An interview with Tim Brown, founder of a $1.7 billion sustainability focuses footwear brand

I love talking to entrepreneurs. My family know that, friends at LSE know that and my colleagues at the VC fund I work at also know that. But Tim Brown is now my favourite entrepreneur. Funnily enough, the Zoom interview started of a little differently…my co-host and I were slightly panicky as Tim’s name wasn’t popping up on our zoom and we had over 40 eager LSE students in our virtual waiting room…all wanting to hear from Tim (who’s an LSE Alum himself)…we decided to let the students in and start the event without Tim (praying he’s show up soon)..a few seconds in…Tim’s face pops up! Under the Zoom name of his daughter…to which he explained ‘sorry about the wrong name in the display…I don’t really know how to work this zoom thing’….not what you’d expect from an entrepreneur! Although Tim isn’t your average tech entrepreneur…the problem he’s trying to solve through Allbirds is as critical and impactful as the issues tech entrepreneurs are tackling. Tim’s challenge= sustainability.

About Tim

Tim is an LSE Alum, having studied his MSc International Management here. Prior to that he studied Design at The University of Cincinnati. He also holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. Tim is also an ex-professional football player- and played for a number of teams in Australia and New Zealand where he combined his interest in design and football to notice that the footwear market was heavily unsustainable and full of logos and clutter….and from there…the idea of Allbirds was born; a sustainable sneaker made with natural materials like merino wool and eucalyptus fiber. According to Time Magazine, Allbirds make the ‘world’s most comfortable shoes’- so comfortable that even Obama wears them.

5 key lessons from this interview

  1. Don’t always say yes to collaborations and opportunities to work with external brands.

2. ‘When Allbirds replaced petroleum with sugarcane in its EVA shoe soles, it created the first-ever carbon-neutral alternative to EVA foam, and made the process open-source in hopes of getting other companies to follow suit. Most businesses like to hold onto their secret sauce- why did you end up making yours open source?

3. Partnerships. ‘In May 2020, Allbirds announced a partnership with Adidas to create a low carbon footprint performance shoe. Some of your customers would question the partnership with Adidas- Why did you decide to go ahead with this?

4. The business model. ‘Allbirds decided to be a direct to consumer business, and we see that more and more as internet shopping has become much more mainstream than it was 5/10 years ago. What have been some of the benefits of the D2C model for forming relationships with the consumer’

5. Although Tim sits at the top of the ‘food chain’ at Allbirds, he’s slightly different to most CEOs. He knows every minute detail about everything. Even the names of store managers at all of the Allbirds stores in London. During the interview, Tim stressed that whilst coming up with the idea behind the Allbirds London stores, he wanted to make it a personal experience, from the shape of the chairs in the store to the kinds of people he hires to be sales reps. Everything matters, small or big.

Final words of advice from Tim…too all the budding LSE entrepreneurs…

‘ Just don’t do it….trust me…It’ll take your life away’ (we weren’t expecting this response but we applaud you for the brutal honesty Tim).

A final quote from Joey Zwillinger (co-founder of Allbirds)

‘‘ we really value people who are really smart and very humble and what comes out of that humility is this idea of a great and deep curiosity and not just a superficial ‘as a question to make small talk…it’s like ok..go deep with the questions and keep going’ I think thats a key thing for us’’.

Huge thank you to Tim Brown for this insightful interview- one of my favourite so far! And thank you for reading.

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Aalia Shah

LSE MSc Finance student. Interested in pioneering technologies, the VC industry. Snippets of my thoughts, along with interviews with industry leaders.