Fulton: Wellness from the Ground Up
Fulton is a wellness-centered brand seeking to modernize arch support through supportive, comfortable, and sustainable insoles. I had the chance to sit down and talk to cofounders Libie Motchan and Daniel Nelson to learn about their inspiration for Fulton and how they aim to disrupt a stagnant industry.
Prior to Wharton, cofounder Libie Motchan worked in digital marketing and brand health at IBM. Sitting at her desk all day, she started to experience back pain and tried a variety of reactive treatments like massages, painkillers, and foam rollers, but none of them helped fix the root cause of her pain. She then visited a chiropractor who suggested custom insoles and explained how “alignment starts from the ground up.”. This was the first time she considered insoles as a solution for her back pain. Custom orthotics, however, were expensive and could cost anywhere between $200 and $800. She wondered if perhaps, there was a more cost-effective solution. She began to look for over-the-counter options at pharmacies but felt that existing brands were unrelatable, geriatric, and promoted as solutions to medical problems like bunions and heel-spurs – conditions that were not applicable to her.
Cofounder Daniel Nelson, a former McKinsey consultant, lived in New York and frequently walked wherever he needed to go: to work, to run errands, even for fun. He experienced regular, nagging, foot pain and was confused – were his shoes badly designed, or were his feet somehow unable to bear walking on flat surfaces all day? Daniel looked to insoles as a potential fix but noticed a lack of noteworthy brands making insoles for the ‘regular guy’; they were all built to address specific medical conditions, for the elderly, or for athletic purposes (i.e. hiking, running, skiing).
Fast forward to Wharton Welcome Weekend 2019, where Libie and Daniel, both incoming WG’21s, first met. They both wanted to use the business school experience to explore entrepreneurship and immediately bonded over DTC startup ideas. In fact, narrating their respective back and foot pain tales to each other, it struck them that designing functional, yet affordable insoles could solve both their problems, and there might be a valuable opportunity in modernizing arch support together.
Insoles market snapshot and Fulton’s positioning
The global market for orthotic foot insoles was $3.25B in 2019. COVID-19 caused a huge negative demand shock with an estimated 8.3% decline in 2020, due to potential customers canceling their purchases and disruptions in the supply chain as lockdowns were imposed in many countries during the pandemic. The market is expected to bounce back with the easing of restrictions and the stabilization of manufacturing, among other factors, and is projected to grow from $2.98B in 2020 to $4.5B in 2027 at a CAGR of 6.1%. The foot orthotic insoles market in North America alone stood at $1.37B in 2019.
Based on application, the market can be categorized into medical, sports & athletics, and personal/ daily living. Older customers occupy a prominent position – many adults are prescribed foot orthotic insoles to combat arthritis, chronic pain, and a host of other medical issues. In terms of distribution channels, the market can be segmented into hospitals, pharmacies, retail stores, and online channels. While most customers currently prefer customized foot insoles, over-the-counter solutions have seen rapid adoption and as with other consumer products, online channels are gaining prominence. There’s also plenty of choice in insoles material, ranging from thermoplastics, foam, and composite carbon fiber, to sustainable materials like cork.
The market is highly fragmented with various national and international players. Key names today include Dr. Scholl’s, Superfeet Worldwide, Hanger Inc., Bauerfeind AG, Implus, Footbalance, Aetrex, and others. Globally, industry trends include adopting AI and ML tools to develop world-class insoles – for instance, Shapecrunch develops custom solutions leveraging AI and 3D printing. Footbalance, mentioned above, adopted Fitzone 3D technology in its retail outlets and customers can get their feet scanned and order customized insoles in less than 10 minutes. Dr. Scholl’s also partnered with Wiivv on personalized 3D-printed shoe insoles that customers can order through an app. Canadian brand Casca is a DTC unisex customer brand that allows customers to order a pair of custom-fit 3D-printed insoles, with footbeds created on apps. It’s important, however, to note that if insoles and custom orthotics don’t work out for consumers, it’s always best to consult a certified podiatrist.
Barriers in the industry include the availability of substitute therapies like acupuncture and various minimally-invasive treatments. Another key barrier is a lack of awareness about the benefits of orthotic insoles, and this is an aspect that the Fulton team is excited to change.
Currently, the team views incumbents as belonging to one of three categories: drug-store variety insoles that are cheap (typically costing $10 - $30) and comfortable, but not effective in providing arch support, custom orthopedic insoles from medical professionals which are effective but very pricey ($200 - $800), and finally, middle-of-the-pack (typically costing up to $80) niche retail brands that are tailored for specific applications. They believe that Fulton will be instrumental in bringing new consumers into the category through their wellness value proposition. Their pricing is mid-range ($48), targeting a population aged 25 to 45 – a younger segment including those who aren’t affected by specific medical conditions. The cofounders expressed how Fulton seeks to grow the proverbial pie by attracting a new type of customer: people who simply haven’t tried insoles before.
“I always thought foot pain from daily life was the status quo but after adding proper support to my footwear, my whole body felt incredible. I’ve never looked back.”- Daniel Nelson, WG’21
Modernizing arch support
The discovery phase
Having spent the summer before business school researching the market and connecting with chiropractors, podiatrists, shoemakers, and other experts, Libie and Daniel came into Wharton ready to test their startup idea and participated in pitch competitions and incubator programs. Over the summer of 2020, the cofounders ran a pilot to better understand their potential customers and to choose the best materials for their products. Their pilot demonstrated early success, selling 300 pairs through a pay-as-you-wish model.
Through a series of customer surveys and focus groups, the cofounders recognized that there is still much to be done to educate customers on insoles, how to use them, and how they can enhance comfort and alleviate pain. The cofounders shared some interesting insights from their customer research: 60% of their respondents had previously tried insoles, but only 20% wore them, suggesting an appetite for purchasing effective insoles. Moreover, 94% of pilot sales participants reported finding Fulton supportive, with 97% planning to continue wearing their insoles. The pilot thus reinforced the team’s belief in building an insole brand that brings renewed energy and excitement to a market that needs it.
A sustainable solution for custom support
“Every summer, I would exclusively wear this one pair of cork sandals because they didn't give me back pain. When we were exploring insole materials, I remembered these sandals, and we realized cork was the perfect solution.”- Libie Motchan, WG’21
Fulton is a wellness brand built with sustainability at its core. Developed over ten iterations with expert advice and the feedback from their pilot run, the insoles are made of cork, natural latex foam, and cactus leather: all eco-friendly materials sourced from Portugal, Indonesia and Mexico. They are shock-absorbent, anti-microbial, and mold to the user’s feet. Starting out with one SKU per shoe size, Fulton insoles are intended to provide a custom-molded fit without confusing customers with different arch height choices. Their introductory product can be worn with any shoes with removable insoles, like sneakers and boots. The insoles will be priced at $48 to reflect their higher quality but ensure accessibility to a wide range of customer segments.
Libie and Daniel are keen to leverage their past experiences working with technology to disrupt an industry where the incumbents are all retail-first, as buying insoles has traditionally meant going to a drugstore, a sports store, or a doctor. Rather, they want to take advantage of the massive shift to e-commerce to reach their younger target demographic and meet them online, whether at their website, Instagram, or other digital channels.
The Fulton team will initially focus their efforts on the Philadelphia & New York areas, and are running a pre-launch referral campaign where customers can earn swag in exchange for referrals to new customers. The team’s marketing plans incorporate press, social media, search, influencers, and guerilla marketing. As a digitally-native brand, Fulton seeks to use informative content to change customer perception in the insoles category.
The big launch and the road ahead
Fulton is live today (March 24, 2021)! Grab a pair of comfortable, sustainable, and supportive insoles now at https://walkfulton.com/
Passionate about building a sustainable brand in a capital-efficient manner, the Fulton co-founders are currently raising a friends and family round. By the end of the year, they hope to build out their online platform and plan to explore partnerships with a variety of organizations to expand their sales channels as they scale.
Visit the Fulton website https://walkfulton.com/ to order a pair. Also, be sure to follow Fulton on their Instagram https://www.instagram.com/walkfulton/ and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/walkfulton/ to learn more about the brand and stay tuned for exciting updates.