How a Startup Is Putting the Running Shoe Industry Back On Track

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CASE STUDY. The case recounts On Running’s swift passage from a startup to an international company.


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How a Startup Is Putting the Running Shoe Industry Back On Track: Abstract

On is a Swiss SME founded in 2010 in Zurich, Switzerland, by three friends – Caspar Coppetti, David Allemann, and former pro athlete Olivier Bernhard. The startup invented an award-winning running shoe with an outsole that absorbs vertical and horizontal shocks, allowing for both a soft landing and an explosive take-off. Although On was launched as a premium brand for serious runners, it gained a dedicated following among nurses, casual walkers, and trendsetters. The business quickly expanded to the U.S. and Japan, the world’s largest running shoe markets, growing from a startup with three founders to an international company that innovated constantly and brought new products to market. To support its growth, it had to recruit the right people, team up with the right partners, formulate the right strategy, and bring the right stakeholders and ambassadors on board. At the end of 2019, On had 500 employees, and its international headquarters and R&D were located in Zurich. In comparison, Nike had over 76,700 employees and Adidas some 57,000. By April 2021, On had increased its staff to 764 and aimed to have 1,000 employees by year-end. But how had this exponential growth affected On’s corporate culture, and how could On stabilize its business model and ensure its sustainability in the face of intense competition?

Teaching objectives

  • Allow students to familiarize themselves with the challenges facing fast-growing startups competing with major corporations.
  • Examine how leaders can bring about industry-wide change; examine the impact of leaders and their leadership style on a company’s corporate culture.
  • Explore how people can find passion in their work, build a future, and tap into a more profound sense of purpose and meaning.

Additional information

Teachers’ notes are available for university teachers only. Please contact the HEC Montréal Case Centre.

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