Meet a Student: Jesse Alton
Want to know where you can buy your own pair of Native Flats? Jesse Alton, undergraduate student in the Merrick School of Business’ Entrepreneurship Fellows program, talks about the inaugural run of his soon-to-be biodegradable flip-flops and what drives him as a young entrepreneur.
Q: You’re launching Native Flats this year. When and where will they be commercially available?
A: We have a lot of big contracts rights now. We’re targeting [a] nightclub in [Washington,] D.C., and we’re approaching many others. We have a place in Towson, a golf club; we’re just finalizing the contract with them. We’re also targeting hotels to provide complimentary shower, or walk-around, shoes to guests. For the summer, we have a soft expansion planned for Ocean City (Maryland), Myrtle Beach (North Carolina) and Virginia Beach (Virginia).
Q: How much are Native Flats, per pair?
A: We sell them for $10 at the bar. We say, “For the price of a drink, you can walk home safely.” I think that since our product is such high quality, people are willing to pay for [the flip-flops]. For bars interested in buying and selling to customers, we have a bulk rate: $6 each for 100 pairs or more, $5 each for 250 or more and $4 each for 500 or more. We even have a $15 custom pair—super high quality—that you can purchase directly from us.
Q: Do you have a plan for when you might begin distributing the biodegradable version?
A: We’re launching a new crowdfunding campaign to switch our manufacturing from China to the United States. Once the products are made in the USA, they will be biodegradable.
Q: What gets you up in the morning? What pushes you to succeed?
A: What wakes me up is knowing that I’m getting to live what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m already living my dream. I’m not making any money yet, but I’m so happy because I know it will work. My lawyer and my accountant are awesome. For them, it’s not about the business or making money, it’s about me. They’re invested in me. I’m creating an environment and I know how to make money. When I make $1 million, I know how to make $100 million, but getting to $1 million is the hardest part. That’s why I have to buckle down and work hard. What wakes me up is that the light at the end of the tunnel is real; it’s not just a dream. I love when people think it’s a dream, because it’s just less competition for me.
Q: Are you working on any projects other than Native Flats?
A: I’m working on ... a company, GigBuddy, with Andrew Bostian, an UB entrepreneurship student, who reached out to me for help. GigBuddy connects bands with venues. The venue can rate the band and recruit the band, and the band can rate the venue, essentially creating a massive business to business interactive music network.
I gave [Bostian] a bunch of advice, and he’s actually doing [what I said], and that’s why I like working with him. I really like helping out entrepreneurs—that’s really fun for me. I don’t charge anyone for my services ... . There’s nothing more exciting to me than entrepreneurship, and there never will be.