30 Digital Champions: The shoe brand getting orders from global musicians and royalty

Our Microsoft 30 Digital Champions initiative is all about unearthing creativity, ingenuity and originality when it comes to taking a technology-led approach to growth. We hope you learn a great deal from our profile – with Augustus Pili’s Jalil Rahman the latest in the hotseat.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

Augustus Pili is a British footwear company founded earlier this year. I want British footwear to get the recognition it truly deserves. I think it’s the best in the world. And so Augustus Pili was born from the challenge: what would a traditionally crafted English men’s shoe, with all the quality of English artisanal heritage, look like if it was born today instead of hundreds of years ago?”

I founded Augustus Pili with a strong sense that although the perception of Britain as a heritage society remains, we take for granted the things that earned us that reputation. With Augustus Pili I feel I’m finally able to do something about this. Creatively, I see Augustus Pili as the reincarnation of the English men’s shoe. If tradition needs renewal to keep it relevant, I believe Augustus Pili will have the authority to challenge it to inspire rather than define what a shoe can be.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

In November 2014 I decided to flesh out the brand’s concept and presented the ideas to friends and family. Encouraged by strong endorsements, I sought the assistance of the British Footwear Association (BFA) to locate production in the UK. With the help of John Saunders, CEO, BFA, I found a family-run business established in Northampton in the 1800s that would take a gamble on the brand and eventually became my manufacturing partner.

From there, with the concept and a collection of samples, Augustus Pili become one of KPMG Enterprise’s first mentees on its recently established programme for entrepreneurs. I launched the brand publicly at the British Fashion Council’s seasonal event London Collections Men in January 2015 and promptly set up company pages on Facebook and Instagram as a priority. This was a decision which proved to be crucial to our current success within social media.

So far, I’ve managed to secure business from global musicians and international royalty through my digital and print advertising – I just can’t name them I’m afraid! That’s been a fantastic milestone personally.

In addition, I won a place on the British Footwear Association’s Accelerated Programme in February 2015. In Augustus Pili’s tenth month – this October – I won the Meltzer Travel Award 2015 at the annual Footwear Friends Awards (formerly the Footwear Benevolent Society, est. 1836).

(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

I am a self-taught designer and when I founded this company I wanted it to reflect as much of my life experiences as possible. I was told when I was a young man that women judge a man’s taste by his belt, watch and shoes. I could always find the belt and the watch to express myself but could never find the shoes.

I wanted Augustus Pili to communicate to the younger man what I had in turn learned older men already knew. That a man should have a code. Crafted shoes, like a good suit, make you perceive yourself as a man in a way that other footwear cannot. The way you present yourself does matter. That your understanding of how to be a man is a responsibility that cannot be delegated.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

Many specific to most startups in any industry: cash flow limitations, deadlines, delays…even postal theft. Whenever I encounter a trial of my patience I remind myself of the Japanese saying “Tanki wa sonki”, which literally translates as “if you’re short-tempered you’re a loser”. I consider launching a business a series of ongoing problem solving challenges. Treating it this way makes it feel much more manageable.

(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

It’s been the single most important aspect of building this brand. Digital platforms such as Facebook have provided Augustus Pili with a true level playing field when it comes to global engagement and potential for conversions. As we are currently building our ecommerce platform, I have been able to take international orders from markets as far afield as Kuwait and Angola via Facebook Messenger – basically a text message! Facebook advertising meanwhile has been just as key – providing me with an opportunity to listen to and engage with new customers first-hand with no barriers.

We are building digital into the DNA of the brand from the very first sale. I’m very excited by what going digital on an “old world” industry will allow us to do.

(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

Let’s not forget what “technology” means. Our shoes are made with technology. Just very old technology and traditional techniques. However, I could not found this company at all without the enabling power of digital technology.

Could there be a bigger hurdle than the ability to exist? We are literally trading internationally. This would just not have been possible even 15 years ago. The second biggest hurdle however is timing. Digital technology and lean principles help keep us as responsive as possible. For example we are able to acquire feedback from fans on new design samples before committing.

(7) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

For me it comes back to the engagement tools I have at my disposal. Things like Facebook messenger are fantastic at connecting me with customers around the world – dealing with queries and facilitating sales

(8) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

Personalisation is an aspect that we would want to explore on our ecommerce platform. So far, I think we’ve been able to attract evangelists as early adopters. We in turn are very interested in our customers’ stories and would like to integrate them more closely into the branding stories we tell. So scalable customer relationship management, data analysis and marketing solutions are of interest to me. This could maintain our competitive edge. I’ve been writing personal note to thank customers for buying but we’ve gone past the volume of sale where that is no longer viable.

(9) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

Our ambition is to truly mean something to our customers and add to their lives. We want to achieve this by building both an online and offline community. We have already got a roster of men doing interesting things with their lives together to join our first cohort of ambassadors. Augustus Pili is really about exploring what it means to be a man today. There are no pre-cut answers. We look forward to our customers’ answers to this challenge, sharing these stories digitally and building a community around it.

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