In this episode of the eCom Insights Podcast, the founder of Burju Shoes, Burju Perez shares her journey of how she overcame the gap between dance and fashion shoes and became the market leader in the process. From studying business in college to becoming a professional dancer, Burju shares how she started her own e-commerce business and grew it to become a fast-growing company in the industry. Listen to this episode to learn more about Burju’s story and how she turned her passion for dance and fashion into a successful business.
Zan Vipotnik: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the e-com Insights podcast. Joining me today is Burju Perez, the founder of Burju Shoes, a brand that overcame the gap between dance and fashion shoes and became the market leader in the process.
Welcome Burju and thank you for joining.
Burju Perez: Thank you, Zan. Thank you for having me. I’m honored and excited.
Zan Vipotnik: Perfect. I am excited to talk to you as well. I think we have quite a few interesting stories to go over and hopefully you have enough time to go over all of them. So just to get us started can you tell us a bit more about yourself and Burju Shoes just in a nutshell.
Burju Perez: Sure. I was born in Istanbul, Turkey came here with my parents to New York City dance, and the arts were always a part of my life. But my generation definitely was not encouraged to pursue dance and arts as a valid career choice, I would say. So I kind of followed the path of what the norm was [00:01:00] for my generation.
But I couldn’t help but still do the thing that fed my soul, which is the arts, which is dance, music, all those things. So, you know, I, out of college, well, in college in general, didn’t have any idea what I really wanted to do. So I did what everyone else did and studied business because it’s as general as psychology or any other major as you can get.
Went into kind of the corporate world for a couple years, this is in 2000, I actually graduated in the year 2000. And then, you know, still was kind of dancing, and my then boyfriend at the time was my dance partner. We started dancing Latin, to specific, to be specific Latin style dances. Got into some good gigs and really it took wind.
We became professional dancers, two years in the corporate world, and I quit to become a professional dancer, contrary to everybody’s professional advice. I said, well, you know what? I’ve got this one life to live, so I’m gonna go for it. And you know, back then there was a thing called job security, right?
So everyone was like, you’re crazy to give up such a secure job and insurance and all [00:02:00] that, and I was like, well, man, I’m crazy. So I went for it, and I’ve always had a kind of thing for some fashion specifically shoes, I’ve always had a little bit of a obsession with heels and things, so it was always kind of bedazzling and DIY customizing my little dance heels that I felt were very let’s just say,
you know, lack personality, you know, it was just all this tan satin, especially in the Latin dance world, very tan satin, like everything was so pizzazy up in the costume, you know, all these gems and glitter and the shoes were kind of like, meh. And so, I kind of did my own thing. Did it as a little side hustle for like other dancers that would be like: “Where’d you get your shoes over?”
“Like, I did it myself.” They’d be like: “Here’s mine. Can you do the same?” I’m like: “Sure”. Never knew anything about manufacturing or e-commerce, so, I mean, granted the internet, you know, really blew up when I was in college, so never really had foresight into any of this business or this, I would, I don’t know if this was a dream, but you know, it was fun.
I did it as a side thing. I kind of become a [00:03:00] reseller for a couple of brands and again, would continue to customize and do unique things to the shoe. Never thought that I would actually start designing, cuz that wasn’t my background either . And I just had one day an opportunity to do my own label. I think a factory reached out to me.
I was like, this must be a scam. But I said, I don’t know what I bought into the scam. I said here’s $5,000. Send me five designs that I just drew up. And it turned out not to be a scam. And here I am today. You know, fast forward. After 15 years dancing professionally, loving that career path, of course.
My then boyfriend and partner became my husband, and business partner. And we decided to start our family, at which point we thought, hey, this little e-commerce thing kind of might have some wings here. So we went for it, and today we’re here, survived a pandemic somehow and. Finding some growth, thankfully.
Thanks to a great team. Of course.
Zan Vipotnik: Not just a bit of growth, right? You’re growing very fast year over year, [00:04:00] which is good to, to see as a business owner. But before we go into that, because. I think that’s an important topic, but an important topic for us to cover sooner is I’m interested. How did your of course, you know, going from business school to a professional dancer, which is to a diff completely different topics, how did these two things influence the way that you built and are still building your brand?
Burju Perez: So it’s very interesting. Being a professional dancer still does require business networking skills. Of course. I mean, you’re ultimately running a business, managing yourself, advertising you know, you have the accounting side of things, you know? At some point you might, we built it to be a little bit of an entertainment company where we were, you know, training other dancers and teachers to go out and do gigs, basically trying to duplicate ourselves, if you will.
But what’s interesting is in hindsight, looking back what was taught to us, excuse me, in [00:05:00] business school and that era, I’m talking about 96 to 2000. The traditional forms of business was, you know, wasn’t based on social networking and your brand as much as it was like you make a business plan, you go to a bank, you get a commercial loan, you do this and this and this and this.
And you know, maybe a little bit of learning how to build a website was in there because it was the new thing. So it helped, but I think what ultimately helped us succeed in, in that business is learning quickly that how to network social networking, whether it was online or in person, was the vital thing to our businesses,
definitely. It was getting out there, talking to people, letting people know what we did, who we are, because if people like you, What do they do? They support you. They buy from you. They become a customer, they become a supporter. They, you know, a fan if you will. They’ll share you with other people that might enjoy your services or what you, your story, right?
So we, you [00:06:00] know, my husband and I learned early on that this kind of social networking, again, on or offline was kind of crucial, to building our, at that time dance business, which was our primary business. So we were out there networking with nightclub owners, you know, different corporations, “Hey, do you guys want a salsa class for your Latin Heritage month?”
You know, like things like this, you know, where there were dance festivals, we were submitting audition tapes, we would even sometimes fly ourselves there just to be there in person and network and talk to people. Cuz in, at that time, in that industry, definitely that was crucial. You just had to get your name out there, you had to be in front of people.
And you know, to be honest, I was very resistant when it came to social media. Initially I refused to have a MySpace. Like when everyone was doing my space, I was like, yeah, I’m not doing that. just I’m, it’s not me. Like, yes, I’m a very social person. I love being in front of people, in person, but this whole living my life online, I wasn’t trying to do it.
Facebook came along, still wasn’t trying to do it. I was very hesitant. And I think it was [00:07:00] 2009 when I finally caved in. And I did it because I was like, okay, maybe this will help our business. So, the most important thing is I, I learned that adaptability is really important. You know, things are gonna change, technologies are gonna change.
At the core of it, I find still kind of that, so like being. Present with people, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, talking to people again, whether offline or online, is at the core of everything we do even today. I don’t mean to fast forward, but we take our interactions with the community very seriously.
So on social media, I have a team of people. Literally just answering every single DM, like, and every single comment, because I’m like, this person took the time to write a comment. We are taking the time to write a comment back. And at the very least, liking their emoji if they put a smiley, hard eyes emoji because they took the time to do it.
So we wanna know that they, we saw them just like they saw us. And so I think that has been kind of at the core of my experience from university going into corporate. It’s just like it’s, you know, [00:08:00] We wanna connect with people. Connecting is so important. So I don’t know if that answered your question, but it was like, it’s like, it, it helped and it didn’t, you know, it was kinda like, yeah, throw all that away.
We’re gonna do it this way anyway,
Zan Vipotnik: Right. And it actually seems, it did it did help, right? Because anyone that is listening to this and hasn’t checked out your social media yet, they should definitely do it as a best class execution of social media, a hundred percent. And it, it, it shows through your growth, right? For not just as a brand and as a, as a business.
You grew through your social media presence and through yourself putting yourself out there you didn’t have this conventional growth path of figuring out ads and, and you know, tweaking them for a few percent conversion rate. You put yourself out there, build authentic relationships and I wonder how does that affect your day to day?
You already mentioned that you have a team of people just making sure that everyone’s heard. But if you look at, at it from a business perspective, [00:09:00] how is that impacting your business? This decision to be much more personal than most brands.
Burju Perez: It’s, it is wonderful and exhausting at the same time because, you know, to constantly show up online it is you know, and we definitely, my team supports it and encourages me that show your face, you know, especially when it comes to educating and informing. Cause there’s different ways to connect with people, right?
You can entertain them. So sometimes just showing cute little transition video of some feet turning into shoes is great. That’s entertaining. Three seconds. People are, oh, that was cute. I like that. Hard eyes, right? But then there’s the information like, why are our shoes different? Why does this make a difference?
Why do you wanna take care of your feet, especially as a dancer if you’re gonna be wearing heels? Like all that kind of stuff coming out in front of the camera and being someone that has experienced 15 years of it as a professional dancer and speaking why I did what I did, why I used what I used, what, you know, what goes into it, what, who I am as a person who we are as a brand, what we stand for.
Even, you know, being transparent [00:10:00] about where we stand on social justice and issues. I mean, especially because the community and the audience that we cater to, like these people, like wanna be heard, wanna be seen, and very important. So they’re spending money with us. We wanna make sure that they know we also
stand with them in the things that matter. So, you know, it, it takes a lot. It’s a lot personally being, you know, someone that is kind of the brand. I mean, I, against my better wishes, it was named after me. I didn’t really think I wanted to name a brand after me, but my husband and, you know, close friends and networks said “No, no, it’s unique.”
It, it, it’s about you, what you’ve created. So go for it. So now it’s kind of like something you have to maintain and there are days you just don’t feel on, you know, you’re just like, I am in a sweatshirt and I just, you know, my kids were driving me crazy, yet I just don’t wanna get out there. But you do it and it always feels good when you do it.
And I see the impact it has. I think people really respond and resonate with authenticity and like I said, valuable information, not [00:11:00] just content for content’s sake, but, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” “Oh, that’s so interesting.” “I didn’t realize, you know, blah, blah, blah.” All these different things where fed so much information nowadays,
so it’s really hard to know what’s you know, relevant, accurate, correct. So when it comes to this little pocket of information, when it comes to dance shoes and taking care of yourself, you know, if I’m kind of a, an expert on the topic, then you know, I wanna show up and make sure I keep giving the community as much information as possible.
But definitely the team makes it easier because while we can put out the content, You know, and, you know, batch it, there’s all these techniques, you know, that people tell you how to do it. I think the team is what, you know, between, like I said, answering everybody. I can’t get to everybody myself personally.
So I’ve got a team of people that are just as knowledgeable and they, I say, listen, if you can’t answer the question, I’m a text away, right? Like, text me, I got you. Or if you feel like the question requires more than a simple answer on a dm, like, I need to make a video on that because more than one person’s asking, maybe it’s a new [00:12:00] topic we discuss.
Great. Like, so, getting organized, having a backup. And that also gives us an opportunity to kind of hit all the time zones, right? Cause I’m not gonna be on 24/7, like, I need a break, I’ve got a family and so does, you know, my team. So, because we’re in different areas and appreciate the flexibility,
someone can be on morning hours, someone can be on afternoon hours, evening hours. So, getting organized you know, having kind of clear meeting with everybody, having clear objectives for the month and what the messaging is, and just everybody having their roles has been critical to having success on social media.
And to be honest with you, we tried the paid ads route, you know, when. On Facebook when everyone was saying, oh my God, this is the way and we’re spending crazy amounts of money. And you know, right up until the pandemic, actually we were spending a lot of money trying to get the, get this to grow the, you know, the whole, if you build it, they will come kind of mentality, but we were just not seeing it.
Like what they were saying was the return, you know, with the attribution models that were [00:13:00] in place, it just didn’t make sense. I was like, yeah, but the bank account isn’t growing. is not showing the numbers that this 10 x is showing, I don’t understand how this is working out. And you know, when it came to becoming in survival mode, I know, I don’t know if this is where I wanna go, but I just wanna express that, how important it is to be authentic because we cut all that.
That was the first thing to go. I said before I start cutting, you know, anybody out or salaries or anything, I was like, we’re gonna cut this paid and go back to the organic, authentic. You know, let’s have people share it if it’s valuable. And we did. And between that and the affiliate marketing, honestly we experienced more growth in the second half of the pandemic year, 2020, than we ever did in like the 10 years that I’ve been doing the business.
So it was hard route getting there, you know, you wanna believe all the experts cuz I don’t claim to be an expert on social media or marketing in any way. I’ve learned a lot on my journey, definitely. But I just think it’s not, you know, paid [00:14:00] advertising is great for some, it wasn’t for me. My brand resonates with organic real content.
You know, literally every time I’ve used a professional camera and put out this flawless edited stuff, it gets like, A fraction of the views that if I just use my phone and my hair looking a little bit dishevel, but I’m just like “Hey guys, I just put this out here today. I want you to know this is the benefits, this is what you can use it for, and have fun and let me know your feedback.”
And that gets way more. Interactions. So I was like, this is working. Let’s build this more. I’d rather invest in people helping me build this more than just an ad agency that might like charge you tons of money on these paid advertisements that don’t work for me. Again, not hating on it. It doesn’t work for our brand and what we speak for.
So that’s what I learned on my journey.
Zan Vipotnik: Right. And yeah, absolutely. Every market is different, right? And you have to, as a business owner, try many things until you find the the one winning formula and you found one with your social media presence. And of course, I have to ask because I couldn’t get beyond this [00:15:00] without asking, but which one of the platforms do you see the most future in?
Burju Perez: It’s tough. Okay. So being that I serve a very You know, people, a community of people that appreciate movement, right? Yes. There’s, you know, we can call us a fashion brand, but my, the core of my, my audience or my brand has always been in dance and movement, right? They have always been more on Instagram than Facebook, for example.
Facebook’s not the platform for, it’s not the dancers playground as much. Instagram definitely was. There is a big shift towards TikTok as the newer shinier version of that. And now the two of them are kind of, you know, doing their thing, battling to find, you know, their place. But I think Instagram definitely still has its strong hold.
TikTok is great for going viral which, you know, I think they, you need to be able to use, I need to be able to use them strategically, just like Twitter’s not necessarily a platform that’s geared for us, but [00:16:00] what we’ve decided to do is, for example, use Twitter as an opportunity to have our voice when it comes to social justice and things that matter and what we’re trying to do as a brand fumbling through becoming more sustainable and all the different kind of trials and tribulations about that.
So I think. And on Facebook, we still go back to recognizing that it might be an older generation of dancers that might still be on there that wanna connect and make it more, you know, suited to that. So I think It’s different for each platform. So if for going viral and getting a bigger audience, definitely TikTok and still Instagram.
Those are the ones that seem to get the best results, I think. But they all kinda work together because you, you know, and, and emails everything too. I mean, the email’s definitely not dead and that’s why we love working with Reach Realm, I mean, is not a shameless plug. I’m not just saying this, but I mean, we recognize that someone
finds us maybe on Instagram or TikTok because you know, it got shared, it went viral. And then what happens is they click Link Bio, [00:17:00] what do they see? Here’s how you join our email list. What are you gonna get when you get, and then, you know, we’re nurturing again, a different conversation there, more in depth conversation because everything’s so instantaneous on these platforms, right?
A minute or less. Now we’re down to what, seven seconds or less in video. So here’s an opportunity for us to like, okay, sit and read with us. Here’s what we’re doing as a company. We have impact emails. We have “Did you know?”, like we, you know, talking about the holidays, like as much as a brand wants to make good money at a time like this.
I personally don’t believe in overspending and over shopping. So you know, how do we talk to our audience about that and be honest and be real, like, okay, yes, we’re gonna discount some things, but here’s your opportunity to buy things at a better value. But not necessarily over buy. We don’t wanna promote over buying over shopping.
That’s not what we’re there to do. We don’t want our audience struggling, you know, with paying rent because they bought five extra pairs of shoes cuz they happen to be on a great deal. No, buy one or two cuz you need them. Get them at a better deal. Come [00:18:00] back six months or a year from now. Like, I don’t need you shopping every day.
That’s not the point of what we’re trying to do. So I think every channel has value. I think every channel is worth using. And I think the more there’s a strategy of kind of like what, I think I heard the term, I don’t, don’t, it’s not my quote so I won’t take credit for it, but like, play the channels, like to each other.
Like you might put a quick blurb about okay, we just passed Indigenous People’s Day. You know, that’s how we choose to honor that day. Not as Columbus Day. Well, we might just put a very simple infographic on Instagram, but we’ll say, Hey, go to Twitter if you wanna have a conversation about what it looks like.
What books are we reading? What are, you know, what are the things we wanna talk about? What are the conversations we wanna have as a brand, as human beings, as people in this industry or this community? How can we nurture and foster, you know, a better. Better way. Basically. So I guess all of them.
But if you wanna go viral, definitely TikTok and Instagram are the where, where to kind of start [00:19:00] playing. That’s where people find you at least.
Zan Vipotnik: Perfect. All right, so, it sounds like knowing your audience. At a really, really personal level has been a big part of your growth as well right? From just content creation to building the right type of product all the way to optimizing a business. And if we pair this with your growth that you’ve seen after that slump at the beginning of the pandemic but then managing in the middle of the pandemic to turn things around and start growing really fast.
Would you say that those two things worked hand in hand, or was it something else that propelled that?
Burju Perez: I think definitely yes, there’s a couple more factors, but yes, knowing the audience intimately and that’s what I mean, showing up and like this, this networking, the socializing, whether on or offline. Talking to people, understanding what pain points are, what motivates them, what excites them what inspires them.
All [00:20:00] these things became very important because in, you know, cutting out ads and all this, we had to really hone in on our message on who we are as a brand, how we wanna show up in our community. So that was crucial and probably. One of the top ones, if not first place. And then, yeah, and then doing the actions, right?
That actually showing up and doing it and filming it and saying the things and, and being bold and transparent and honest. Because I think after 2020, I think there was a massive shift for people in that yeah, we’re not doing business the old way anymore. Like people aren’t at even me, like as a, so here’s to knowing your customer
intimately right. One, I was a dancer. Okay. So I understand, but just as a consumer of fashion or brands, like I just was done giving my money to just any brand just because they had some, like fast fashion, not, not doing it anymore. Like it’s not worth it, you know? So it became really important to me when I shop that I understood that these brands were doing something
correctly that they were [00:21:00] being sustainable or contributing positively. You know, trying to at least work, do the work. Cuz I can’t say that I’m completely neutral or doing the work to try to get there when it comes to, you know, offsetting emissions and all those things. I wanted to see that behavior from the people that I shop for.
And I stopped spending money at places that didn’t, didn’t do those things. You know? It wasn’t worth it to me. So I wanted to become that. I had to make sure that I was telling people that I’m not there yet. I’m honest, you know, I’m not there yet, I’m a small brand trying to fumble through this thing, but I’m figuring it out and, you know, help join us on the journey.
Like, let’s get there together. And so that’s really important. And then I think the other thing was also just really with the team kind of. Re reestablishing what our core values are, like, understanding who we are. I think, you know, we were trying to be too many things at one point and we didn’t understand how to
make a message to everybody, like the grand, like the general public. So what we decided, you know, listen, we are a shoe [00:22:00] brand. I mean, yeah, you can wear our shoes for fashion and all that, and that’s where we wanna get to. But the reality is, if we go out to a fashion person with an ad and they see a pump and they come into their site, they’re gonna see dancers and it’s gonna throw them off and they’re gonna run away like, what is, what did I just come to?
Right? So we had to reorganize our strategy, and that is what about instead of trying to attract the everyday person to our brand, what if we took the dancer to everyday with us? Because outside of the studio, they do have a job. They do have other passions other things. They’re getting married, they’re doing, they’re doing things that other humans do, right?
So what if we took the dancers so the conversation became less about “Wear our shoes because they’re more comfortable”, like to the general public and just saying, “Hey, if you love the comfort of the shoes in the dance studio, why don’t you also wear them out, right? For every day?” And so we said, let’s take them on a journey with us, and then eventually when they’re in that every day, You know, zone with thinking about [00:23:00] Burju shoes as, man, these are my preferred heels for every day, not just the studio.
Then came the, how do we get them to spread the word? Tell your bestie, like tell your friend like shhh the big secret cats out of the back. And there was, it became a little scandal was funny. Last year, I remember the moment, it was literally in like July or August that I did this video on TikTok. I had 2000 followers maybe on TikTok at that point, and my biggest following was on Instagram.
We had like 60 or 70 k. And I did this video that over with an audio that said, nobody’s gonna know, right? And I was putting on a pair of our shoes and then, you know, it cuts to me looking different saying they’re gonna know. And then I was like, no one’s gonna know. And the writing was like that. These heels are dance heels and they look like regular pumps.
That thing went viral, like 2.6 million people found it. I had flight attendants, I had hairstylists. I had like hosts or greeters from like restaurants, like all these people, like I was wondering how Beyonce was dancing in those heels and then it [00:24:00] was like a, like that light bulb moment when I was like, oh my God, the messaging shouldn’t be, oh, wear these shoes
cuz they’re just more comfortable. They’re just like, Did you know you could wear dance heels and be like, Beyonce at your job. You know, like be as confident, strutting without pain. And that’s when that was like that, “Oooh, that’s the message.” “Oh, that’s what’s gonna get people talking and asking more questions.”
And then it became about me showing up. And cuz people were like, the number one question was, “What’s the difference? “Tell me more!” “How?” “Explain yourself.” “This is a controversy.” Like it was the big like scandal of summer 2021. So I went on and they said, you know, then I did the whole thing. Here’s why you should get rid of your regular heels and only wear dance heels and then that one exploded because then it was, came about information because they’re softer, they’re flexible, they’re built for stability and support, and long look at all the memory foam and they’re meant to hug your ankle. And [00:25:00] it was great. And then now I found out, oh my God, so what are these occupations or things that people might still wanna wear heels for, but never, like, they couldn’t, they just couldn’t find something comfortable.
Now I’m like, oh my God, I gotta make a flight attendant video. Like wearing dance heels, doing like a little dance, move down the aisle of a plane or something. So it’s interesting like that, that intimate conversation with your audience brings on such new, like, you didn’t even think, like, you’re like, oh, these are the questions they have.
Okay, let me, let me get to answering that in a cute trending way. Right. So yeah, like just coming back, I’m sorry I got a little excited, but basically coming back with the team and be like, who are we? What’s the message? You know, who are we, internally? Who do we wanna, you know, and how do we wanna show that to people transparently?
And then how do we do it? Like who’s good at it? I mean, as much as I was resisting being in front of the camera, People seem to like it, so I’m not gonna say I’m good at it cuz you know, we, we never like what [00:26:00] ourselves, we always criticize ourselves, right? But people do seem to like it. It seems to work. So I am the camera person.
You know what I mean? Then when it comes to other stuff, I know that I can use another team of people. When it comes to doing the dancing trends, I lean on the dancer community, like the tight community of people that I work with and I’m like you know, the influencers, here’s the shoes, here’s the funds, let’s get you doing the moves.
And we show that to people. So yeah, I, you just have to be evolving, I think. And everything keeps changing. I mean, that’s what it is right now, but I’m open to what’s gonna be new and different 2, 3, 5 years from now as well. But I come back to the knowing my audience and having conversations with them, showing up in front of them and being transparent, honest, and the dialogue is two way, not one way for us.
Zan Vipotnik: I think this would be a very, very good thing for everyone to consider. And I hope you would agree that really having a conversation with your audience is important. Not [00:27:00] just talking at them, but talking with them.
Burju Perez: Exactly. Yeah. And like, we do, we do a lot of kind of, we’ll do the polls and question, you know, the socials have these things now where they’re like, you put in your story. We’re like, do you like this? This is, we’re trying something new. What do you think? What’s your idea? What color would you wanna see this in?
You know what I mean? Like just asking them and it becomes fun and engaging. People feel like they’re a part of the process. You know, we even kind of give some creativity. We haven’t done it in a while, but I wanna get back to it where we allow other people to kind of express how they would for the brand.
Like if they were, you know, we did a contest where like, You could choreograph and do a visual, like a commercial visual kind of content on your own. We would fund it, we would give you all the shoes. But you express yourself. No, absolutely no direction from us. Like, no, nothing. And so we had a great turnout with that and it’s.
So fun to see how people use your brand view, your brand how excited they get about sharing your brand in their [00:28:00] own way. Like it’s really, it’s really powerful and to me that’s so much more powerful than any paid advertisement can ever be. Cause obviously I’m gonna say great things about my brand is my brand, but the best is when someone else is out there saying the things
about your brand, right? And that’s how everybody’s getting out there now through the phone, through social media, one form or another, they’re telling, “Hey, you gotta check these. You gotta check this out. This is great. This is legit. This is real.” You know, so we value that a lot. A hundred percent.
Zan Vipotnik: All right. Awesome. Maybe shifting gears a bit into a business mindset or a more operational mindset, but you talk a lot about your team and how your team has been vital for you to producing this content, building these relationships, and at the same time having this community around yourself, having these networking connections with dancers, having all these
quote, unquote, assets at your disposal or that you [00:29:00] built over time? What would you say were some key, either hires connections that you made building this business, and how did you go about, and how do you go about picking people to, to partner with or to onboard to the
Burju Perez: Oh my. This is gonna be loaded. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing just community of people. So a lot of the people came through me through personal networks. So one key person is Doreen, who’s my operations manager. Just met her through some neighbors and friends. And, you know, first she actually was my kind of like personal life coach.
You know, Just at a time when my husband and I were looking for everybody need, I’m, I’m, I wholeheartedly believe in therapy, coaching, learning that needs to never stop. Right? So she came in at the perfect time when we needed kind of that in our lives personally being, you know, business partners and.
Life partners, you know, it’s a lot, and just becoming great friends from there. When, at a time when it was just my husband and I running this kind of business, we [00:30:00] were still dancing. This is pre-kids. She come, she came along to start helping us. Her mind was very much operationally driven, like I struggle with execution and operational stuff because my brain thrives in creative, lofty, like I have another great idea situation.
So Doreen has given me the freedom to dream. And dream big and, and go crazy because she’s taken those dreams and shown me away a roadmap to execution. She creates processes, automations, she finds resources where we didn’t have them. I mean, she found Reach Realm like just sending an email out once a month was like the most daunting
exercise for me to do. And now we have, so, you know, there’s an internal team, but there’s an extension of that team through, you know, working with agencies like your Reach Realms or our warehouse now is a three pl, like all of these things, we all, I mean, I personally used to do all of these things myself and Doreen was[00:31:00]
the queen of making this happen, cuz there was no expansion, there was no increasing the capacity. I can only work so many hours a day. Right? So she, she said, this is what we need to do to grow, to scale. And she found the people and she executed and she found the procedures. I’m just getting the, the inventory out of my garage
and into a three pl was like, such a, a feat of I don’t know, genius. I couldn’t even fathom figuring that all out by myself, and she did so. And, you know, because she’s a great human being. Like a, like, like attracts like, so, She’s always been able to, I’m like “Doreen, who do you know that does bookkeeping?”
“Doreen, who do you know that does this?” She’s like, my, who do you know person? You know? I’m just like, who do you know that does these things? And between personal networks and professional, you know, clients even. She’s always connected with me, with great people, and when she doesn’t know, she’s just able to, she’s just able to
get to it. She has the mind, the, the capacity [00:32:00] and all of it, the wherewithal to just find great people to work with. So literally she’s I don’t know if there’s a higher rank. She’s like my, my other half. Like, I don’t function without a Doreen. Everybody needs a Doreen , get you a Doreen. And so she was kind of the start
of everything, because once she came into the organization you know, things started to fall into place. We were able to get more organized. We were get able to, you know, automate, find the processes, do the things, find more people to fill in on things. So I’m eternaly grateful. She’s like a partner.
She’s my work wife out. Like the love is there eternally. And you know, from there, finding. You know, I have her relatives that work for me, her daughters on my social media team. She’s a college student. Brilliant young woman, like their cousin is another one. She was on the social media team,
now she’s moved into our sustainability and community partnerships because she just, you know, graduated from Howard. [00:33:00] Brilliant young woman that studied political science and is all, I mean, just smarter than I am on all things that need to be talked. So all of these things, you know, came through just finally, I think at some point you have to understand one, none of us achieve any success without a team of people.
Absolutely. There is no self-made anybody in this world and anybody that proclaims that or believes that. Is not all there . I just said, I, I’m just gonna say it. It’s, it’s delusional to think that it’s not possible. So, and being that I was a control freak and very much worried and concerned and possessive about, oh, I, it has to be answered this way and it has to be done, da, da, da, I had to be willing to acknowledge that
I don’t always know how to do it the best. And I had to be able to let people in that were more skilled than me, that were smarter than me, that had, you know, the right skills and the different avenues of the business that’s made up of so many different things other than, besides just designing the shoe and, you know, doing a fun video.
There’s more to this, right? So, you know, [00:34:00] being able to let go and understanding that and trusting in the process of it is a lot for someone like me that can be very type A with certain things. Since I’ve done it, I can’t stop now. I’m like, what else can y’all do to take off my plate? Right?
Because I wanna be present in the ways that I, you know, that I excel where I’m most skilled when it comes to designing the shoe, creating something new, creating something exciting, listening to the dancers, talking with them, networking with them, creating the, you know, something fun and collaborating on ideas.
So. Yeah, everybody needs to start if it’s with one person. And it’s hard because when it comes to hiring anyone or working with an agency, it’s hard because you’re like, do I have the money to do this? Right? And to be honest, you may not, but it’s worth figuring out how to, because you, you’ll never get the money if you don’t.
You see what I’m saying? Cause you’re not gonna all of a sudden have a million dollars and be able to hire a dream team of people. It doesn’t work that way. So it takes a little bit of [00:35:00] like, whether it was cutting my own salary, taking some loans, or doing what I had to, in order to bring in someone like a Doreen and then bring in, you know, the Hannahs and the Sammy’s and the Sahara’s and the, and and everybody into the team and then hiring Reach Realm to do this.
And then, you know, my three pl to do that. At each, at each, you know, fork in the road or turn in the road. It was like, oh my God, do we actually have the money to do this? Can, can we sustain it? Like, and not go bankrupt in six months? But each time we just trust the process and trust the experts in each thing.
There’s been nothing but growth. You know, and to be honest, I haven’t burned out too because of it, thankfully, cuz I was definitely very close to that as an entrepreneur, as a new mother you know, as a wife, as a woman, there was, there was many points where I could feel burnout and that wouldn’t do anyone good.
So, it was, it [00:36:00] was tough decisions and you had to kind of like stomach it for a little bit. But I won’t turn back. And now I trust the process. I trust my team wholeheartedly . I tell Doreen to tell me what to do most of the time. I’m like, you decide I trust you because I know that these are great, intelligent people, that also, they’re committed to the brand as I am.
That’s the other thing that I think is really great. We have a small team and is lean and mean, and they’re so committed. So even where I might fall to or make mistakes, they’ve got my back. They look out for me, “Hey Burju that might not have been the best decision. Let’s look at that.” And I think, and I hope they know that I leave space for them to do that.
So it’s not. Burju knows all, says all. She’s the boss. You know that’s not the case. I want everyone to feel like they’re a part of this as much as I am so,
Zan Vipotnik: Perfect. Good leadership is always required, but good. It, it doesn’t work without good people right
Burju Perez: Exactly. . [00:37:00] Exactly. I wouldn’t say I’m their leader. I think we’re more, we’re teammates, we collaborate. I think everyone feels they can have a voice and that their ideas and thoughts do matter here. And I respect and trust them wholeheartedly. Even if we don’t disagree even if we don’t agree initially, oh, I want this, they want that.
And we’re willing to kind of learn from each other because it’s all about growth in your mindset as well, not just for your business. You, you have to be willing to grow in your mindset and be open to new ideas and better ways of things. We don’t all know it all the time. It’s not possible.
So, you know, be. If you’re that entrepreneur, if you’re that person, start, okay, it’s your idea, it’s your concept. That’s great. And where you might, you may know a lot about one area, you have to be willing to understand that there’s gonna be people that know way more than you in the other areas. You have to let that them take the reins there and take leadership.
And I think what that creates, I mean, so far there’s no, nobody’s going anywhere. There hasn’t been any turnover either. [00:38:00] So everyone here is quite tenure. And it’s great because it’s, it’s like a family, you know, we have our little moments where we’re like, oh, da that wasn’t fun, but we learn and we grow and I think we’re better for it.
So it, it feels like it’s run. The company’s run very well with just a few people. Really. It’s just a few people. Very few people. Yeah.
Zan Vipotnik: Are you planning to keep it to keep her team lean or is the idea to grow faster?
Burju Perez: That’s a great question. I thought I knew what I wanted and it keeps changing for, I think, I think it’s great to want your business to grow, but at some point you have to ask yourself at what expense. Right? Time, mental health, physical health, all those things, at some point, you know, you may find yourself sacrificing in order to experience certain growth.
So my answer to that question at this time is that I will only grow if it [00:39:00] doesn’t cost me more time, my mental health, or my physical health. And obviously, you know, when I say time for time for my family and, and things that matter in this world cuz that’s stuff you don’t, you don’t get back, right?
So if we’re running smoothly and we’re growing on this team of seven people the way it is, great if expanding that causes more headaches on anything. I don’t want it. I just, I just don’t want it. I’ve learned that it’s not worth it. I’m not, not trying to be the next billionaire. I’m just trying to make sure we have a nice life for my family that I can contribute positively to society.
And really that’s all like, I don’t wanna hoard anything. I don’t wanna hoard the money, any of it. It’s not worth it in the end to me, so where I stand at this point in time. We’ll see. We’ll see. I’ve been in it for a couple years. I might be like, I’m done . Just say, you know, you, you know, and that’s okay too.
I’ve also you know, said, you know, what is this life cycle of this entrepreneur and this business? Like, is [00:40:00] this something that’s meant to outlive me? And, you know, my kids will inherit it. And, you know, I don’t. I don’t know, honestly, it’s just gonna be organic and fluid. And if it’s serving a good purpose for you know, the community, for the people that work with me, for myself and my family, then it’ll continue to exist.
But the minute it becomes, you know, doesn’t serve any good and it becomes about either money or greed or anything else, I don’t want anything to do with it at that point. It either needs to be dissolved or sold or whatever it does. So, I think. That’s something that I’ve also become okay with. Like, even though it has my name on it and I started it from scratch, like the ego’s all gone at this point, you know, I am not the brand, you know what I’m saying?
I am so many other things. So I will take the skills and things and relationships I’ve built along the way and find the next new best thing for me that aligns with my values as a human being First. And not isn’t about financial [00:41:00] gain necessarily. And here’s the thing is when I was able to clearly express that for myself and own it is when I realized the most growth, because I wasn’t obsessed with having a successful business.
That’s not what I was. I literally, after 2020, I became obsessed with just being a great human being and a brand that is human. You know what I mean? Like I get it. Brand people, some people think, oh, brands, nobody cares what you think. Just sell your product and shut up. But brands are run by human beings and I’m like, I’m not gonna be one person in this, you know, over here in this corner, and another person here.
I just wanna be a good human being that contributes positively to society, to humanity, to my kids, to people around me. I wanna lift people up, not drag them down. That’s who I wanna be. End of story. And I became obsessed with just living my life on those values and not worrying about whether I got a sale and, and what a, what was going on.
You know? Sure we care. We need to, you know, the lights need to stay on, we gotta pay the bills. I [00:42:00] get that. But it wasn’t the thing that I focused my energy and my attention on, and I think that was a major shift. So I don’t know how many people believe in that kind of thing, but because my energy was in a different place, I think that set the stage or it created space in the universe for everything else to align and work out.
Cause I was open, I was ready to receive the new information and the new opportunities and learn. And grow.
Zan Vipotnik: So it sounds like your, your vision for the company comes from first what aligns with your values, aligns with what you want to achieve, and everything else comes second.
Burju Perez: Exactly, exactly. Profits come last.
Zan Vipotnik: And if we take that, and I know that you have a lot of projects going on that you’re incorporating into the business and are affecting the future of the business.
So if you will share a bit more about which are some of the [00:43:00] projects that you are maybe the most proud of or the most excited about that are either already out there or that you’re prepping, and how do they tie into your, your vision for, for Burju shoes?
Burju Perez: Well, I’ll, I’ll put it into a couple of different buckets. You know, now that we, now that there is a team and there’s room to breathe one of the biggest projects internally working on is becoming, again, most the most sustainable we can be. My goal, Is to be the kind of brand that has a full, is a full circular product or economy eCommerce where basically we’re using either all recycled you know, less harmful materials to build our product, give it the longest life cycle we can through second hand or recycling, whatever.
And then at the end of it that it doesn’t end up in a landfill. Like I’m, you know, I have a one person on the team dedicated just to that at this point. Like, how do [00:44:00] we get it? You know, the biggest lifespan. There’s a lot of initiatives in war in the play that some of them due to either some technical issues or just, you know, some of the companies we wanna partner with to execute this are not necessarily taking on maybe companies of our size that are maybe smaller or just they’ve just got been inundated.
But like this whole idea of, you know, secondhand, how do we incorporate that into our business? How do we get our consumer to ultimately recycle the product at the end of it? How we recycle it, what it turns into, does it turn to park benches later on? Like all this kind of great stuff too. How do we even create You know, where there’s need for footwear.
A kind of economy where we can eventually either donate. Heels are not the most like , you know, for everybody, usable item. But how do we generate something out of maybe our materials that then becomes something like a slipper that people can use that’s affordable, that’s easy to, you know, either donate or give with purchase?
How do we completely offset. All our [00:45:00] emissions. I mean, we are e-commerce, not brick and mortar. So we understand our impact when it comes to shipping, both importing and to our customers. So how do we continue to invest in projects that offset that, not just offset it, but hopefully neg, you know, get us over and beyond that.
Right. And it’s, and I’ll be honest with you, these projects, you would think, oh, it’s so easy and do it. But it’s not, it’s not for smaller businesses because unless you have massively deep projects where you can dump tens and $20,000 a pop to implement this, that or other thing. Some of the businesses that help businesses become sustainable won’t even look at you unless you’re making 10, 20 million a year.
So we’ve had to get creative. We’ve had to stay really diligent on you know following up and what’s it gonna take for you to work with us? Or how do we get certified for the, you know, be certified or this, what does it take? What are the steps? How do we, you know, just calculating our missions was the most daunting task.
So that’s like, It’s not even a money generating [00:46:00] product, more so than it is about becoming a brand of the future, a way of doing this thing the right way, and maybe hopefully paving the way for other brands and smaller brand like people that are starting businesses in their, like I did in their homes, in their garages, in their basements and their, you know, Yes, it’s great Etsy shop, let’s get the thing out there, blah, blah, blah.
But then also finding ways that that person can still do it sustainably. Like, can we use biodegradable only packaging because the recycling system is broken? So maybe if it’s gonna end up in the landfill, least let’s make sure it breaks down in like a hundred days instead of 20, a hundred years or whatever.
Things like that. So I think that is the most Important project that we’re working on and it’s a lot of it’s happening behind the scenes and a lot of it’s painstaking because people don’t get back to you. The emails, the calls, the meetings only to get rejected or find out you just don’t have the money to implement that at this time, but you’re like, okay, let’s check back in six months, kind of thing.
But it’s the thing that I think excites all of us the most [00:47:00] because while we love our brand and what we do, The idea of being able to make it so sustainable and no impact on the planet is the most exciting thing we can think of right now. So I would say that’s number one. The other most exciting thing, and it, I think it, it, it Touches on all the different little launches that we’ve been doing.
But the main, I guess, project is just making sure everyone feels included and seen in our brand, right? Whether it’s all genders, all skin tones, all body shapes you know, everyone is welcome. So from the way we, you know feature or show on our social media to the brands. Like we, we just this past June, July, we relaunched kind of a pump with pride collection, which was less about putting a rainbow on it and more about like, let’s
celebrate and learn about the pride, pride flag, the colors, what they mean, each color, having something. So a whole collection dedicated to that, to our eight shades of [00:48:00] nude, eight shades of, you know, when we say nude, my nude is different from someone else’s nude. So we have eight shades of nude, you know, to the different styles of shoes.
What might work for someone, might not for another, because we don’t all have the same leg shape, right? So we’re trying to continue to build on that and really have everyone see themselves in our brand and feel, seen, feel included, feel loved, appreciated, and have a space where they can express themselves through our product, through our social media, by being featured and all of that.
I think that’s really important going forward. And there’s, it’s not negotiable at this point. Like these two things are just non-negotiable. Like that’s how we go into the future. Is it sustainable? Is it inclusive? If it’s not, I don’t wanna even look at it. It’s not worth my time. Right. Or show me a way that you can make it sustainable and inclusive, then we can talk about it
right. So those are the two biggest ones. And then just Just fun projects have been like kind of these collaboration collections with some of the amazing choreographers, dancers, [00:49:00] instructors in the dance community. It’s so great to get to know these human beings and really one, they’re also the window into the audience more now than I am because while I’m recreationally dancing,
for fun, it’s not my thing anymore. So the more I get removed from that, you know, having these connections with these humans and being able to understand the needs and how to best meet them and just kind of, you know, I think it’s the collaborations are more about showing that we can build things better together,
and we don’t always have to, you know, it’s not about the competition, like we can fix each other’s crowns, lift each other’s up, and everyone can win. There’s room for everybody. And so just to, To model a supportive community and where it gives back, because at the end of the day, I love my dancers, I love my creative people, and I want them to always feel like there is a space where they are like celebrated, represented treated with respect, paid [00:50:00] well.
All the things that don’t always happen in the big world. At least in our little corner of the world, we’re trying to create that. So they’re kind of like big projects. And then, I mean, at the end of the day, if you ask, I mean, we’re just creating another, a shoe, another model, another style. But we like to think that we create it with a purpose each time.
We always think of the person that will be using it. That will have it, how it will impact their lives, how will improve their lives, how will create higher self-esteem a feeling of inclusivity feeling good about their purchase cause it’s sustainable, all those things. So it’s with the end user, that person that receives and opens that box, or bag, hopefully biodegradable, recyclable, and it’s like, oh my God, this just, this is everything.
This is great. I contributed to something great and I’m a part of something. . So yeah, that’s, those are the big projects.
Zan Vipotnik: Amazing. Doing something great and being a part of something great. I think this is a perfect place for us to, to leave it. [00:51:00] But before we do that where can people find you? You’re obviously super active on social media, what they should check out, where do they find the products? You a team. Where can people learn more?
Burju Perez: Yeah, everything is Burju shoes, B U R J U Shoes, plural. Whether it’s the website, burjushoes.com, Instagram handle, Facebook handle, Twitter handle. We kept it really simple. It’s all Burju shoes. We have online chat. We have email. We have dms so you can get contact. Be sure that someone’s gonna reach out to you within 24 to 48 business hours.
And do reach out. You know, we love questions. We’re not trying to sell you anything. We just wanna connect and, and see how we can, you know, better serve people. Simple!
Zan Vipotnik: Definitely. Alright. Thank you for sharing the story of Burju Shoes and, and for being so transparent.
Burju Perez: Yay.
Zan Vipotnik: I hope people find a lot of value in [00:52:00] this conversation.
Burju Perez: Thanks for listening. Thanks for having me. I’m honored to share the story and I love working with you Zan, you’re just great. Your team is very, it’s crucial to what we do too. So, anytime you reach out for anything, I’m, I’m on board. , you earn my trust and respect.
Zan Vipotnik: Definitely too kind. Thank you and thanks everyone for listening as well.
Burju Perez: Thank you.