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Mike Knapp is the co-founder of Shoes of Prey, a startup that has raised US$25.9 million in capital by allowing customers to design their own shoes online. We spoke to Mike about his time at Google, launching Shoes of Prey before it was perfect and gender equality in the startup world.

“Once Someone is Willing to Give You Money, You’re Ready to Launch” – Mike Knapp

How did you go from lawyer, to software engineer at Google, to a co-founder of a startup shoe business?

I was working with a judge after I finished law and I really enjoyed it, but all I could think about was the internet. So I turned down an offer from a big law firm and moved back in with my parents and started making websites for people. I had a computer science degree, but I got really lonely after a few months so I joined Google, initially in the sales team.

In that role, I was selling to big advertisers and we didn’t have a CRM system to manage that, so I said to my boss ‘I want to build a CRM’ and she said ‘no, you can’t do that, you’ve got to be a sales person’. I said ‘no, I really want to do it, and if I can’t then I’ll quit, because we really need it.’ So they thought about it and let me join the engineering team, which then took me to the US.

Shoes of Prey became successful by selling a great product, but part of that is the experience – giving people a chance to design their own pair of shoes and have something custom and unique. How much is customer experience linked to a startup’s success?

A huge amount. It’s what people talk about, which gets you your early traction. There’s some really great parts of the Shoes of Prey experience but it’s difficult to get people to design their first pair of shoes. But once they’ve done it once, they really enjoy it.

You’ve said previously that startups shouldn’t wait for things to be perfect, but get out there as soon as possible. How can a startup know when it’s ready to launch?

Once someone is willing to give you money, you’re ready to launch. You learn a lot from getting out there and selling. I think if we had have waited for everything to be perfect, it would have taken us another three years to launch Shoes of Prey.

You’ve also mentioned that Australia’s startup ecosystem is lacking diversity, including a lack of female founders. How can we encourage women to tap into the startup space?

I’m in Brisbane at the moment and there’s some really encouraging things going on up here. I work in the River City Labs and in the school holidays, they hire people to run a kids club. The CEO, Peta Ellis, is an amazing woman who’s passionate about diversity. She’d be a much better person to answer this question.

Listening to other women and taking into account what they need is important. A guy prescribing the answer is probably not the answer.

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