2021 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Fulton, Wharton School

Fulton

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Industry: Consumer

Founding Student Name(s): Daniel Nelson, WG’21 & Libie Motchan, WG’21

Brief Description of Solution: Fulton is a modern brand of arch support. We launched the most comfortable, supportive, and sustainable insole on the planet that molds to the shape of your unique arches as you break them in. Integrating proper arch support into footwear is critical to relieving foot, knee, hip, and back pain: after all, whole body wellness starts with your feet.

Funding Dollars: We raised $150,000 of friends & family funding

What led you to launch this venture? We launched Fulton after suffering from body pain as a result of our unsupportive shoes. After experiencing chronic back pain, Libie decided to visit a chiropractor who offered her custom insoles for $500. She never even considered custom orthotics as a solution, and was not willing to pay that much money for a single pair. Hoping that drugstore insoles might do the trick, Libie found herself staring at a wall of unsustainable gel and foam insoles that were branded with overly medical terms and, of course, were generally ineffective. She felt overlooked by the insole market and expressed these frustrations when she met me. I immediately reacted, realizing my persistent foot pain could probably be solved by insoles as well. We were not alone: 77% of US adults experience foot pain, and 60% of them experience back pain. Proper arch support is critically important for our overall well-being; yet, both footwear and insole brands overlooked our customer demographic. So, we set out to pair an innovative product with a relatable brand: and that’s where Fulton was born.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? The biggest accomplishment with our venture was creating the actual Fulton insole. We spent over a year developing the product, half of which occurred in the midst of the pandemic. After evaluating existing insoles on the market, we decided that we had to create a completely different product than what was currently offered, and using nontraditional materials. We did extensive research evaluating materials different from those traditionally used in insoles (ie. gels, foams and plastics) and ended up using sustainable materials like vegan cactus leather and cork. Furthermore, we underwent ten rounds of prototyping and user testing, iterating the product based on feedback we were seeing from testers and our own experiences. Additionally, we built up a global supply chain that enables us to get product from factory to doorstep in a consistently reliable way. Building a solid foundation for us to scale our company from has been an incredible accomplishment – now, we’re able to turn our attention towards scaling.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The Wharton MBA program was critical to Fulton’s formation. In fact, Libie and I met at Wharton Welcome Weekend! From that moment onwards, business school proved to be a two-year accelerator: we studied the most up-to-date methodologies in class, had access to a wealth of resources through the university, and learned from the experiences of our fellow classmates. Additionally, we constantly leveraged the school’s vast alumni network, which is full of consumer brand founders and operators who helped shape our idea into a robust business.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you?

Daniel: Steve Jobs has been my favorite entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. I used to sneak out of class in middle school to watch him give Apple keynotes. I revered him as an entrepreneur for sharing a vision where he paired a one-of-a-kind product with an even better brand, building a company that was able to carve a dominating space in the market. Even though I didn’t start my entrepreneurial journey until years later, I took these principles to heart when I was growing up and always traced my desire for entrepreneurship back to him.

Libie: I look up to Neil Blumenthal as the innovator of the DTC model. I admire how he not only disrupted an industry but also a business model. He understood modern consumer needs and rather than staying tied down to traditional retail, he created a business that best met the lifestyle of modern customers. He took risks and innovated in a category ripe for disruption, and laid the foundation for other brands (including Fulton) to do the same!

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it?

Every MBA class we took offered value towards building our company: whether it was learning about Operations Strategy, Brand Management, or Venture Capital, each class was important to take through the context of building our own company. As founders, we were able to apply learnings from lectures and case studies to our own businesses, avoiding countless mistakes and having well-informed discussions around our next steps. Pursuing an MBA while building a company helped us craft a thoughtful strategy to execute on our vision. I’d say the one class that let us combine all of our other learnings and gave us dedicated time to build our startup was most valuable: Venture Implementation with Prof. Tyler Wry. During class, we pitched our idea, refined our roadmap, and learned from countless guest speakers who have built companies before. We met potential investors, many of whom we are still in touch with today. Our biggest takeaway from the class was that there’s no right way to approach building a business, and that you need to chart your own path forward since nobody else has been in your shoes (except for Fulton, of course).

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Another professor who made a significant contribution to our plans was Prof. Jeffrey Babin, our advisor during VIP-X (Penn’s student startup accelerator). Professor Babin is a true startup generalist, and helped us navigate complex product development, finance, and operational challenges as we prepared to launch Fulton. He served as one of our favorite sounding boards and, to this day, remains someone we regularly touch base with when we find ourselves at an impasse. Best of all, he is a really big fan of Fulton, sporting our insoles in many of his shoes.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? 99+% of the footwear we wear today is not only unsupportive, but also unsustainable. We believe that everyone should be wearing shoes that are good for the body and the planet, and are working tirelessly to fix footwear from the inside out. In the long-run, we want Fulton to be regarded as the better way to walk, and ensure that every pair of shoes has Fulton support in it.

DON’T MISS: THE MOST DISRUPTIVE MBA STARTUPS OF 2021

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