Brian Davis has made it his business to solve problems.

"One of my favorite quotes, and I'm not sure who said it, goes something like this, 'If you're going to invent something, either solve a really big problem for a small amount of people or solve a small problem for a really big number of people," he said.

That advice has been his standard when deciding if an idea has merit. His first invention, Fix It Sticks, solved a problem that cyclists have when needing to carry tools along on a ride. He developed a multi-purpose compact bike tool that became a huge success and was sold to a company.

His next inventions included a balaclava, easily-removable neck cuff, and specialized water bottle. All were designed with cyclists in mind, and had various levels of success. His focus remained the same; if something bothered him, he set out to create a better option.

While the most recent inventions tended to cater to a big problem for a smaller number, he is now back to solving a huge problem for many the problem of stinky, sweaty feet and socks that perform poorly with sports activity. It took two years of research, but Davis says he has developed a product that is one of the best on the market.

He explained, "I have worn all kinds of socks, but after wearing a pair to the office all day, my socks would be stinky and I needed to change them before biking. I started looking at socks I could wear all day without having to switch them out."

That journey led him to try hundreds of socks. He tried some wool socks that were of poor quality, socks that were too tight, and socks that didn't hold their shape. When he tried his first pair of alpaca socks, he found them to have high-quality fiber, but felt that the quality was awful.

"Once I figured out alpaca, I ordered 15 samples from Peru, and tried other sellers in the United States, but they were all pretty terrible," he noted. "That led me to contact a manufacturer in North Carolina about making a good sock."

It took testing to find the right blend of alpaca and synthetic fibers, a necessary component to produce a well functioning sock that would breath and keep its shape. Once he had the perfect formula, he launched a campaign on Kickstarter. He said that the Kickstarter process is less about generating startup capital and more about testing the idea.

"It is the ultimate market test. People actually give money for your idea versus saying they would buy it," he said.

The campaign was a success; proving there was a demand, and his new e-commerce business, "Follow Hollow," was launched.

He says there was nothing special about the name at the time. He was against a deadline, and needed to come up with something, and decided to emphasize the unique, hollow fibers of the alpaca that provide supreme moisture management. The name had a nice, catchy ring to it. (www.followhollow.com).

Davis, who considers public relations one of his strengths, got busy building the brand. While his partner in the venture worked on social media and advertising, Davis followed a formula that has worked in the past.

"There are a lot of ways to pay to be successful, but I do my own public relations," he said. "I do one-onone emails, phone calls, and samples to the media. The best trick is to look for journalists who have written about similar companies and tell them you read their articles. Ask if they'll be running another sock guide."

Those techniques worked and the writers responded. Follow Hollow socks were selected as a top new product in the Outside Magazine's Summer Buyers' Guide, and gained press in cycling and trail running publications. The sales started to take off.

He stated, "The product line started with one style and one color, and the reason we decided to do that is so that I wouldn't need to take a mortgage out on my house or risk my marriage and kids. We now have three styles: thick, tall, and ankle. There is no difference in the construction."

Although Davis admits that he has a "graveyard" of ideas for new inventions, he says he has committed to doing socks for the next five years.

"We have a roadmap for the brand, and the business is based on goals," he said. "What I have is drive and the ability to execute. If someone tells me no, that won't stop me. If you don't have determination and resilience, you aren't going to have a business."

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.

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Brian Davis