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By: Ryan Walker, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of G&E Magazine
Calvin Klein. Ralph Lauren. Cole Haan. Legendary brands, fantastic names, and phenomenal founders behind them spearheading their growth.
Introducing Jack Grace USA.
An up and coming revolutionary golf shoe brand with a classic American name. And you guessed it, an awesome founder behind their innovative product.
Meet Bart Walker, this week’s guest on G&E The Podcast. Simply put, Bart is the man. And his story to starting his shoe brand equates that statement.
Bart is a self-proclaimed shoe fanatic. During his days as a mortgage banker, he would find himself frustrated with the options for footwear. “I wanted something that would pop a bit.” He would order old classic shoes off eBay, have them refurbished, and would spray paint the saddles for his own unique look.
“That was probably what spurred the idea initially, but it wasn’t like I was going to start a shoe company to do this. I remember when I was taking off the saddles, I would see the stitching on there and I thought to myself, this looks like it could be a separate component. But it was just sort of subconscious and marinated there for a number of years.”
Until one day when he was on a site inspection and stopped in to say hi to an old friend who had a business nearby.
“I saw this thriving business he had built for himself, and that was the day that really inspired me to move forward with it.”
That night he went home and on a paper towel made his initial sketches. And he made a commitment to himself. That he was going to work on it every day until he got it done.
Amazing ideas are a dime a dozen but the action required to take them from a piece of paper into a living, breathing, business is incredibly rare. That first, necessary step, can be so hard to take and quickly that groundbreaking idea you had, get’s swept under the rug.
Bart knew this. But he had a gut feeling that this idea was just too good to ignore. He had to do something about it. That something turned out to be a 15,000 dollar beginning tranche to get the patent process started.
One thing led to another. An email that he sent to his best friend about going in on the patent together got forwarded until it landed in the inbox of an attorney who structures businesses for a living.
That attorney thought the idea was incredible. He offered to help out with the patent process at no charge. But he did have one requirement. Or an ultimatum if you may. Bart had to go all in. He had to quit his job and dedicate everything he had to turn this idea into a business.
“Obviously with one child that was a really bold move but my wife’s grandmother gave us this little [print] and a couple of the things I would read constantly were “work at something you enjoy that is worthy of your time and talent, be decisive even if sometimes it means you will be wrong. And be bold and courageous; when you look back at your life, you will regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”
So Bart decided to roll the dice. And with the help of his wonderful and supportive wife who decided to leave her job as well to help out, began the Journey of Jack Grace USA.
Bart knew what he had to do. And that was to get some money in his corner so he could go all in. But first, he needed a bit of padding for his family before the building stages began. After taking some money out of his retirement funds, he was able to gather his first investor in quite the unexpected manner.
“I had to let my boss know I was leaving. Ironically, he sits on my board of directors. He saw how passionate I was about the project that as I was leaving, he said he wanted to invest. That’s a really good parting gift. Yes, Bart, I do endorse you to pursue this idea, this seems like a very good one, and I can see your passionate. And by the way, can I give you a check on your way out the door?”
With a slight cushion, Bart and his team began the building process of turning Jack Grace USA into the brand we see today. Over the course of their year-long journey, the team has had some unbelievable moments.
One of those was a phone call from Peter Moore, the original designer of the first Jordan shoe.
“He received a pair of shoes, and he called to congratulate us on what a great design it was and how much he liked it… he designed the Jumpman logo, he designed the original Jordan wings logo, then he was the CEO of Adidas. To get a call from a guy like that… some of these experiences I have had already are amazing, and there is no way I would ever trade it for anything.”
And if you were wondering how they came up with the name, it is after their kids. His son’s name is William Jack, and his daughter’s name is Estella Grace. Blended together, the classic American name was born.
A year ago when I started G&E Magazine, if you told me that I would have been able to feature such fascinating interviews like the one I had with Bart, I would have been blown away. Bart’s journey into entrepreneurship is incredible, and his insights into what it takes to build a business are spot on. Take a listen to this week’s podcast as Bart, and I talk about: