Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spotlight on Dad -- Patrick Driscoll of FootPals

With Easter right around the corner, I think I have found the cutest accessory to go with your child's Easter outfit -- a pair of shoes from FootPals.  Not familiar with FootPals?  I wasn't until I stumbled across the website a couple of weeks ago.  And, like always, I checked out the "About Us" section to learn more about the person(s) behind the business.  I was happy to see that FootPals is a family run business and that a dad was behind these playful and imaginative footwear for children (with shoe sizes 6-12).  So, I reached to Patrick Driscoll to see if he would mind sharing his personal entrepreneur story with us all.  He got back to me within 24 hours, and 48 hours later he had responded to each of my Spotlight on Dad questions -- now, how is that for service. :-)

Now I know that there are tons of children's shoe stores out there that you can shop from, but I have to say that FootPals stands out by offering a fun line of children's footwear, that will have any child smiling once their FootPals shoes are put on.  I know this for a fact, as Patrick was gracious enough to send along samples of his pink bunny shoes and boots for Savannah and Arabella to try out.  Once the girls saw me take their new FootPals shoes out of the box, they couldn't wait for me to put them on.  And, once their bunny shoes were on, the girls were all smiles, and didn't want to take the shoes off. :-)  And, another way FootPals stands out amongst other retailers is that their shoes "are built from the ground up, with our own children and grandchildren in mind. That means the shoes are comfortable for developing feet and that all shoes meet CPSC guidelines for material content." 

Stay tuned on Friday, when I will share more about the cute Bunny shoes that FootPals offers, and that would make for a great addition to your child's Easter outfit, as well as photos of the girls modeling their shoes. :-)  And, as a special Easter treat, one lucky reader will have a chance to win a pair of FootPals for their child/grandchild -- winner gets to choose shoe style -- thanks to Patrick Driscoll, owner of FootPals. 

But, in the meantime, please enjoy my interview with Patrick, as he shares more about his family, and how FootPals came about.

Name:  Patrick Driscoll
Company Name/Product/Service: FootPals
Company Location: Leeds, ME
Company Website:  www.footpals.com
Twitter Handle: @footpals
Age of Company:  1 year
Favorite Inspirational Quotes: "In a gentle way, you can shake the world."  -Mahatma Gandhi
Favorite Book: Last Night in Twisted River – John Irving

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  How many children do you have?  What are their ages? Your hobbies? Etc.
Perhaps the best way to describe who I am is to say who I want to be: A good father, husband and friend. As a teen I found myself moving often from state to state, and learned quickly that the relationships you make are as important in defining who you are as any other aspect in your life. With that in mind, I push myself to be an outgoing person always looking for the next adventure. The friends I’ve made along the way are my blood, a true part of my extended family.

I have two beautiful daughters: Zooey, age 2 and half, and Norah, 3 months.

In the few moments during any given day that I have free to myself, I like to read – whether it be the latest news, historical books and articles, or long, winding fiction. When the weather allows,  I can be found puttering around in the yard or swimming at the lake with Zooey.

Briefly explain your business.  How did it come about? 

FootPals came about partly as a new adventure and partly as what I saw as a necessity. I’m always looking for something new to work on, and one day I found myself shopping for kid’s shoes and realized that the product I wanted for my daughter didn’t exist. Everything I found on the shelf was either too expensive, or poorly suited for an active child’s foot. Children need lots of space to move around, and their feet are the same way. So I set out with my partners to build a shoe that was incredibly comfortable, fun to wear, and wouldn’t break the bank. As a parent, I know how fast kids outgrow their clothes and shoes, so I wanted to put a product on the market that a parent would be able to comfortably afford. I am very happy with the outcome, and based on the reactions I’ve seen from children and parents alike, it seems as though I accomplished my goals.

What is a typical work day like? 

Being a stay at home parent and running a business should be defined as anything but typical. My day starts early, well before the sun comes up. I like to spend a couple hours looking at what the day is going to bring and working on developing new ideas for product before the kids are awake. Once the kids are up, it can be a struggle to find time to dedicate to just one thing, and because of that I find myself working for a half hour or so, answering questions from clients, customers, and my development and manufacturing team, and then another half hour playing with my girls. There is a lot of give and take. I hate to miss anything with my daughters, so I find myself spending a lot of my time working from my smart phone.

What has been a struggle while starting up your company?  

The biggest struggle for us was finding name recognition in the market. The children’s footwear industry is rather large, and it can be difficult to compete with the big names out there. We have taken an approach of instead of trying to compete, offer something truly different. Kids shoes should be about fun as much as they are about function.

What did you do in your past work life? 

Before I starting working in footwear, I worked as news photographer for several years at different television stations. Although I loved the work, my wife and I wanted to start a family and we couldn’t see doing that in a business that kept us away from home for such long and strange hours.

What have been some of your major successes? 

Beyond launching FootPals, I would have to say that one of my greatest successes was convincing my wife, Erin to marry me. Without her, I wouldn’t have the daily support and love to keep chasing after new projects and adventures.

What have been some of your major challenges? 

By far, the biggest challenges are balancing work and family. This business requires travel for a couple weeks at a time. There is a certain amount of isolation when traveling overseas. Ease of communication is getting better, but until they find a way to deal with 12 and 13 hour time differences, talking to my family has to be very well planned. It is difficult, but I have a great father and partner in the business that helps share the burden.

On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going? 

I like those “impossible” days. A true measure of a person is how they deal with difficulty and challenges. Sure, there will always be times when I feel like tearing my hair out, but I always remind myself that you can’t have the good times without some bad times to compare them to. I’m not looking to become a business tycoon; rather I just want to provide for my family. With that thought in mind, I can work my way through just about anything.

What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family? 

There is no real balance, simply a list of priorities. Family always comes first on that list, but often times, family first means that I have to put the work in to provide for them. Working from home is both a blessing and a curse. When Zooey says “Daddy, come play!” my answer is always yes. It just means I have to put in the extra time after I read their bedtime stories and they go to sleep.

What is next for your business? 

Our next step is to move away from a strictly web based sales model and work our way into the retail world. We’re just looking for the right partner retailer to take a chance on a new brand and share some shelf space with us.

Do you have any advice for other mom/dad entrepreneurs that are starting out and struggling, or are on the fence about starting a business? 

This is not a path for everyone. You have to have a vision for where you want to go, and be willing to put in the time. Money is an issue for many starting a business, and FootPals was no exception. The money is very minor though when compared to the other obstacles you will face. Believe in your product and vision, and you will find a way.

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