Sneakerhead spouses Adena and Chad Jones turned their passion for kicks into the lively marketplace Another Lane. They share how that passion translates to an innate understanding of their market and value proposition.
Season 2 – Call Paul – Episode 3
Paul: Hello friend, I’m Paul Jarvis. Welcome to Call Paul, a show where I get to ring up some of the most interesting minds in small business and have thoughtful conversations about their unconventional approaches to commerce.
I’ve run my own small company for 21 years and I’ve written books on how bigger isn’t always better in business. In this season I’m talking to folks who are prioritizing doing the right thing over just the most profitable. Some are starting something brand new, standing up their businesses in an entirely new environment. Others have been at it a while, working to ensure their continued sustainability through turbulent times. And there’s lots to learn from everyone.
Chad: I didn't make it to the NBA. I don't have a deal like LeBron James or Michael Jordan. They don't know me personally. But I have lots of their exclusive shoes. Because I know people who know them. I know people who work for them and people who make it accessible to me. And that's what we're trying to promote here.
Paul: That’s Chad Jones, the COO and co-founder of Another Lane. He runs the company with his business partner and life partner, CEO and co-founder Adena Jones. Another Lane is a sneaker marketplace made for and created by sneakerheads with sneakers like you’ve never seen before, many of them museum-worthy.
Adena: We're not going to get the secret sauce away, right? But you do fill out an application on Another Lane to specifically be a seller. If you just want to buy or read content, we're all here for that. So, that's fine. But to be a seller, we're looking for an application. And that's because you are going to be operating in a marketplace.
Paul: Sneakers and the sneaker industry is a big deal. As in, it drives and creates cultural influence far outside of shoes, and it’s worth about 100 billion dollars worldwide. But for Adena and Chad, the sneaker resale market isn’t just about the money; it’s about the community. Sneakerheads are a diverse group of people -- intergenerational, with entry points from the worlds of sports, art, design and music -- and Another Lane brings them all together.
Adena: So, sneakers act as cultural markers in history. So, I'll take for example Run-DMC. Run-DMC, a pivotal group in hip hop culture, they had a song called My Adidas. Adidas superstars are now line to line connected to who they are, but also connected to such a great group.
Another example I'll list is, I think everyone's seen Back to the Future at some point in time. Michael J. Fox had the self-lacing shoes when he came to the future. And now, these shoes actually exist. They're called Air Mags. And actually, it was auctioned off. And some of them go for about $11,000 an Air Mag. And then, another thing that sneakers act is they act as emotional talisman, I like to call them, right? There are people who can look at a pair of sneakers, whether they own it or not, and draw back to a moment in their life, a moment that they may never get back, a moment that's special to them. And then lastly, they act as status symbols. Let's go straight, right? If you are wearing a very rare shoe, if you are wearing a shoe that Kylie Jenner had on yesterday, and now, the resale value has tripled, we know you're about something and that maybe you got a few dollars in your pocket.
Paul: So, speaking to the either status symbol of your choice, status symbol or emotional talisman, Chad, what's your favorite pair of sneakers? And what do they mean to you? And how do you feel about them?
Chad: So you could ask me for a year, and I could give you a shoe for the year, right? Because every year, my choice changes. I'm not the typical sneaker head who's stuck in the nostalgia of the '80s or '90s. I love the new product. I love where things are going. So today, I love Adidas’ 4D the technology. It's knit. And it has - like this carbon 3D printed soles. So, really futuristic type of technologies for you to build.But if you asked me two years ago, it was a different shoe. That every year, I wouldn't say that I probably spend 10 to $20,000 into one silhouette because I fall in love with it.
Adena: Chad has actually co-curated an international museum of shoes and sneakers. It's called Out of the Box: Rise of Sneaker Culture.
Chad: And I couldn't give it one. So, I gave them three for my own personal collection
Adena: We have a collection upstairs of over 600 sneakers, just about. So, you could see that Chad doesn't have a favorite shoe. If he had a favorite, we wouldn't amass this large collection. So, he loves them all.
Paul: Can you talk about what the other person brings to Another Lane?
Chad: I have felt understood my entire life.
Chad: Misunderstood, excuse me.
Chad: And exactly. She's able to magically understand some of the things that I'm saying and trying to do. And because she's a professional storyteller, and she cares about me, it allows me to really accurately get across what it is that I'm trying to do.Which sometimes can be very complex, and she has a great way of simplifying it and make it succinct. She's awesome like that. She's awesome at keeping me focused and direct. And that's what I appreciate so much about her.
Adena: Oh, thank you very much. What does Chad bring to the company? Off the bat, extreme knowledge of sneakers. I call him an archivist. And not because he feels like he has to hold on to some culture of sneakers, because a lot of sneaker heads feel like that. It's literally just inside of his brain. And it might have something to do with having an OCD. It doesn't stop with sneakers sometimes. At some point in time, it was small toy cars. Or NBA jerseys.
So this is just in his DNA and his blood. So, he eats, sleeps and breathes this. And you can't have a company, at least expect it to flourish and relate to such an authentic community if this isn't your livelihood and it isn't in your brain. So, that's definitely what he brings to it.
And Chad also brings a level of empathy for the customer. We've gotten some, I don't say nasty, but cantankerous emails and correspondence. And Chad is a whiz at relating to these people and bringing them down a notch and still having them still believe in Another Lane. And I myself, I'm just like, "I can't, it's angry people."
Paul: Nice. I do a bit of customer support in my business as well. And I get those angry emails as well. And I feel like the tune changes so quickly if the other person just feels like you heard them, and you listen to them.
Chad: It's not about you when those calls are going in. You got to try to get inside them and understand where they're coming from, and then address their pain points. From a place of leadership, you have to start with service. And in order to be the best service provider, you actually have to serve the customer, and you need to understand the customer to serve the customer.
I've been the one who's been not treated right. And I know how that felt. And it really sucked, especially when nobody was listening. So, I got the chance to be on the other side, and I want people to know I'm listening and I care, and I'm going to make those changes.
Paul: Yeah, I think that's one of the benefits of having a small business. When you run your own business, you can just be the human on the other end. It's not just a robot. So, what brought you to then start your company Another Lane?
Adena: Yeah. I saw it from the outside in, right, because Chad was very much all into it. He's been collecting and occasionally sell a sneaker here and there. And the current platforms were taking anywhere from eight to 20% of his sneaker sale. And I just told you how valuable sneakers are.
If you have a sneaker that's being sold at $5,000, why does a platform deserve eight to 20% of a hard earned shoe that Chad got because of his connections and who he is? So, he started selling on Instagram at certain points in time. And great, no fees and things. But people are in your DMs, lowballing you. DMs are not a customer service platform. And so, between those two, being on the outside looking in, I'm like, "Chad, there used to be this community. There are these people that you still have that you can text and have immediate sales or talk about collections. But other than that," and that's just him personally, it doesn't exist. So, I was like, "Let's create something for them."
Chad: Yeah, just to add about that, so currently, there's four different generations of people that are into sneakers. And so, it seems like around every 10 years, there's a new influx of people who like shoes for very different reasons and specific reasons. And so, from the outside, everybody is one type of person. But from the inside, there are very, very different types of people. And what we're trying to do is to create a bridge there because these fragmented places don't really allow for community and even like an education so you can expand the things you’re into.
Paul: Yeah. Why is community so important to you and to Another Lane as a business?
Adena: I do have a reason for this community. And it stemmed out of Chad. Maybe like we said, it was a need that he had. Sometimes, he's DMing somebody. He's texting someone. He's meeting up with someone. And this is no way to sell sneakers to have a business.
And we wanted to bring it back to what it used to be. That's why we're here and why we're going to continue to be here. So, community is the thing that we were missing. So, if they won't give you a seat at the table, you bring your own chair. That's what we're doing.
Chad: And my own table.
Adena: Table, cloth, the placemats.
Chad: The food. Other people got to bring the food, but I'm bringing the table and placemats, tableware, so. Truth be told, it's not about what you can do. It's about who you do it with. It's about the teams that you build. Because without that, it doesn't matter how good your product is, it's still going to fail. And again, I pride myself on having some shoes that people have never been able to see.
And I would never had the access to get some of the shoes that I've been able to have and even display had I not had this community behind me. I didn't make it to the NBA. I don't have a deal like LeBron James or Michael Jordan. They don't know me personally. But I have lots of their exclusive shoes. Because I know people who know them. I know people who work for them and people who make it accessible to me. And that's what we're trying to promote here.
Paul: How does the vetting process work? Because it's not just a site where you have a shoe, you upload it, and you sell it, right? So, can you talk a bit about how the vetting process works and how that relates to it being an important, I guess, having a community aspect to the thing?
Adena: How it works, we're not going to get the secret sauce away, right? But you do fill out an application on Another Lane to specifically be a seller. If you just want to buy or read content, we're all here for that. So, that's fine. But to be a seller, we're looking for an application. And that's because you are going to be operating in a marketplace. That's transacting money. That's transacting a product that is actually highly counterfeited in the world.
So, we want to, A, make sure that you're a good person before you get on this platform. And a lot of other platforms, they're anonymous, it doesn't matter if you're a good person. It's just like, "Yo, give me those fees. And let's go." So, we're looking at social media. We're looking at how many sneakers you've actually moved before. And also, we don't require it now, but it will be required, but we do welcome references. So, references that are of people inside the platform. Or people that are large in the sneaker community that we can connect you to. So, that is how we're looking at the application process.
And like I said, it actually acts as one level of fraud protection, right? If you apply, and I see your handle is, I don't know, Two Loves Kicks, and somebody has a thing that's like, "Yo, Two Loves Kicks sold me a bad pair, or he's really bad in communicating," we're going to think twice about that.
Paul: So, I want to talk about the partnership a little bit. Because you work together, you are together. So, let's start here. How does that work in practical terms as far as how did you decide what each of you are going to do in the business?
Adena: It's good question. How you'd like your CEO answer that? And I was like, I'm always talking. So, that's one thing that the CEO does is I am more or so or less the mouthpiece of the business, especially when it comes to pitching. And I do have a background in journalism. At one point in time, I was one of four black female sports columnists in the Nation. So, communication is something that is my specialty. That's practically, right?
And then, Chad is more on the organizational side. And Chad has an extreme knowledge center. Whether it's posting sneakers, talking to sneaker heads, making sure that our logistics are proper to deliver sneakers, Chad is all here for that. And Chad was actually a director of operations at a managed service provider, a telecom company. So, it's in his blood too.
Paul: So you were accepted into Techstars, an accelerator program for companies to get up and running. Can you talk about how you got involved with Techstars?
Adena: The way we got connected with Techstars was very serendipitous. And the thing about it, they talk about luck, but it's just when fate meets preparation, right?So, I was on a podcast called TrueHoop. We talked about basketball and things surrounding it, and culture. And during the time, we were going through a lot of the George Floyd movement and what was happening.
And a lot of times I got on the show, I was just frustrated and angry. I am one of two black people on the show. It's just four of us. And so, they talked about how can we solve this problem and how can we support the black community? I was like, "You what you can do? You can invest in my business."
I was reading all these books and hashtags. I was like, "You can directly impact the African-American community right here." And when I said that, someone who was listening in the chat was like, "Hey, I think I can help you." And fast forward, introduced us to people who were connected to Techstars. And they were from a bank called Silicon Valley Bank. And they were like, "Hey, have you ever heard of Techstars?" And it's actually the Techstars Boston program. And I was like, "No."
I was like, "It's in Boston anyway. We're in New York, it doesn't make sense." But we applied a lot of rounds of interviews. And we were prepared, though. We were like, "Listen, we're doing this without or with Techstars. And got admitted, I think we started October 29, with the Accelerator.
Chad: We have a check in and we're part of a cohort, it's 10 companies and they’re as far as Ireland and India in some cases. But all out of this cohort in Boston. But the larger network is 150 different countries with a market cap of $50 billion. And so, they're introducing you to these heads and people who really move money and are decision makers. And allow us the mentorship to build our company in a way that if we so choose, we could raise capital, and we could do a myriad of different things. And so, we're really appreciative of that.
Adena: Yeah, no, it's been great. It's almost like a three-month MBA. And we do appreciate that. A lot of the people are first time entrepreneurs, or don't come from backgrounds that have entrepreneurs in their family or their circles, and we're very much so like that. So, they are giving us the grace and space to participate and learn about this environment.
Paul: Got you. What happens if there's a disagreement in the business? How do you deal with that? And how do you make sure that that doesn't bleed out into other areas?
Chad: Yeah. In the beginning, it was a lot more difficult. We had to really lay out what the boundaries are and define them specifically. Because one thing that we're learning more and more today as we spend more and more time is that communication is so important. And also, our experience influences our communication, which is why our perspectives are so different. So, we have to make sure that we actually understand what each other is saying before rebuttal, emotion or anything even comes into play.
And that's extremely difficult. And I'm not going to sit here and say it's the easiest thing. But one thing I will say is when we get to that understanding, it's like, boom, because we already know that the relationship is a magical relationship … growth … acceleration..
Adena: And just to give a practical example of separating work and life. I'll give an example this morning. So, this morning, I'm literally just yawning, wiping across my eyes. And Chad wakes up before me. So, he's reading his emails in the bed. And I wake up like, "Huh?" He's like, "Hey, can you read this customer service email I'm about to send to this guy?" And he's like, "He's in Switzerland. So, the time difference, I have to email." And I said, "Do you think this is a proper thing to discuss at 7:30 in the morning?" And I was like, "I'm going to let you answer that. I'm not going to tell you what it is." But like I said, it's the exciting thing. And I have moments like that too. And we just have to check each other on it.
Paul: How has it been starting a company, basically, at the start of the pandemic, and then building a company through a pretty nuts year that 2020 was?
Adena: Stressful. It's stressful, but it's a unique stress. And yeah, it's weird, because, okay, yeah, you're pandemic, you're locked in house. But have you been locked in the house with your coworker? Because I have, right?
You used to be able to go have a drink with your girlfriends, or go on a vacation. We can't do that anymore. So, you find different ways. I'm learning to turn that worry into either productive work, or just ignoring it because I got this far. And continue to put into existence what we need.
Chad: I almost want to use an analogy of calling it a dark fantasy. So, my entire life, it's hard growing up being black, but I'm going to make no mistake about that. And so, my experience is less linear and more of a chaotic line, if I were to describe what I've come up through growing up and into the professional world. And so, 2020 to me was like diet my regular life if I'm going to be clear.
We were already preparing for this. The pandemic actually accelerated it to beyond belief. So, that's why I say a dark fantasy. A lot of crazy things happened that I could not have predicted. But those things happened to be very beneficial for us in terms of what it was that we were building. Literally, day one, when we opened up our shop, sales just skyrocketed. And so, it was like, "Oh, we might have something." And then, it became like, we're looking at like analytics, and it's like, "Oh, it's just for the US. Maybe it's just New York, maybe California. No, no, China, Switzerland, the UK. No, they want it all over the world." So, this is a thing. So, if we do it right, we've got a lot of potential for this thing to grow, because a lot of people aren't happy. But the one thing that connects us is sneakers.
Adena: We were preparing for life without full time jobs, right? Chad had already quit his job in 2018. We were preparing the family for me to quit at the top of 2020. So we understood what it was to have a real monthly budget to understand, make sure you get all your doctor's visits in, right? And so, we already tightened our belt. And then, the pandemic and we're like, "Oh, look, we're ready." And I already knew what it was like to work from home for about two months. So, there's that. And then, being in Techstars Boston, we would have had to move to Boston if there wasn't a pandemic. Because most Accelerators, you have to be there every day and be present. Now, we don't have to. And that's because it's virtual, and that's due to the pandemic.
Paul: It's amazing how many things used to have to happen in person that now that this has happened, it's like, "No, actually, it doesn't."
Chad: Yeah, totally unnecessary. You're wasting time.
Paul: So what advice would you give others, starting a business, right now, during the pandemic?
Chad: Every business needs to really be paying attention to how they communicate to their customer through the internet. Whether it be through e-commerce, just speaking to newsletters, or just trying to connect with them. And a lot of companies are failing in that aspect. But seeing that all the trends are going that way, the value propositions are, believe it or not, more in customer centric type of business than just a solution. And so, seeing that at a macro level, and being able to apply it to something that we're so passionate about, it worked itself out.
Adena: Another good thing that it is though is I tell people like, "That unapproachable CEO or person that you thought you would never get to talk to in person, guess what, maybe now, they do have time. Or that celebrity." Because it doesn't require them to get up, go somewhere. You're just going to be on Zoom. So, shoot your shot.
Paul: It’s this kind of sentiment that gives Chad and Adena the ability to move quickly, do what needs to be done and at the same time know the value of what they’re providing. And while there’s a lot of nostalgia in sneakers, it’s about a lot more than that - they’re basically cultural time-travelers:
Chad: It's just this memory. And I love my memories, but I love my future experiences just as much. In fact, my future, I love way more than the past because I can't go back there, but I can keep going to the future.
Paul: Chad and Adena are thinking hard about the future -- they understand the marketplace like few others, and know exactly how to scale their business. But more than that they understand how culturally relevant their business is -- that it isn’t just the sale of impeccably designed kicks, but the act of passing these “emotional talismans” from one sneakerhead to another.
Through this past year, I think we all may have collectively realized how important connection and community is. So company’s like theirs (and really other small businesses too) can thrive by being the understanding and connecting alternative to huge marketplace websites where anyone can sell anything.
And this understanding is a result of the thought and care they put into the business -- from leaning into Chad’s obsession for organizing systems and his expert eye and knowledge, to Adena’s masterful storytelling and ability to translate the importance of what they’re doing to stakeholders outside of sneaker culture. And they do it with an eye toward opportunity, empathy and flexibility.
(music) — Paul: Next Friday, I’ll be chatting with someone who’s charging for her side project and turning it into a business, empowering women to be their own superheroes (capes not included).
Benedicte: What would it take to make a privacy first menstrual cycle journal? What would I need to learn? What would I need to know about to make it happen?" So I created a talk proposal where I kind of just wrote out, I think, six statements about what I wanted from a menstrual cycle app or journal. And I think it was like do I want it to be shared? Heck no.
Paul: I hope you’ll join us. In the mean time you can listen to the small business spotlight, sharing with you a behind the scenes peek at the day to day of running a company. These stories are from folks who are doing amazing things, I think you'll really enjoy them. They’re also in the Call Paul feed.
Call Paul is wonderfully produced by Ruth Eddy and is a Mailchimp Original Podcast. Subscribe now on your favourite podcast player, so you can check out all our other episodes and seasons. And if you want more awesome content, go to mailchimp dot com slash presents.
Things are returning to normal – but that doesn’t mean we should go back to the way things were. Paul Jarvis is back, interviewing entrepreneurs who prioritize passion over profit and renegotiated the status quo.
Things are returning to normal – but that doesn’t mean we should go back to the way things were. Paul Jarvis is back, interviewing entrepreneurs who prioritize passion over profit and renegotiated the status quo.
Austin, blogger, illustrator and author, shares his entrepreneurial philosophy.
Bunnie, bookstore owner, shares a behind the scenes peek of running a company.
Kolkata Chai Co.’s co-founder on the importance of your business's north star.
Joey, co-founder of Baronfig, shares a peek at a company’s day-to-day.
Adena and Chad, owners of Another Lane, on understanding your customers.
Laura, owner of Adventure Cats, shares a peek at a company’s day-to-day.
Benedicte, creator of POW!, discusses sustainability over scale.
Kelli of The Gathering Spot shares a peek at a company’s day-to-day.
Akoto and Lauren, co-founders of Capital B, discuss building customer trust.
Kyle of Totally Good Time shares a behind the scenes peek at running a company.
Listen to the leaders of Real talk about revolutionizing mental healthcare.
Latosha of Proper Gnar shares a behind the scenes peek at running a company.
Jeff, owner of design studio Ugmonk, and a new way of doing business.
Tiffini of Latched and Hooked shares a peek of a business’s day-to-day.
Leah, the COO of Juniper Ridge, discusses sustainable business.
Brandi of Just Add Honey shares a behind the scenes peek of running a company.
Connie, CEO of East Fork, shares how her company defines its own success.