Jodie Fox started the e-commerce site Shoes of Prey with her husband and their mutual friend in April 2009 with enough optimism to defy the depths of the Great Recession.
Their company broke even after two months, and went on to break the million-dollar revenue mark in less than two years and is currently a global multimillion-dollar enterprise.
Fox has been an honoree on numerous lists, including Telstra’s Businesswoman of the Year in 2011, and was named one of the 30 most influential women in Australian retail, one of the top 10 Australian female entrepreneurs, and a finalist for InStyle’s Audi Women of Style awards.
But beneath all the spilled ink on her accomplishments is a story of true tenacity that those “best of” rankings never took into consideration.
Jodie Fox met Michael Fox and Mike Knapp at university in Brisbane where she went to study law and international business. The three became fast friends and continued to pal around together after graduation when they left for Sydney, where Fox practiced law and the guys went to work for Google. One thing did change: She fell in love with Michael Fox. The couple got married in 2006.
The trio’s entrepreneurial inclinations soon had them kicking around ideas for a new business. By this time, Fox had left the world of law and embarked on a career in advertising. The three pooled together their resources and quit their respective jobs in order to commit fully to their startup.
It was a big risk for the three first-time entrepreneurs–especially when two of them were still at the early stages of marriage. Fox reasoned that, as a young woman at the beginning of her career, this wouldn’t be the end of the road if it didn’t work out, she could always get another job.
She also drew strength from her bond with her family and a caring network of friends in her adopted city. She looked to both as a safety net that would catch her if the business fell, giving her the perspective–and optimism–she needed to jump from the relative safety of a steady paycheck into the unknown world of new business ownership.
At first, Fox says, working with her husband was great. “Most people don’t get to see their partner in a place where they excel professionally,” she explains. They’d be at a meeting together and she’d witness Michael in action and say to herself, “Yeah, that’s my husband!”
Working and living together did have its challenges, she says. “It was tough if one of us wanted to work and the other wanted downtime,” she explains. “Even hearing [him] tapping on the keyboard would make me feel like I had to work.” Fox readily admits she pushed her own limits, without prompting from her spouse. This had a dual effect. On the one hand, she could see the results of working long hours as Shoes of Prey continued to grow. On the other, it left her depleted and overwhelmed.
Two years in, it wasn’t just the work and downtime balance that was off. Fox says they both recognized the honeymoon was over and their marriage had significant challenges. This was early in 2011, coincidentally, about the time they began considering raising their first round of funding.
For several months, Fox says, the couple “tried everything,” including counseling and making special time for each other. They were still working really hard to build Shoes of Prey as well, but the labor they put into their relationship wasn’t having the same effect on their marriage.
This split effort was becoming increasingly difficult. At work, Fox had to lay aside whatever mental strife she was battling at home. In the evenings, the two continued to hash through their issues. The boundaries between their working relationship and their marriage continued to shift until Fox reached a breaking point.
She recalls having a very “significant” conversation with her husband, the kind that lasted all through the night and on into the next morning. A self-professed highly emotional person, Fox was overwrought and worn out by the time the sun rose. Unfortunately, she had a media interview scheduled that day. All the makeup and chic clothing in the world couldn’t cover up the fact that she was devastated. “I completely bombed it,” she admits. “I had nothing left to give.”
After the interview was over, Fox realized she had let the emotional toll of her rocky marriage get the better of her. “It was the one time it affected the business in a way that was not cool,” she observes. From then on, Fox maintains, she made a more focused effort on keeping their personal upheaval separate from the business of Shoes of Prey.
It helped that the company was doing well. In June of 2012, a group of investors, including BridgeLane Capital and CrunchFund, awarded Shoes of Prey $3 million in a Series A round of funding. “That was a really positive time in the business,” Fox recalls.
The marriage didn’t fare as well. It completely fell apart a few months later when the couple decided to separate. Around this time, Fox says, her anxiety and depression escalated. She actively sought tools to cope with the reality that the spouse she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with was not only leaving, he would still be sitting at the same conference table in their offices and she would still have to face him every day.
But she had learned her lesson and remained fiercely protective of the business she cofounded. “You have to leave [your emotions] at the door and put your game face on,” Fox says, to explain how she kept going. “I didn’t bring any of it to work.”
That didn’t mean she wasn’t facing her internal troubles. One thing Fox says she learned through this time was the importance of identifying the source of anxiety and depression and dealing with it, much the same way one would seek out the pain point in a user experience, get to the bottom of it, and work to iterate until it’s solved.
Despite her leaning toward optimism, Fox realizes that painting positive platitudes over the real issues isn’t a sustainable solution for personal or professional well-being. That’s especially true in the darkest moments when nothing is going right and most people would just want to throw up their hands and pull the plug.
Fox says having the experience of working in a high-growth early-stage company also helped her and Michael make the decision to get divorced. “You start to realize how to say yes and no very quickly,” she says. Though she is quick to point out that it took a lot of courage to make the break, “We both made the decision that we both want to be happy in the significant relationship in our lives, and the things we were trying to do ultimately didn’t work.” In business parlance, it was time to pivot.
Shoes of Prey has not changed direction because of the breakup. In fact, Fox says, everything is running smoothly. Though it has evolved as it has grown, she says, the vision is still the same. The company raised another $5.5 million in funding in December of 2014 from Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures. That momentum has carried her through the inevitable dips in confidence and times of uncertainty.
“We want to be able to give you exactly what you want, when you want it,” she explains. “We talked about this at the beginning, and we believe we are striving to create the Amazon of customized footwear.”
Condensed and adapted from[i] Survive to Thrive: 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Leaders (Motivational Press 2015) by Faisal Hoque and Lydia Dishman. Copyright (c) 2015 by Faisal Hoque and Lydia Dishman. All rights reserved.[/i]