b.Line: Wisconsin School of Business Magazine: "UW Graduates Take an Entreprenurial Step"

The story:

Two brothers, James and Matt McManus, have brought the ultimate sandal to the United States market, Bokos. Bokos are durable, anti-slip, and easy to clean, anti-odor sandals offered at an affordable price for both men and women. b.Line spoke with Matt about his journey to launching Bokos and the future of the Bokos brand.

What year did you and your brother graduate from WSoB?
Matt McManus: I graduated in May 2013 with a double major in marketing and management with a focus in entrepreneurship. My brother, James, is a 2010 graduate with a degree in Chinese, and is currently living in China.

What inspired you to start Bokos?
Matt McManus: James studied abroad in Bejing in 2008 and came back to the States with sandals styled similarly to Bokos: a one piece, slide sandal with a cross-strap design. Our friends and family loved the sandals, and asked us if there was anywhere in the states that sold something similar. We began researching products in the States to see if there is anything similar, realized there was nothing, and saw a great opportunity for us to fill the gap.

What were your next steps after realizing this product had potential in the U.S.?
Matt McManus: We started talking with manufacturers in China. James is currently living in China and works with our manufacturer there.

What was the process of finding the right manufacturer like for you and James?
Matt McManus: It took over a year of communicating with manufacturers and going back and forth with samples, pricing, and minimums. Business overseas is so different and half the battle was finding one that we could trust. We really had to sift through some manufacturers that just didn't feel right before finding people we felt were legitimate and trustworthy.

So after finding the right manufacturer, what were your next steps?
Matt McManus: We were a little unconventional with how we decided to move forward. We really believed in our product, and hoped others shared our feelings. We didn't have any retailers or customers waiting on the other end of things, so we kind of took a "shoot first, aim later approach." We officially launched on April 8th, 2013, my 22nd birthday. Within the first few months of our launch we had some big press features that were extremely helpful. Our press included the Wisconsin State Journal, the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.

Where are you at today with Bokos?
Matt McManus: We are discussing now with some of the biggest cycling and gardening distributors and partnering with them could potentially put us into a lot of doors in 2014.

What do you like most about running your own business?
Matt McManus: You get to do so many different things. If you work for a bigger company, they put you in a role and you're only in charge of certain things. For my own company I'm talking to customers, designing websites, building the brand. It's very versatile.

What has been the most challenging aspect of running your own business?
Matt McManus: When owning your company there is no road map on what will work and what won't work, you have nothing to look back on yet. There's no "how-to guide." It's the first time for everything and you have to learn for yourself and sometimes there are expensive lessons. It's only a failure if you don't learn something from it.

What do you love most about your product?
Matt McManus: You can wear them for so many different things. We have been a cycling family and also like to camp and run. Bokos are our go-to sandals before riding, around the campsite, or after a run.

Who is your target market for your product and why?
Matt McManus: Our core market is people who are active and wear their sandals before and after activities like yoga, cycling, running, and swimming. But we are trying not to pigeonhole the brand or product because we believe that nearly everybody can enjoy Bokos.

What advice would you give to students at WSoB, entrepreneurs?
Matt McManus: It doesn't matter who you are, you can start a business. The one thing you need above everything is resiliency. Entrepreneurship is very challenging, demanding, and requires a lot of willpower.

Lastly, what is your favorite memory as a Badger?
Matt McManus: As you get further into the business school you really get to know your classmates. The business school felt more like a high school and less like college and it was cool to make those connections.

To see the story online: Bokos Sandals in b. Line Magazine