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It’s not unusual for high school seniors to be anxious about what they’ll do after graduation.
What is unusual is taking that nervous energy and starting a viral business sensation.
What’s more unusual than that? Doing it all while living with Down syndrome.
But there’s very little that’s “usual” about John Cronin, co-founder of John’s Crazy Socks.
He’s serious about his fashion, and serious about “proving people wrong”– two things his father and co-founder Mark Cronin has always known. So when John came to his father in the fall of 2016 with his idea of starting a crazy sock company—an accessory John loved and was wildly passionate about– Mark immediately knew his son was on to something, despite his disability.
“I knew it was going to be a hit.” Mark said.
This father-son duo launched John’s Crazy Socks’ online store and Facebook page on December 9, 2016, and after the first month, they made over $13,000. The response gave John and Mark faith that their business was on the right track. Since then the company’s product offering has grown to more than 1,200 types of designs, and a fiercely loyal fan base of more than 80,000 followers on Facebook, who exchange messages back and forth with John.
The sock’s quality and John’s focus on customer service has been one of the young company’s hallmarks. John writes Thank You notes and sprinkles candy in every order. And he makes sure to give back to charity and the community is a big part of why they do what they do, donating 5% of their earnings to the Special Olympics, the Down Syndrome Society and other causes through the sale of their Awareness Socks.
But above all, the father and son team want to spread the message that anything is possible.
That’s especially important to the Down syndrome community as about 6,000 Americans are born with the chromosomal disorder every year, according to the CDC.
Free Enterprise had the opportunity to speak with John and Mark to get the inside scoop on how this dynamic duo is bringing happiness through socks, and why giving back is essential to their business model. Take a look at what we learned:
So Why socks?
Simple. Socks “let me be me,” John says.
That individuality and the joy he feels is contagious, and that’s exactly the point. It’s this feeling and message that inspired the business’ motto: “Spreading happiness through socks.”
Being able to express himself is important to John. For him that means socks —which he could be wearing a black suit or khakis and a polo, but still show his individuality through the socks that he is wearing. In the same way, John’s Crazy Socks is not just about the sock, it’s also about the experience.
People reach out to him through social media, where he has a 98% five star rating.
He gets personal letters, notes and emails from happy customers who tell him how much the product means to then. And when he meets his supporters in person, they often ask for hugs and photos.
And they are finding new ways to live this mission every day, recently hiring an autistic employee, Mark said.
When he received the job offer, he “almost cried of happiness because no one else was willing to hire him.”
What Challenges has John’s Crazy Socks Faced?
Before John’s Crazy Socks was born, John tried a couple other businesses that did not take off. However, he was committed to a creating a successful business. A lot of this success came in March 2017, when John’s Crazy Socks went viral. Mark stated that, “This was a great time for the business and it really took off.” However, with orders flooding in, John’s Crazy Socks was overwhelmed with orders and had trouble keeping up with inventory. The two of them got to work, and worked overtime to get the demand filled.
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Trying to Start a Business?
“Do it!” says Mark Cronin, who emphasized the fact that John’s Crazy Socks did no market research before launching. Instead, he suggests setting up a minimum viable product to see the response. John’s Crazy Socks approaches each new idea as a hypothesis that needs to be tested, and he says that it is with this attitude that they have succeeded.
And give back, they say.
“We do not give back because it is something that we want to do. It is necessary for our business model,” said Mark.
How is Working as Father and Son?
Mark and John Cronin might be father and son, but they are also great business partners because they share the same mission.
Mark loves working with his son because he is able to see what John is capable of each and every day. He pointed to the time when John’s Crazy Socks was selected for the MassChallenge Boston 2017 Accelerator Program, which helps startups get funding, find mentors, and other assistance for promising budding businesses.
As John participated in the challenge, everyone saw him as a star, something that filled his father mark with pride. But there was something about John’s performance he’d seen before.
“I am able to see John be a star every day.”