Many smart ideas are born out of combining two things people love – tasty ones, like peanut butter meets chocolate, and even $1 billion ones, like picture-taking meets social media.
Bournemouth (England) University student Franklin Baeza loves snapback hats –- old-school Starter caps from the ’90s, the kind he used to buy on eBay and sell at a market store in his native South London.
As a proper Englishman, Baeza also loves football –- specifically, Arsenal of the English Premier League.
And voila: Snapback hats meet EPL teams. The idea for Baeza’s company, Finc, was born.
Of course, for a smart idea to become a viable business, there needs to be consumer demand and a market void.
As snapbacks re-emerged as a trend in recent years, Baeza saw American companies like New Era and Mitchell & Ness churn out numerous styles of vintage-inspired hats for U.S. teams.
However, the only headwear options for supporters of soccer teams remained limited, typically showing “a lack of care in the design,” Baeza says. “There’s nothing for the people who are actually kind of stylish.”
Enter Finc. Baeza already had the plan for his company when he began his first year at Bournemouth last fall. But the marketing student needed to find a designer who shared his vision.
Turns out he’d meet his creative soulmate on the first day of school. Baeza’s next-door neighbor, Matt Ormsby, was an aspiring artist from the Channel Islands who was attending Bournemouth to study product design.
“On the first day I arrived, I mentioned the idea to the flatmates we have,” Baeza says. “Matt said straight away, ‘I’ve got a portfolio.’ It’s been fate, to be honest.”
Together, the two teenagers set out to make Finc a reality, starting by creating the company logo and then using their student loans to finance their first trio of hats, all London teams: Baeza’s beloved Gunners; their arch-rival, Tottenham Hotspur; and Ormsby’s favorite, West Ham.
The initial shipment of 150 hats arrived last October. “When we opened the box,” Ormsby says, “we both jumped around like 6-year-old girls on Christmas.”
From there, the duo orchestrated a deal with an e-commerce hosting site to sell their product. On Jan. 1, 2012, Finc hats were officially made available to the public, priced at 24.99 pounds (roughly $40).
The positive feedback was immediate, and brisk sales inspired the duo to move forward with their designs for other Premier League teams –- including the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea -- as well as a one-off Olympic edition for Great Britain.
Through social media and word of mouth, Finc snapbacks started gaining more traction across the U.K., even appearing atop the heads of pop stars like Zayn Malik of One Direction. Pretty soon, without a cent of paid advertising, Baeza and Ormsby were regularly dipping out of class to ship orders to New York and Beverly Hills.
“I was Googling one day and I found a thread on Reddit –- and I’m not even on Reddit -- and there were a good 70 people talking about our hat,” Baeza says. “I was just like … wow.”
The added exposure, however, drew the attention of the Premier League, and licensing issues came to the fore –- specifically from Tottenham, who contacted the company about infringement.
“We had thought that the issue would be with logos,” Ormsby says. “But the issue was that Tottenham actually own the word ‘Spurs’ in Europe.”
That hat aside, Finc has gotten around any other licensing entanglements by using the nicknames for EPL clubs, such as Gunners, Reds, Blues and Citizens.
In the end, the entrepreneurs say that their goal for Finc is to be a legit operation working in conjunction with the English Football Association and individual Premier League teams -– and eventually, the continent.
“Licensing every club in Europe,” Baeza says, “that’s our aim.”
For now, the duo is working on new Finc products for EPL teams, like cold-weather headgear and varsity jackets.
And for the future? “The long-term goal is to get a shop in London somewhere,” Baeza says.
London boutique meets stylish EPL-inspired gear? Sounds like another smart idea.