After successful forums in NY and LA our team continued our nationwide event series FUEL – Firing Up Emerging Leaders in Austin! The evening featured local Austin leaders from various industries who are embodying Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit. Among those leaders was Joshua Bingaman, Founder of HELM Boots. I was fortunate enough to participate in a fireside chat with Joshua during our event regarding the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur and frankly I could’ve picked his brain all night. He was kind enough to share more of his expertise in the interview below, check it out.
Can you provide a brief background of HELM? How did you all get started and what inspired the brand?
In 2000, my brother and I started a sneaker store in San Francisco. It did very well, my brother eventually bought me out and the stores franchised. Starting a new footwear business was always front of mind. I got married and moved to Austin. My wife and I opened a café and coffee roasting business. In 2009, I was visiting my aunt in Istanbul and met a guy there who owned a shoe factory. I was inspired to hire him on the spot. We designed and released the first 7 HELM styles. My original goal was to blend a work-hiking boot with a dressier style and include touch of sneaker cool. Versatility was key but classic long-lasting style was paramount. In 2012, we brought the entire manufacturing operation to the United States and the rest is history.
Can you explain why HELM decided to make Austin home? How does the brand fit into the fabric of the city?
My wife in I visited Austin in 2002 and ended up moving here soon after – we just fell in love with the city. Since I opened a cafe’ on the East side the community that grew around it really wove us in to the fabric of the city. So, it just made sense for Austin to be HELM’s home.
Being an entrepreneur is no easy feat. What fuels you to create and continue to build your business?
My family is of course first and foremost. I need to know that they are taken care of so that I can have peace. I’ve definitely been putting them in a place of risk for many, many years (through my multiple startups) and I’d like for HELM to become a 100-year brand. I want to continue to build my business to inspire and bring confidence to men from all walks of life, everywhere.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned along the way that you wished you had known when you were starting out?
My answer here could be an entire book. I ate a lot of crow and learned a ton (and still do) from falling down and getting back up. I’m pretty sure that if someone were to tell me things to do and not do I’d still have to learn these lessons on my own. Some people call it hard headed I think. If I could go back I’d give myself more time to work behind the scenes of the kinds of businesses I’ve started so that I’ve have more hands-on skill sets developed. Watching people and leaders that are passionate and enjoying what they’re doing is something that teaches me.
You work in both the shoe business and coffee business – what are some lessons in agility you’ve learned from being in both industries?
I’d probably call it more flexibility than agility. I have learned that service is #1. You can have the best of anything and everything but if you can’t serve someone whole-heartedly then you shouldn’t be in the game. I would say that I’ve been agile in terms of risking everything many times and somehow being able to endure through what has seemed like the end multiple times. Coffee/food/service and retail (specifically footwear) aren’t often considered fields to jump into to make a quick buck.
During our FUEL event in Austin you mentioned “being an entrepreneur is in your DNA”. What goes into the DNA of being an entrepreneur?
Sleepless nights. Just kidding (kind of). Hard work ethic. Joy and fulfillment in finishing what you set out to do (daily). The ability to do pursue and do what you love even when people (often) question you. Persistence. Endurance. Willingness to change.