10.05.22FeaturesSneaker FreakerSponsored
ARTICLE BY Woody
EQL Run Fair Interview

Interview

EQL Brings Fairness Back to the Sneaker Game

Founded by a trio of ex-Google employees, the EQL launch platform was born from the all-too common frustration of watching scammers and bulk resellers scoop up hype sneakers. Their proprietary software uses a variety of tools to deter bots and raffle-riggers, and also ensures websites stay functional under even the most crushing traffic loads. As a result, any product launch imprinted with EQL’s ‘Run Fair’ logo is guaranteed to be a clean fight that maximises the mathematical odds for legit sneakerheads. Andrew Lipp gave us the lowdown on how his EQL startup is bringing fairness back to the sneaker game.

Let’s start with the big picture. What’s broken with the current system of hype culture?
Fairness. Real fans aren’t getting their hands on products they love because access has been turned on its head. Sites crash, bots clear out units and poor experiences are pushing real fans out of the scene. The joy of the chase is lost because it’s an unfair playing field.

We designed and built EQL to solve all of those problems, and more. If you’re a store dropping high heat products and looking to manage all that chaos – and you want to reward your real fans – EQL offers a totally seamless solution.

Your team all left serious corporate jobs at Google. Was there a moment you knew EQL was not only needed but would work?
We were all very fortunate to gain incredible experience at Google. The transition to the startup world has been a blast, but it’s a serious rollercoaster. Building launch software is hard, especially given the complex issues we’re trying to solve. Hype is unpredictable. When money this big is made on resale, there is ample motivation to keep finding ways to circumvent the safeguards.

Google knows a thing or two about product design. They’ve built the biggest products on the planet including Search, Gmail, YouTube and Chrome. Surprisingly, all these platforms were built using simple principles. We replicated this approach to ensure that EQL would be effective. The key is to focus on the users and in this case, that was all of us at EQL. We were miserable sneaker fans, disenfranchised by the state of play, so we knew what we needed to fix.

The fact is, hype launches are a nightmare for retailers to manage, so our aim is to make launches easy for retailers to run, which in turn makes it easy to get hyped shoes into the hands of real fans.

We ran our first launch with Maison Chateau Rouge in Paris, helping with their Air Jordan 1 colab from the 2019 Fearless collection. Big shout out to Youssouf at MCR. Since then we’ve run over 1000 launches globally and we’ve learned a lot.

Are we moving to a situation where nothing hyped has a fixed value?
Retail prices are fixed. The majority of consumers just can’t get access at that initial price. The hype economics work against fans because the system is broken. We all see the massive hunger for the limited supply of high heat sneakers, but what’s upside-down is that the demand doesn’t affect the retail price. Take house auctions as an example. Demand pushes the price up on the day as more people bid. In the case of high heat products, the retail price never changes, so bulk resellers will do anything to buy at retail because the resale price is so lucrative. Profit is guaranteed.

If bulk resellers keep dominating, fans will be priced out due to sky-high resale. And if real fans continue to leave the scene, stock sits on reseller shelves and the entire scene collapses in on itself. We built EQL to solve precisely this doomsday scenario. How good would it be to get real fans winning again and provide much better access for the average sneakerhead.

How do you explain the phenomenon of the recent Omega x Swatch release? Neither company was ready for that level of global hysteria.
Talk about a dramatic intro to hype and a baptism of fire! That was a frenzy. Firstly, the hype was obviously real and people can get a little erratic in these moments. I’m certainly guilty of that. There is some very interesting psychology behind that type of behaviour. People unconsciously assume scarce things are valuable and even though Swatch announced it wasn’t a limited run, it looked like it so people chased the dream.

Have you ever seen a line-up and thought you should join it just because others are? You are subconsciously getting sucked into jumping on the bandwagon. That’s partly what happened with Swatch. People saw crowds lining up and thought it was social proof. The watch might be cool, but the crowds were insane.

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We’ve all bought stuff purely because we got caught in the moment. I know I have. I’ve got a pair of ACG Air Mowabbs sitting in the box right beside me and I don’t think I’ll ever wear them. Credit to Swatch and Omega for what could be the most hyped drop of the year. But there is a fine line between wonderful chaos and out-of-control mayhem.

Andrew Lipp

So what exactly does EQL’s ‘Run Fair’ certification mean?
Run Fair is the stamp of fairness. We were so happy to see the retailers we work with put fairness first. You can now spot our stamp on Foot Locker launches across Asia and Europe, Crocs in the US, Courir in Europe, and Fast Times, Culture Kings and Sullivans Cove in Australia. We’re growing fast.

Run Fair is also a trademarked certification that ultimately represents a moral code of conduct. If you see Run Fair on a retailer’s page, you know they’ve committed to run the launch fairly and get the products into the hands of real fans. From the other side, if you love sneakers and enter a launch tagged with the Run Fair logo, you’re also committing to playing by the rules, and that is the best way to take home a W.

Without giving too much away, how does your tech stop bots and raffle rigging?
A magician never reveals their tricks but we aren’t in that caper, so here goes. EQL analyses a whole bunch of user insights and entry signals in real-time. For example, we can tell when people are using bots, and our Machine Learning models flag suspicious similarities between entries. As a result, the more people try to rig things in their favour, the more they hurt their chances of winning.

The other aspect we’ve solved is when sites are overwhelmed with traffic. Standard e-comm platforms aren’t built to handle crazy traffic spikes, but EQL is made to manage that phenomenon. And without completely nerding out, that’s a totally different type of tech. Building a platform that can scale when the pressure is on was one of our fundamental objectives.

Botters love to show off and we’ve all seen resellers surrounded by hundreds of impossible-to-buy shoes. What sort of crazy shenanigans have you encountered so far?
I’m not a bot-hater by any stretch of the imagination. I’m all about fairness and we just want the real fans to win. To answer your question, we see all kinds of wild things including people photoshopping extra boxes in photos just to flex, chronic bragging on Twitter and some absolutely outlandish claims. The insights from launch data are also fun. Recently we found 52 people that apparently live at the same one-bedroom apartment in Sydney. We also saw 38 attempts at jigging one address for a pink Nike Dunk Low launch.

EQL

What advice would you have for legitimate buyers when they enter a raffle or sale monitored by Run Fair?
Just keep playing fair. Your time will come. We built the ‘EQLizer’ to reward persistence and we’ve put a huge amount of thought into that. That means each time you lose, your chances increase for the next draw. You really will have ‘better luck next time!’ Still, some of these drops are super low inventory with thousands upon thousands of entries, so there is always an element of luck and it’s usually bad. We did discover that anyone born in May tends to have better odds in our draws. Can’t explain that one. At the end of the day, there is such a thing as a fair system. We built it. It’s called EQL and it both weeds out the resellers and also rewards legit buyers.

Have the biggest e-comm platforms done enough to protect users – both stores and consumers – in your opinion?
The idea of e-comm is a broad term. Hype is just a wedge of it. Should the popular platforms have specifically focused on supporting retailers and consumers for hype? Probably. But you can’t be a specialist at everything. Hype commerce is a different type of e-comm. That’s why we think there is space in the world for EQL.

We work with retailers that use a bunch of different platforms. EQL is the layer that sits on top of all those platforms so they no longer need to worry about protecting stores and users when it comes to hype. We’ve got both sides covered.

Taking all of this into consideration, what do you think the future of sneaker retail looks like?
I’m showing my age but I see parallels with the 1990s when the production houses in Hollywood joined forces to solve movie pirating. The same needs to happen in the sneaker world. If we can get both brands and retailers working together to prioritise fairness, we’ll get the industry back on track and we can all return to focusing on the stories around the top products.

To check out EQL for yourself, head to the site here!

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