Making money is no longer the sole function of any company…”

Businesses should add to society, says Rafic Daud, MD of bespoke shoemaker Undandy

The trouble with a good business idea is that it can take off at such a rate that your biggest challenge is not driving sales, but keeping up with demand. Take Undandy, for example. The men’s online footwear retailer lets customers design the shoes or boots of their dreams, which are then made by master Portuguese shoemakers for a fraction of the price of the competition. The Lisbon-based company has been growing exponentially over the past 18 months and is taking on new staff as quickly as founder Rafic Daud can find them. What’s his secret? Meditation. And chess…

Know your market “Back in 2008, when I was working for Rouge Stores in Angola, we ordered $200,000 worth of women’s jeans. However, when they got out to the stores and people began trying them on, the phone started ringing at head office. All the managers were complaining, because the jeans just didn’t fit. It turned out that the sizes were for the standard European body shape and not the typical Angolan woman. We had to reorder everything. It was a mistake that I’ll never forget and showed the importance of knowing your market inside out.”

Go with the flow “Last year, I was invited to pitch to a venture capital firm. I spent days writing and rehearsing what I was going to say, all in English, as advised. However, when my business partner and I arrived, we were told that the presentation should be in Portuguese, as all the members of the board were Portuguese. My carefully rehearsed speech became obsolete and when I tried to make the word-for-word translation, it became nonsensical. I was making up words that don’t exist in either language. It’s quite hilarious looking back, but at the time it was excruciating. To this day, we’re still waiting for an answer, so maybe it really was that bad.”

Integrate your life “I actually don’t believe in work-life balance, I believe in work-life integration. I see things as a whole, and my personal and professional lives simply merge somewhere in the middle. But then, every person is different – understanding yourself and how you work best is the most important thing.”

Setbacks happen “The old saying is, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ I believe failure is a conduit to success. It’s where you learn things. Or rather: you never lose, but sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. The first company I ever started, a retail cosmetics brand, went bankrupt within one year, but it didn’t define me as a failure – it showed me how to do things better next time.”

Make time for your hobbies “I have a huge passion for chess. It is by far one of my biggest interests, not because of the playing itself, but because of the way I see the game. It’s amazing the metaphors that you can derive from chess. The pieces can represent different personality types or different roles in society – I’m interested in how they all move and work together to achieve a common goal. The analogies between chess and business are infinite. All the Undandy employees take chess lessons, because it has proven benefits in enhancing cognitive capabilities, focus and memory.”

Respect your heritage “I believe that just making money is no longer the sole function of any company. There has to be another purpose, a way to add value to society. This is the pillar that Undandy is built on, and one of our core purposes is to support Portuguese craftsmanship and artisan work. There is a community of tanners and leather workers in Portugal that has existed for hundreds of years, and they have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in how to produce the best pieces. Every single one of our shoes is handcrafted and made with love, and that truly translates into the final product.”

The customer is king “This might be a cliché, but it’s so true. My parents were in retail. I would spend holidays and weekends and my time after school on the shop floor – it’s where I grew up. There are many factors that influence the success of a retail business, but service is the most important. That goes for online too. It’s crucial to treat your customers well and look after them.”

Take it step by step “The biggest challenge now is figuring out how to scale the business. We have a proven concept and we’re trying to take it to many more people without losing the love and affection that we instil in every single one of our creations. This is a huge challenge: how do you scale the human element of craftsmanship and take it global? We already sell to 50 countries and I spend a lot of time looking at ways to transform our business model so that it works as well tomorrow as it does today.”

Your first sale sticks with you “Our story began with an Irish customer who wanted us to create his wedding shoes for him – in fact, he made a point of getting the shoes right before he even thought about buying his suit. His special request? The colours of the Irish flag. It was an unusual order, but we were able to craft his shoes the way he desired for the most important day of his life, allowing us to play a part in his special day.”

Location is everything “There’s a growing start-up scene in Lisbon and the city has many success stories to its name. I actually think we have ideal conditions for startups to thrive here and we’re starting to see more of the risk culture that is inherent to startups. In all fairness, this was already instilled in the Portuguese culture – let’s not forget that we once sailed from Praça do Comércio all the way to the Americas and Brazil without GPS.”

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight