John Cronin and Mark X. Cronin are the father-son team that created John’s Crazy Socks, a social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness. The co-founders bootstrapped their startup into a multimillion-dollar business and became the world’s largest sock store — and an international sensation.
John and Mark received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award, and they have spoken before Congress, the UN, and appeared in various media outlets. John has Down Syndrome, and his mission is to show what people with differing abilities can do. John’s Crazy Socks employs people with differing abilities and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charity partners including the Special Olympics.
John and Mark X. Cronin, the Founders of John’s Crazy Socks, are John Corcoran’s guests in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast. They talk about their journey of building a social enterprise, their hiring process, and how infusing a personal touch has impacted their business.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- John and Mark X. Cronin explain how the idea of starting a sock business came about
- How incorporating a personal touch has impacted John’s Crazy Socks
- Mark shares their marketing and fulfillment strategies
- Why hiring people with different abilities makes good business sense
- How to build an inclusive workforce — and tips for advertising open positions
- John’s experience speaking before Congress, the UN, and various events
- Mark talks about receiving the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award — and their new project, JCS Champions
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
- John’s Crazy Socks
- The Spreading Happiness Podcast
- Online Dance Party with John
- JCS Champions
- Mark X. Cronin on LinkedIn
- Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)
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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90x, Atari, Einstein Bagels, Mattel, Rx Bars, YPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk, and many more.
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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.
Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.
John Corcoran 0:40
All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here for another episode. And you know, if you are new to listen to this podcast, go check out some of our past interviews because we’ve got all kinds of great episodes with smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of all kinds of companies and organizations, ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’ to YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25 where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today, John Cronin and Mark X. Cronin, they are the father-son team that created John’s Crazy Socks. It’s a social enterprise with a mission to spread happiness, and they bootstrapped their startup into a multimillion-dollar business as become one of the world’s become the world’s largest sock stores and international sensation. And they’ve got all kinds of accolades, which we’ll get to in a moment. But they’ve been named EY Entrepreneur of the Year, they spoken before Congress, they’ve spoken to the UN, been in all kinds of different media. But John is not just the the business owner, but he also has Down Syndrome. And everyday John and Mark show where people with differing abilities can do and more than half of their colleagues at John’s Crazy Socks have a differing ability. And they’ve also been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, to their various different charity partners, including the Special Olympics. So we’re going to talk about that in a moment. John and Mark, thanks so much for coming here today. It’s such a pleasure to have you both here.
John Cronin 2:04
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
Mark Cronin 2:07
Thank you, John. We’re excited to be here a fellow EO member. And we share a political background.
John Corcoran 2:15
yes, we both did a lot of work in politics early on in our career. And it kind of comes full circle. I was gonna ask you about that, John, because I was looking at your background, and you actually studied at the Kennedy School, studied social welfare. And as, as we mentioned in the intro, you’ve got a business now that is showing what is possible in a real social enterprise.
Mark Cronin 2:39
Yeah, there’s, we keep evolving, right. And we keep finding different ways of doing things. I think. When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I’m an old man now. And so we sell socks, we’ll tell you, we’re a couple of knuckleheads selling songs. But in our little way, we still want to change the world.
John Corcoran 3:05
And so tell me the origin story. I know you’ve told it many times before, but I believe the story was John was graduating and you said, What do you want to do? And he had always been a fan of socks. And so he decided to do a sock business
Mark Cronin 3:18
where we love telling your origin story, right, buddy? Yeah, right? Yeah. Origin Stories give us our DNA. So our story starts in a small log cabin in the woods. Now. No, not really. It’s so Hudson, suburban Long Island. Back in fall of 2016. And where were you?
John Cronin 3:41
I was at Huntington High School. It could be my last day of school.
Mark Cronin 3:49
and John, like everybody else was trying to figure out what do I do next? And you’re looking around when you were
John Cronin 3:56
I looked at school Akram and, and job I can’t find anything I like.
Mark Cronin 4:05
he didn’t see anything he liked. And I’ll tell you John, this is a challenge. For so many people. The unemployment rate for someone with a disability is double the national average. But that doesn’t tell the real story. Only one in five people with a disability is fully employed. There just aren’t enough opportunities out there. But this John here is a natural entrepreneur.
John Cronin 4:31
Yes I am.
Mark Cronin 4:32
You didn’t see your job you wanted what do you say?
John Cronin 4:34
I want to create one. I want to make one. So what’d you tell me? I told my dad I want to go into father son business together.
Mark Cronin 4:46
First let’s go open a business together dad which was pretty cool, right? I mean, I got I got three sons. This one I can work with. But you’ve been an entrepreneur yourself, John know that The entrepreneurs have lots of ideas. Not all of them are real good ideas. As smoke comes out of your ears when you’re thinking. So what was one of your ideas?
John Cronin 5:12
One of them is a food truck. I have an idea from the movie, Chef and John Favreau. Yeah, movie about a father and son, buying a food truck to satellite out of fun,
Mark Cronin 5:26
I would think and what could we make? Where would we put it? But we ran into a problem.
John Cronin 5:32
We can’t cook. Yeah,
John Corcoran 5:34
that’s a minor detail. But then,
Mark Cronin 5:37
right before Thanksgiving, back in 2016, you had your eureka moment?
John Cronin 5:44
I did. I want to sell crazy socks. I’ve worn crazy socks my whole life. It always let me. Let me be me.
Mark Cronin 5:53
We used to drive around looking for these socks. Yes. So we figured this, if he loved them that much. Surely other people were too. Or we could find our tribe. So at that point, you know, the traditional way to go says stop everything and put together a business plan. I do your market analysis, your competitive research, your operational plan, financial forecast. That’s not what we did. We went the Lean Startup route. We said let’s get something up and running. And customers will tell us. So you already had the name and the idea of selling online. And yeah, so we built a website out on the Shopify platform, got a little bit of inventory. We’re bootstrapping. So the only marketing we did was set up a Facebook page, and I would take out my cell phone, and we made videos. And that’s great. And what do you think was in those videos?
John Cronin 6:54
I am I what,
John Corcoran 6:57
what socks did you start with? Did you start with a favorite pair?
Mark Cronin 7:01
No, we just use one of those catch 22s we found out. Suppliers didn’t want to sell to us until we demonstrated that we had business and customers. But if you don’t have any inventory you get. So there are only two suppliers that would sell to us to start and we sit down and went through their catalog and pick some things out. But even that was was kind of funny, right? But what they did, we opened
John Cronin 7:30
We opened on a Friday 2015.
Mark Cronin 7:37
And we didn’t know what to expect. But we got what felt like a flood of orders that first day we got 42 waters. Wow. And we got something similar the next day. So now we’re running out of that little inventory. So what do you do? We drove to every Kmart in Suffolk County here on Long Island and bought all the socks. We could just so we’d have some inventory. Yeah, yeah. But he then, you know, right from day one. We want to wow, our customers. We’re all about customer experience. Most of them were local. So what do we do with those first orders?
John Cronin 8:13
Mark Cronin 8:15
We got red boxes. We put the socks in a box, looked at it said it needs something else. So what else did you put in?
John Cronin 8:23
I put candy and a note.
Mark Cronin 8:26
loaded up the car. And we drove around and you knocked on doors delivered songs. I did out a customer’s response
John Cronin 8:33
Customers loved it. They took a picture with the socks and me, as they share on social media. I would I get a spread. We had customers
Mark Cronin 8:47
ordering again, just to get John to come back to their door. It’s great fun. So by the end of the month, really two weeks. We achieved 452 orders at $13,000 in revenue. Wow. And we said okay, not a bad two weeks. We could do something here with a Facebook page. Right? Yeah, we had our website and we learned a few things.
John Cronin 9:14
One, people want to buy socks. They want to buy socks. Two, they wanted to buy socks from me.
Mark Cronin 9:23
they wanted to buy it from my buddy. We’ve, you know they liked that personal touch of the thank you note and the candy in the home deliveries. They liked the fact we had already played 5% of our earnings to the Special Olympics. There was one thing that caught us off guard. We got a very emotional response from many people because they saw a young man with Down syndrome starting his own business. And that was very important to them. And you also learn by doing so I had never been in retail before.
John Corcoran 10:00
had not seen you’d had businesses before. But this is a lot different.
Mark Cronin 10:04
Yes, yeah, I had run other businesses, started other businesses. But we learned that, you know, this young man, this old man. So we could sell socks. Yeah, um, you know, now we’re approaching our sixth anniversary. We, you know, to some of the dimensions, we’ve been able to create 34 jobs. 22 of those are held by people with a different ability. We’ve shipped. There’s over 390,000 packages, to 88 different countries, right, we’ve raised over $525,000. Now, for our charity partners, we have very happy customers. And yet to this day, if we get an order between our office and home, what are you doing. Home Delivery still doing, home deliveries?
John Corcoran 10:57
So I want to ask about that, because that’s the classic kind of challenge for for many businesses and business owners is when people are drawn to the personal the person the personal touch, how do you scale that when you you can’t manage all that?
Mark Cronin 11:16
Well, that is a challenge. And we have tried to clone John there, that hasn’t worked so far.
John Corcoran 11:23
Okay, yeah, keep trying.