Mathieu Raymond says he went to university not so much to learn business administration but to run track.
During his studies he worked in a sports store and realized just how elusive the perfectly comfortable – or perfect looking – running shoe can be.
That gave him the idea to start a custom-fit shoe company.
Raymond said a professor challenged him to go ahead with his project, telling him, "Mathieu, you should talk about your project because there's only a fool in a billion who is going to make a running shoe assembled in Quebec. So no one is going to steal your idea."
Six years later, Raymond is the co-owner of Math Sport, a company that makes custom and personalized running shoes in Quebec.
For custom-fit shoes, clients have their feet scanned by a special machine that takes precise measurements of their feet. Custom insoles are made for each shoe.
The buyer also decides how big of a drop he or she wants between the heel and the toe of the shoe, how firm or soft the sole will be and how tightly the shoe fits the foot. Plus, they get to pick the colour of the shoe, the soles and the laces. The price tag: $180 plus tax.
Buyers of personalized shoes have the same choices, except they don't get the custom-made insole. Those shoes retail for $150.
Math Sports has been taking orders from the public for the past four months.
The company has already made 1,300 pairs of shoes, 500 of which were pre-orders. The components for the shoes are made overseas, but each shoe is assembled in a Montreal plant.
Linda Marcotte visited the Math Sport headquarters in Quebec City after reading about the company on Facebook.
She sustained a foot injury four years ago, leaving her unable to stand in a pair of shoes for more than an hour and unable to walk for more than 45 minutes.
She says for her left foot, she requires a shoe with a big drop between the heel and toe – something she hasn't been able to find on a shoe wall.
"This represents the possibility of an extraordinary quality of life," Marcotte said, "If this works, I'll be the happiest woman on earth."
Competing against giants
Alexandre Boucher tested the earliest prototypes for the Math Sport shoe when he ran track with Raymond at Laval University.
He says the first models had aesthetic issues which were dealt with quickly, but he was impressed by the shoes right from the beginning.
"I think the principle quality of the shoes is that they are comfortable. They perfectly fit your foot, so that's really great," he said.
Boucher, who works in a specialized running store in Quebec City, says Raymond has his work cut out for him because Math Sport is up against giants such as Nike, Adidas and Saucony.
"It will be very hard for [Math Sport] to find its place among these big companies that have more power, more money," said Boucher "They control the market."
That challenge doesn't faze Raymond, who admits his ambitions are "sky high."
"Our goal is to become a real shoe business that sells hundreds of thousands of running shoes per year," says Raymond. "The final goal is to be as big, or bigger, than Nike in the USA."
Foot scanner in tow
Raymond has two business partners: another Laval University grad, Pierre-Hugo Vigneux, 22, and investor Jean Samson from Samson Groupe Conseil.
This summer he and Vigneux will be heading to running events all over the province with the special foot scanner in tow, hoping to sell more shoes.