Laura Schmidt makes a product that seems so obvious and desirable that she must occasionally see people slapping their foreheads that they didn’t think of it – and then they’ll get out their wallets to buy some.
Schmidt sells athletic socks with affirming words and phrases: “I am awesome,” “I am strong,” “Great dad” and the like.
She presented her company, Notes to Self, on Wednesday morning at Wichita’s third 1 Million Cups gathering, along with iknow, a natural-language search engine under development.
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In 1 Million Cups gatherings, one or two entrepreneurs are invited to present their companies and take questions. This is the third week for the event in Wichita, and it was still standing room only. The organizers said they were strongly encouraged.
“This keeps the momentum going forward,” said organizer Jacob Wayman. “Let’s keep Wichita moving in the right direction.”
Notes to Self, based in Prairie Village, is a reflection of Schmidt, who is exceedingly cheerful as well as efficient. She calls herself “chief positivity officer.”
She said her 10-employee company, founded in 2011, grew 30 percent last year. She sold or donated 700,000 pairs of socks as of 2015 and hopes to get that to 1 million cumulatively this year.
Her socks are manufactured to her specifications and with the sayings sewn into them. They are sold through 1,700 gift shops, such as Best of Times Cards and Gifts in Wichita, and hospital gift shops, as well as online.
One of the most complicated parts of her business is marketing – and trying to protect her business from cheaper competitors. She said she has trademarked several of her most popular sayings – such as “I am awesome” – when they appear on socks and T-shirts.
She had decided to not push for a mass market retailer, such as Wal-Mart, and wants to keep them affordable.
The crowd was also treated to a much different company: iknow is really a prototype of a new kind of search engine. Founder Venkatesh Mabbu, a graduate student in computer science at Wichita State University, explained that rather than simply searching for words, it understands the question.
At this point, he said, he and a number of other students are working on building the program’s knowledge base. He expects to eventually incorporate and seek funding.