How to find a gap in the market — and capitalise on it: Sepand Oboudiyat of Sons of London

We asked Sons of London founder Sepand Oboudiyat what it takes to reheel a well-worn industry

From the leather workshops of Italy, to the bastion of British shoemaking that is Northampton, footwear had no glaringly obvious niches when Sons of London launched in 2015 — and yet Oboudiyat managed to find one.

Leaving his previous career as an IT specialist for banks such as RBS and Deutsche Bank, the new entrepreneur introduced a 5-strong ‘Definitive Collection’ of shoes. A smart take on the capsule collection, it was a move that ensured simplicity and success in equal measure.

But how did he do it? We asked the 40-year old how he laced up this smarter business model, and how other entrepreneurs can identify that elusive new angle…

Trust your instincts

“We’ve seen it time and time again in pretty much every industry: An established marketplace equals an opportunity to disrupt. And it’s no different with luxury men’s shoes. If you feel something is missing, or could be done better, then there is a good chance that there are people out there who agree with you.

“Our main point of difference is our direct-to-consumer business model. By cutting out any middlemen, we could eliminate many of the costs in the traditional retail model, pass the savings on to the customer and deliver a product that would have previously only been available at a much higher price point.”

Find that unfulfilled market niche

How to find a gap in the market — and capitalise on it: Sepand Oboudiyat of Sons of London
Italy

“We’re surrounded by evidence that there is always an unfulfilled market niche. You only need to look at businesses like Uber, AirBnB or that new pizza place around the corner that everyone is raving about. There’s always a new angle to be found.

“Methods for determining whether your bright idea is worth pursuing are the subject of many a startup book. I would recommend The Four Steps to The Epiphany by Steve Blank. In my opinion, it’s the greatest startup book of all time.”

How to find a gap in the market — and capitalise on it: Sepand Oboudiyat of Sons of London

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Be relevant rather than ‘hip’

“In my view it’s not so much about a being young and hip as being more relevant. When it came to men’s shoes, I was fed up with a market full of uninspiring, increasingly overpriced products and a horrible online shopping experience.

“So I imagined up an alternative and set about trying to create a simple, definitive collection. In an age where we are overwhelmed with options and decision fatigue, we curated the definitive collection for our customers making it easier to understand and to shop. It’s a smarter business model: By going directly to consumers, we eradicate many of the costs associated with the traditional wholesale model — and pass these savings onto the consumer.”

Don’t be afraid to start up a start-up

How to find a gap in the market — and capitalise on it: Sepand Oboudiyat of Sons of London

“For me the prospect of not taking the chance to pursue the opportunity was more terrifying than staying put. I was made redundant from RBS in October 2013, received a payout and was then fortunate enough to go straight into a lucrative freelance consulting gig immediately afterwards. This allowed me to save towards the new venture.

“When I finally quit this consulting role, I had around £150k set aside to seed my new venture. I then gave myself a year to try and get my idea off the ground, and launched in November 2015.”

Succeed using your passion, not your transferable skills

How to find a gap in the market — and capitalise on it: Sepand Oboudiyat of Sons of London

“There are certainly plenty of transferable skills from a corporate career, but nothing can prepare you for launching a new business like launching a new business. And nothing can teach you discipline with cost and cashflow management better than the ever-present fear of running out of cash — you’re unlikely to experience this as an employee in a larger corporation.

“In my experience, roles in large financial institutions are typically highly specialised. You might work in one of Sales, Trading, Tech, Finance — and have very little to do outside your specialty. In contrast, starting a new business requires a broad range skills. You need to have the ability to do, or at the very least have a solid grasp of all core business functions — at least at the beginning!”

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