Stephen Lease failed. Then failed again. And again. And again. And again. Amid the odds, he tried at success one more time.
Eventually, Lease got into running, a hobby that would bring him to his next entrepreneurial idea: affordable and stylish glasses for all types of athletes.
Stephen Lease, the CEO and co-founder of goodr, has had quite a business career. After six unsuccessful endeavors, Lease founded goodr, which has now grown to over 100 employees and whose products are being sold worldwide.
Through his down-and-up experiences, he has gathered the tools to create a successful business that has grabbed the attention of everyone from athletes to gamers.
LMU students have many valuable lessons to learn from Lease. Calling his previous tries "black marks," he never let them slow him down on his path to success. In fact, he learned from them to make his future companies stronger.
Lease believes that loving what you do is really the key to success. He urges those looking to follow in his path to find comfort in the discomfort and persevere.
He sat down with the Loyolan to discuss his career and what valuable lessons he has learned from it.
Nicole Norman (N.N.): I was wondering if you could talk about your previous business endeavors and what you learned from those who you think made goodr succeed.
Stephen Lease (S.L.): Yeah, you know, everybody always sees goodr and thinks it's an overnight success because we're six years old, we have 100 people and it's, in a lot of ways, a fairy tale. goodr is the sixth company I have either started or been a part of starting. And the other five were failures to some degree or another. I have yet to sell a company. So that's just an important thing to remember. Once you fail once, it's easier to fail a second time and a third time … you can get used to anything, even failing at companies. And so goodr was a, you know, a success, because I had five amazing learning experiences beforehand.
(N.N.): Did you ever run into a time where you were like, "I don't know what to do next?" How did you overcome those so-called failures?
(S.L.): Yeah, I used to call them black marks ... like they're assets. They're learning experiences is what they are. I started a company right out of college and did it for four or five years. And you know, that one, the last year and a half was a real grind. And so when that when it failed, actually, I went and worked in corporate America. I worked for a big sports company, because I didn't have that experience. And so, I love that job. But being there, I started going to entrepreneur talks ... and I realized, like, oh, I actually do want to be an entrepreneur. And so, between the first and second company, it took me stepping away to realize, like, 'Oh, this isn't what I actually want to do.' And I think that's important. I think sometimes we just all need breaks or rest on certain things in life … The first one is the hardest one to fold. And from there, when you realize what to start looking for, then it gets easier to be like, hey, this worked, but this didn't. And for me … I love the act of starting a company, I love the grind. And make no mistake about it, it is a straight grind. And, so when you love the work, then everything else kind of takes care of itself. And so, I'm blessed that I'm doing what I've always ever wanted to do. I think that sometimes people see an entrepreneur, a CEO, and it's fetishized and it's cool. And then it's also there's a lot of things that aren't so cool about it. And so why it was so easy for me is because I enjoy the problem solving, I enjoy the act of the art of the game that is starting a business.
(N.N.): So what was your inspiration for goodr?
(S.L.): I got really into running later in life and [I ran] my first marathon when I was 30. And I fell in love with running. And so along that path, one of my co-founders, Ben, and I were training together for a big race and we talked about how there was no running brands in the world that we thought represented fun and fashion. And so that was kind of the seed and so from there, we kind of thinking about things and and since I had started companies before, like I have an ideation process, and I realized in this about six-minute period that everybody I knew that ran was not wearing expensive running sunglasses, they were wearing just normal eyewear. And so really, we had a problem. And the problem that we solved, the market for running sunglasses are ugly, they're expensive and they're over-engineered. And so our company was based on solving that problem, making them fashionable, affordable and all run without the extra bullshit. And so we simply just saw a problem in the market that we were connected to, and then went down the path of creating a solution.
(N.N.): So goodr, has become also sort of a lifestyle brand. Was it always the goal for it to be like that? Or is that something just that kind of developed?
(S.L.): Yeah, I always tell people that the last thing that we'll need is another lifestyle brand. We were an active eyewear brand. We're now big enough, Nicole, that we are reached the masses. But you know, in 2017, we had this crossroads of are we a run brand, or are we an eyewear brand, and we realized we are an eyewear brand. And so then we had "run goodr," and we launched "beast goodr," which is for the CrossFit athlete, then "bike goodr" or "golf goodr" or "gamer goodr," and we consider ourselves an active sunglass brand. And in so although we have mass consumer appeal, I don't believe we're a lifestyle brand. And I'm very wary of taking us down that path. Because if you speak to everyone, you are actually speaking to no one.
(N.N.): Going off of that, what is your target consumer? And what do you think attracts people to goodr?
(S.L.):Yeah, so right, so we have those five consumer bases. So we have the runner, the cyclist, the golfer, the gamer, the CrossFit athlete. And so those are the are five market areas that we go into. But really take [running], for example, we have Olympians, and world record holders and PGA players wear a product. We make our product for the 5k runner, or you know, the casual golfer, because we just really felt like it was underserved. You know, we know so many brands talk about the elitism, and all these benefits and features that nobody really cares about. And so for us, like, we want to make something for the everyday person that they can approach it, you know, I don't want people to feel like they have to run a seven-minute mile to wear our product. If you show up and run, you're a runner, and that's good enough for us. And so we really focus on those athletes and the amateur side of it.
(N.N.): So I noticed that your most recent addition was the gamer glasses. Can you talk about why you saw need to serve those people as well?
(S.L): Every year we kind of add a new vertical … and somebody internally is actually a gamer. Her name is Theresa, she's now our gaming community manager. She pitched us launching "game goodr" because she really felt like it was an underserved community. People think of gamers and they think of nerds in their basement playing video games. And really, most of us are actually gamers in one way, shape or form. And so we saw it as an opportunity to actually have fun and serve a community that we felt was underserved. And so, you know, as we were coming up with this we were at TwitchCon 2019 before the world shut down and was thinking like, "Oh, well, we're going to make sunglasses for gamers."We do have blue light blocking, too, but we thought, "Well, people are going to ask when you're a sunglass company, 'Why are you why are you making glasses for gamers?'" And so our tagline for game goodr is: "game goodr because gamers go outside too." And it is this idea of like, hey, most of us are all gamers. So that's where that that's the origins were for that. It's been going great.
(N.N.): Okay, so kind of switching directions here, I noticed that Black Lives Matter is very important to goodr. And I was wondering how you see social justice is playing a role in your company.
(S.L.): We kind of have two areas we work with, we were 1% for the planet, which [means] we give 1% of our top line revenue to things that benefit the earth. So we're carbon neutral. You know, we gave a lot to help the fire relief last year. And in what we realized in Black Lives Matter is we were doing a lot for Earth and animals and environment and we thought we could be doing better for people in human rights. We want to bring awareness to [causes] that we believe in … And so we are picking different groups. People internally actually get to nominate organizations to work with … Last year, we paired with Special Olympics and 100% of proceeds go to the Special Olympics. And as we move forward, we're going to be doing a handful of partnerships a year, we give all the money to the partnership. And really for us, it's, it's twofold. We want to obviously give them money. We don't probably have it, but we want to, more importantly, just raise awareness with our community. We have a really big community now. And we can't control what goes on in the world, right, the world's a big place. But we can control what goes on inside our walls and our customers. And so moving forward, we have a really active plan to bring awareness to different human rights groups. And so next year, I think we have six partnerships we're rolling out. And a big thing we want to stay away from is virtue signing. We want to get out in front of it, and talk about things that are important to us and our staff and go from there and in. So [our] long-term focus will be Earth and animals on one side, people and human rights on the other.
(N.N.): So I know you're coming to LMU on Tuesday. So what can a student from LMU expect to hear at your "Live and Work with Purpose" talk?
(S.L.): When I was putting together a talk, I realized, you know, I can talk about our brand new culture and how we got here. But I took a step back, and I'm a big believer in [the fact that] I'm there to serve the listener. And so it's actually not for me, it's for you. And so I asked people who have recently graduated college, and some of our interns like, "Hey, if you're in school, what would you love to hear about? And what are some issues you're facing?" And I heard kind of three things pretty consistently: this feeling of uncertainty, all right, everything's been laid out. So like, now you're gonna be going into the real world, how to deal with uncertainty, how to process failure and, and how to persevere. And then, really, at the end of the day … this idea of hustling for self worth, or doing things for others. And so that's living and work with purpose. So the three things I'm going to really talk about is how to thrive in uncertainty, because uncertainty is going to be there for the rest of your life. So let's just handle it now. How to cultivate perseverance, like, perseverance is actually even, it's a learned skill. So how to do that, and then how to love your work over the results. Because at the end of the day, I could work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the work never gets done. And there is no wind. I just love getting up every day and doing what I do. And so how can I help other people find the joy in what they do? And so I'm really going to focus on stories and lessons I've learned that center on those three things: thriving uncertainty, cultivating perseverance and, you know, living and working with purpose.
Lease will be speaking on this and more at LMU this Tuesday, Nov. 2 in Hilton 100 at 8 p.m. RSVP on LEO here.