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These NYC Cool Kids Make a Living by Photographing Stranger's Shoes

Hard work and dedication allowed these two to turn what they loved into a career

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Matt Glueckert

Nowadays everybody wants to start their own business, and everybody also wants to follow their passion. It's an interesting predicament because it takes a perfect mix of fear, dedication and consistency in order for those dreams to actually come true. Despite the hurdles, the dynamic duo behind ShoesOf—a popular Instagram account that travels to major cities profiling strangers asking them why they chose to wear a particular pair of shoes and what those kicks mean to them—and have found success.

 

Meet Lexi Cross and Huston Conti. What started off as a hobby for the two in 2014 has now turned into a profitable full-time business.

 

Clearly, the journey wasn't just a walk in the park so we wanted to find out how they got started and also get some advice on how you can get from behind that desk and get to following your dreams.

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Talk to me about how you got your start? What made you want to do this?

 

Lexi Cross: My career and education background is in retail and fashion. Ever since I can remember, I've been hustling on the side—mostly to fulfill a passion for writing and storytelling. I had a few personal blogs before @shoesof and I think they all set the stage for the Instagram account. When Huston told me he was moving to NYC (we're friends from Seattle) I asked him if he wanted to pursue this random (drunk idea—no shame!) that I had. A week after he moved we were wandering the streets of NYC stopping strangers and asking about their shoes. It was a pretty efficient way for Huston to get acquainted with NYC, to be honest! But mostly it was our curiosity with people and style that got us started.

 

Huston Conti: I’ve worked in a lot of different industries—finance, non-profit, tech but what shaped me the most for ShoesOf was my experience in retail. When I was in college my mom opened a retail/concept shop in Seattle and my brother and I helped her do it. There’s a lot that goes into opening a store but what I gravitated towards most was finding the brands and products we sold and curating that experience. My mother’s vision was steadfast in that every product we sold (1) couldn’t be outsourced (i.e it had to be made where it was designed) and (2) everything had to have a story behind it. I really got into discovering new brands and products from all over the world and then selling them to customers, while incorporating the stories behind each. This was when I first understood the power of storytelling and is what I think eventually lead me to where I am now with ShoesOf.

Who’s the coolest subject you’ve met in the last 6 months?

 

Cross: We're not sure what 'cool' even means anymore! BUT one of our favorite stories is from last summer. We stopped this guy who was wearing pastel-colored sneakers and a colorful shirt. He told us he always has to match his shoes to his Hawaiian shirts. A simple story but we just thought it was awesome. What a specific personal style move! 

Describe your brand building strategy in one sentence.

 

Cross: Word of mouth! 

 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a founder?

 

Cross: To be steadfast in your core values as a brand and a human being, but flexible in your day-to-day when it comes to process, technology, and strategy. It's important to have a moral compass and overall vision, but how you get there might change. Oh, and it's all about who you know! At least in this industry.

 

Conti: Find you a badass co-founder.

 

What’s one aspect of your job that you knew nothing about? How did you adapt?

 

Cross: Wow...so many things. I didn't know much about photography and I am totally self-taught. A lot of people don't know this but aside from @shoesof Huston and I have a content agency called SO/Media and we create white label content for footwear and fashion brands. So I had to figure out a lot of things from a content production side, from sourcing talent to negotiating payment terms. I would say on a monthly basis I am teaching myself new thingsa common theme in my life: "I don't know but I'll figure it out."

 

Conti: Videographyfrom story-boarding to shooting and post-production/editing. As Lexi mentioned, we create content for other brands and a lot of times video is a part of that. One of the first jobs we ever did had a video portion to it and at that time I was still very new to it all but we figured it out and got the job done. These days you can really teach yourself anything if you’re dedicated enough and stick with it. I spend a lot of hours on Google and YouTube teaching myself new tricks!

 

Tell us about the time in your career when you felt the most “stuck.”

 

Cross: Trying to figure out how much to charge for things. That is still a constant struggle for me personally. I suffer from 'imposter syndrome' like a lot of women and determining your worth and then how to attach a $ can feel pretty paralyzing at times. I am working on it! Huston helps!

 

Conti: This was before ShoesOf. My first job out of college was in finance as an analyst for a massive Fortune 50 company. I wore a suit and tie every day and spent my days in front of two monitors with stacks of files next to me generating reports over and over again. I did well, got promoted, made good money but I not only felt out of place in that job, I felt I had to stick it out for a year or two in order to build my resume. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

What do you consider your greatest failure to date? What did it teach you?

 

Cross: I don't mean to sound full of myself but I really can't pinpoint any failures. I do the best I can to make the right decisions day-to-day and if things don't work out as I planned or something falls through I don't consider it a failure, I consider it a lesson and I move on and learn from it. 

 

Conti: I’m with Lex. I don’t believe in failureeverything is a learning lesson and an opportunity for growth. Failure is never trying in the first place. Shoot your shot!

How do you take your coffee?

 

Cross: An Americano (hot, sometimes cold) with one pump of vanilla! 

 

Conti: I stopped drinking coffee a few months ago. I still indulge sometimes but it’s got to be in the right setting. Sitting at a cafe in Quartier Pigalle in Paris, for example, …how could you not order a double espresso in that environment?

 

What is your number one way to inspire positive company morale?

 

Cross: Smile, laugh, make jokes! We all get so wound up in to-do lists and deadlines and ALL the thingswhat a weight is lifted when you take a second to just enjoy and acknowledge the wonderfulness of the people around you (which is usually just Huston!). We aren't saving liveswe try not to take ourselves too seriously! I admit I have a tendency to get flustered and overwhelmed so I try to practice this or at least be aware of it. 

 

Conti: Your work and play need to have a healthy balance. What that balance is will be different for everyone (and every company) but no matter what you do for work you have to make sure you’re taking time away from it for yourself. Often times some of our best inspiration and ideas come while we’re not on the job.

 

How can a candidate impress you in a job interview?

 

Cross: Just be interesting. Reference a book you're reading, an exhibit you went to or an unusual hobby. I like 'weird' peoplesomeone that sees the world differently or at least makes an effort to participate in it outside of the most basic of activities.  

 

Conti: What Lexi said. My pops is an entrepreneur (built and sold two businesses) and he always told me “people do business with people they like”… full stop. I think that also holds true for people you work with. You’ve got to be good at your job, of course, but you also have to be someone other people want to be around.

 

What advice would you give to anyone looking to launch a business?

 

Cross: Have at least 6 months of savings. Learn to live modestly. Meditate. Find a mentor or a close friend who will be honest yet totally supportive. Be mindful of your motivations. Keep a journal. Network. Be grateful. Write thank you notes. 

 

Conti: Believe in yourself. Build your team carefully. Learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable. Don’t be a flake. Be patient. Exercise, eat right and take care of yourself because it’s a marathon.

 

Keep up with Lexi and Huston's journey by following them on Instagram: @ShoesOf.

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