Down syndrome entrepreneur builds success out of socks, shatters stereotypes

By Matthew V. Libassi
Published October 16, 2017

John Cronin’s message is simple, “socks, socks and more socks”, but the 21-year-old entrepreneur with Down syndrome and founder of John’s Crazy Socks’ mission is much more powerful; smashing stereotypes of what people with a disability can achieve.

“Down syndrome never holds me back,” John Cronin tells FOX Business. “I love inspiring people.”

In 2016, John was finishing high school and, like other young men, was facing a big decision of what to do next.

“He started talking to me about going in to business,” Mark X. Cronin, John’s Dad, co-founder and president of John’s Crazy Socks, tells FOX Business.

John came to his dad with some interesting ideas, including a “fun store” -- they are still trying to figure that one out -- and a food truck.

“I had a problem, my dad and I, both of us can’t cook!” jokes  John Cronin.

Eventually, John’s love for colorful sock flair became an inspiration, and in December 2016, John’s Crazy Socks, an online one-stop sock shop, opened for business.  From food-inspired knee highs to canine crew socks, John’s Crazy Sock’s now boasts over 1,300 pairs of fun, funky socks. Since opening, business has been booming.

“We are on a mission to spread happiness, and we are spreading that message through socks,” says Mark X. Cronin.

Each order is shipped out the same day which includes John’s story, often a hand written note by John, some candy and two discount cards - “one for you and one to give to a friend.”  

Like any startup, John’s Crazy Socks ran into its fair share of challenges.  Initially, manufacturers refused to do business with a startup that had no track record.  

“I think there was an assumption on many that this was a quaint, little business, you were doing part time and on the side.  When they find out, in our first year, we are going to do $1.2 to $1.3 million dollars, that makes people sit up,” says Mark X. Cronin. “Which I would suggest is pretty good for a startup.”

The nine-month old  company has been recognized by local organizations, John and Mark recently completed the prestigious business accelerator MassChallenge, and have shipped socks to former president George H.W. Bush, comedian Kevin James and Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt.

More than profit, John and Mark are dedicated to giving back.  5% of their sales go to charity, like the National Down syndrome Society, and they carry specialty socks for causes like Autism Awareness. In addition, John and Mark’s staff include employees who have a disability.

“We are demonstrating that by working with people with special needs they become an asset, they become a reason for our success, not a liability, not an obstacle.  We had to overcome that,” says Mark X. Cronin.

“It feels good knowing that I got a full day of work and I can go home and I am happy” says Elyssa, a sock picker at John’s Crazy Socks.

“It really shows that you can do anything you want, anything,” echoes Alex, a sock picker at John’s Crazy Socks.

The team recently expanded, now headquartered in a 6,400 square foot warehouse and office in Melville, New York.  John spends his days working with fellow employees, packing orders, making phone calls and coming up with unique initiatives like the “Monday Madness Mystery Bag” and a sock-of-the-month club. Mark and John also make it a priority to keep their fans informed via John’s social media channels.

“We are both a content business and an ecommerce business” says Mark X. Cronin.

Everyday John and Mark are posting videos and pictures on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. John’s social media posts reach 80,000 Facebook fans and have more than three million video views.  Videos of John speaking at galas, lobbying in Washington, walking as the Grand Marshall of the Down syndrome buddy walk or even taking the Amtrak to a business meeting inspire millions worldwide.

“John and I have this special partnership. We both know we need each other. We are both committed to the mission we have and we want to work together, I’m a lucky man to be able to work with my son,” says Mark X. Cronin.

“I’m telling the whole world, I really can do anything,” adds John Cronin.

Be sure to watch the video above to see John’s full interview and check out John’s Crazy Socks for more info.