Laura’s had a number of different careers, she was a consultant for one of the big four in the Middle East, she helped organise the London 2012 Olympics, she unsuccessfully applied to be a zookeeper at one point and she ran a hotel in Mozambique. So there’s some very random experiences between the two of us.
What lessons have you learned on your business journey?
  1. Treat people well and try to do the best by them. Even when it’s hard it pays off. There has been a number of times when we’ve really needed a person’s help and they can’t do it for a good reason. Just by being like ‘okay, we understand’ they’ll often recommend somebody who’s amazing or they’ll remember the way they were treated. Even if you’re doing something really ambitious if there’s a good reason that you’re doing it, and you can really sell that reason, people will get behind you and your idea. Be good to people and they’ll be good to you – that’s the number one rule.
  2. Things take twice as long as you think, it’s such a cliche but they really do.
  3. It’s super important to know who you should listen to and why, because you will have a lot of people tell you that your idea or your business is garbage and you need to know whether to take that on board or not. Resilience is so important in this game because you’ve got to be able to separate yourself from the work. Once we released a crowdfunding video and we got a comment that said: “I really dislike your video, it turned me off.” Laura responded and asked why and the person replied: “you, you specifically Laura.” So you’ve got to be able to take those hits.
  4. I also think you should start from the assumption that everybody has value and try to find out what that person is a star at.
How do you feel about social media, do you have an IDA Instagram?
We do. That’s also one of the things we were trying to challenge. There’s a massive problem with the inequality in football boots, but there’s also a problem with the way we market stuff to women. We want to create this image of female football that reflects what we know about women’s football in both Australia and the rest of the world. It’s super communal, supportive, open and inclusive. There is no hero worship in women’s football really. It’s really just networks of women really supporting each other. We want that positivity reflected in the way we market our products because if you go on Instagram now, it’s crazy. It really gets me down at times when I think about all the women that are being targeted to feel bad about themselves, and it’s usually just to sell something. There’s a huge amount of money in making women feel bad, but I feel like this next generation coming up are really aware of that, which is great.
How important has it been to you to have a business mentor?
Good ones – can’t do it without them. We’ve been really lucky with the people that we bounce stuff off. One of our mentors is Martin Schlegel, he’s from the Australian Sports Technology Network, he has twenty-five years experience, but even more important than his expertise, he’s just a solid guy who listens. The best mentors are the ones that trust you enough to know that you’re sensible, and listen to what you say and process it and then give you helpful ways forward. A lot of mentors would just say ‘this isn’t good enough’ and you go, but why? What could we be doing?
We have another mentor called Ishani, she’s so humble and has experience in scaling businesses. If you find these people that are just super smart, they can help you avoid lots of mistakes. Listen to as many diverse voices as you can and then make sense of it all and choose the best way forward.
Why did you choose to get involved with Activator?
First and foremost it’s probably Julie and others. What I love about Activator is that it’s a lot of very very smart people with a very similar vision about what they want an entrepreneurial community to look like, and LaunchHUB is a big part of that. There’s a lot of talent in Sandbox and LaunchHUB and it’s great to check in with the other teams once a week. I also like that the program is tailored and really flexible. A lot of the accelerators I’ve worked at, it was just about how many people you could get through the door to meet quotas. This place seems properly resourced, and it’s like ‘who are you, where are you at, how can we help you – then we’ll figure out how Activator can help.’ That attitude is kind of game-changing.
What has been the highlight of your time at Activator so far?
I think the big thing is that it’s a very supportive place, but it’s also very rigorous There’s a lot of clever people here doing clever things. What I’ve enjoyed the most is hearing about what the other teams are doing, and helping them with certain things and also getting help from them, it’s a good community. Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely game. The fact that I have Laura every day to go through this with has been very helpful, and then when you broaden that out you feel like you have twenty people on the same team.
How would you describe your life as an entrepreneur?
Uncertain, exciting and meaningful. I really feel like I found my groove, and the thought of working 9-5 at some uninspired company… I just couldn’t do it.
If you could give yourself five years ago some advice, what would it be?
The first one would be don’t take yourself so seriously, it’s gonna be okay. Keep making decisions based on your gut. This is such a cliche but it’s true – pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and failing will hurt, but it leads to all sorts of amazing stuff.
Want to more? Check out the Ida Sports website here.
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