The first pair of Altra Running shoes probably don’t look anything like what you have in mind. In fact, the first several hundred pairs of running shoes that co-founders Golden and Brian worked on had a variety of logos on them. Altering other running shoes is how they got their start in the shoe-making business and how they came up with their name, Altra. With a goal to fix the running shoe industry, Altra did whatever was necessary to help runners feel great and perform well.
Brian Beckstead is a lifelong runner, but running hasn’t always been an enjoyable experience for him. He ran competitively in college but sustained four stress fractures in a short period of time that stopped him in his tracks. He took a year off of running about that time, and decided to pursue other hobbies such as fishing. However, he never escaped the running community, working at a running store all the while.
After Brian finished college, his friend Golden took over the running store they had been working at, and Brian left to work for another company. Not long after, Brian received a call from Golden telling him that he had altered a shoe by cutting off the heel and noticed how much better the running mechanics were. Soon, they came up with the term “Zero Drop” and were using a variety of methods to remove the heels from shoes including bandsaws and belt sanders.
Golden began suggesting this alteration to chronically-injured runners that were coming into the store, and the reviews were outstanding. Longtime injuries were disappearing, and before they knew it, Golden and Brian had altered 1000 pairs of shoes for customers.
Altra is Born
At the time, they didn’t really look at these alterations as a business opportunity. They simply wanted to help runners. Soon they realized that shoe brands were not interested in changing their shoes to incorporate the positives of zero drop. If these shoes were going to be made, Brian and friends either needed to buy more bandsaws, or create their own shoes.
One thing led to another; soon Golden found an advanced prototype company in Oregon while Brian landed their first angel investor. “We got really lucky,” says Brian, referring to the timing of the investment. It was 2009 and startup investors were hard to come by. However, everything seemed to work out, and one inheritance and a lot of hard work later, they had their first pair of Altra running shoes—this time with their brand name on the side.
Fixing the Running Industry
In Latin, Altera is “to fix or mend something that is broken.” From the beginning, that has been the goal of Altra. Even before it existed as a shoe company, its founders were doing unconventional things to try to help runners. Creating a wide toe box by skipping the bottom two eyelets when lacing a shoe, or literally cutting off pieces of a shoe—these were simply the best improvements they could do at the time.
Now Altra is a global company, with resources to make the best possible shoe for all runners. Their goal is to question and challenge the status quo in the running industry in order to help everyone run injury free. “[Altra] is not for the elite, fast runners,” says Brian, “Beginning runners are our favorite people to get into Altras.” Helping runners is the goal, and they have been willing to challenge many norms in that pursuit.
A Changing Industry
The running industry is changing and Altra has definitely been a part of that thus far. Nearly every big brand company that makes running shoes has some type of zero drop option. Creating a shoe that encourages great running mechanics is just the beginning. Treating those they sponsor with equality is hopefully something else that starts to gain momentum in the running world.
One of Altra’s core values is “disruptive.” Sometimes not a popular term among their investors, it can have a bit of a negative connotation. But the goal isn’t to be disruptive just for disruptive’s sake; it is the way to create big change. This has proved successful for Altra thus far, and should only create more positive change in the future.
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