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Jodie Fox opens up about Shoes of Prey in new memoir

Shoes of Prey co-founder Jodie Fox has published a memoir about her experience leading the design-your-own-shoe company that was once lauded as the future of retail before it all came crashing down last year.

On shelves today, Reboot falls somewhere between a how-to and cautionary tale for entrepreneurs. It begins with Fox’s journey from the law to founding a mass customisation startup, touches on the day-to-day running of the business and ultimately explains what went wrong.

“The book is an attempt to draw a line and make peace with that 10 years of my life in a way that I hope will be useful to someone else,” Fox told Inside Retail

All the right indications

Founded by Fox together with her then-partner Michael Fox and Mike Knapp in 2009, Shoes of Prey was one of the brightest stars in Australian retail, and its mass customisation model was regularly cited as an example of the way customers would buy in future.

According to Crunchbase, it raised US$29.5 million from venture capital firms, such as Blue Sky Alternative Investments and US fund Greycroft Partners, and was backed by the likes of Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes and US department store chain Nordstrom.

But it all came crashing down last year after failing to gain the widespread uptake necessary to make the numbers work.

“We had all the right indications from our research into what customers wanted. All the data was pointing precisely in that direction, which is why we were able to raise so well against the concept,” Fox said. “There was no other way we could have discovered that wasn’t the case.” 

As the public face of the company, Fox had delivered a keynote speech at the NRF’s Big Show in the US in 2017 and lectured at Stanford University’s business program. When she then had to announce Shoes of Prey would stop taking new orders last August, it was “pretty traumatic”, she says.

“Closing a business is an extraordinarily challenging experience. It’s a very public experience of something not going the way you had planned,” Fox said.

A roadmap for failure

While many people pay lip service to the idea that it’s OK to fail, she says there isn’t really a roadmap for how to close a business. That in part is why she wanted to write Reboot

“To me, the next stage of owning the idea that it’s OK to fail is to step up and share the learnings of what actually happens in that process, and that you’re not alone. That’s where I can offer the greatest service.” 

The act of writing the book, as well as messages of support from other entrepreneurs who told her, “welcome to the club”, helped Fox get through a “scary” period after the business closed.

“The levels of shame and embarrassment…your mind is overly critical in a not-positive way…the sense of being alone,” she recalled.

Those feelings were heightened by all the time she suddenly had on her hands.

“I had this incredible lack in my life where previously the vision of Shoes of Prey had filled that spot. I tried to fill it in lots of other ways – one was keeping busy cleaning everything in my apartment, darning every hem, watching The Sopranos back to back and then reading articles in The Wall Street Journal about Tony Soprano’s shirts,” she said.

“When you work at that capacity for so long it’s difficult to get comfortable with any other pace. The book gave me that at a time when it was needed the most.”

Back in the spotlight

Fox will be speaking at a number of events to promote Reboot in Australia, where she recently relocated after several years’ living in Los Angeles, and she admits the return to the spotlight has caused some trepidation.  

“Shoes of Prey was very personal for me, but this [book] is tenfold more personal,” she said. “I definitely have some mild version of PTSD around it. I’m scared of the way it will be received. It’s equally as terrifying that no one will read it, as it is that people will.”

With the publication now complete, Fox is ready to move on to the next venture. She is looking to take on some board roles and says she has an idea for a new business in fashion retail, which she is not yet ready to divulge.

But her next major startup is one that has a deadline, she jokes. Fox recently remarried and is expecting her first child. 

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