Connect with Hannah Davis on LinkedIn
Job: Founder, BANGS
Location: Austin, TX
Hannah and I were connected through Harold Hughes, a friend from college and another incredibly entrepreneurial-focused YoPro. You'll enjoy reading about Hannah's vision and passion, which led her down an exciting fundraising path that started with a connection. Hannah now runs an extremely successful footwear company and The YoPro Know is excited to see where she goes next.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in South Carolina and graduated from Clemson University with a Political Science degree and a minor in Mandarin. I currently live in Austin, Texas, and am the founder of an online footwear company called BANGS.
How did you start BANGS?
I founded BANGS when I was 22 years old. Similar to most people in college, I had that ‘I want to change the world’ mentality, but I didn’t know what that would look like. I had all of these interests in humanitarian space in the nonprofit world and was interested in travel, but I was really poor and needed to find a way to get paid. I ended up signing a contract to teach English in China for a year and while I was over there, I discovered these shoes that are worn by Chinese workers and farmers. They’re really unique because they were monochromatic all the way around, but they were canvas. They looked like boots, but they were actually tennis shoes, kind of in the same category as Vans, Converse, Superga or Keds. All of these brands traditionally have a white soul, and then a different color canvas. I loved this unique shoe because it wasn’t a fashion shoe but it was something that you only saw workers wearing in rice fields or construction sites. I brought the shoes back to the U.S. and showed my friends and family. Similar to any proper entrepreneur, I eventually decided to start this company inspired by these shoes that I found in China. I wanted to use a portion of the profits to invest in trying to make the world a better place, and was inspired by companies like Toms and Patagonia. I decided that the give-back model for this brand would be to invest in other entrepreneurs. The hope was to help people help themselves, and to provide opportunities for them. The brand name was inspired from the Chinese character for the word help.
What were your first steps in forming the business?
I ended up moving to Charleston, South Carolina to build the brand for a few years. Currently, I work with one angel investor (an individual who wants to invest in a new or small business) and my business partner, George, and his wife, Gail. We have been building BANGS together as a team since 2012. Even though I signed the LLC in 2010 when I was 22 years old, we didn’t ship our first pair of shoes until I was 24 and made our first sale in 2016.
What did the funding process look like?
I really believe in talking to as many people as possible because you never know what dots will be connected. I think my story is a perfect example of this, but it’s unique because I didn’t actually know I was fundraising. I was a 24-year-old bartender with the confidence that only a 24-year-old can have. My confidence stemmed from both my passion and belief in BANGS and the fact that I’ve seen other companies like this be successful. I believed that BANGS was unique and had the opportunity to make a lot of people’s lives better. One day while I was bartending in James Island, this couple walked into the bar. They started asking me all about BANGS. I took a deep breath and explained my idea, how I believed it could have a type of humanitarian impact, and where the shoes were inspired from. Next thing I knew, this guy and his wife asked to see my business plan. Unbeknownst to me, this was a retired executive from a parent apparel company. He had been retired for six years and was looking for an entrepreneur to support.
That’s incredible. How does your relationship with them look now?
Support comes in many different forms. It could be a phone conversation once a month, money, or it could be both. This particular person, George, was looking for both. He had a successful career and was looking for a place to put his money. However, he didn’t want to be a bank. He wanted to provide support and I needed all the help I could get. He and his wife ended up signing a contract two months after I met them and are now half owners of the company. They own 50 percent and I would give them 50 percent every day for the rest of my life. It absolutely changed the trajectory. It's really like a partnership in the truest sense because he has a career worth of knowledge and information.
Where do you see your company going in the next few years?
BANGS has grown in ways that I never could have imagined. Today, we have four different types of shoes. We have high tops, low tops, slip-ons, and we just released a boot. We have a really amazing community of brand ambassadors and we’re building more than just a company. Instead, we’re building connections between people and building long-lasting relationships. The shoe has become a symbol. We have stayed true to our social mission and because of that, we have been able to invest in over 2500 entrepreneurs across 70 countries. I want my company to continue to grow. I want to keep offering classic, awesome shoes that are both comfortable and durable. I want the people who wear the shoes to look at them as a symbol and reminder of everyday adventure, and that impact can happen. You don't have to have this massive change overnight, you can have small actions that add up to massive impacts. One day, I want to be a household name. Just give me another thirty years.
How big is your company?
Our core team is quite small. However, we have a growing team of part-time employees and about 10 to 99 freelancers that are involved. We have people who help in customer care, people who help run the brand ambassador program, and people who help manage our advertisements. In total, there might be around thirty-five people that touch the company every week and who help make it successful.
What is one word you would use to describe the past ten years of your life?
Unexpected. My story itself kind of reflects that word. There was an article written about BANGS in 2014 when I was still living in New York. The title of the article was “The Accidental CEO” and I thought it was reflective of my own story. In college, I associated money and business with this negative machine. It really took understanding adult life, and also understanding that businesses aren't intrinsically bad. It's what you do with your culture and what you do with the money. If you would have told 19-year-old Hannah that she would be a business owner, I would have never believed it. The fact that I'm here is quite unexpected. This also applies to the people I have met along the way. My business partner, George, was unexpected. Of course, he believed in this idea, but I've always been sort of waiting for the bottom to drop. I think it's good to be a little nervous to keep the fire burning beneath you to make you want to get up and have that drive. I’m just sometimes surprised that people are still buying BANGS. I’ve been doing this for ten years, and to this day, when I see a pair of BANGS, I sprint to them. This whole scenario is just constantly a delightful surprise.
Who is one person that inspires you?
My business partner, George, is incredibly inspirational. There are several things that I admire about him: how he grew up, the life that he built for himself and his family, who he is as a person, and how he interacts with others. One of the things I really admire about George is that you can tell by his actions that he really values humans. Everything he does is very thoughtful and he responds to people with respect and kindness. We have been working together since 2012 and I have admired and learned from him for ten years. He’s curious about the world, constantly seeking new knowledge and information. This is something very unique to him and I hope to have the same curiosity about life and the world around me like George does.
Any last-minute advice?
I think it's really important to make space to be happy with where you are in life. Avoid beating yourself up if you think you’re not where you need to be. I guarantee you somebody is looking at you right now wishing they were in your position. That's always the case. The next piece of advice I have is if you have an idea, or if you have something that you want to do, there is no excuse not to start now. Start taking baby steps now whether it's saving money to go on a trip, coming up with a new business idea, or transitioning to a new job. If you can start taking small steps today towards whatever goal you have, you will be so happy that you started now.
Buy BANGS! Our brand ambassador applications are open for anyone who wants to get more involved. To learn more about how to invest directly in our entrepreneurs, you can do so through kiva.org.
YoPro Know's Takeaways:
-Talk to as many people as possible because you never know what dots will be connected
-You don't have to have a massive change overnight, you can have small actions that add up to massive impacts
-There is no excuse not to start now when pursuing your dreams or goals