Austin Paul Degenhardt

Look at long term goals, set short term goals, calculate the time each task will take and then move it directly to the calendar!


After years of experiencing the physical after-effects of working long shifts on his feet, former bartender-turned-entrepreneur Austin Paul Degenhardt, founder of the Paul Hardt company, is filling a longtime void in the hospitality industry with new, high performance shoes, they include all of the practical must-haves: arch support, anti-slip, and waterproof leather, and are finally, thanks to some help from renowned UK designer Dan Bailey, fashionable.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Austin became enamored by the area’s legendary food and wine scene. His first job in the industry was waiting tables at the Fish Market in San Mateo while in college. When someone did not show up for work one day behind the bar, Degenhardt stepped in, and was hooked.

Eventually, his fascination behind the bar led him to spearhead a podcast, “Service Mavens”, which profiles local service industry celebrities. Through the podcast, Degenhardt created an invaluable network of connections throughout the industry, and a renewed public awareness and appreciation for the industry.

However, after nine years of football, the 12-hour shifts in cheap “work shoes” took a hard toll on his body, resulting in foot and back pain. I love this industry and the artistry that goes into it,” Austin says. “But, physically, it is grueling. The same commitment to excellence that goes into serving customers should go into making the footwear that it is literally holding us up. It is critical to foot health, a healthy back, emotional balance and an overall healthy lifestyle.”

Degenhardt knew there were several orthopedic-type shoes for service professionals, but none that he would consider stylish. “We’re talking about highly-skilled artisans creating extraordinary work – wearing cheap shoes that look outdated. I didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t have it all – shoes that are functional, athletically-designed, and also fashionable.”

Along with three like-minded friends, he fleshed out the concept, wrote a business plan, and conducted months of extensive research. Degenhardt then reached out to globally renowned shoe designers in London.

Using Degenhardt’s concept, the Design team brought the shoes to life, designing four unique styles. Degenhardt then traveled to Portugal, touring multiple factories, finally discovering an 85-year-old, family-owned factory that exclusively manufactures luxury footwear. After six rounds of prototypes, and countless trips between Porto and San Francisco, the Paul Hardt shoe was created.

Where did the idea for Paul Hardt company come from?

Paul Hardt came from my days behind the bar. When my feet would ache after my shift, I would ask myself, why isn’t there a work shoe that feels like a running shoe and looks like a dress shoe? Why hasn’t anyone done this? This question drove me to make the shoe I’m proud to say today is the most comfortable dress shoe I’ve ever worn!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

The Calendar. I live and die by Google calendar! Up at 6:30 for morning workout. Cold shower and Coffee with butter and a protein shake. Then I jump into the priority project before checking emails to maintain maximum focus for 1.5-2 hours. At around midday I check email for 1 hour. Then move into next area of focus for another 2 hours. Plan time in for your distractions!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I use visualization during times of silence. Sometimes this can keep me up all night (not good for me) but it helps to see the future I am creating. Then setting long term (3-5 year goals) and bringing that back to the next 1-3 months. Line out the priority action items in line towards the goal and persistently attack them while asking for help along the way. Finally, a whole lot of faith!

What’s one trend that excites you?

The move to athleisure. People are starting to ask themselves, why can’t my fashionable clothing be comfortable and versatile? I am extremely passionate about this and you can see it in our footwear.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Exercise; hard, high-intensity workouts. As a former football player I’ve always thrived on high intensity workouts. This helps to raise my energy levels and gives me the confidence to know that I will not quit! It’s investing in yourself.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Go to Portugal right away and meet suppliers. Spend less time on design and focus on development to get the product on people’s feet faster. Start social media right away and show the entire story (even the embarrassing stuff) to connect with people early on. Connect with press people along the way – telling a compelling story!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

People in the service industry will pay up to $300 for a pair of outstanding work shoes. People underestimate the service industry’s commitment to excellence and how much money they can make in just one shift

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Look at long term goals, set short term goals, calculate the time each task will take and then move it directly to the calendar! This is key to see how much time things take and maintain empty calendar space for spending time focused on yourself and loved ones.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Starting a podcast. My mission is to champion the service industry so I started a podcast to interview awesome bartenders. By being truly interested in these people, I have developed relationships that are lasting and built a strong network.
I reached out to bartenders on Facebook and linkedin who have been written up before. I simply shared my mission with them and asked them if they were open to it.
I used Tim Ferriss blog on how to start a podcast and made it happen!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The design process was essentially a failure. Because I am not a shoe designer or experienced in the industry, I did not anticipate design flaws and enforce the changes early on in the process. This made the development of the product on spec nearly impossible.
I overcame this by flying to Portugal, meeting with suppliers, sourcing products and developing the product directly with the manufacturers. We kept the essence of the design but made it a reality on the ground.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There needs to be a networking app based on geo location. How many times do you go to a city and forget to call a friend or acquaintance that you met there? If there was an app to notify you when you’re in that person’s radius, it would make being a better friend easier!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Liveplan. This business planning software helped us to make our plan cloud-based and simplify scenario planning. It has its limitations but for a first time entrepreneur, has been an invaluable resource

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Google Calendar. I cannot stress this enough. I have my personal life, business tasks, and TRAVEL time all mapped out on the calendar. Anytime something comes up I immediately move it to the calendar

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Power of now“. What is the point of business success if you do not experience and enjoy each moment along the way? This book can illuminate the trappings of our mind and allow us to suffer less. What happens when there is no suffering? That’s an outstanding question!

What is your favorite quote?

The present moment is all you ever have – Eckhart Tolle
You can free yourself from the trappings of the mind which are after us all the time. Fear of the future is constant for an entrepreneur and when you focus on the moment in front of you, how can you have any problems?

Key learnings:

  • By utilizing the calendar for personal, business tasks, and travel time you have a clear picture of the time in your day and significantly decrease the chance of missing something
  • Be here Now – The present moment is all you ever so constantly bring your focus back to this moment. It will curb your fears of the future!
  • If you’re considering making something and you’re not an expert already, go directly to the source. Meet the suppliers, the factories and talk with them, it will help you immensely in the development process, saving you TIME and MONEY!
  • If you haven’t written a business plan before, start with Liveplan. You can get a rough draft out in a weekend and begin sharing it with your advisors. This will help you see your path and update easily as you learn more.


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