John Lee Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome, needed meaningful work when he turned 21 and approached “the disability cliff.” The drop-off turned out to be a launchpad into a multi-million-dollar online store.
This planet has one global sock mogul, and that’s John Lee Cronin.
The face and the grace behind John’s Crazy Socks, the world’s best online superstore of fun, funny, whimsical, and socially aware socks, John didn’t initially want to open a sock store.
“A fun store,” he says. That was his first business idea.
In 2016, John began to brainstorm these entrepreneurial endeavors because that was the year he turned 21. As everyone in the disability community knows, 21 marks the year of “the disability cliff,” a term for the abrupt dropping-off of services and support for people with disabilities. John, who had training in customer service and retail, discovered that his career options were, at best, limited, and, at worst, dismal.
One Foot in Front of the Other
At that time, John’s dad Mark was building a few online startups. One afternoon, after more unsuccessful attempts to find a decent job, John told his dad that he wanted to work with him. Mark also happens to be John’s #1 fan, so Mark threw himself into the idea of a father-son business venture with delight.
“I like to say John’s a natural entrepreneur,” Mark says. “Because this [disability cliff] is a problem. We were looking at programs that had waitlists, and jobs were like holding programs to keep you busy. But John saw that and turned it into an opportunity. He said, ‘if I don’t see something I like, I’ll make it!’ That’s when he asked to go into business together. Which was pretty cool.”
John, a lifelong devotee of unusual, conversation-starting socks, suddenly realized that they were the perfect product. But—John’s driving corporate philosophy wasn’t about moving units. “It’s about spreading happiness,” he says with a huge, stadium-sized smile. In fact, John is the company’s CHO—Chief Happiness Officer.
“Spreading happiness” instantly became the company mission of John’s Crazy Socks. The guys created a Facebook page with a few homemade videos of John talking about crazy socks, secured some inventory, and opened an online store. The day they opened for business, orders poured in. To spread happiness to his new customers, John put a hand-written thank you note and a piece of candy in each box, many of which he hand-delivered that first day. The thank-you note and piece of candy stuck—each box of John’s Crazy Socks still arrives with both tucked sweetly inside each package.
By the end of the first month, the business earned more than $13,000 in revenue. Happiness had been spread.
“I have Down syndrome, but Down syndrome never holds me back. Look at what people can do, not what they cannot do.”
John’s Crazy Socks went viral, causing John and Mark to get a warehouse for their growing, eclectic inventory and flourishing new company. John didn’t hesitate to reach out to his former classmates, also struggling to find meaningful jobs after the disability cliff. Today, more than half of John’s Crazy Socks’ staff are employees with disabilities. The success of John’s Crazy Socks and the irrefutable impact of its social enterprise to give hope, give back, and spread happiness has gained international attention for the business and for John.
John has spoken in front of Congress about disability inclusion, befriended late President George H. W. Bush through a mutual love of crazy socks, and was invited to be a featured speaker at “the world’s biggest talent festival,” the Sonderlands Talent Festival in Spain. In 2019, John made history as the first person with Down syndrome to win an Entrepreneur of the Year New York award. John and Mark’s social enterprise success with John’s Crazy Socks has pulled media attention from the BBC and CBS News to local affiliate stations who all adore everything about John and his crazy sock shop.
Nothing Holds Him Back
“I have Down syndrome, but Down syndrome never holds me back,” John says. “Look at what people can do, not what they cannot do.”
Today, John’s Crazy Socks nets millions of dollars in revenue, offers the largest selection of high-quality socks on the internet, employs an entire staff of people of all abilities, and continues to be one of the most beloved companies in the world—all thanks to the brilliant ideas of its Chief Happiness Officer.
Looks like John Cronin built his fun store, after all.
We Include stands by wonderful people like John and Mark Cronin who believe in simple principles of inclusion to build a better world one sock (well, one pair of socks) at a time.