EO is committed to supporting the next wave of entrepreneurs. One way do that is through the EO Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), EO’s premier competition for university students who own and operate a business. The annual competition culminates with the Global Finals, where finalists from 50-plus countries compete and make connections with both seasoned entrepreneurs and fellow “studentpreneurs.”
One of the 2019 EO GSEA US finalists, Benjamin Steinhorn, is an Oregon State University graduate and co-founder of ShoeBio, an online shopping site with a mission to provide consumers the best prices on their favorite sneakers.
We recently caught up with Benjamin to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey and how EO GSEA has shaped his business.
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur—specifically a shoe entrepreneur?
I first became a sneakerhead back in sixth grade. I was watching an episode of “MTV Cribs” that was profiling 50 Cent. He had a huge mansion in Connecticut stocked with all the coolest technologies and cars you could want. When the camera panned to his closet, I laid my eyes on hundreds of the latest sneakers in every color imaginable! I knew right then, I had to have that kind of closet.
I started researching everything I could about sneakers and the culture that surrounded them.
I started my first company, SchewhornShoes, when I was 14 years old. Before it was cool, I was reselling sneakers. I would wake up at 4:30 am to get on to Nike’s site and try to get a couple of pairs of the latest shoe that was launching. If I was lucky, I would resell them for a profit on eBay.
It was then that I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Since then, I have been focused on the goal of starting my own company and leading it to a successful acquisition.
Tell us about your current company, ShoeBio.
The idea for the company came from my business partner, Mitchell Stebner. After a few years of working at Adidas and hearing thousands of questions from customers like “why isn’t my favorite color here?” or “If my size isn’t here, where can I find it?,” he decided there must be a better way to shop for sneakers. ShoeBio was born.
You competed in the 2019 EO GSEA competition. What lessons did you take away from the international student entrepreneur contest?
I competed at the Northwest Regional Finals in Seattle, Washington, at the University of Washington Campus. Then I went to Denver, Colorado, for the national competition.
One of the biggest lessons I learned is to never underestimate the power of your voice and your body language. I made sure that during my pitches to judges, I spoke with integrity, vigor and passion—the perfect recipe to command a room. I watched dozens of speeches from the likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, learning to mimic their tenacity and energy when speaking to a large (or small) number of people.
I knew that the content within my presentation would certainly help me win and add to my credibility, but to really seal the deal, I had to nail the pitch.
The second lesson I learned is to trust yourself. There is no more powerful or important trust that you can have than the one you put in yourself. If you trust your own capabilities, there’s nothing you can’t achieve.
I think one of the biggest takeaways I had from the entire competition was the further realization that I never want to work for someone ever again, and that being an entrepreneur is what I was born to do. I was so happy being in a community of fellow entrepreneurs that shared my passion and vision for a better life, not only for myself but for the rest of the world.
What changes have you made to your business as a result of your GSEA participation?
The biggest takeaway was in communications. After closely viewing and taking note of how other members of my cohort talked with their teams, I started jotting down key points about how to have effective meetings, how many meetings we should have, what kind of atmosphere I want to set for the meetings themselves, and several more.
The second major change that I personally made (and have tried to spread this across the entire company) was to increase the sense of urgency and importance of every decision we make.
I listen to a podcast called the MFCEO Project Podcast, from the CEO of 1st Phorm International, Andy Frisella. He is a ruthless, tenacious owner and drives his brand by consistently confirming that the landscape of entrepreneurship or “becoming successful” (whatever that means to you) is not a “la-la fairyland,” but a hard, everyday struggle to make something that people want.
At GSEA, the contestants were at different stages. Some were farther along than mine. I took this not as a sign of failure, but as a sign to do better, work harder and dive deeper. In doing so, I made more of an effort to inspire the rest of my team to do the same—cultivating a space of innovation and inspiration.
How was your experience in GSEA different from other business pitch competitions or accelerator contests you’ve participated in?
I felt truly cared about. I felt like it was where I was meant to be.
The atmosphere was unique. It was professional but laid back, like how an entrepreneur should be. It felt like it was more than just a pitch competition. It was a time to learn and become a sponge for knowledge.
Going to the national competition was an even more surreal experience. When I got there, it was almost like coming home to a second family. People were talking to me as if I was family, and in a sense, I was. We were a huge family of entrepreneurs who want the world to be a better place.
It was a beautiful and humbling experience.
Where is ShoeBio today?
Right now, ShoeBio V2 is in its alpha stages. We are currently making some cosmetic changes to the front-end of the website as well as optimizing the scrapers on the backend. We plan to roll out the final website soon.
We are executing an email marketing campaign for our close friends and social channels in hopes that they will be early adopters of Shoebio.com. Visitors to the existing site, ShoeBio.com, can sign up for a newsletter and be the first to try out our new site.
We are also raising a US$250,000 seed round in hopes that it will bring us to a spot where we can become a self-sufficient company and really start to grow. We hope to be acquired in the next five to seven years and then I’ll move on to the next business venture with my co-founder, Mitchell Stebner.