Meet Paperfeet by TOMBOLO - the world’s thinnest flexible sandal, pocket ready for your next adventure. Jimmy Tomczak invented the patent-pending minimalist art sandals from a process that upcycles billboard sheet plastic into functional outdoor gear.
Jimmy was using a huge McDonald’s advertisement to keep a leaky roof dry when the idea came to him to use the material for alternative uses. An outdoorsman himself, Jimmy always loved the beach and a good barefoot trek and had his eye on those foot-glove shoes and other barefoot footwear that were all unfortunately out of his budget. The next best thing was to create a pair himself. He put the simple sandals for sale on Paperfeet http://paperfeet.com and less than a year later the shoes have been shipped around the world, featured in national media like WSJ, BoingBoing, and FOX and more. His next project is a Kickstarter campaign to scale production in the USA using local, ethical labor.
What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
1) Seek and find available resources: Do whatever you can to talk with professors, mentors, fellow peers and their networks early and often. College-specific programs, classes, centers and similar are all incredible resources that are less available once you graduate too.
2) Apply for business competitions and programs that are only available to college students. I applied for hundreds of independent scholarships before graduating high school. Combined with working before and after my classes in college, I eventually earned enough from just a handful of the scholarships I won to pay my way through school. Don’t miss a window of opportunity for free money that is restricted to your student status.
3) Start a business. Learn by doing. The best way to become an entrepreneur is to have a product, find a customer, and start making sales! Fail fast and often but make sure these are intelligent failures in that you can apply everything you learned in missing the mark to exceeding expectations the next time around.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Absolutely not. Even a seasoned entrepreneur can work hard and achieve near-perfection only to have the rug pulled out from under them by an unforeseen market shift or other anomaly. I graduated from the University of Michigan with a BS in Neuroscience and I also completed the Program in Entrepreneurship.
In addition to Michigan’s business school, U-M’s entrepreneurship program has been growing strong but I still remember what I first thought after meeting someone who wanted to “major in entrepreneurship.” “Entrepreneur” is the title some people give themselves after they’ve achieved what they previously defined as success, and as validated by an external party. There’s no such thing as an entrepreneurship major. Learn the basics, sure, but applying creative problem solving and time management to an uncanny ability to complete innovative projects with speed and clarity is the best “formula” for entrepreneurial success that I know. Do what works for you!
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Creativity. Ability to get stuff done. Advanced networking skills.
Creativity, like entrepreneurship, is a challenging subject to “teach.” But many argue that a creative mind is the most valuable asset a person can have. Combining rare creativity with the ability to break down a problem into manageable steps and an executable solution helps make a successful entrepreneur. Factor in real networking, where collaboration happens and relationships are built beyond business cards, and you’ll have the winning skill set of a successful entrepreneur. Always remember, success is what you define it as, and optimizing your own unique abilities that you already have will get you there faster than any advice you read. Best of luck.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I founded TOMBOLO, maker of uncommon goods for the collective good after inventing “paperfeet” – minimalist sandals made from up-cycled outdoor advertisement material. At the time, I had a leaky roof and couldn’t afford a full repair. One of the contractors that gave me a quote said that his company sometimes used giant billboard vinyl sheets as durable, waterproof tarps. I cold called several ad companies and eventually found a full 14 x 48 foot sign sheet that functioned as the perfect roof tarp for the winter.
The following year I revisited an early idea I had of making paper-thin sandals from Tyvek – the puncture-proof material used for shipping envelopes. Tyvek failed but the billboard worked surprisingly well for the first edition of what would eventually become the retail-ready paperfeet of today. In less than a year, the hand-made billboard shoes have been shipped around the world and featured in national media. But to take things to the next level and scale manufacturing I’m launching a Kickstarter community project to raise the funds needed to do volume production here in the United States.