Mark Saad BS '08
Mark Saad Prepares Kinder Soles for National Launch
March 23, 2011
In May 2010, Mark Saad, at age 24, launched his third business in the Triangle area, Kinder Soles. Since then, he has been preparing for a national launch, now scheduled for this spring.
The name hints at the values upon which Saad has based his business model, and it’s all spelled out on the company’s website, kindersoles.com.
That’s where he explains that his eco-friendly flip-flops for socially conscious consumers are made of recycled water bottles, and that the company donates money from the sale of each pair of its shoes to Soles4Souls, a charitable organization whose mission is distributing shoes to those in need.
Kinder Soles founders were named social entrepreneurs of the month by Zeromillion.com when they launched the company last spring, in recognition of their support of Soles4Souls. In spring 2011, Saad was recognized by Business Leader Magazine as a Triangle Top 50 Entrepreneur and Triangle Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award.
Sustainability and Business Savvy
The two awards reflect two aspects of Saad’s approach to his latest venture: social entrepreneurship and business savvy.
The idea for Kinder Soles and its focus on sustainability grew in part out of a class on social entrepreneurship that Saad took while a student at NC State University Poole College of Management, as well as from observations he made during his global travels for his first company, Flat World Trading Company. Launched in 2008, that company specializes in importing light fixtures, ceiling fans and other products from Chinese manufacturers for U.S. suppliers, distributors and retailers, with a focus on the manufactured home industry.
While traveling for Flat World Trading, Saad observed that many people in poor regions suffer from the lack of basic footwear. He decided to start a new venture that would help increase awareness of the problem, be part of the solution, and also provide a healthier flip-flop style footwear option for customers. With more than a quarter-million dollars from angel investors, Saad got Kinder Soles off to a solid start and is gearing up for the national launch of an updated product line this spring.
Saad admits that almost half of the first batch of his original flip-flops were bought by friends and family members, but the rest were purchased by people who found his website and liked his approach to footwear.
“We decided that would be our test run,” Saad said. “People were responding well, and we had good consumer demand. But we wanted to improve the product before our national launch in April 2011.”
In the past year, Saad has been working with a podiatrist to assure that the shoe’s design – including the foot bed, arch support and heel cup – is ergonomically correct.
He also hopes to move production of his flip-flops from an overseas manufacturer to a facility in Garner, N.C., where his other businesses are based.
Saad got help with materials sourcing and production processes for Kinder Soles from a major New York-based distributor of sportswear and footwear products. “They have designers and product engineers, quality control,” he said. “They set me up with a manufacturer and sourcing materials.”
He now is taking pre-orders for men’s and women’s flip-flops as well as a new product line, tee-shirts made of organic cotton.
Saad also is planning another major fundraiser for the Soles4Souls – a month-long “donate and deliver” campaign for later in 2011. It’s being held in partnership with Tir na nOg, the downtown Raleigh Irish pub and restaurant where Saad held his company’s launch party last spring.
Three words sum up Saad’s commitment to sustainability and socially responsible business leadership: people, planet and profit.
Saad launched Kinder Soles while exploring ideas for a new business. “I wanted to start a social venture and a friend suggested a healthy flip-flop. I found Soles4Souls, and then talked with manufacturers to see what we could do to make it green,” he said.
Working with Soles4Souls to help send shoes to the people that need them the most – that’s the people side of the business, he said, adding, “I would like to help tackle a social issue in some way.”
As for the profit aspect, he said, “We want to be financially sustainable.”
While entrepreneurship seems to come naturally to Saad, who has been called a serial entrepreneur, he credits his family with providing an entrepreneurial environment that includes Garner Appliance and several other businesses in the Garner and Raleigh area. His other two ventures evolved from sourcing and real estate needs related to his father’s businesses.
Saad also credits the entrepreneurship courses he took while at student at NC State’s Poole College of Management. “They really helped me learn how to write a business plan, raise money and launch a company,” he said.
Time for Fun, Giving Back
He also admits to an internal drive that keeps him looking for new opportunities as each project he starts has launched and is running smoothly. “I’ve always been really ambitious,” he said. “I like it, it’s fun.”
Saad does make time for non-work related fun as well, including soccer and disc golf. “Yeah, I have a life,” he said.
Saad received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the NC State University Poole College of Management, with concentrations in finance and entrepreneurship. Since graduating in May 2008, he has returned to campus frequently to mentor current entrepreneurship students, helping them understand the entrepreneurship and business development process by sharing his experiences in starting successful ventures as a young entrepreneur. In spring 2010, he served as a judge in the college’s Venture Pitch Competition.
He also was a panelist for the 2010 Entrepreneurship Symposium hosted by the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club in Duke University’s MBA program, speaking on the Sustainability in Entrepreneurship panel, and is working with a student of a former entrepreneurship instructor on another project – this one a fitness competition called “Run it Off.”
Mark Saad BS '08