Gianluca De Stefano is the founder and “sock maestro” of Gorilla Socks, a company that sells high-quality bamboo socks to support gorilla conservation through The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Gorilla Socks are sold mostly online, though the company is beginning to expand into zoo and aquarium gift shops through its partnership with AZA.
Why did you start the company?
My background is actually completely away from fashion. I work in finance. The reason why I started this company is because my partner was traveling in Asia and discovered bamboo socks. When he returned to the States and showed them to me, we thought we should bring the idea over to the States. We also wanted to find a way to support endangered species. Both of us care about animal conservation. Ten percent of everything we make goes to The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
How did you get the money to start the company?
I am still working in finance, but the company is growing fast – We are now four people. The reason I’m still working in finance is I’m able to support the company financially. We are trying to grow the company without getting any outside funds. The objective is to go full-time into Gorilla Socks in about a year and a half.
In addition to our day jobs, we have a line of credit from a bank that we are currently using.
Managing the Company
How do you manage cash flow in the company?
For a startup, it’s very hard to manage cash flow. Projection-wise, we’re more about increasing sales. We do manage costs, but projections aren’t that easy when you’re new to the market.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
This is the first time I’ve started a company from scratch, so it’s something I’m learning as I go along. The hardest part is being in a new industry that I’m not really used to. Speaking to zoos and shops is something I’ve never done before.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
Obviously, the charitable part is the best part. We’ve already donated to Dian Fossey four times. The bigger we grow, the more we can donate.
What I’ve Learned
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting the company?
When we started, we spent a little bit of money on print magazines, which is a complete waste of time if you are an e-commerce company. And we started with a fulfillment center, which for a small organization wasn’t the way to go. It’s probably better to start in-house and later on, you can outsource. Working with the fulfillment center really effected customer service because there were delays. For now, we’re managing everything and don’t use any third party.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were first starting out?
In fashion, being able to tell a story that goes beyond a simple product is something that will help you grow. I think the fact that we’re able to partner with these two important organizations that help animals and endangered species was a smart move. If we were just a simple socks company, it would be very hard. But, having our initiative sets us apart from the others.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Keep your day job when you get started unless you have massive funding. You have less time, but it’s easier to manage expenses. The last thing you want is to get started and run out of funds.
What’s next for Gorilla Socks?
The next milestone is the AZA. We onboarded them last month. We have new styles coming out as we work with zoos going forward. I think our sales will increase massively. Managing that growth will be very important.
Photo courtesy of Gianluca De Stefano