If TAFT founder Kory Stevens ever has to scramble together a five-person basketball team from his investors, he's in pretty good shape. TAFT recently closed a $5 million seed round led by Kickstart Seed Fund with participation from a host of other investors: M3 Ventures, Fifth Wall Ventures, Peterson Partners, Dwyane Wade, Andre Iguodala, Jeremy Andrus, Clarke Miyasaki, Nate Quigley, Aaron Skonnard, Davis Smith, and Nate Checketts.
So I ask you, dear reader, what is the ideal starting lineup? Wade and Iguodala are both no-brainers. Both are quality creators, which means we need some floor spacers and defensive grinders. I'll go with Kickstart Managing Director Gavin Christensen (seems like a man who can draw a charge), Chatbooks co-founder Nate Quigley (definite corner three specialist), and Traeger Grills CEO Jeremy Andrus (literally knows how to bring the beef).
I spoke with Kory a few years ago, way before outside funding or fictional basketball teams had crossed his mind. Alongside his wife Mallory, Kory founded TAFT in 2014 as a no-show sock company that quickly transitioned to a quality shoe company. With an emphasis on customer service and social media, the Stevens' were able to grow TAFT into an underground success. Now with additional capital, they're ready to move beyond that.
"With thousands of shoes sold and millions of dollars made, we joke that we're the biggest shoe company you've never heard of," said Kory. "But now, with this funding, and the incredible team of investors behind it, we're ready become the next big name in footwear."
To this point, TAFT has built a reputation for premium footwear exclusively through back channels: bootstrapping, social media, word of mouth, and non-stop customer service. Demand has been so high that TAFT has struggled to make shoes at a pace to meet consumer needs. That changes with today's seed round — TAFT has onboarded a second factory that will nearly triple production capacity, and Kory promises an expansion into some more traditional marketing channels. In his words, "It's time for fuel on the fire."
Perhaps more importantly, Kory now has access to a vast web of investors spanning Utah, LA, and New York; people who understand the daily grind of being an entrepreneur and can offer advice/support on growing a business.
“Being an entrepreneur and founder is still extremely lonely," said Kory. "I took on money to get a huge support group around me — I know they understand how I feel, I can go to them and talk and commiserate. The funding round is a group of the best people we could find, we put together a syndicate of people that I knew would be supportive and kind and let me do my thing.”