Brian Smith – Founder of UGGS

For most brands that have reached household-name status, there’s a perception their origin story must’ve involved a robust line of investors from day one, or close to it. Take the UGG Australia brand. Perhaps most famously associated with early-aughts fashion, there’s little doubt these iconic sheepskin boots, after being cooked up in a boardroom, landed in Macy’s shoe aisles overnight. Right?

The truth, as founder Brian Smith will tell you, couldn’t be further from that.

It was the 1970s, and Brian was an accountant — briefly. The day he graduated with his accounting degree was the day he quit accounting, a field he’d decided he hated. A native Australian and dedicated surfer, he determined that California — with its surf brands and Levi’s jeans and waterbeds — was the mecca for Big New Things, and he wanted to be behind the next one.

“I landed in LAX with my surfboard and my suitcase and rented a little house in Santa Monica,” he recalls. “I spent about a month surfing up at Malibu. I made a lot of friends, but I kept looking and couldn’t find the next big thing. The next two to three months I spent still surfing and making a lot more friends, and it was now October or November, and the water was chilly.”

Reaching for his sheepskin boots that he’d brought with him from Australia, he realized something: “I just got covered in goosebumps and I thought, ‘Oh s***. There are no sheepskin boots in America.”

That may have been the moment the idea for UGGs was born. But, as Brian would later go onto write about in his book “The Birth of a Brand,” there was a lot more in store for his business before it’d mature into something that could stand on its own. On this episode of The Anthony Sarandrea Show, Anthony and Brian talk about the three years that Brian and his business partner spent selling UGGs out of a van up and down the Californian coast, what changed his mind about quitting the whole project, and the guerilla marketing tactics that would ultimately turn UGGs into a billion-dollar brand.

What You’ll Learn

  • How the first six UGG sample boots turned into 500 — and what Brian and his partner did when that 500 produced just 28 orders (~7:15)
  • What led Brian to realize that “in advertising, you have to have emotion and you have to have relevance” — and that the early UGGs ads lacked both (~13:30)
  • How he pivoted and kept UGG from going under just four years after it was founded when the company’s primary investor died in a motorbike accident
  • And much more!

Favorite Quote:

  • “You can’t give birth to adults… If you look at the stock exchange page of the Wall Street Journal, every single one of those companies had to start with $1,000. And so with every company, you have the idea, that conception, the birth; buying six pairs of samples was the birth of UGG. And then every business just lies there and lies there and it’s really frustrating. And there’s no amount of feeding the baby or jiggling the cradle — it can’t get up and go to college. It has to be an infant. But eventually, it starts toddling. And that’s when the first true believers are buying your product.”
    — Brian Smith

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