For our listeners out there with good taste in shoes or style, you may have heard of the shoe and boot company, Taft. Easily one of my favorite companies and brands, I was ecstatic to find out that they were based in my backyard here in Utah. Kory Stevens is the founder of Taft, along with his wife. Besides being the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, he was also named the EY Entrepreneur of the Year, has been on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and Taft was recently ranked the 56th fastest growing company in the country by Inc Magazine. But most importantly to him, he is a devoted husband and father.
While he has been able to find much success in business, Kory has also found himself in the depths of depression and lifelong struggles with mental health. What is most inspiring about him is that instead of struggling in silence, like many of us do, he instead chooses to be vulnerable and share his struggles in hopes that he can help people understand that mental health struggles have many different faces, and that anybody can find themselves struggling with it at some point in their lives.
Feet can be weird for most people, but you can always trust yours with Kory. Taft boots make your feet look so good that you won’t have to worry about what your face looks like since nobody will be looking at it anyway.
“Life is about a lot more than starting successful businesses. Be a good father, be a good husband, and that’s where the real worth comes in.”
“When we think about depression we imagine people that can’t get out of bed. Sometimes it looks like the EY Entrepreneur of the Year.”
“Keep what you love inside your business.”
Taft Website: Click Here
Mistborn (Book): Click Here
Solve for Happy (Book): Click Here
Kyle Bringhurst 00:00
Okay, so today I am honored to be sitting here with Kory Stevens. How are you doing, man?
Kory Stevens 00:05
I’m good. I’m tired today, but I’m good.
Kyle Bringhurst 00:08
For those of you who don’t know him, you really should look him up. He is incredible. He’s the owner of the founder of Taft shoes, which are hands down the coolest shoes and boots in the entire industry. They’re like, I’m not even overselling this at all. You can literally see his shoes on people like Dwayne Wade, or the rock or what other famous people have you seen? A couple big ones.
Kory Stevens 00:30
James Harden. Andre Iguodala. Tim McGraw. I mean, just a bunch of cool people, man. Yeah, but I mean, most important is just like, normal people. You know, like, Yes, that’s what the business is made on. And so the the famous people are really cool. But the cool thing is like the, you know, 10s of 1000s of just normal regular people that wear him every day.
Kyle Bringhurst 00:51
Have you had any cool stories from customers that have reached out to you and just shared their story? That experience?
Kory Stevens 00:57
Yeah, every day. My favorite ones are when people like people will be like, Dude, I was at this party, or I was at this wedding reception. And I was wearing Taft, and this other guy was wearing Taft. So we like party all night together. Because we’re like in the Taft family. And and that’s the coolest thing. Like we a lot of times and it’s on Instagram, we get pictures of like, two guys together that didn’t know each other. Yeah. But they both had Taft on. We took a picture to send it to us. Like that’s for me. That’s my favorite part.
Kyle Bringhurst 01:22
I’ve definitely been there. Literally last week, I was wearing my boots. I was just out with some friends. And another guy was like, are those Taft and we connected? Yeah. Gave it to a friend. Yeah, man.
Kory Stevens 01:31
Like, it’s pretty. That’s cool. Yeah.
Kyle Bringhurst 01:33
And the thing out there, if you haven’t seen the shoes, like the reason why they’re so noticeable is just because they are extremely unique, like the styles are things that you will not see for any other brand out there. So I’m just curious for you, what are some of the inspirations? Where do you get your inspirations for your shoe designs? Because they’re so unique?
Kory Stevens 01:51
Well, thanks dude. That’s definitely a kind of what our platform is, is stuff you can’t find anywhere else. I think for me, I draw a lot of inspiration from really vintage, like vintage, old old stuff. And also with women’s shoes, women’s shoes, often women does female designers will take more risk. Women are just a bit a bit more forward and how they dress and what they wear. And so if you look at the women’s shoe market, there’s actually a lot of writing and a lot of cool things happening. Men’s is pretty boring. So sometimes I’ll just get inspiration from other women’s companies, too.
Kyle Bringhurst 02:25
That’s awesome. One thing I forgot to mention to just another shout out for why Kory is the man there. He recently was named the EY entrepreneur of the year. So I just got to put that plug in there. Like not only is he just a genuinely awesome human being, but he knows his stuff when it comes to business to yourself.
Kory Stevens 02:44
That’s kind of you, man. I’m definitely learning on the job. But yeah, that was a special a special event for me and my family. So thanks for Yeah, of course.
Kyle Bringhurst 02:50
Let’s go back to the beginning with Taft, what inspired you to get started with business in general, what inspired you to become an entrepreneur,
Kory Stevens 03:00
I never ever wanted to be an entrepreneur, okay, it’s pretty uncomfortable for me in terms of the risk and volatility. And so I it was never on my plan. I was going to school, I studied linguistics, got my degree. And I’ve been working for years towards management consulting, and I didn’t get an offer. It was heartbreaking. And I prepared for one thing, and it didn’t happen. And so I kind of was left just like, with with no job, essentially. And my wife was pregnant, we got married pretty young, and she was pregnant before I even graduated school. And we had no way to make money really. And so starting the business definitely came out of necessity. And it also came out of from an opportunistic mindset, like I saw a product or category that I thought I could do something different in, and I went after it, but But again, I would have definitely preferred to go get some stable, boring job where I had a 401k Yeah, and health insurance and, and all that kind of stuff, there were definitely you know, still are a lot of discomfort in what we do as entrepreneurs.
Kyle Bringhurst 04:02
So I like that you bring that up, because I think that’s a really big point there is as entrepreneurs, I don’t think there’s ever a moment where we’re gonna feel 100% comfortable at all. What are some of your the things that you do to overcome that to make it so that you can still function?
Kory Stevens 04:19
That’s a great question. I have to do things that I do find a passion and I’m way into sports. And so in my office, we have huge TVs and we play sports, I kind of am flexible with my work hours, sometimes they come in at 930 Sometimes they come in at 7am work till 7pm Sometimes it’s 5pm. You know, I think that if I just was on the grind all day long 24/7 for five years now, it would just be too much. Yeah, but like, you know, I’ll play tennis in the mornings or go play soccer or have a Taft soccer team or, you know, just injecting things that helped me remember that there’s a lot more than just work And so we’ve tried to combine, I guess you could consider it work life balance a little bit, but it’s just infusing things I like that give me little bits of joy, like are even simple stocking the fridge with stuff that each of us enjoys. You know, we, we do these huge Costco runs and everyone can pick whatever they want. And so like the fridge being stocked with vanilla coke makes you really happy. I only drink it like once every month, but like the ability to go get straws or vanilla coke in my office and watch. Just listen to tennis in the background. That keeps me going.
Kyle Bringhurst 05:34
That’s way cool. I think that’s a big thing there. Like, especially for young entrepreneurs, a lot of times you hear I mean, Gary Vee, I don’t know if you know who he is
Kory Stevens 05:43
he like absolutely no, he is I don’t agree with some of the things he does is just very polarized. Yeah, I’m sure you know, but yeah, I think he’s, I mean, he’s brilliant. He’s a very smart guy. And he always talks about just hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle. I just asked the part. Yeah, that’s the part that I don’t agree with.
Kory Stevens 05:57
He really glorifies like the hustle and working harder than everyone else, you know, like my parents work harder than anyone else. But they don’t necessarily have much money. Yeah. And so I don’t think money is a product of working hard all the time. And I don’t think that the grind and working harder than everyone else’s, is always the right path to success for people.
Kyle Bringhurst 06:20
For me the same thing too. I became an entrepreneur to have more time and more flexibility with my schedule. That’s 100% of the reason why and so I would get burned out so fast. And as many people do, they come out of college, they start a business, they hustle and grind for like two years, and then it becomes overwhelming. And they literally can’t stand the thought of going to work. And I never want that to be the case.
Kory Stevens 06:42
Yeah. And I think that if you can get ahead of that a little bit by just keeping what you love in the business from the beginning, sports, the no coke friends, good music in the office, like that kind of stuff. Like I think it just kind of delays burnout a little.
Kyle Bringhurst 06:57
I agree. I think that’s a great tip there. Like for me, I’ll try and go to top golf once a week, just with the guys on the team and stuff like that.
Kory Stevens 07:04
Man, it really changes everything. We have kind of like this, this little crew of people that we get together this time. And often once every three months for a video game night at our office. Everyone was bring Xboxes and we’ll we’ll land up all the different TVs. And we’ll just do these like late night video game nights. And that’s a really special time for me because it’s bonding with some of the team members in a very different environment. It’s our office still. So that’s kind of cool, because it’s like, I don’t know, I think you’re right on it. I think you’re spot on.
Kyle Bringhurst 07:35
So let’s go back to the beginning of Taft. Now, you said that you started it out of necessity. But if I remember right, Taft didn’t even start as a shoe company, right?
Kory Stevens 07:43
Oh, dude, it was no show socks. My wife and I had gone to Europe before we had our baby. I’d saved up all my scholarship money. And I went to Europe. And I saw these dudes in really great shoes, but no socks. It’s a very kind of European Yeah. Feminine fashion forward style. And I grew up that way too. I would wear my shoes without any socks. But there would be socks, but they were the arms heads we call them. So I was asking around in Europe like you know, we are wearing socks. You’re going barefoot unless we’re going barefoot and going barefoot in nice leather shoes will trash your shoes really quickly. And so I had this idea. And I grew up wearing no show socks, but they were women’s no show socks. And at the time, no one was really making no show socks for men that were colored and bold and cool. Yeah. And that also stayed up on your heel.
Kyle Bringhurst 08:32
That’s the worst part.
Kory Stevens 08:33
Yeah, that is so go grab and yeah, it’s annoying. I just thought Man, we could make like thicker, more durable, men’s, no show socks that were also cool and patterned. And so when we got back from that trip, I immediately started looking for no show sock factories. I started designing I was going to the local university, figuring out how to use the design software. And it was so sketchy and poorly done. But that’s how we started. It’s just no show socks. And then we eventually launched a Kickstarter campaign.
Kyle Bringhurst 09:06
With that Kickstarter campaign campaign. Was it successful right off the bat, or how did that guys?
Kory Stevens 09:11
Yeah, so our goal was quite large. It was $23,000 Okay. And we raised $46,890 Wow, more than double in I thought it was going to be like hundreds of 1000s of dollars. But yeah, I’m really proud of that. Because the price point was really low. It was like $12 a pair. And it was just hustled and that was just pure, sending personalized messages to hundreds of my Facebook friends asking everyone to share it emailing everyone I know a total thrown together had no idea what we’re doing kind of thing. But yeah, got funded. So that was how we started.
Kyle Bringhurst 09:47
So it started as stocks were when did the transition to shoes come into play? And how did that happen?
Kory Stevens 09:52
So we were a sock company but we were growing on social media quite quickly because of our cool pictures but we weren’t taking cool pictures of Just socks, we were taking cool pictures of shoes with the socks. And so we were going to Nordstrom Rack buying up all the cool shoes they had photographing them and then returning the shoes. And so that way, we were able to have 90 days of photographing all these cool shoes. So when I go in California and hit those Nordstrom racks, because every Nordstrom Rack carries different inventory. And so we have a lot of followers that probably thought we were a shoe company, because our Instagram account which at this point already have hundreds of 1000s of followers, just because of your picture quality pictures. Yeah, we started from zero, we never ever purchased a single follower.
Kory Stevens 10:35
Wow, that he’s totally organic and legit, but we’re just taking cool pictures. And so we realized one day it was like man we have, we can have this small sock company with a low average order value, yeah, and low cost to produce. Or we could try and build something really big. And we want to try and build something really big. And we figured mkhaya This realization that if we have hundreds of 1000s of men that like shoes, and so we could pick and choose which shoes we bought, and kind of test different things in front of them. And it was always the really unique stuff that got the most likes and the most comments. And so about the late 2015 We sampled some shoes from a factory in Spain. And then we ended up launching them really unexpectedly in November of that same year. So we’ve been doing shoes for about three and a half years now. Okay, and it’s it’s been a while since we started shoes, socks is really cool. That’s how we started. That’s how we were able to get off the ground. But shoes has really been where our business is taken off.
Kyle Bringhurst 11:31
I did not collect shoes very much until the past couple years. Honestly, stumbling upon your guys’s shoes was like, what got it started. How did you how did you find? I think just Instagram really? Yeah, I think just one of my buddies like, like an ad or No, it wasn’t an ad it was just back organic. I think he had like, posted a picture with his shoes. And I was like, dude, those are so cool. Where’d you get them and he had like, tagged you. So I went to your Instagram account and just saw that they were from Utah. No idea. Literally no idea. Like to put this in perspective. We’re literally doing this interview three blocks from where I grew up.
Kory Stevens 12:09
Yeah, yeah, in my house, right by Kyle’s childhood home.
Kyle Bringhurst 12:13
Yeah, this is why it is so crazy. So such a small world there. The fact that my favorite shoe company in the entire world is literally blocks away is just so cool. They’re so cool. So I have a question out there for you. I know some of our listeners probably have ideas for products that they want to be able to design and manufacture and source. How did you guys go about finding your producers? Finding your supplier?
Kory Stevens 12:36
That’s a question that I get asked a lot, because it’s sounds hard. But for us, actually, because we had a pretty, pretty big Instagram account. We were actively getting hit up by shoe factories, trying to make shoes for us. And so they didn’t even know we weren’t a shoe company. They thought we were a shoe company, and they’re trying to get our business. And so we were always getting hit up by people in Italy and China and Spain and Portugal and Turkey to get our shoes made. And so we started just making samples whenever Yeah, send us whatever, because we thought if anything, we can photograph it for our socks. Yeah. But then we started finding like some pretty, pretty high quality shoe factories hitting us up. And so when it came down to it, I had designed some shoes, and I sampled them with a few different factories. And then we I eventually flew out to Spain, to the one that ended up being our manufacturer.
Kyle Bringhurst 13:31
So is it like a small manufacturer?
Kory Stevens 13:35
Lots of other different factories? Oh, wow. A couple in Portugal, two in Spain, so I guess four, four factories. So Spain was our first one. And it was a small factory. It’s not what you’d imagine it’s not this, you know, our type of product is not. It’s very artisanal. Yeah, it’s not like a, like a sweatshop or something like that you’d like a mass manufacture. It’s like a took a workshop. It’s like work benches and people that are doing this for decades, you know? So it’s not huge. It’s probably the size of maybe like half a soccer field. Wow. Yeah, maybe like six tennis courts. So it’s pretty small. But now we take up the whole factory, basically. And we’ve expanded to other factories.
Kyle Bringhurst 14:20
That is so cool. And you guys have just seen insane growth since you’ve launched there. It’s really cool. They’re like, didn’t you guys just get a round of investors coming in?
Kory Stevens 14:30
Yeah. So last March, we raised our first money. We raised a few million dollars for business, and we brought on some investors. And then we have a board. And now I don’t know 100% of the business. So it’s been it’s been great. And it was absolutely necessary. The business was growing quicker than I could really handle on my own. And we needed guidance, we needed mentorship and we needed people that knew what they were doing to help steer the ship. Because it was just I think we realized that it had some really major potential to be something special and I want I’d help.
Kyle Bringhurst 15:00
I think that’s something that’s really key out there. Like entrepreneurs, when they start a business, they want to keep it all, which is understandable as your baby.
Kory Stevens 15:09
Awesome, which is totally appropriate in some exaggerations, but for me, we didn’t need to raise money. It wasn’t about the financials. It was about the emotional support. Because you know, as as an entrepreneur, and as a CEO, you can’t be 100% honest with your employees. No one understands the burden of being a CEO and founder, except other CEOs and founders. Yeah. And so I just found that for me, Taft was extremely lonely. And I needed people that would be in my corner, and could pick up my calls in the middle of the night or early in the morning or on the weekends, when I need help. And it’s not always it’s usually not about Taft. Yeah, it’s just like, dude, I’m freaking out. I feel like this is crumbling. Please tell me everything’s okay. Yeah, that’s what they’ve been most valuable for.
Kyle Bringhurst 15:59
That’s exactly what I love about this podcast. And that’s what I wanted to, like, touch on. Just moving forward here as well, like, Taft has been amazing, you’ve seen a lot of success, you’re gonna keep seeing a lot more success there. But people don’t understand it going into business, or even just whatever you’re doing in life, whatever your goals are, it can be really, really lonely going through that grind there,
Kory Stevens 16:20
Dude. Yeah, I mean, I’ve been pretty public and open about my struggles with business. But it goes back to what I said, entrepreneurship is not comfortable for me. And I don’t think it’s comfortable for anyone really, I think at the beginning, you know, there’s risk takers and people that want to just, they’re okay to sleep in their car and start something, you know, that’s cool. After a few years, that’s not sustainable. And you need help. And so for me, Taft has been, even though my wife is a co founder of the business, it’s just lonely. No one really shares the same burden, as you do. You know, everyone else on the team doesn’t panic when there’s a low sales day. Yeah, their paychecks just come and make it to them. It’s unlimited.
Kory Stevens 17:03
It’s kind of like when you’re a kid, and you open the cupboards, and you just expect food to be in there. You don’t think where it comes from. You don’t think what your parents did to get it in there. You just expect there to be food. And I think for for most of the business, they just expect shoes to be sold, and paychecks to be made and growth to be had just without anyone doing it. But the CEO is the one doing it and charging after new territory, growth. And so entrepreneurship has been really difficult for me. And I honestly don’t think I would ever do it again, to be honest, working for someone else sounds really, really nice. But yeah, for Taft, it’s been hard. But we have great people in our corner that that know how I feel and are here to help.
Kyle Bringhurst 17:52
That’s amazing. I appreciate you just sharing all that there. Um, let’s talk a little bit more about that. So what has been the hardest part for you?
Kory Stevens 18:00
That’s a great question. The hardest part with tat, for me has definitely been where I find myself worth, like, I feel so strongly and literally built this from zero. And so identify so much with the business, it is a piece of me it is it is most of me. And so when when there’s hard times, I take it very personally, when people say something mean, it hurts my feelings. Yeah. When they don’t like their shoes, it pains me. And when people are critical, I take it very personally. And I’m very sensitive to it. And so the hardest thing for me has been trying to not identify my own self worth and value with the value of the business. I found that on good sales days, I was happy. Yeah. And on bad sales days, I was panicked and cranky. Taft is not me and I am not I am not a business. I am a father, I am a husband. I’m an individual. And so I think trying to keep the distance at an appropriate level with the business and just be okay with, you know, if Taft fails, I am not failure, I am just as valuable. If Taft is successful, then I would be attacked for a failure. So that’s been the real tricky balance. For me. It’s just making sure that I know that I’m a valuable human to my family into those in my life, or their Taffy exists or not.
Kyle Bringhurst 19:27
So if you were to see yourself, somehow have a time machine and meet yourself when you were just starting that up or starting Taft and going through that and feeling that again, like what would you say to yourself or to someone else who maybe feels that way like ties their self worth so much into what they do and into how their businesses run?
Kory Stevens 19:50
First off, if I could, if I could meet myself, you know, four or five years down the road where I am now. I think I’d be ecstatic at what has happened. You know, in terms of the success we’ve had the personal accolades that I’ve won, the business’s success, the growth, the money, I would be floored. If I could tell myself as a student, look, you’re going to be the CEO and founder of the 56th, fastest growing business in the country, it would be crazy, you know, especially if you told me about shoes, because it’s like, what I would never, ever, ever plan on this. In terms of the device, you know, I’m still trying to figure this out for myself, I definitely don’t have it figured out. But I would say when I think about the most successful people, you know, inventors, Abraham Lincoln, politicians, the some of the most special people in the whole world and all of history have been massive, quote, unquote, failures before they were successful.
Kory Stevens 20:49
I think that failure is just a part of the journey. It’s an uncomfortable part. And I tapped as my first go round, it’s not a failure. And so I don’t really know what that feels like, yeah. Someday, I probably will. For right now, I don’t really know what that feels like. But it’s got to be scary. And it’s got to feel pretty horrible. But I would just say, I would remind myself of all those successful people that that fail, that lost elections, and, you know, didn’t have a successful invention, or, you know, whatever, until they finally hit it. Life is about a lot more than starting successful businesses, be a good father and be a good husband be a good man. And that’s where the real worth comes from. Can’t take away someone’s self worth, I believe that we’re all children of God. And our worth does not change with our success levels. And so I would just remind that self worth doesn’t come from business, yes, from just being who we are, and just being kind and good people. That’s most important.
Kyle Bringhurst 21:49
I couldn’t have said it any better there. That is amazing there. I agree with that a lot. For me, one of the reasons why I resonate so much with you. And we were talking about this a little bit before we started recording there. But like you guys know, out there, I went through a divorce recently. And it just was really hard for me, I went into a long period of depression, where I just literally felt like I couldn’t do anything at all. And there were days where I would just sit there and be in bed and not get out of bed at all. And there were days where like, this is the first time I’ve actually said this, but like, there were days where I literally would sit in bed and just be like, Okay, what is the best way that I can just end things, I went down a really, really dark path there and that time there. And luckily, for me, and for everything else there. Like, I wasn’t bold enough to do any of that I was too scared. I just like what think about that. And I wanted it to happen because life was so miserable.
Kyle Bringhurst 22:45
But thank goodness, it didn’t happen, because I’ve learned so much from that time. And just Kory is so open and honest with just like his struggles to he, he doesn’t just share the highlights. Social media is a place where you will almost always see only positive things. But the crazy thing is you go to Taft account, yeah, he posts beautiful pictures and stuff. But he’ll still take the time to go and record a video of himself just sharing like where he’s at, like mentally when he’s struggling and stuff. And he’s done that multiple times. And it just really was inspiring to me to see that oh, someone who has like, been able to find success has gone through these things too. Like I’m not alone. And that’s the biggest feeling. And the biggest struggle for, for me, like you mentioned is, as an entrepreneur, a lot of times you feel like you’re alone. And you feel like there’s literally no one out there who understands what you’re going through and stuff. And so with you just like sharing all of those things, what has caused you to like be willing to be vulnerable, just in front of the masses in front of people that you don’t even know.
Kory Stevens 23:47
I mean, I just want to be clear that this is a current struggle for me, it’s not something I’ve figured out. It’s not something that I’ve overcome. So I’m still trying to figure it out for myself, but I think I feel like our success and our our audience in our reach as for a much larger purpose than just selling shoes. And so we’ve we’ve, you know, we’ve been told to not do that kind of stuff that it hurts the business, whatever the I don’t care, because it’s like we every day I can reach almost a million people. And so if if I feel like we need to share something on the personal side, then I’m going to do it and not care how it affects the business. Because I believe that I have a responsibility to share those types of things. And when we do, the outreach is insane. And everyone’s like, this is why I like Taft. And so everyone thinks that or some people think that it hurts the business. That’s the very reason people shop with us a lot of times. I think also there’s a for me personally, there’s a an accountability factor. I feel like if I’m open, then I can’t hide it. And people are checking in on me and they’re asking How’s it going, asking how I’m doing? And I personally need that accountability. If I were to keep this to myself, I would probably have taken my life. I don’t know if being that Frank is okay. Suicide is a daily struggle for me, it still is right now. But I feel like if I open up and share that with people, then I have to be accountable. And maybe it will help me when I’m weak to not make that bad decision.
Kyle Bringhurst 25:24
This is why I love you, man is seriously 100% For this reason, because when I was going through my divorce, and I had those thoughts, that was the exact same thing, that was what saved my life was just finally being like, Okay, I’m struggling with this, I can’t keep it inside, I need to talk to someone. And that is the key. With people that struggle with depression or anxiety or all this stuff. Like if you keep it inside, it just becomes a ticking time bomb, right? And it just will blow up. Unless you get it taken care of which is as simple as talking to someone I found, I literally feel like a weight gets lifted off my shoulders, even if I just mentioned that I struggle with it, even if I don’t even go into details. But the more people I bring in and share my story and my struggles with the lighter of a burden, I feel because it gets shared among all those people. Yep,
Kory Stevens 26:13
That’s exactly right. That’s what I found too. And, and I have a pretty big audience I can share with and I feel like it has lighten my load a little bit.
Kyle Bringhurst 26:20
We’ve talked about this too, like Brene Brown, and her whole thing is just vulnerability and shame. And so that was what really got me started was watching her TED talk about all that there. And so it’s really cool that you are just very open and vulnerable with all this stuff, too. Because not only does it help you, but it also helps the people that you are talking to that hear your message because they resonate with it.
Kory Stevens 26:43
Yep. Yeah. Did I mean, I’m not I’m not just trying to help myself. I feel like I think that there’s a couple of things one, people that are open about things typically share retroactively. Yes. You know, it’s like I have overcome cancer. So let me tell you about overcoming cancer.
Kyle Bringhurst 27:01
Something that they’ve accomplished that they don’t deal with.
Kory Stevens 27:03
Yeah. And so I think it’s kind of interesting that or not interested, I just think it’s kind of powerful that some people can share in the moment, while I’m still kind of in that phony rose garden, rather than looking back and just the roses. Yeah. Second thing is, I think that, you know, while while Taft is still really small, and I’m, you know, I don’t have the influence of most people. But I think that it is, it is powerful for people to see like, someone like me share about it. When we think about mental health, we imagine people that can’t get out of bed, they can’t shower, they don’t have friends, they don’t do anything, it just have the covers over their head laying down in bed. Sick.
Kory Stevens 27:46
Well, sometimes it looks like the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. And sometimes it looks like a guy that just want a tennis tournament. And I think that we need people sharing that can’t get out of bed. We also need people sharing that are the CEO of Taft. And again, that sounds somewhat boastful, I don’t know that way. I just think that the the variance, and lots of different opinions and stories that are being told are helpful, so that we don’t just imagine the people that can’t get out of bed, because it’s also the happy guy, you sit next to a work that goes home and thinks about taking his life. It’s not just the guy that can’t hold a job.
Kyle Bringhurst 28:25
That’s a really good point. Because the stigma about mental health is the guy who can’t get out of bed who just has no desire and motivation for life. And I feel like sometimes, like if you deal with mental health issues, you’ll go through, you’ll go through that part that way.
Kory Stevens 28:40
I am that way a lot of times.
Kyle Bringhurst 28:42
But the valuable thing and the thing that I think will be extremely important for you guys as listeners is just recognizing that the people next to you probably in some capacity or another deal with mental health issues. They’re like it’s literally something that I firmly believe that everyone struggles with at some points in their life there. And so it’s the entire spectrum, you can be extremely successful. And commit suicide.
Kory Stevens 29:08
Did you did you struggle at all before your divorce?
Kyle Bringhurst 29:10
No, that is why I’m so passionate about it. Because growing up, I was that guy like, I hate to say it, but I was literally that guy where someone would be like, Oh yeah, I’m depressed. And I’d be like, well just think positive, you do that it’s so much more difficult than that. Like it’s literally a sickness that people deal with. And so then when I got divorced people would be like, Well, you’ve been just so positive like you’ll get over it just like be positive. And I was like, it’s not that simple, man. I literally can’t change it. And so that was where the flip switch for me and I realized wow, it is something that can come on at really any point in your life. And for me, it happened to come at a time where I had gone through just something horrible that I never would wish on my worst enemy. But for other people it can come just through like the the ups and downs of everyday life.
Kyle Bringhurst 29:56
And so it was crazy. I never thought that I would be someone to do with depression or anxiety, to the extent that I literally was thinking about taking my own life until happen, and then it scared me, because not only did it scare me for my own sake, but then I was like, wow, there are so many other people who are going through this. And I didn’t understand any of that there. And so it was really powerful to me. And a really good way for me to recognize that everyone has their demons, everyone has their, their struggles that they deal with, even if they’re smiling, you look at Hollywood, or you look at literally any sort of successful people. And there are a lot of times when those are the people that are struggling the most inside, because success is not what creates happiness in life. And so it all comes down to like what you mentioned earlier, finding your value in being a good person and being the best you that you can be. It doesn’t have to be external based, or anything like that, and going through my divorce. That’s what I thought it was, I was like, oh, man, I’m not a good person, because I got divorced.
Kyle Bringhurst 30:59
Now all these people are gonna see that I got divorced. And so I’m, they’re gonna judge me more and more and more, but it had nothing to do with who I was. And so then once I was able to switch that and focus on what I was going through, and how I could become a better me, that was when it became easier for me to deal with, because instead of focusing on the outside voices, I was focusing on myself, and I still struggle with it to this day, like, I mean, my divorce is very fresh still. And so like, I don’t want you guys out there thinking that I’m just this guy who’s got it all put together because I’m not. And I mean, you guys probably now know more of my story than literally anyone else. And so, you know, that I’ve got, I got some crap going on there. But I love doing this podcast and talking to people like you who are you because selfishly, it helps me a lot. And I think that it brings a good message to everyone else out there who’s listening to being that that open and raw about the way of success is in reality versus how it’s perceived in the public as well.
Kory Stevens 32:00
Yeah, yeah. My wife and I’ve talked about how it’s interesting how some of our most publicly successful moments with the business have coincided with the hardest personal moments. And so I just don’t want the world to just see the positive things because or not the positive. I don’t want to contribute to like that social media facade of ever only highlight and I have things figured out. Yeah, because in reality, I really don’t. And I don’t want people to think that I do. I think that help anyone really?
Kyle Bringhurst 32:33
Yeah, exactly. That doesn’t help yourself, either. It’s just the worst thing to do. That’s why I’ve my social media, I try and like share, things that I’ve learned or mistakes that I’ve made and things like that, just because I want social media, my social media, at least anybody who’s interacting with me to see the real side, like social media is only used on days that we’re feeling at our top. But I feel like it would be even more powerful if we used it on days that we were feeling at our lowest. Oh, man, we got deep here. I love it, though. It is so good. It’s something that I’m extremely passionate about. And so I love being able to bring this message to the world. Let’s go back to the business side a little bit there. I know you said that you are not someone who deals well with uncertainty, you would prefer to have kind of that job where you have a boss and you have that guaranteed salary and 401k and stuff. What is stopping you from just selling Taft and getting out of the risk side of it and just being able to move forward with more of a stability?
Kory Stevens 33:35
I think that when I first started Taft, I definitely did it with the intention of selling it as soon as I could. And then I realized we were having an impact in people’s lives because of what we were doing and how we were doing beyond shoes. And so now I feel you know, we’ll sell someday. But I think that I feel this duty, or responsibility to our audience and our customer, like our customers are my friends. And they’re like, some of them are literally like family to me now. And I feel like we owe it to them to stick to what we’re doing. And keep changing the footwear industry little by little. And then also selfishly, there’s just you know, we’re still a very, very small team. We haven’t even really started
Kyle Bringhurst 34:20
You’re telling me you only have 11 employees right now.
Kory Stevens 34:22
That’s right. And three of those are part time. And so we’re we’re just, we haven’t even really started. And so stopping right now we’re just not given not given an a fair shot. Yeah, I think the Taft can be, you know, a couple 100 million dollar business. And so we should try a little before we do something like sell.
Kyle Bringhurst 34:44
Yeah. So what are some of the goals or the plans that you have for Taft to be able to reach those kinds of lofty expectations?
Kory Stevens 34:52
I mean, we’re we’re actively aggressively hiring some of the key executive positions. So certainly filling out the team. Gonna be a big one. Getting back to what I do best will be helpful product and brand. I’ve been kind of bogged down with like the CEO stuff that I need to get back to where I’m most valuable to the business and then spending more money. We just like I’m personally really, really frugal. I struggle to spend money on myself and on things that unless it’s an absolutely vital thing I just struggled with by it. And so I think that getting other marketing people on the team will be helpful because they’ll be they’ll spend more money, we have all this money and spend it so that that’ll be a big helpful one, for sure.
Kyle Bringhurst 35:39
Cool. I’m excited to see what Taft does there. One thing that you said that is so true is you literally like the Taft audience are your friends. Like, that’s how we mean you connected at first is your story from Taft resonated with me. So I just reached out. And luckily, you saw and responded there. So I appreciate that. But it’s awesome. Like the fact that I feel like I’ve gotten to know you a little bit there, it makes life so much more fun and enjoyable. And so you definitely have been doing a great job with the way that you run Taft in that aspect.
Kory Stevens 36:12
I, I really, really feel that way. I think some people would be like, you know, we love our customers. It’s like, yeah, everyone loves their customers, because they give them money. For me, it’s like, I have an emotional connection with our, with our audience, we’ve shared a personal emotional things together and direct messages and, and on Skype calls, whatever. I’m a father, and I’m a husband. And I’m a young, I mean, you’re young to me, but I still feel pretty area 30. And, and I know the stress of providing for a family. And so when I see people spending hard earned money on our product that emotionally really affects me, I feel a lot of gratitude to our customers that buy our shoes. And I wish I could just give each of them a hug. Unfortunately, I can’t, when we were smaller, we could write thank you notes and stuff like that. But right now, it’s like, I really love our customers. And so I do feel a responsibility to them. And you’re right, like, some of them have become friends, real real friends. And if not a real real friend, at least and absolute person that I know is on my team. And if I’m somewhere crazy in the world, and I needed a place to sleep for the night, I feel like I could actually reach out to these people and find a place to sleep.
Kyle Bringhurst 37:29
For those of you that own a business out there. Take notes from that, because what he’s saying is 100% true, that is literally been my case owning majestic as well. Like I literally just finished cleaning Kory’s windows too, I’m out there, I get to know people doing my job and some of my best friends and that my closest confidants and people that have really inspired me and I would call like close friends and mentors have been people that I’ve met through work there. I really liked what you mentioned about them spending their hard earned money on you, and like on Taft and stuff, because there are a lot of businesses out there that just look at their customers as $$ sign.
Kyle Bringhurst 38:08
And that’s not the way that you really create value or lasting impact with them. And so that’s been something that you’ve seen, and I can also vouch for that as well, just with Majestic is, that is how you create lasting relationships. And that’s how you guarantee that your business is gonna be around. Exactly. So I think that’s awesome. We’ve gotten a lot of good stuff here. A lot of good nuggets there. Just to kind of wrap up, we do what’s called the Rapid Round the lightning round on hearing it for you. We got a list of about five questions here. Just whatever comes to your mind really quick within like 30 seconds per question. Quick Question number one is, what is your biggest fear?
Kory Stevens 38:50
Not being able to financially provide for my family? Okay, easy, I think but I worry about everything.
Kyle Bringhurst 38:56
Number two, what is your personal definition of failure?
Kory Stevens 39:00
Thank you. That’s a great question. My personal definition of failure would be not trying. No matter what you’re doing, you can try. You don’t have to go start a business. You don’t have to go design shoes, you can do anything. I think just try give something an effort. For me failure would be never trying to do anything really great.
Kyle Bringhurst 39:22
I think that’s awesome. We have so many people that have things pent up inside that they never even
Kory Stevens 39:27
Yeah, shame, I suppose. Yeah.
Kyle Bringhurst 39:30
Okay. Number three for you personally with your success. What is one habit that you have that has contributed to that?
Kory Stevens 39:38
Perfectionist? I am like that to a fault. It’s not always a good thing. I think with Taft, it helps personally and my family and my marriage. It’s not a good thing. But with Taft, my perfectionism is a strength.
Kyle Bringhurst 39:53
What do you mean by perfectionism? Like what are some things that you do to make sure that
Kory Stevens 39:57
everything has to be perfect and the best and even If it’s perfect, it could be better.
Kyle Bringhurst 40:01
Do you have like a system in place to?
Kory Stevens 40:03
Oh, no, no, it’s just like this personal standard. I will not sleep until it is perfect in the best. That’s how I was just wired man since I was a little kid. That’s how I was in school and sports. And that’s always been the case. And it’s still something I’m trying to overcome. But with Taft for the meantime, it’s strange.
Kyle Bringhurst 40:21
Yes, definitely. And then the next one is, what is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?
Kory Stevens 40:28
Dang. Do what I want. I’m a major people pleaser. And so I don’t do what I want. Most of the time I do. What Kyle would be happy with, or you know, what my wife wants me to do, or what the kids want me to do. And I think doing what I want. It’s kind of taking control of my life. And being the leader and the person at the front of my life, making decisions and doing what fulfills me has been really important to me.
Kyle Bringhurst 40:54
I mean, it goes back to what you said, to start out, just finding ways to do what you love to do at work.
Kory Stevens 41:00
Obviously, selflessness is really important. And I think I’m a great husband, and I think I’m a great father, but always not doing what you want. It’s just it can really wear you down. And I think it’s important to make sure we take care of ourselves as individuals so that we can then take care of those who are in our circles.
Kyle Bringhurst 41:20
Yeah, I agree with that. That’s why on the airplanes they have you put your mask on yourself first before you can help them exactly.
Kory Stevens 41:26
I think that I got into a habit of just always caring, caring about other people’s oxygen masks. And over the last year, I’ve tried to be a bit better about taking care of myself too.
Kyle Bringhurst 41:37
And it’s hard as a people pleaser speaking from experience because that is me to a tee. Yeah, but it’s really hard because you feel like if you take care of yourself first that you’re being selfish and so it is a big internal struggle with that. Because it’s just I whenever I am trying to take care of myself and I say no to someone else, I feel guilty.
Kory Stevens 41:56
Yeah, exactly that and we got to get over that because it’s not the words will say exactly and be okay with saying no to things be okay with turning down opportunities. We got to be okay, or it will affect us. I’m turning these in not lightning round, man. I’m sorry. I know. I’m rambling.
Kyle Bringhurst 42:14
I love it. I love it there. And then the last one in this is what is your favorite book and why?
Kory Stevens 42:21
My honest answer is Mistborn. Brandon Sanderson. Like that’s not the answer I usually do. Because it has nothing to do with business. It’s just I’ve found that fantasy books have provided a really nice escape for me from the stress of work and death. And Fantasy has really helped me I’m not like a major. I mean, I am a nerd now. But I you know, I’m usually like a very read my business books. But now I’m like, Fantasy has given me an outlet and refuge from this. That’s funny.
Kyle Bringhurst 42:55
My I’ve got a new business that I’ve been working on. And so my business partner, we were together last week, and he literally said that that was his favorite book too, but I’ve never read it.
Kory Stevens 43:05
So they’re addicting. They’re so good. Just to kind of wrap up there 1 more book. Solve For Happy.
Kyle Bringhurst 43:13
I’ve never heard of that.
Kory Stevens 43:13
It’s great. It’s a very scientific approach to happiness. Okay. And it’s, he’s a big shot at Google that his son passed away very unexpectedly. He obviously really struggled with that and and so he in kind of programming language, he’s solving for happy and it’s brilliant. I would recommend that for sure.
Kyle Bringhurst 43:34
Okay. Yeah, I will check that out. I’m always looking for new books to read with that. So Happy Cat. Do you remember who it’s by?
Kory Stevens 43:41
I think his name is Mo Godart. I’m probably way wrong.
Kyle Bringhurst 43:46
Okay, cool. And then just to wrap up there, for our listeners out there that want to connect with you and hear more about your story or lore or learn more about Taft where can they find you and connect with you?
Kory Stevens 44:10
So the website www.taftclothing.com That’s our website where you can buy shoes. If you want to connect with me personally, you could hit me up on LinkedIn. If you hit up Taft’s Instagram account, it will get to me if you send a message or and then personally my Instagram account is @korystevens and my emails email@example.com any of those channels, I will get it and I will get you back.
Kyle Bringhurst 44:39
I can definitely testify to that takes a little long sometimes, but obviously I get it you’re a busy man. So I’m just grateful that we finally were able to make this happen and that you were willing to take the time to sit down with me and talk because I’ve been enlightened for sure. I spent a definitely a great conversation and I know that everyone who Listen to this once we get it out there is going to love it too and just really admire Taft more now getting to know the face behind it and the person behind it. So thank you. And just the last plug for Taft as well. Like I’m not a sponsor or anything. No joke. They’re the only shoes that I ever wear, like on dates or nice things like that. And I always get compliments. So go check them out. Thank you. Thanks again, Kory. And we are so grateful that you took the time to be here with us.
Kory Stevens 45:27