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?
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.
Things take twice as long as you think, it’s such a cliche but they really do.
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.
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.