Jason Shuman always knew he wanted to start his own business.
So in the spring of 2013, almost three years after the formation of his boat shoe company, Category 5, Shuman entered the University of Miami Business Plan Competition. Shuman won first place for his business plan and Category 5 took home the grand prize of $30,000.
With the help of this money, what started as a small college start-up company has grown into a nationally recognized brand. Category 5 now has a staff of four full-time employees, three sales representatives and 80 campus representatives at universities across the United States. Retailers carry Category 5 products nationwide.
The company has had so much success that it has decided to create a second line of men’s shoes as well as a brand new line of boat shoes for women.
“After we released our first line of men’s shoes, we started getting great feedback from women who loved our products,” Shuman said. “They wanted to customize their own boat shoes with sorority letters and monograms, so we decided to create a product that would allow them to do that.”
Category 5 chose the business start-up website, Kickstarter.com, to unveil its new women’s shoes and a second line of men’s shoes. Consumers have the opportunity to “back the project” by either making a financial contribution or ordering an item directly off the new lines of footwear while products are still in the prototype stage.
“In order to place an order for our next two lines of shoes, the manufacturer requires a minimum order quantity,” Shuman said. “That’s where the $15,000 number comes from.”
With 18 days remaining in the project, Category 5 had raised close to $14,000 of the $15,000 necessary as of Wednesday evening.
Shuman maintains that he owes much of his company’s success to UM’s Business Plan Competition.
“The competition allowed me to expand my network, fine-tune the pitch for investors and go through the process of creating a business,” Shuman said.
The money did not hurt either.
“When you’re in start-ups, money is always an issue,” he said.
Susy Alvarez-Diaz, the coordinator of the program, says she is pleased with the way the competition was able to contribute to Category 5’s success.
“The competition did exactly what we wanted it to do for our students … it provided the seed money to turn an idea into a business,” she said.
Category 5 was born in 2010, shortly before Shuman’s sophomore year at UM. Shuman, along with his brother and three best friends, was frustrated with the uncomfortable break-in period and short life span of traditional boat shoes. The five men decided to collaborate and create a more “comfortable and durable” alternative for consumers.
Shuman believes one of the primary reasons for his company’s success is the customization process of his shoes.
“Category 5 is the only company that I know of to offer custom embossing on footwear after production,” he said.
Embossing is essentially a heat stamp, which gives consumers the opportunity to add a custom design to their shoes. This feature has been especially popular among fraternity and sorority members, who use the embossing to imprint their Greek letters onto their shoes.
The Category 5 boat shoes also offer “unparalleled comfort” in the boat shoe industry, Shuman said.
“We added an EVA foam insole for maximum comfort and redesigned the back heel so it fits more like a sneaker,” he said.
Consumers seem to appreciate Category 5’s emphasis on comfort.
“I now prefer them over any boat shoes in the market. They are comfortable to the point that you never want to take them off,” says one customer testimonial from the company’s Kickstarter page.
Alvarez-Diaz believes that in addition to these unique features, Shuman is also largely responsible for Category 5’s success.
“Jason has the ability to position this product in a niche that hasn’t been explored yet. He is also very effective at using social media to advertise,” she said.
Going forward, Shuman has big plans for his business.
“Ultimately, I want to grow Category 5 into a strong lifestyle brand that people can relate to,” he said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information on Category 5, visit the Kickstarter site bit.ly/Cat5Kickstarter or visit its Facebook page facebook.com/Cat5BoatShoes.