Noticing a problem and creating the solution.

Not everyone can say they co-founded and built a brand while navigating business school. This week’s Building While Flying guest did just that—and this is only the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey.

Libie Motchan co-founded Fulton with her business school classmate Daniel Nelson, after they bonded over shared foot pain and a lack of a reasonable solution for it. Between their classes and homework, they researched materials, found their production partner (in Portugal, no less), began building their brand, and networked with their target audiences. 

There's absolutely no right way to do entrepreneurship. Everyone will do it differently. You know yourself and you know what you want, so ask a lot of questions and have an open mind but, also follow your gut.

Libie MotchanFounder, Fulton

Transcription

Katie Hankinson  (00:00):

Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson and I’m Mickey Cloud. Welcome to Building While Flying a Sasha Group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.

Katie Hankinson (00:21):

Welcome to Building While Flying my guest today is Libie Motchan. She is co-founder and co CEO of Fulton, a contemporary and early stage direct consumer product company. That’s based on the belief that whole body wellness starts from the ground up with foot health and with Fulton. That means something that’s crucial yet simple as an insult. The team at Fulton is modernizing arch support through a comfortable, supportive, and sustainable insole. So Libie, welcome to the show.

Libie Motchan (00:52):

Thank you for having me. It’s a great introduction. Tell us, first of all, a little

Katie Hankinson (00:57):

Bit about you and your background. So what brought you to eventually setting up a direct consumer company? What’s your background before?

Libie Motchan (01:05):

Yeah, so before launching Fulton and working on Fulton, I was working in marketing at IBM. I always had an interest in consumer psychology and consumer brands. I love thinking about the way that people shop and why they make purchases. I did have a particular interest in unsexy consumer brands. So I was a big fan of brands like Lola or Harry’s and further that took over industries or created industries and really unsexy categories. And yeah, I always had a desire to, to create a company, create a business that, that worked in consumer psychology and was an important brand. And on top of that, my parents were both very entrepreneurial. So I was always inspired by them and I think I never really felt the need to stick to the status quo when it came to following a traditional career path. So all points are all roads pointed to starting a consumer. I love that.

Katie Hankinson (02:00):

I love the idea. We should talk a little bit more about unsexy brands because I agree there there’s so much opportunity to them when the expectations are kind of like everyone thinks it’s a boring category, for example. So, awesome fun. So what about bringing us up today? You and your co-founder Daniel met at business school? How did the idea for Fulton

Libie Motchan (02:22):

Come to be? Yeah, so the Daniel and I actually met at welcome weekend. So even before we got to business school, which was really serendipitous, I met him at welcome weekend and I was talking to him about what I wanted to do, like pursuing a career in entrepreneurship and all of the ideas I had for direct to consumer companies. So there was direct to consumer brooms, umbrellas, plungers. He didn’t really like those, but I mentioned insoles and he really resonated with it. I had a, I had an interest in, in, in small category because I was experiencing back pain from sitting at my desk for many hours of the day. And I was treating it very reactively. I was doing things like taking painkillers, getting massages, foam, rolling very much treating the symptoms and not the cause. So I went to a chiropractor and the chiropractor suggested insoles, and I’d never really thought about insoles as a solution for my back pain, because you don’t really think about your feet when you’re treating your back, but he explained posture starts from the ground up and your feet affect your knees, affects your back.

Libie Motchan (03:22):

And it all made sense. Like I really believed it, but then the customer thought I actually had available were hundreds of dollars. And to me that was much more than I was willing to spend. Like I didn’t feel like my achy back Warren did a $500 solution. I just, I just had an achy back. So instead I went to the drugstore and I found myself looking at all of these like really medical geriatrics brand everything’s skin colored. Yes, exactly. And all these words like Funyuns and plantar, fasciitis and heel spurs, like things I didn’t understand or connect to at all. And on top of that, I eventually learned that these also were not very effective products like they’re made from gels and foams, which are squishy and comfortable, but they’re not actually that supportive. And they’re also really unsustainable for the environment.

Libie Motchan (04:07):

So I started just talking to a lot of people and I felt like I got like an asking for advice. Like, do you have an insult that you recommend? And no one had a product that they could recommend to me. No one really was like, yes, I love this brand. I love this product. Instead. They were like, you know, I’ve been wearing these crappy and souls or I’ve been meaning to get into those, but I don’t know what’s good for me. And then I met Daniel and Daniel had a similar problem. Like he also had had foot pain and from walking around a lot and his sister had worn in souls and he always made fun of her. So the idea just like resonated with him very quickly. And from that moment on, we sort of were just decided to pursue. So from

Katie Hankinson (04:43):

There Fulton was born. I just, firstly, as soon as we started talking about posture, I was like, oh my God, I’ve said almost straight, but the other one is you’re so right. Like when you go into the pharmacy and see like all the really miserable, the king stuff that you clearly think of is for a completely different buyer. It was ripe for a bit of disruption and also of course the direct to consumer side of things. So how did it sort of come to be, what exactly did you end up doing in terms of building out Bolton?

Libie Motchan (05:14):

Yeah, so it’s been a journey. I mean the original approach was maybe we need to make something that’s like actually custom where we send the consumer a box, like a phone box and they make an impression of their foot and then they send it back when we make them a custom product. But after talking to a lot of chiropractors and podiatrists, we sort of learned that that wasn’t necessary. Most people can be perfectly or be perfectly fine with a non-custom, but a product that has arch support. So then we started thinking, okay, maybe we don’t need to make a custom product instead we can start thinking about something that they can buy off the shelf because that’s that alleviates some friction in terms like getting a box and that whole process. But we looked at what was out there. And as I had mentioned, like everything was made from gels and foams and plastics.

Libie Motchan (06:06):

So we kind of realized it’s not going to be as easy as taking something that already exists and putting a full brand on it. We’re really going to have to innovate. So then we started looking at materials and from there we kind of went back to the drawing board and we started thinking about like, what shoes do we really like and what brands and products do we really like in terms of arch support. And we went back to Birkenstock and I have this pair of sandals called Corky’s. I’m actually wearing them right now that are made from cork. And they’re my favorite shoes. Like in the summer I wear them all the time. And the beauty is really the cork and cork is amazing material because it’s really shock absorbing. So it like removes impact on the body. And also you think of fabric and socks, they mold to the shape of your foot over time.

Libie Motchan (06:48):

So they give you some custom support and, and that’s also super a super unique property of cork. And also on top of that, it’s really sustainable. It’s made from the bark of a tree. So it’s actually carbon negative to harvest and manufactured from cork. And once we decided on cork, like that was sort of, that became very central to the brand and the product. And we just started, yeah. We started to innovate and thinking about different materials that could go well. And then we found our factory and in Portugal, yes, exactly. Most of the world’s cork is harvest in Portugal. So it made a lot of sense for us to go there. And I remember we went, we took a plane to Portugal and it was like right in the middle of our finals week at the end of our first semester. And we were so worried that there would be like a snow storm or something going to be stuck in Portugal and you would be able to like take our final finals. But yeah, so we went and we found a factory and they were so willing to collaborate with us. And then we basically spent a year almost just prototyping with them.

Katie Hankinson (07:47):

Awesome. And so really a lot of this was kind of the leg work kind of serendipitous in a way that you were kind of trucking through your actual business masters at the same time, it’s figuring out the real life living version of it and also brainstorming with another factory who know their stuff so well, but can dig into a product innovation like that. I mean, there’s other pieces to it right too. So it’s the, the cork is the base of the shoe, but then there’s a couple of other pieces there’s cactus from Mexico that you’ve also been working with a company out there. And, and then the other piece is also sustainable too.

Libie Motchan (08:20):

Yeah. It’s the, the middle layer is a natural latex foam that we get from Indonesia. It’s super comfortable and, and it, yeah, it just feels like very luxurious. And then on top of that, is this vegan cactus leather, which, you know, we took a really long, it was actually really, really hard to find the top layer of the insole because they just don’t typically use sustainable materials there. It’s like really a lot of plastics and leather also, but this is a really incredible material. We have to ship it from Portugal from Mexico to Portugal, which is such a challenge, especially like during the pandemic, it was very challenging to figure out logistics, but it’s completely worth it. Like it’s such an amazing material.

Katie Hankinson (09:02):

Presumably as well, you know, as you’re really trying to move more towards sustainability and thinking about the carbon footprint, there’s a certain amount of calculus to have that piece in the pot and playing a part too. Right. Yeah, absolutely. So taking a step back to Fulton itself, you’ve been into business school, you and Daniel have met, I had this vision of you both kind of like hobbling up to each other. I have to, my book problem found a solution, found factories, found a product and prototyped it and then hit the market. Talk to me about the name because, you know, I, I think it, as part of that whole newer direct to consumer approach, it feels fresher. What, what, what was the thinking behind

Libie Motchan (09:45):

That? Yeah. Thank you. We love the name. It, it took a really long time to decide on it, but it, it has to do with New York city. Like we believe that this, this brand was born in New York, Danielle and I are both from New York in as a street I associated with the street in Brooklyn. Cause I’m from Brooklyn. Daniel says Manhattan Fulton, the Fulton street, subway stop and financial district. So that too, but it just like resonates. It feels like it’s walking. It’s all about walking around New York or anywhere you are. Yeah,

Katie Hankinson (10:18):

Even down to the detail of the site is walk Fulton, which I think is a nice way to just take it out of medicine and into the use case. Okay, so this is all happening while you’re at business school, right. You you’re basically finishing up business school and you launched this spring and then graduated

Libie Motchan (10:38):

Crazy spring. So

Katie Hankinson (10:39):

What are some of the early challenges of kind of getting to that launch point then?

Libie Motchan (10:45):

Yeah, I mean, I think part of it was figuring out the supply chain and shipping was definitely challenging, especially during a pandemic. First of all, like shipping rates are higher than they ever have been before. Everything is taking so much longer. And it was, it delayed our launch, our factory shut down for several months. In some ways I was good because it did force us to like take a break and better understand our consumer better engage with experts. And really, really like I ain’t got all the details before we actually launched. So that was definitely a challenge. I think another challenge is sometimes like thinking about the audience that we’re trying to reach, they definitely need to be educated a bit like just like I needed to be educated on the benefits of our support because no one has talked to this younger consumer ever. So they don’t necessarily know that the shoes that they’re wearing are bad for their bodies because the brands out there aren’t talking about it, that insult insult brands are not talking to this younger consumer. So there is a lot of education that needs to be done. And that’s something that we’ve been focusing on a lot now recently, like by building out a blog and engaging with experts and trying to speak in a language that consumers can understand.

Katie Hankinson (11:57):

Yeah, I bet. And it kind of medially lends itself to thinking about subsets of that consumer group. Cause there’s obviously the clinical bunch of people who need like orthotics. You’ve probably all going to see an orthopedic surgeon, but everybody else is kind of thinking about it more in a preventative way. So the education piece must be very important and you can imagine all those people working in jobs where you’re standing on your feet all day, like you, you kind of want to be like in support

Libie Motchan (12:24):

Of baristas Countrywide,

Katie Hankinson (12:26):

You know, that kind of field. Oh,

Libie Motchan (12:28):

A hundred percent. And that’s something that we’ve actually been really doubling down on recently. We did a pilot with trader Joe’s because their employees are on their feet all day and they, they put these mats down in front of the cash registers that help them for like anti-fatigue, but the rest of the employees are just walking around and I’m sure not the most supportive shoes cause no one’s thinking about it. So that’s something that we want to expand. I’ve also been like pretty targeted in different Reddit threads, just like trying to engage with people there. I’ve been kicked out of a few Reddit threads. I’m not allowed in the Starbucks baristas group or the target employees group anymore.

Katie Hankinson (13:08):

Love the hustle though. The other one would be we’re sitting here in our, in our little area over the Highline at the Hudson yards office. Like I think it should be handing out your insights at the end of the day.

Libie Motchan (13:19):

Yes, I was actually, I walked down the Highline as I was walking here. I was like, this is a great market. And also,

Katie Hankinson (13:26):

Cause you’re gonna get tons of tourists who are like, what? I can’t believe I’ve walked 20,000 steps in this city. Like I usually drive.

Libie Motchan (13:33):

Right? Yeah. I mean people, new Yorkers definitely walk more than anyone. So you talked about some of your

Katie Hankinson (13:39):

Marketing yeah. Challenges being customer education. Probably also all of these different kind of groups and cohorts of customer and how you prioritize them. What is that doing for your roadmap? Like how are you, how are you thinking about prioritizing with, with your small team, if you, as you continue to grow the brand?

Libie Motchan (13:59):

Yeah. That’s a good question. It’s a, it’s definitely a challenge and it’s, it’s something that we’ve been focusing a lot right now is trying to understand like how our different customers are shopping and how we meet them. And an insight that we had is a lot of customers are not buying insoles online right now. And that’s sort of changed the way that we think about the future, because it’s not necessarily our responsibility to try to shift consumer behavior, to buy online. Like if people are buying in souls at stores, that’s probably where we should start thinking to be. So now we’re really growing out our retail roadmap and on top of that, we know a lot of consumers get recommendations or learn about insults from their chiropractor podiatrists. So we’re building out a program where we partner with the diatrust and chiropractors to try and have them recommend the,

Katie Hankinson (14:46):

Yeah. So you kind of, you essentially have a kind of highly credible built in Salesforce essentially once you convince them and they believe that your product is working well.

Libie Motchan (14:55):

Yeah. And I mean, they it’s been, the buy-in has been pretty easy so far because until now they’ve said to their customers who aren’t willing to buy or there patients who aren’t willing to buy the customer thought if they suggest them going to the drug store and buying those, not so good gels and foams. So they, they pretty pretty immediately, they see the value of a higher end product or how I can

Katie Hankinson (15:16):

See that too, because I bet in the world of orthotics, it’s probably the same as dentistry where like most insurances don’t cover the kind of custom pieces like that. And so your fantastic alternative. So obviously thinking outside direct to consumer, looking into new channels, Omni channel and being a one product brand means you can be hyper-focused what’s your kind of ultimate ideal for this. So what’s the exit for you is this is the beginning of a brand that’s going to go kind of deeply vertical. Are you going to blow out Fulton into something that’s more about the whole bloody wellness? Do you know yet?

Libie Motchan (15:55):

That’s a really good question. It’s something we think about a lot. I mean, we’re so early that it’s hard to say. We’re really trying to understand like what our customer needs and wants ultimately like the goal and the vision is to get as many people as possible having proper arch support. And we have to think about like what products consumer want and want. And we’re like trying, we ask them often, like, what would you, what other things do you want? And based on that, we’re building out our roadmap and also again, like really trying to understand like what channels make the most sense. So what different types of approach approaches to retail should we be thinking about and building that into our roadmap

Katie Hankinson (16:29):

Of it, price channels. Are you finding work really well for you? You like on tech talk with

Libie Motchan (16:34):

Oh it’s so it’s so funny you ask. So I’ve been trying to get like viral on tech talk. And last night I posted a video that went viral. Like this morning I woke up and it has 10,000 views. Yeah. Awesome. Yeah. So I mean, I, it was definitely a learning, like I think I’d spent a lot of time making very manicured tic talks, sort of telling about the product and about my journey and starting the company. But then yesterday I posted a video where I was just like walking behind people that were protonating. So there were sort of rolling in and I was taking videos of them just their feet. And like, I put some like trending music behind it and I were like, pronating, like you, New York, new Yorkers, you’re pronating all around New York. You need proper artist support and it just blew up this morning. Yeah. That’s got all the ingredients though, but I’m like a little bit weird stalky, but at the same time, hilarious. Yeah.

Katie Hankinson (17:24):

Going to get this thing that everybody’s is not really pointing at any one individual or picking on anyone. It’s just a thing that we’re all probably doing. I bet. If you walked behind me, that’d be tough. What’s the opposite of pronating? Suppenating. Okay. Which one I do. I think I pronate

Libie Motchan (17:39):

Generally, if you have like slightly flatter feet, you have the tendency to pronate. Yeah. So what about you as a person? What have you

Katie Hankinson (17:46):

Learned throughout this? You kind of had the formal business school side of things, but then you set up a whole business with your business partner. So like what do you think, have you Libby, like what, what personal learnings as a leader and an entrepreneur would you point to as being most significant?

Libie Motchan (18:03):

That’s a good question. I mean, I think I definitely learned that this is like my passion. And I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe when I, when I started business school, I always thought this would be an amazing outcome, but I didn’t know. I thought maybe I’d end up in marketing, but I learned that I like really love to be my own boss and not have too many constraints around my time. And be able to be creative and like involve creativity in my day to day. I think what else I am. Yeah. I definitely love to work with people. I think it, I couldn’t have done this by myself for sure. Having a supportive co-founder has been critical. And I think another thing that I’ve learned is just like the importance of asking a lot of questions and just having an open mind at all times.

Katie Hankinson (18:45):

Oh yeah. Things move so fast. If you’re not asking people what the hell is going on, can’t rely on your own observations. That’s what I’m finding. We love building wealth, flying analogy for entrepreneurs because it speaks to that flexibility and foresight that’s needed to operate in business, but also to being able to really withstand pressure when the, when it’s really on what is your kind of checklist or process that helps you keep calm under pressure when you have to make decisions for for Fulton?

Libie Motchan (19:17):

Yeah. I think it’s all about like, thinking about the big picture and understanding what the goal is and then breaking it down into smaller pieces. But then I think it goes back to asking a lot of questions and surrounding yourself with smart people. So I think having good mentors and asking everyone for advice, but then also taking all advice with a grain of salt because there’s absolutely no right way to do entrepreneurship. Like everyone will do it differently. Everyone has different advice and experiences and perspectives. So I think, you know, yourself and you know what you want. So ask a lot of questions and have an open mind, but also yeah, follow your gut and, and take everything with a grain of salt. Love it. Wise words. Oh, thank you. I’m so excited

Katie Hankinson (19:59):

To see what happens with Fulton. I also need to immediately buy a pair because I need to stop my pronating. But thank you so much for joining us. It’s been wonderful chatting and we look forward to seeing what comes next. Yeah. Thank you for having me. This is great.

Katie Hankinson  (20:15):

Well, now that we’ve finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do Mickey and I caught up on some of the themes and topics that stuck out to us,

Mickey Cloud (20:25):

Yes, we welcome this to the post game show where we break down the key lessons we all can benefit from, including us here at the Sasha group here is the Sasha sidebar,

Katie Hankinson (20:41):

Awesome conversation with Libie from Fulton. I know so impressive. So early stage and yet like really crystal clear sense of,

Mickey Cloud (20:50):

I think that’s what was really, really just awesome to hear is, I mean, she’s, you know, early days, 18, 24 months in, and, and yet she’s got the roadmap roadmap and she’s going to, and so she is literally building offline right now. And for me that, the first thing that popped up is just the, you know, I think she had this thesis of like, oh, I want to find a brand. I want to find a sleepy category that I can kind of innovate with modern branding and what she kind of found when she, when they landed on kind of footwear and podiatry and like kind of this, this, you know, the category they’re in was that it actually needed real innovation to the product. Not just kind of like sleek branding that like appeals to gen X, gen Zers, and millennials pretty website, right. They had to dig in to find something that would be unique and kind of innovative in the space. And it was through sourcing materials. It was, Hey, let’s obviously the tie to sustainability kind of was the underlying part of it, but it was like, wow, so much of this category is plastics. What other materials from nature? Can we lean into whether it’s cork or cacti or whatever, you know, whatever. And I think that just takes you to a really, you know, generative place.

Katie Hankinson (22:00):

I totally agree. I thought they they’ve done a really good job of taking something. That’s obviously a lot of people need, but thinking about and building additional opportunities for storytelling and also reflecting what’s happening in the moment. Right. Right. It is about sustainability. That’s almost becoming table stakes in product design. And it’s pretty when you have a one product company, you know, you need to make sure we really are building a holistic product that stands up to brand brand scrutiny.

Mickey Cloud (22:31):

Right. And it’s just, you know, it doesn’t, that comes with challenges, right? Like it comes with the fact that, yeah, you’re going to have to source from Portugal and Mexico and all these different places, but like to create innovation, you’ve got to kind of go to those, those rocks that haven’t been turned over yet. And let’s say,

Katie Hankinson (22:46):

Figure out what your upsets are going to be in the world of sustainability.

Mickey Cloud (22:51):

And then the second kind of thing that came out was just that the, again, hammering home, the notion of omni-channel is, is so important from a where people can buy, you know, your product from right. And we heard it from Mike Grillo, from gravity blankets earlier around like, you know, no brand can truly be DTC in the long run and expect to kind of have fully fulfill its vision. And you know, she’s already kind of, you know, learning that right. Where, where, Hey, this is not a category that people just stink Dively intuitively by online right now. So let’s not fight the consumer behavior, let’s map a retail strategy where we can, you know, and, and, and put a little strategic thought around that where, you know, what does this mean for down the line when we’re not just a one

Katie Hankinson (23:33):

Skew? Totally, totally. And I think as well, there’s so many opportunities in terms of touch points within omni-channel that this brand can attach it us too, whether it’s the, the other aspects of the retail experience when people are buying footwear and also the professional services or unfair dietary that, you know, they, they’ve got so many opportunities that, that single tone econ thing kind of would essentially just remove these, these growth attracts for them. And it’s also, you think about the Warby parkers, the Evelyn’s like even the original kind of e-comm D to C giants, they all branched out into creating what retail, like, et cetera, et cetera. It’s not an either, or it really doesn’t need to be everyone. Right. The final thing, oh, go ahead.

Mickey Cloud (24:25):

I just loved the, the connection of the brand and the name to New York city and the walkability. And even just, that makes it, you mentioned the detail of the site is walk Fulton. It takes it out of medicine, you know, a medical use case and puts it into a, you know, you walk a lot. Yeah. And then we’re comfortable or help, like, you know, that your, your back pain is actually because of your feet, you know, like that whole thing.

Katie Hankinson (24:51):

So great. And so active, like just feels like an, a call to action. Even the URL. The last thing I did love is back to your point about sleepy brands that the kind of unsexy brand opportunity is so fun because you’ve got so much room in a Catholic, relate that to play with humor and be unexpected and not take that kind of like dull, you know, kind of run of the mill product description or education. Like, I love the little tick tock video that she took, which just went round and taking pictures, but like videoing the bags people’s beat, like so on the nose in terms of what, what that is thumb stopping, but also really valuable in terms of expressing what people need to know about pronating. So what’s our, what’s our question for, or supinate.

Katie Hankinson  (25:48):

Thanks for joining us for Building While lying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Mickey Cloud (25:59):

If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building offline, across brands, businesses, marketing, and

Katie Hankinson  (26:13)

Original music by Fulton street. 

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Not everyone can say they co-founded and built a brand while navigating business school—but Libie Motchan and her co-founder Daniel Nelson can.

This week’s Building While Flying guest did just that—and this is only the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey.

Libie Motchan co-founded Fulton with her business school classmate Daniel Nelson, after they bonded over shared foot pain and a lack of a reasonable solution for it. Between their classes and homework, they researched materials, found their production partner (in Portugal, no less), began building their brand, and networked with their target audiences. 

In her conversation with Katie, Libie shares some of the challenges she and Daniel have faced so far: finding a material that’s comfortable and sustainable, educating their customers, navigating multiple customer cohorts, digging into customer psychology, building their retail roadmap, and more. Libie also offers advice for fellow early-stage entrepreneurs: know yourself, know your goals, and follow your gut. 

Other in-flight topics:

  • How Fulton was born
  • Innovating their own products
  • Finding the right materials for their insoles
  • Challenges of building a brand from the ground up
  • Educating your consumers
  • Being present where your customers are
  • …and more!

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