Braden Parker, co-founder at Vancouver-based premium footwear brand Casca, joined Cascadia Report to share the story of his journey so far, a little over three years after Casca was founded. In that time, he has led the company through a successful seed-funding campaign, product development, and has grown the company to a team of ten people.
Leveraging his background in finance and branding, prior to starting Casca, Parker worked with a variety of different startups in a consultancy role, working with them to create cohesive brand strategies and operations. Driven by the conviction that we all have a social responsibility to each other, and that the company should stay true to that, we were excited to sit down to chat with Parker and find out more about what gets him up in the morning, what goes into running a startup retail company, and how he sees the future of footwear.
“I'm the cofounder and the CEO. No single day is like the other. I'm fortunate, half our team is engineering, and technology and the other half is marketing and branding, so I jump between those two worlds, along with all of our fundraising and the design. We've grown aggressively over the last several months and we have sold out of inventory faster than expected. So, we’re pulling in a few more strategic investors to help meet demand.”
Parker speaks with genuine enthusiasm and passion for the products behind the Casca brand. They have worked to carve their own niche in the footwear industry, we asked Parker what goes on behind the scenes of all the product design and business development, and the mission that drives them.
“We created Casca because we couldn’t find what we wanted as consumers. I wanted an everyday shoe that I could wear all day and night. A shoe that looked good, felt good, was made responsibly and good for the planet. We took elements of running shoes, elements of hiking boots and designed it to be supportive. We worked from our product lab to figure out details like how you support the body properly. We want to empower people to shop consciously by buying fewer items, but items that are better quality and last for a long time. Our Avro shoe is under $200 and can replace seven pairs of shoes that somewhere else might have to buy in one year, and that has really resonated. I think people are over those days of fast fashion and buying into trends that get tossed after a season.”
As the team at Casca has grown Parker has found himself one of the youngest people in his own company, a process that he says has been ‘extremely exciting.’ Graduating from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Commerce in real estate, Parker began exploring different interests and wasted no time starting his own company.
“I went to school at UBC, I took their new venture design and entrepreneurship track as well as real estate. What I liked about real estate is that it was a combination of all aspects of business, and it seemed relevant to Vancouver. I also started a door company when I was at UBC, the idea was to cut the middle of the door out and add sound attenuators on the outside so when the door closed, air could flow through, but noise couldn't.”
“When I was working in commercial real estate, I was most interested in and excited about the actual entrepreneurs that would go into the buildings looking for office space. It was inspiring to see the process from the start, to put a cool business in there and see something grow from zero was really exciting. At the same time, I was watching all these entrepreneurs feeling the tug myself and thinking "that is so amazing, and so cool". When my business partner came to me with this concept for a new type of shoe, I was completely onboard and excited and next thing you know, we have our working visa and we're flying to China to do development. It's been a crazy three years.”
A background in commercial real estate, and the exposure to startup businesses finding their feet and growing in front of him made Parker take another look at the ‘big picture’. Thanks to this time in real estate he took time to understand the real-world operational aspects of investments and the different ways he saw for adding value to a building or a company. Embracing new technologies is going to be a key part of this for any business. We asked Parker what he sees as the vision for the brand, and where he sees the retail industry going in the future.
“Brands can now interact and know their customers so much better. I think the future of retail is very different than what it is now. You are not going to have to keep explaining what size you are and what you like. It's going to become more intuitive and customized. We have our space on Main Street and we're 3D printing the actual inside of the shoe to match people's feet. We have a 3D printer and we have a scanning station and we can show people how it all works and show them on their phones. We can scan for them in our place or they can do it from their house. It's become about the different customer touchpoints. It's just the way forward. It is about a bigger brand experience and what you stand for as a company, there's way more than there used to be.”
Casca are not stopping at 3D scanning and printing custom footwear, though. Parker says that new developments just around the corner include ‘self-learning’ products that will include intelligent sensors which could enable shoes to respond, altering shape and density in real time to improve their performance. Working with his co-founder and shoe designer, Kevin Reid, they set about creating an engaging brand around innovative products.
“What I've always found fascinating and very exciting about the idea of building a brand is the actual connection and the feeling of belonging you can create with a brand. You think about some of your favourite or iconic brands like Apple, maybe you buy that new Mac, and when you pull it out of the box, it means something. It is that emotional feeling, the connection to something bigger, that makes the best brands stand out and grow. That's something that I've always been really passionate about.”
Like many startup founders, Parker has had to learn that failure is a part of the process of starting your own business, saying ‘see failure, not as failure, but as feedback’. He applies this philosophy to every part of his life, though admits that sometimes the best solution is to get away from it all and explore the trails on Grouse Mountain: “I'll just go for a run or go through the Grind and I just feel infinitely better after.”
Fundraising and setting the foundations for a successful footwear brand has taken Parker to places he never would have thought possible. From trips to present to potential investors in New York and San Francisco, to visiting China to establish a manufacturing deal - we asked Parker about his biggest startup challenges to date.
"Going to China for the first time was very interesting to me personally, it was really exciting to learn about how to do business in a different country and culture. Something that comes to mind is the biggest learning and the biggest help has been getting the right people involved. Any time that I've had a challenge presented, I feel like I have had such a strong, supportive network to go to and that's made the challenges a lot easier. Because there have been challenges across everything from product to tech, to marketing, to fundraising, everything. That's part of what I love about the Pacific Northwest and about Vancouver is that people are very willing to help and to do what they can to help the city.”
We asked Parker how he approached the particular challenge of leading a team as a young co-founder in his first business venture.
“My leadership style is to make sure you're the dumbest person in the room. I think that it is important to hire people that know more than you - that's the best advice ever. People like freedom. Giving your employees the freedom and the space to create what they want and still ask questions and push them. To better understand perspectives that they would have, and make sure they're thinking big enough but at the end of the day, your team and the people that work for you are the ones that are gonna make or break the company. It's not just one person. That's been my approach.”
Casca has always embraced the business community in the Pacific Northwest and have an advisory board on-hand for when things get tough. Parker says he has valued connections with fellow founders from across the region, including key figures from the Article Furniture Company, Procurify, and Victoria-based Certn. Vancouver especially has a wealth of innovative brands in the space including the likes of Lululemon and Arc'teryx that they are keen to connect with going forward.
Finally, we asked Parker what the three key takeaways from his journey with Casca are to date.
1. It's not failure, it's feedback.
2. It's just a setback when things go wrong.
3. Set goals and have a clear idea of what you want. I don't think until you know what you want, you'll be able to go on and achieve it. Taking the time to clearly define what you want is something that I've done for a long, long time.
You can find out more about Casca here: https://casca.com/