Single socks are about the most elusive objects on the planet: CIA operatives could learn a thing or two from these sneaky little foot-dodgers. But when Queenslander Brock Sykes created his brand Odd Pears, that sells socks in threes (with two matching and one mismatching), he wasn’t just helping us keep an extra sock in our washing basket, he was hoping to flip the idea of professionalism on its head.
“I was working in financial planning at the time and was obviously required to wear ‘professional outfits’,” he says of the landscape of his lightbulb moment. “What most employers don’t tell you is that usually these outfits are so dull and colourless that you begin to feel like there is a dementor in the room, leeching away all sense of joy and fun. The only way I managed to stay sane was by wearing colourful socks.” And often odd ones, at that.
It was 2014 when the Queenslander decided that instead of that career, he’d make another out of giving people what he himself thought was missing: some fun on your feet.
“In a sense, it was my own form of ‘rebellion’ against the old school, traditional ideas about what constitutes professionalism. This got me thinking about a way to challenge those ideals while being my own boss and trying to bring a little bit of fun back into people’s lives.”
Brock admits he was “stupidly scared” to take on his own venture but nonetheless, he quit his job, bought an overseas ticket and took the plunge. While now, almost three years later, CEO Brock and his team are receiving orders for their unisex offerings from buyers as far-flung as Russia, he insists he still hasn’t escaped the tricky “early days” of entrepreneurship. He still, for example, runs the business from home in Mudjimba, Queensland while also working full-time for a retailer in Maroochydore. But in putting a name to the hardest challenge for his business so far, Brock plucks out one that is often the same for many.
“No one really tells you how much money you will need to keep the lights on,” he admits. “The small amount of savings you have will be gone quicker than you can say ‘crippling debt’ and you will be faced with some of the toughest decisions of your life.”
But one decision Brock didn’t have difficulty making was the choice to keep his company local: the business still operates out of his garage in his small home town.
“When I started Odd Pears, I knew that a logical step in the progression of the business would be to move it to a major city and set up shop, as most brands do. But for me I honestly just couldn’t see myself living in a city, away from the little local community I call home. Mudjimba is a pretty special place with a crazy tight-knit community,” he tells us. “With all the stress associated with running a small business, I knew that I was going to need a strong support network and my happy place close by for the days when it gets overwhelming.”
And that’s not the only benefit to staying local. “For a small business trying to stretch every cent, it can be hugely beneficial to stay local,” he continues. “If we had to pay for our production runs, website fees, postage, packaging, and so on, in addition to paying rent on a commercial space, we would be doomed before we started.”
All of these benefits have translated into a business successful enough to gain more than a few interested parties.
“Enter stage left, the vultures,” Brock adds. “These are the people that see the potential in your business and know that right about now you are struggling to make it month to month. They want to invest, and that’s great, sure, but they also want 80% of your company for practically a handful of food-stamps. Looking down the barrel of two years of hard, unpaid work with no sick leave, holiday leave and no guaranteed end in sight is enough to make any grown adult quiver in their boots but pushing through those tough days will be worth it in the end.”
One way he did take pressure off was securing funds through PayPal’s Working Capital program. Making use of the streamlined application process and the convenience of having loan repayments as a deducted percentage of PayPal sales, Brock appreciates the adaptability of the product and has been using it ever since that first try. “We needed the money right then and there, and PayPal could deliver that – we’ve been using PayPal Working Capital ever since.”
And though Brock reiterates that money is a “necessary evil” in relation to his business, he also knows it can be source of good: a non-negotiable for Brock when riding out the ups and downs of his business was adding a charitable aspect to his business model, which he does by donating a dollar to charity for every ‘pear’ sold through his own One Pear, One Dollar program.
“It’s important to us that we remain completely transparent and accountable to our followers and we try to apply that to every aspect of our business. Even though it’s only a dollar, it’s a non-negotiable even during sales and giveaways, so it all adds up.”
So does the support he’s received from customers, other business owners and the community in general since launching Odd Pears.
“People from all over the world have opened doors for Odd Pears and reached out to let me know how much they love the product. It might seem insignificant to them, but honestly, sometimes that encouraging email is the only thing motivating me to get moving that day. Never underestimate how much power your kind words have!”