Samantha Dong is a business entrepreneur and a founder and CEO of Ally Shoes. She is a graduate of Cornell University and she earned a Masters of Business Administration at Stanford. Samantha Dong continues to prosper with in the footwear industry and in this interview she talks about how she started her own business from the ground up. POP Style TV goes into details with her how important connections are when it comes to starting a business and discuses how she has adapted her company in current times.
DISCOUNT CODE : POPSTYLETV10 (10% off first pair of flats ) and POPSTYLETV40 $40 off first pair of heels
Ally Shoes is an NYC-based brand making pain-free heels for professional women, the brand also launched flats last year with the same arch support and comfort. A patent-pending design and inclusive sizing options (size 4-12, FOUR widths), our mission is to be an ally in fashion for all women. The innovative design makes classic pumps comfortable like never before and our flats are stylish and just as comfortable to wear at-home, or wear them out. Ally shoes expanded their line to offer block heels, ankle strap and mary jane pumps and our heels are really the core of who we are. They also offer at-home trial at no cost.
Interviewed and edited by Nico Villasana
Nico: Hello everyone. My name is Nicholas Villasana with Pop Style TV. Today I am joined by CEO and founder of Ally shoes. Say hello Samantha
Samantha Dong: Hi. Hi everyone. Hi Nico. Thanks for having me.
Nico: So my first question is I want you to tell us a little bit about yourself. You know, what got you into business and wanting to become an entrepreneur.
Samantha Dong: Yeah, sure. So, um, you know, it kind of really happened as a serendipity. I didn’t come from fashion or retail background. I started my career as a management consultant and on a business side. Uh, and you know, if anything, I was definitely a heavy heel user and, uh, had a lot of experience with heel pain, uh, walking in airports and things like that.
Um, but really. I kind of had that epiphany moment after I injured my toes, uh, from big hiking trip. And so after that, I actually couldn’t get into photo shoot for quite a while and started wearing inserts and an orthotic, but could not get back into heels without pain. So I think that’s when it really hit me.
Um, The problem has existed for a while. And it kind of felt a little ridiculous that, you know, as women, we still have to sacrifice or compromise between kind of style and comfort. Um, and I was in business school getting my MBA at the time. So at a little bit of time to kind of explore the, uh, the problems interviewing people and trying out, um, solutions and proto-typing, so that’s kinda how I got started.
Nico: Uh, this company, what was like the, what’d you say the biggest challenge really is, you know, to starting your own business, get everything from ground up.
Samantha Dong:Yeah. I mean, it’s really everything, uh, kind of create, uh, you know, the difficult product, but also creating a business from every aspect, from a pure idea.
So, uh, I think, you know, I would say that probably the biggest challenge is, um, it is a very difficult problem to solve, which is probably why, uh, you know, going back to what I was wondering at the beginning, how come no one has solved it because it is darn difficult. Uh, and so trying to figure out, um, an alternative solution, um, is definitely a kind of, you know, it’s the biggest uncertainty, uh, around.
I think I was lucky enough that I, I was able to recruit a very diverse talent pool. Um, we have Dr. Clark, who’s a pediatric surgeon, uh, Sarah, our designer ad rate experience both with kind of shoe making as well as sneaker making. So she kind of brought in that aspect into. And our product advisor was a lead designer at Nike collaboration.
So we tried a lot of new ideas and, um, you know, can try to do things differently. So ultimately we were able to find something that is very different and it works really well. Um, but it was, it was not easy.
Nico: Right. Well, I mean, that’s great then, you know, people are like, it’s always about connections and you certainly have array of people. Well, if people were able to help you out. Uh, did you know them personally or is like you have any new someone who knows someone who led you to?
Samantha Dong: Yeah, so I actually found a product advisor, Jeff Burt, and I just reached out, pulled on LinkedIn. That’s how initially, because again, I didn’t come from industry.
Yeah, to your point in connection is very important. Uh, I didn’t have that, but I think I would sort of audacious enough to try to find people with the right profile. So I approached the staff along with a few other hold messages, few, definitely number one on my list. And. Uh, he really liked the idea and he then introduced me to Sarah and Dr.
Clark, um, because he is very connected in the industry. So that’s how the team got formed initially.
Nico: Right. That’s great. Well, you mentioned this, the score earlier, I saw that. Went to Cornell graduate. You got your master’s at Stanford. That’s incredible. Um, was there any sort of experiences, I mean, any lessons that you learned that helped contribute to your success as an entrepreneur?
Samantha Dong:I wouldn’t say we’re a success yet. I think we’re still a working party. Um, but we are, uh, I think we achieved a lot of important milestones. Um, so kind of looking back, I guess for me, the biggest learnings in different parts of my career has always been. I think they’re bigger, very ambiguous problems.
Um, starting with, you know, my experience in consulting, um, or even going back to, you know, I was an international student, um, when I was in college and in grad school where I had to adapt to a new culture and learning a lot of new things. Um, but you know, I think we’re lucky enough that. Dr. Google it’s out there and you can really, uh, try to figure things out on your own with the right resource.
So, um, that’s something that I think I got used to, uh, through, throughout my academic career or as a consultant, trying to figure out industry. And then it kind of translated into when I had to start a company, figuring our shoes, figuring out, you know, branding, how to set up accounting systems, you know, everything new, uh, I, it, every time it’s a new challenge, but I kind of trusted that I could figure out.
So I think that that’s been very helpful
Nico: Speaking on the topic of branding, uh, I guess when you’re talking to your marketing team or when people ask you about Allie’s shoes in general, what do you say in your mind is like the targeted consumer?
Samantha Dong: Like, um, so, you know, we named it ally because we want to really be the best friend in fashion, like a true ally to our target customer who has, you know, this ambitious, busy professionals.
Uh, you know, age-wise, we do have a very, very wide range, but I think our core is between the age of 30 to 50. So she’s the, uh, has had a few kind of career progressions and it’s, you know, trying to get to the next level. Uh, definitely starting to have a lot more things she needs to balance either with, you know, agent Karen or maybe kid and family.
Uh, or maybe she is, you know, very focused on her career, whatever it is. The last thing we want her to worry about is heel pain. Right. We want her to look great, feel confident and just kind of conquer the world and we will be there to help her with the most, uh, you know, kick ass and comfortable shoes out there.
Nico: Right. Well, when do you get, when you go and do a shoe store, you know, you gotta try the shoes on, you gotta figure out the size for you, but of course, in our current times, you know, things get a little dip and a lot of businesses closing, reopening. So how was the pandemic shorter, shifted the way you’ve conducted your business?
Samantha Dong:Yeah, it definitely has changed a lot, um, in terms of how we approach our customers. I will say that, you know, even before the pandemic, we were. We’re quite Omni channel. Uh, I’ve been kind of half with our business. We’re online and half of them were offline with the online cart. Uh, we started building this experience where we had the fit finder quiz online.
So if someone is not in New York, uh, not somewhere, we can go then, uh, you know, she can fill out these 10 questions and we will, our algorithm will predict which prize would fit better because we do have a more granular set of sizes from kind of pack sizes to set. Um, but our quiz, if this, you know, almost like a gamification of experience where you tell us a few things and we’ll tell you what size to try.
Nico: I always find it astounding, seeing all the different ways these businesses can, you know, change and adapt. I mean, you see people. You know, showcase their products, like the zoom call and you have this, how the rhythm it’s really incredible.
Samantha Dong:Yeah. And I think that’s what startups are, we’re used to, you know, changing and pivoting all the time. So yeah, it’s sad that what we do.
Nico: That’s really good, but, uh, well that’s all the questions I have. Thank you so much for coming off. They give your time. I wish the best for your business. Can’t wait to see what direction it goes. How, how else you would adapt to the current situation.
Samantha Dong: Thank you for having me, Nico.