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From vellies to famous: how the Veldskoen brands went viral around the globe

Article provided by Discovery Business Insurance.

This South African brand went from zero to viral hero, received funding from famed US billionaire investor Mark Cuban and counts Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher and former Prince Harry as fans. Founders Nick Dreyer, Ross Zondagh and Nic Latouf talk branding and global growth.

Veldskoen, the iconic South African leather shoe favoured by farming families, got a refresh and rebrand. And suddenly everyone wanted them.

Nick Dreyer says he knew the idea was a good one when the team got really excited about it.  “I’d just come back from New York and I’d bought a pair of normal brogue shoe which had a bright yellow sole on, and I said to Ross, ‘hang on a second, what if a veldskoen looked like that?’ We had a designer who we asked to make the laces and the soles brighter,” he says.

Ross Zondagh adds: “He took the colours of the South African flag and effectively, he just put them on the shoe.“

And Veldskoen was re-born. “When we came up with the idea of Veldskoen, we realised it was a decent idea. The more we worked the business case, the more it revealed itself as something that could be scalable at some point,” says Nick.

Nic Latouf says: “Why it interested me instantly is because I am not the traditional type of person that would wear a pair of veldskoens, but when I saw the shoe initially and I felt very different about it. I thought other people would too. The storyteller in me just saw that you could build a big story around this and it is going to be huge. I knew it instantly.”

The enthusiasm set the tone for the business, and the team believes this energy caught on and multiplied through investors.  

“We made the press, we got onto a couple of television programmes, YouTube channels, because our first campaign was ‘The legend is back’. People felt as if we’d come back from somewhere. We created a little bit of the visible energy inside the brand,” says Nick.        

Ross adds: “Our initial thought of the brand was actually more of an international brand in terms for tourists, something South African people could take home with them. We just didn’t realise the South African appetite for the shoe, the [nostalgic]stories behind the shoe.” 

The secret sauce is maximising on serendipity

“We had a global ambitions right in the beginning and to be honest, we weren’t searching for investment. But, the one thing we’ve known from the start and is driving our strategy even now, is that the South African e-commerce retail market is only so big. So we headed to the UK to launch online,” says Nick.  

One of their social media tactics was to simply stay true and honest to the brand. “It’s not about hacks, it’s not about tricks. It’s about doing it properly, being 100% authentic and that starts with your team and the founders, how you behave. That filters through to the brand and how you translate that story online. Just tell a great story,” says Nic.

“On the business side, you have to deploy your investment correctly and responsibly for growth. The mirror, that is our audience, was coming at us with content and questions and engagement and they were coming at us from all over the world. These are South Africans that have just heard about Veldskoen, read about Brian Joffe, the great deal maker, that’s invested in Veldskoen and out of nowhere amazing South Africans were sending us pictures of them wearing their Veldskoens  everywhere!” says Nick.

Then there were calls from Washington City, and California in the United States.  “This guy called Steve Watts, says ‘I’m really interested in Veldskoen. I live in California.’ Basically, he made these incredible bodyboarding surfboards and sold them online. He was on the Shark Tank [investment game]show and he had taken investment from Ashton Kutcher and Mark Cuban. Everyone was together, on a Zoom call and we all just turned our cameras off and could not believe it. It was just the most ridiculous thing,” says Nick.

They say it took five months of legal agreements to incorporate a South African entity in the US. Meanwhile, Prince Harry was photographed wearing a pair of the shoes which the team had sent him a year before, by The Times of London. “We took a breath and said we need to maximise the opportunity. So we actually ran our own press about it that bit of press went nuts for about nine months after,” says Nic.

Ross says: “It is about creating those opportunities. We have a culture in our business where we share and collaborate. For example a wonderful photographer, Greg Beadle, we gave him a pair of shoes, he gave us a few photos.”  

Nick adds, “Then Greg was in Davos, Switzerland. He met (business journalist) Alec Hogg whose shoes broke and Greg goes: ‘You won’t believe it, I’ve got a spare pair of Veldskoen.’ and Alec Hogg wore these in the snow, all around Davos. Then he writes a massive piece about Veldskoen in Business Insider and that’s another huge piece of news.”

Lessons learnt and business guidelines

Nic says: “We decided a long time ago that we always say we are not the owners of Veldskoen, we are just the custodians. We had to peg down what our ambitions were and that then dictates the strategy. Our ambition genuinely is to create South Africa’s most iconic brand, globally.” 

Ross says: “The harshest lesson I’ve learnt is managing cash flow. You’ve got these great ambitions and wild dreams. But the reality is that if you aren’t able to transact, all your dreams are actually worth nothing.”

“Where we’ve made mistakes, we come back to the DNA in our business. The culture of being open and fair,” says Nick.   

“The greatest lesson that I’ve taken from our journey so far is the importance of culture and the fact that it will always, no matter what happens, permeate all the way through to your feet and onto the shoes that you wear now,” he says.   The 15-episode The Healthy Business Show is brought to you by Discovery Business Insurance.

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