The Proof

Ryan Babenzien, Founder at Greats

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Ryan Babenzien is the CEO & Founder at GREATS, a Brooklyn-born sneaker company redefining the $125 billion men’s footwear industry by selling premium sneakers, all made in Italy at an affordable price. Since the company’s inception in 2014, Ryan has gone on to raise $14 million in venture funding.

Last year, GREATS was profiled in Vogue, which predicted the company would be “one of the 50 digitally-native brands you’ll see everywhere in 2019.” Prior to founding GREATS, Ryan led marketing teams at K-Swiss and Puma, and has been featured in Forbes, Esquire, TechCrunch, and Monocle.


On morning workouts. I’ve had the same morning routine for a really long time. It starts by getting a work out in of some sort. No matter where I am I’ll do something physical, even if there isn’t a gym. Today’s workout apps are so good you simply have no excuse not to do something physical. You can get a better workout today with an app and a towel than you could 30 years ago in a fully equipped gym.

When I’m home I get to the gym, grab 45 to 60 minutes and then grab an Acai Bowl. It’s literally groundhog day every day for me in this regard. The only modification now is when I get home, I kiss and hug my fiance Jolie and tell her I love her. It’s a reminder that no matter what happened the day before or what may happen today, my priority is my family.

On pacing and mental health. I don’t believe you can maintain the pace necessary that a startup or young company demands without being fit. That includes physical and mental health too. For me, exercise provides both. I used to meditate in college way before it became a thing, but I don’t anymore.

I'm fortunate that exercise serves me well for both mental and physical well-being, which I recommend everyone embrace. This sounds silly but being healthy will allow you to have a richer life. No kidding right? But so many people don’t take advantage of this idea and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

On saying no. It's a great question and I often give advice to founders that they need to learn how to say no. So I have lived by this advice myself for many years. I have no FOMO so I have always said no to social events but even more so recently. That’s not because I'm anti-social, I've just gotten to a place in my life that if I’m going to go to an event, it needs to provide value to me in some way. It’s the Kondo method of socializing.


On sneaker culture hype. The hype cycle is so fast that it can damage any brand, including the legacy ones. Being super hot today and not tomorrow is the challenge everyone has. For us, we want to maintain relevance without sacrificing our soul as a brand.

It’s surprising to see other brands attempt to chase trend and hype, and we’ve not seen any of those succeed frankly. We have a long term view where brand is the most important.

On launching a brand in NYC. New York is rich with talent, culture, capital and opportunity. It’s a great city to start a company while at the same time being a challenging one: expensive, competitive and unforgiving. We chose Brooklyn specifically for a couple of reasons. For starters, there had never been a sneaker brand founded in Brooklyn. As we think long term we believe that when you think of GREATS you’ll know we’re from Brooklyn and that means something.

Secondly, Brooklyn is a cultural hub of NY and more broadly the world. People are flocking to BK for food, art, shopping, and we felt that we could be part of that excitement. And thirdly, I love the big neighborhood vibe. I can walk to everything I need: gym, whole foods, apple store, GREATS office and the waterfront. It’s super convenient and doesn’t feel like the city because you can actually see the sky.

We live and work in Williamsburg and most of the buildings are still only 3 or 4 stories high, and you can feel the difference than when you are in the city. Our office building has an amazing view of Manhattan from the roof - truly breathtaking at night. It’s funny how the goal for people born in BK used to be to move into the city, and now it’s the other way around.

On his sleep routine. My only real habit here is I go to bed when I’m tired. We have no TV in our bedroom and when I’m tired and falling asleep in the living room, I go to bed. This all ties back to being fit with sleep and recovery being equally important to one’s overall health.

I think I’m really lucky that I’ve always been this way. So many people stay up as late as possible, sleep like crap on the couch for a few hours then can’t actually sleep when they go to bed, which creates a cranky person in the morning. It’s a vicious cycle and one that I never wanted to be in.

— Ryan Babenzien, CEO & Co-Founder at Greats