We look back over 15 turbulent years and celebrate our 15 years anniversary.
Although it does not make its first online book sale until the year after, Amazon is established in 1994.
In 1994, when newly graduated economist Samy Liechti was asked by his then boss to attend a last-minute meeting with Japanese customers, he would not have imagined that this day would change his life. After the meeting, the Japanese invited him to a tea ceremony. Tradition dictates that you take your shoes off for such occasions. It was then that it happened: a mistake so blatant it could not go unnoticed. Samy's socks were odd. One was deep black and smooth while the other was ribbed and faded, with a hole in the big toe.
Today, the phrase 'online search' is synonymous with Google. In fact, it is impossible to imagine the internet without Google. Despite this though, Google is not actually that old. In 1998, people still searched on AltaVista.com, dialled in via a modem and a copper phone line and used Netscape as their browser.
No venture capital, no public limited company and no binding shareholder agreements, just a simple handshake and a collective partnership – and BLACKSOCKS was ready for its launch. The priorities were clear: to find a supplier for quality socks and build a website to act as an online shop.
We actually wanted to sell branded socks but the brand providers did not believe in the sockscription idea and we instead launched our own brand.
The percentage of people who used the internet (incl. e-mail) several times a week was just 11%. 10% of those had made a transaction via the internet. Most internet users dialled in via a modem from their home and the telecommunication companies charged them per byte.
Business models financed by advertising spring up like mushrooms. Most finance comes from the capital market. The aim is to be listed on the stock exchange. Customers/users pave the way there.
Netflix launches a kind of subscription service with a flat rate for films.
Using our own savings, we are careful with our money. We make the same errors as other start-ups, but generally with far fewer losses. The first sales have to help us meet costs. In June 1999, BLACKSOCKS goes online and launches the sockscription. At the end of the year, it has just over 1,000 customers.
No customers, no sales, no awareness and no trust: this is where we began.
Boo had successfully employed 400 people and generated an annual turnover of £200,000. It was even more successful at collecting funds from investors – amounting to over 120 million dollars. Investors included Benetton, JP Morgan & Goldman Sachs and Bernard Arnault.
A year in and BLACKSOCKS starts to earn money for the first time. We naturally reinvested this immediately.<
The renowned Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (GDI) presented its inaugural E_SHOP AWARD in 1999. Initially devised for Swiss online shops, shops from other countries were also considered due to a lack of Swiss ones.
BLACKSOCKS receives the title 'Site to Watch'.
The concept of e-commerce was still very new and many customers made their first e-commerce transaction with us. We therefore succeeded in acquiring 1,800 customers in the first 12 months.
When the internet bubble burst in 2000, many users had bad experiences. Share prices fell and companies started to disappear. In 2001, trust was therefore at a low. But trust is the foundation of business.
For the first 18 months, BLACKSOCKS was managed part-time as a project. At the start of 2001, the collective partnership becomes an Aktiengesellchaft (public limited company) and the sideline becomes a career. The building blocks for further growth are laid.
Recognition in the Service Design category
The judges stated: "With its sockscription, BLACKSOCKS elegantly resolves a non-serious but frequent everyday problem with a pleasant dose of self-irony."
By the end of the year, BLACKSOCKS has 5,000 customers. The first international orders are received. There are still a few problems with processing international payments.
Many e-commerce companies established during the boom go under or give up. Although the number of internet users continues to rise, the excessive expectations of many investors are not met.
Symbolic. BLACKSOCKS orders letterhead paper from the same little printing company every year. Whereas in 1999, we had to explain what e-commerce meant, in 2000, we are told that we can pay for the paper in shares. In 2002, the printer requests payment when we place the order due to concerns that we would go bust and he would never see his money.
In May 2002, the judges stated: "With its sockscription, BLACKSOCKS aims to make tiresome sock purchases a thing of the past. The seemingly absurd pairing of e-commerce and socks turns out to be a clever idea: the market is huge, the goods are simple and the shipping is easy. The subscription format leads to regular customer contact." The high-calibre judging panel further went on to say: "BLACKSOCKS has used an excellent business idea to make a name for itself out of nothing."
BLACKSOCKS records a profit of over CHF 3,500 – and has amortised everything ready for a successful future.
The term Web 2.0 is publicly used for the first time in the article '2004 – The Year of Web Services' within the US publication 'Fast-Forward 2010 – The Fate of IT' from the magazine CIO.
A sock recycling service is launched in October 2003 – initially just for Swiss customers. All deliveries come with a return label to TexAid for the used socks. 80% of the socks collected have a second career in the second or third world. To date, over a million socks have been recycled.
Our calf socks are tested by K-Tipp & Kassensturz and receive the top mark 'good'.
After just under 4 years, we take the plunge and conduct a survey to find out who has heard of us in our home market of Switzerland: 26.9% of adults. Today, it is over half of the people in Switzerland. We have not yet dared to conduct this survey in other countries.
Today, Facebook has around a billion users. When first launched, it was a service for Harvard students.
A new website is launched to mark the 5th anniversary – with images and a grey design instead of a black one. To make the transition, members can 'remove' parts of the old website pixel by pixel and keep them as souvenirs. This is BLACKSOCKS's second re-design.
After five years, a new product is launched: cashmere silk socks for the Christmas trade
BLACKSOCKS has two full-time positions. Thanks to consistent outsourcing, three people, who together cover the equivalent of two full-time positions, can serve over 25,000 customers from 30 countries.
The video portal has been owned by Google since 2006 and receives over 100 million video requests every day
The Founding Partner Marcel Roth transfers his shares to Samy Liechti, who becomes the sole shareholder
A further new product: shorty, also known as sneaker socks.
BLACKSOCKS was the only European company to be nominated for the Copernican Award. The nomination was in the category 'Small enterprise with a turnover of up to 100 million dollars'. Even before the well-known photo service Flickr, we were able to proudly receive the award on 27 April 2005 in the Rainbow Room of the Rockefeller Center in New York.
The Customer Experience Council (leading US company) presents the Copernican Award to companies that place customers at the heart of their commercial activities and their business model and therefore achieve an above-average performance.
A customer had a good experience. It just happened that he was on the Customer Experience Council and nominated us for an award. We won and the resultant hype enabled us to grow by 70%. The three-person BLACKSOCKS team is totally swamped.
The micro-blogging service is founded and is listed on the stock market in 2013.
Following a turbulent 2005, BLACKSOCKS is re-organised, expands its infrastructure and its workforce and prepares itself for further growth.
Nothing new from the land of socks
The first copycats appear in spring 2000. In 2006, there are over 120 sockscription providers in German-speaking countries and around 180 on a global level. Most of these disappear as quickly as they appeared. More than half of the people in Switzerland are now familiar with the concept of a sockscription.
The iPhone and the subsequent smart phone boom lay the foundations for mobile internet.
At the 'Ars Electronica 2007' in Linz (Austria), an exhibit by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) causes quite a stir. Our Delphine boxer shorts are strung across the street as a matrix display. Visitors can use wooden letters to write a message that is then digitalised and communicated across the street by means of the underwear.
When the company was established, a small agreement was signed on a serviette stating that BLACKSOCKS would not launch any non-sock products before reaching 10,000 subscribers. In 2007, this number was reached and many subscribers felt that the time had come for underwear, and so customers' desires won through.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, 2/3 Swiss adults go online regularly. This means that numbers have increased six-fold in just 9 years.ren.
Inspired by Zappos and with the backing of the Samwer brothers, Zalando is established. What began with just shoes is today one of Europe's biggest online fashion retailers. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Zalando is still not making any profit.
Customers' places of residence are allocated to a region based on the first two digits of their postcode. BLACKSOCKS keeps track of the regional temperatures with the help of the data generated by wetter.com. As soon as the mercury crosses 27 degrees Celsius at their place of residence, subscribers receive a text message from the inventor of the sockscription giving them official permission to take off their socks and spend the rest of the day barefoot. Decisions are taken three times a day as to which regions receive a text message.
K-Tipp and Kassensturz have 14 of the best-selling black men's socks tested by the Hohenstein Institute in Germany. The socks undergo several tests to assess their abrasion resistance, shape after washing, pilling, colour fastness and workmanship quality. The result: the test winner with a score of 5.2 out of 6 is BLACKSOCKS. And the BLACKSOCKS calf socks prove to be particularly durable. The first hole only appears on the sole after being rubbed 30,000 times; the heels survive even longer – 50,000 rubs.
We sell the one millionth pair of our bestseller, the calf sock.
Faster speeds, cheaper devices, better services and flat rates for mobile data have led to the internet most definitely becoming part of people's everyday lives.
In March 2009, BLACKSOCKS signs a partnership agreement with the USA. In September, BLACKSOCKS is launched in the USA.
After 10 years of ribbed socks, BLACKSOCKS launches the Business light collection as smooth, light socks for everyday wear made from mercerised cotton. The new socks are becoming among our bestsellers.
You cannot receive awards every year and so we are celebrating our 10th anniversary ourselves. The previous year, BLACKSOCKS was named the dinosaur of the internet by the economics magazine Bilanz. We are not extinct yet though!
10 years of BLACKSOCKS – a good excuse to celebrate! We do so with a calculation error: 3x3=10. All customers who receive sockscriptions with three deliveries of three pairs also receive an extra pair for free.
Birchbox.com puts subscription commerce in the spotlight: the gift box service from the US busily collects investors' money and customers. This results in a slight boom in subscription services. Today, there are subscriptions for razor blades, flowers, nappies etc. But also for software and other subscribable flat rate services.
One small step for mankind, one giant leap for BLACKSOCKS. After over 11 years of just black, you have convinced us to paint a brighter picture. The time has come: the classic calf sock, our bestseller, is now available in charcoal grey, navy and red. The only thing different about the socks is the colour.
In 2010, Best of Swiss Web awarded prizes to the best Swiss websites since the invention of the internet in the special category 'Simply the best'. BLACKSOCKS was on the shortlist of the best sites and thus the excellent, trendsetting internet projects. The e-commerce pioneer is therefore part of the exclusive circle of the five best Swiss websites 'ever'. The award was won by the website of SBB.
BLACKSOCKS has never spent a franc, euro or dollar on marketing outside Switzerland and generates 12.5% of its sales from exports. The fourth re-design is partly based on the topic of internationalisation.
In 2011, DollarShaveClub.com launches in the USA with a clever viral strategy and plenty of venture capital. In 2013, it wins the Webby Award. The concept is copied numerous times in Europe. Subscription commerce for men is definitely on the agenda.
We start to offer socks made of fairtrade organic cotton. 'Urban Comfort' are sporty business socks with a soft terry sole. This makes them kind on your feet but also good for the environment and your conscience, thanks to our cooperation with respected Swiss cotton producer Remei.
Samy Liechti, founder of BLACKSOCKS, is the first to receive the inaugural 'Digital Lifetime Award' from the Interactive Advertising Bureau Switzerland (IAB). The IAB is a non-profit organisation that represents the interests of the online advertising market. The reasoning given for choosing Samy to receive an award for his lifetime's work is that in creating BLACKSOCKS, he was able to make a real breakthrough with the idea of the sockscription. According to the IAB, the company, which was founded in 1999, is one of the original players in the Swiss online sector.
Offline retailers are also entering the world of e-commerce in force. Sometimes with their own concepts and sometimes through take-overs. For example, Digitec was taken over by Migros and the Burger Group launched thelook.com. The pure players from the boom era have almost all disappeared or been sold.
The smartest socks in the world are launched.
The consumer magazine K-Tipp tests the 14 bestselling black socks for men, including socks from BLACKSOCKS. The BLACKSOCKS calf socks receive the overall score of 5, placing them among the best socks in Switzerland. BLACKSOCKS achieves an overall test result of 'good' for the third time (previously in 2003 and 2008) – a clear sign of the socks' quality.
BLACKSOCKS increases traffic to its website by around 64%. 80% of the growth is driven by the company's internationalisation. Particular growth is recorded in relation to international sales.
The first e-commerce players make up to 50% of their sales via mobile devices. 20% is standard and the traffic levels are much higher still.
BLACKSOCKS hits the spot on launching the colourful, stripy socks. The striped Business light socks are now an integral part of the range.
Following underwear, shirts are also launched, first in white and later in light blue.
Over 2/3 of traffic now comes from outside Switzerland. USA and Germany are head to head in the race for the top spot. International sales have increased by over 35%.
Talk is once again arising as to whether an internet bubble is forming. We will see!
We look back over 15 turbulent years and celebrate 15 years of:
Tap your feet to music, thanks to Philipp Fankhauser.
In the anniversary month of June, our sales are up by 50% on the previous year, making this the best month in the company's history.