It can be hard to bring an innovative product idea to life while keeping it under wraps at the same time. How do you protect it from getting stolen?
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from a Shark Tank entrepreneur who came up with, prototyped, and patented a product all under the radar.
Jonathan Kinas is the founder of The Aqua Vault: a Portable Outdoor Travel Safe where you can lock up your valuables and go for a worry-free swim.
Traditionally speaking, a utility patent holds a little bit more weight and is a little bit more valuable.
Tune in to learn
- How to work with a patent attorney
- The difference between design and utility patents
- How to build trust with your first wholesale client
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Download this episode on Google Play, iTunes or here!
- Store: The Aqua Vault
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- Recommendations: Intex Expo
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Jonathan Kinas from the Aqua Vault. The Aqua Vault is a portable outdoor travel safe where you can lock up your valuables and go for a worry-free swim. It was started in 2011 and based out of Miami Beach, Florida. Welcome, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thank you for having me.
Felix: The quick intro I gave, it certainly resonates with me, I think with a lot of listeners, this problem that we have. Talk to us a little bit more about it. Talk to us about how this product works.
Jonathan: I’ll give you a little background, kind of how we started. Obviously, there was always that concern you went to the beach or the pool, that you really don’t know where to put your valuables. Most people stick it in their shoes, tuck it under their chair, cover it a towel. Go for a swim, always somewhat concerned that their stuff is going to be missing. More than likely, you’ll come back and everything is there; but in that off chance that that one day you come back and everything is gone, needless, it ruins your entire day, week, weekend, whatever it is. It’s never a fun scenario.
A couple years back, a couple of friends and myself decided to stay at one of the resorts in South Beach. We did exactly that. We put our stuff in our shoes, tucked them under the lounge chairs, went for a swim. Constantly looking back, over our shoulder at our chairs, thinking if we look every minute, every two minutes, there’s no chance that somebody’s going to come by and steal our stuff. Fast forward, five, ten minutes. We come back, everything is gone. Instantly, the idea came upon us that there needs to be something where you can lock up your valuables, go for a swim, not have to worry, and constantly look over your shoulder, not have to have somebody from the group to stay back and watch everything. That is a problem that needs to be solved. Right then and there is kind of where we decided, ‘All right, let’s invent something.’
Felix: Did you have a background in inventing products, starting companies? What was your experience level at that point?
Jonathan: I had zero background in inventing anything. My background is finance. I work in Wall Street. I was a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch. My partners had zero background in inventions and start-ups as well.
We all kind of just put the idea together and said, “You know what? We’ve had ideas our entire lifes, we never really executed on them.” This was the perfect opportunity for us to take that chance and see where it goes.
Felix: Yeah. I think a lot of folks listening, a lot of entrepreneurs, of course, were at that point at some point where they hadn’t invented anything, haven’t started a business before, but have an idea and had that moment where they were like, ‘You know what? We’ve had ideas. We’ve always thought about ideas, but never executed them. Let’s go ahead with this one and push it all the way through.’ When you had that epiphany, that ‘let’s push this through,’ what did you recognize as the first steps towards turning this idea into a reality?
Jonathan: Well, we realized we had to do somewhat of a patent search. We started to the patent search on our own. We found nothing out there. Then, we decided to take the next step and hire a patent attorney, and have him do a more thorough search.
They came back and said, “Listen, you guys are on to something. I think you have a strong case. I think you could come out with something that doesn’t exist.”
As soon as we got the validation from a professional, we said, “All right, this is a time that we have to execute, because … even though it hasn’t happened until this point, someone eventually will come out with this idea and capitalize.” We made a very quick decision to move forward. We had a lot riding on this decision, because we all had promising careers that we knew ultimately, we would have to leave if this worked out. We decided, ‘You know what? Let’s just move forward.’
Felix: Now, what goes into a patent search? If someone out there also has an idea, and they have a feeling that someone else might have come up with it because it’s such an obvious idea to create? How do you begin searching around to see if there is someone already holding a patent for your idea?
Jonathan: The approach that we took was going to Google, they have their own patent search that’s part of the overall search engine. Once we narrowed down to somewhat … Well, we did a broad search. We knew that we were not professionals in this, so we figured, ‘Listen, if we can’t find a patent out there, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. That just means that we couldn’t find it.’ By us not finding anything, it gave us somewhat of a more confident position. Then we realized, ‘Listen, this is the point that we have to hire a professional to come in and really validate that stance.’ Our patent search wasn’t bulletproof. That’s a good place to start. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s very easy to navigate. It’s certainly not a thorough search, in our opinion. If you’re going to dedicate time and capital to a business, we figured it’s best to start off with professional, just to give you a validation that you’re moving in the right direction.
Felix: Got it, so this patent search that you performed yourself wasn’t so much to be an exhaustive search, it was just a preliminary thing that if you were to find something by searching yourself that matched the product that you came up with, you would probably pivot or come up with some other idea to pursue. You didn’t find anything in your own search, but you wanted something more thorough; so you sought out a patent attorney. Talk to us about that process. What is like to … How do you find a patent attorney? How do you work with one?
Jonathan: Well, we started researching online. We started speaking to people we knew to get a referral because … we know that you can’t trust everything you read online. We felt a little more comfortable with talking to people that we knew to see if anybody came highly recommended. That’s actually what wound up happening. One thing led to another. We started to work with multiple patent attorneys over time, and filed multiple patents. We spent probably two years behind the scenes, just filing patent after patent to really protect ourselves. We kind of had a defensive strategy, in a sense that we wanted to really protect ourself behind the scenes before we hit the market. In the event that the idea did take off, we wanted to make sure that we were pretty insulated in terms of IP.
Felix: It sounds like a very expensive process, then. Two years working with attorneys, two years working on filing and creating a patent for your product, for your idea. Can you share a little bit about how much budget someone should set aside if they are to go ahead and hire a patent attorney to do this research, to discover if there is a patent out there, and then eventually also to file a patent for you?
Jonathan: That’s a difficult question because different patent attorneys start at different amounts. You could go from the low range all the way up to … much, much more, exponentially greater. Not only does the hourly rate play a role, but the complexity of the invention is also going to play a big factor. Depending upon how complicated an idea is, whether it involves electronics, whether it involves … Whether it’s as simple as a paper clip. You can get where I’m going with this. I mean there’s a lot of different factors, but you certainly need to set aside … I would say … 20 to 40,000 to start, on an entry level.
Felix: Yeah, that’s generally is … could be out of the budget for many entrepreneurs that are starting out for the first time. Talk to us about the usefulness of this patent. Have you had to, getting into specifics, but have you had to rely on the patent at any point since you’ve gotten it?
Jonathan: We have not to rely upon it. It’s certainly there in case we need to. We have several there in case we need to. As of yet, we have not had to … basically bring force.
Felix: It probably does deter people, too, right? If they come along and see something that they might want to copy, they find out that it’s patented. So then that might be the reason why you haven’t had to use it because it already scares off potential copycats.
Jonathan: We would hope so, but we know that patents don’t necessarily … deter everyone. It’s certainly a deterrent. It certainly holds weight. If we need to pursue it, we have the means to do so. There are those people and entities out there who … don’t necessarily … shy away from patents. It’s better to have it than not to have it; but you can’t prevent people from doing what they’re going to do anyways.
Felix: Right. Now, what goes into this process? Once you hire a patent attorney, I’m assuming they’re still going to, of course, rely heavily on you, work with you very closely. It’s not somebody you just hired and have them run the entire thing. What is an entrepreneur’s involvement typically when you want to patent an idea?
Jonathan: It’s never going to really be a seamless process where you submit it, and you get the approval right away. If that happens, I’ve never heard of it happening. From our experience, patents are in drafts, all the documents, he submits through the USPTO. They correspond back and forth, there are some rejections. There are … There’s a time period that goes by where you’re just basically having to support your idea in it’s uniqueness. That’s where the attorney goes back and forth with the office, and basically creates … I guess they create a case that will make you unique enough to where you will get issued.
If the patent office sees right through it and says, “Listen, this is not unique.” They’re going to come back and say, “These are all the reasons why you are not different enough to get a patent,” and then it’s up to the patent attorney to come back and get around all the examples.
Felix: Yeah, if the patent office comes back to you and says that, “This is not a different enough idea, different enough product for you to be awarded a patent,” does that mean that the patent attorney needs to go back and reword, or re-describe the products, or the utility of the product, or does that actually mean that it has to go back to you guys and you have to change the product so that it can … I guess deserve a patent.
Jonathan: Well, changes have to be made one way or the other.
The attorney is most likely to come back and say, “Listen. This is a problem with the way we submitted it. Either we have to make certain changes to increase our changes, or the likelihood of them accepting is not really there.” At that point in time, you have to navigate around and figure out what changes you can live with, and what changes you don’t want to … reposition.
Felix: Can you share what is unique about your product that ultimately won you the patent claim?
Jonathan: One of the patents is the way that it closes on certain fixtures. We have design patents which support how the product actually looks. We went for both utilities and design patents.
Felix: Got it. Now, can you explain the difference … I guess maybe at a high level between the two types of patents, and which one might make sense for which types of products?
Jonathan: It’s as simple as a utility patent is the way the product actually functions; and a design patent is how the product looks. Traditionally speaking, a utility patent holds a little bit more weight and it’s a little bit more valuable. When we were going through the process, we were led to believe that utilities are a little bit stronger in the IP portfolio.
Felix: Makes sense. Now, when you are going through this process of getting this patent, were at the same time, manufacturing product? What was happening during … I guess in 2011 is when you started working on the product and began the patent process. What was going on during that time while you were waiting for the patents. I’m assuming you didn’t want to go public at all with this yet until you had something defensible.
Jonathan: Correct. In the initial stages, we were just getting a feel for the market by showing friends and family, showing people that are somewhat close to us. At that point, we didn’t trust anybody, so we wanted to keep it close to the chest.
We wanted to get validation from the market, that basically tells us, “Listen, this is a good idea. It’s not just you guys that like your unique invention.” We wanted to make sure that it will resonate with people and it’s something that they can use, they can buy, and they can … continuing to buy down the road. As soon as we got that validation, we decided to take it a little bit further and bring it to a trade show. We figured as soon as we left that trade show, it was either going to be really good or really bad. Luckily for us, we felt confident when we left that trade show that people really loved the idea.
At that point in time, we said, “We’re on to something, and let’s just really go into stick to gear.”
Felix: While you were waiting for the patent to be issued and you were just testing these out with friends and family, were you prototyping or manufacturing these at a small run yourselves? How did you make sure that word didn’t spread when you need it. The product looks like it needs to be obviously made by professionals. It can’t just be done by hand. What were you doing to create prototypes of the product while trying to keep it a secret?
Jonathan: We sourced an engineer. He started to make prototypes for us. We went through about six different prototypes before we decided upon one that we actually liked. We made a decision initially that we are not going to go into mass production until we all feel confident that this idea really has legs and gives us enough confidence to really take it to the next level. Because once you start going into … manufacturing, creating a mold, now you’re incurring exponentially greater costs and that in itself will take the business to the next level.
Felix: The confidence came from the success at your first trade show. Talk to us a little bit more about that. Which trade show did you end up going to and what was your actual experience like at the show?
Jonathan: This was the Inpex trade show, I believe it was in Philly. This was an inventor’s trade show where we just took the idea and said, [inaudible 00:16:24] … Our intent was to meet manufacturers there, engineers, patent attorneys. We wanted to meet everybody in the same … under the same roof. We just wanted them to give us their opinion on the idea. We wanted to see if people were going to laugh at the idea.
We wanted to see if people were going to come over and say, “We want to work with you.” We wanted to see if we had people line up and want to work with us. We wanted to gauge the [inaudible 00:16:52] … product. That was really our first benchmark for how we think we … what type of business we thought we had.
Felix: Okay. Were you attempting to just selling the units at the time? Did you have any metrics that you were trying to hit from the trade show, or were you just trying to get a feel for how the market received it?
Jonathan: Yeah. We went there with a prototype. It wasn’t even a finished prototype. We basically wanted to gauge people’s interest and acceptance for the product. Based upon their level of conviction was going to determine … I guess how much effort we put into this idea because we know that family and friends can give us one level of … I guess interpretation of the production. Once you get into a completely different environment with complete strangers who are professionals, who are looking basically just to make money, that’s all they care about. They’re black and white. They have no … emotion to us. We relied upon that experience to really determine whether or not we thought we had a product that would sell.
Felix: Yeah, they’re super honest because again, they have no affiliation with you; then they will essentially vote with their dollars when it comes to your product. Was there any … It sounds like a very positive experience overall. Was there any kind of constructive criticism or feedback that you got from that trade show, that you just … that you, as a group, decided to take and implement?
Jonathan: Nothing in particular, maybe a couple of people said, “You guys have something here. We can tweak it a little bit and make it a little bit more appealing, more aesthetically pleasing; but overall, the concept was there.” That’s the validation we were looking for. We knew that there was a slim chance we were going to come up with a perfect prototype to bring in there. We knew that we were going to go through a series of different prototypes. Even though we hit our fifth or sixth one and brought that to the trade show. We figured that’s not going to be our final product, but let’s learn from everyone around us and take a couple feathers out of everyone’s caps and figure, ‘All right, what can we gather from this trade show, and how can we parlay that into perfecting this idea?’
Felix: Got it. Obviously you are taking advice and reactions and feedback from the market, from friends and family. It sounds like … more than one person is running this company, or part of this company at this time. How do you kind of boil that down to not only determine which advice to take in, but then make those decisions internally as well? I’m assuming there’s a lot of people with a lot of opinions. How do you guys boil it down to making the decision on whether to pursue a feature, a design? Basically, how do you decide how to build a product based on all of these opinions?
Jonathan: My two partners and myself, we kind of have a system where we all have to agree upon a decision before we move forward. Then, if there are any … particular points of contention, that individual has to articulate why they think their position makes the most sense. We have an honest discussion back and forth. Then, decisions are made based upon arguments that are made by each individual person.
Felix: Got it. Now what about the opinions that are coming from the outside from people at the trade show, from friends and family. People that are saying, ‘If you tweak this, if you change this, I would love to buy it.’ How do you know what advice to actually take and which to discard?
Jonathan: It’s kind of that snap judgment. I mean you get a feeling for certain people. Certain people you’re not really going to pay much attention to their opinion, although with respect, you’ll listen to it. You know deep down inside, it’s not of much value. Then, there’s some people out there that you can instantly tell, ‘All right, this person really knows what they’re talking about. I respect their decision.’ Their opinion holds weight. I think it could sway the way we make our decision, and so obviously not every opinion is created equal. You just have to be … You have to be able to tell on your own who’s opinion makes sense, and whose doesn’t.
Be respectful always, but deep down inside, know whose decision really matters in terms of how you analyze the decision that you want to make.
Felix: Right. Now for you personally, when you are talking to someone, what do you look for in a person to evaluate whether they’re going to … I mean obviously like you were saying, you’re going to be respectful for everybody, but how do you … What do you look for in a person and what they’re talking about to evaluate whether or you will seriously consider their opinion or not?
Jonathan: You can gauge their intelligence on a certain subject. You can perceive how they conduct themselves. You can tell whether or not they’re giving honest advice, whether they have a motive. You can get … You can ask them for a [inaudible 00:22:10] record. You can ask them what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished. You can kind of get an idea for what … somebody has done. Sometimes that can sway your decision one way or the other. That’s not the silver bullet. It really comes down to how you feel. It’s very hard to be able to gauge somebody’s opinion while sitting with them for 10 minutes. It’s not enough time to really dig into it. You’re going to have to go with, like I said, your snap judgment, and go with your gut, and make a decision as to whether or not you respect their opinion. Or, it’s an opinion that you’re just going to look past.
Felix: Right. If you had it boiled down to a checklist, this sounds like you look for that kind of context; like where are they coming from with this opinion? Do they have experience in the space? Are they a subject matter expert on a particular advice they’re giving you or not? Don’t just take anyone’s advice, but think about what is their … essentially their background that they’re coming from when they give this advice. That’s a really good point. Now the success at the trade, you guys have left the trade show. Are you all still at this point, still have day jobs? What was the situation with your lives at this point?
Jonathan: No. We all left our careers maybe two or three years ago in between that point in time. It wasn’t exactly at the same time. It was pretty close in time; but we are multiple years out of our careers and full time with the Aqua Vault.
Felix: Got it. But at this point, during this time frame where you were leaving the trade show, you guys all still were working jobs, I’m assuming, right? Because that was almost four years ago.
Jonathan: Correct, all three of us.
Felix: Got it. Once you left that trade show, what was the next step? You knew that this had a lot of … This had legs. This had potential. What was the next step after that?
Jonathan: We started to do a little bit of research on the overall market. Who can be our target market? Is it going to be just hotels? Is it going to be water parks, theme parks, cruise ships? We started to really take a dive into the overall market and figure out who are we going to target with this good idea? A lot of research started going into play.
Felix: You mentioned targeting hotels. You meant like selling these in bulk to a hotel that will rent them out or something? What was the idea behind that?
Jonathan: Right. We didn’t necessarily know how to propose it. We figured we have a good idea. People will use this. How are we going to get the market to accept it? Are we going to sell them to the hotels? Are we going to lease them to the hotels? Are we going to sell them to individuals? Are we going to do a hybrid of both? We had a lot on our hands trying to figure out what was the best way to … present the idea. It was a little bit overwhelming because you don’t want to walk into a hotel and … appear like you have no idea what you’re doing, or you don’t have any method in place.
Or, that’s the first hotel you’ve ever been at, so they’re going to look at you and say, “You’re using us as a guinea pig?” You have to walk in there with some degree of confidence, and a system, and almost act like that’s a … not your first [inaudible 00:25:25] … first. It was kind of designed the way that we’re going to pitch this product to whoever [inaudible 00:25:35]. …
Felix: Got it. How did you test which distribution channels, which markets to go after first? What did you do to determine where your area of focus as a company should be?
Jonathan: We figured we’ll do a little bit of everything. We’re going to see what sticks the best.
Felix: What ended up happening? What was the result of that, that test?
Jonathan: We wound up going to one of the hotels in South Beach and arranged for a weekend where we set up the vaults at one of the beach huts. We just wanted to take their temperature on how they interact with the product. Now, this is something they’ve never seen before.
Are they going to look at it and say, “Really neat idea,” and walk past it, and have no interest in it? Are they going to say, “Where’s this been all my life? I need it right now,” and instantly start using it, and adopting it to their lifestyle.
We want to see if the hotel is going to say, “We need this today. Let’s roll them out,” or they’re going to say, “Listen. You know, it sounds like a good idea, but … this has never existed before. We don’t know how it’s going to do. We don’t necessarily know if our customers need this. So, let’s just kind of test it and see how it does; and maybe, you know, take two, three, four months. And if the product does well and it’s well received, then we’ll roll it out.” We didn’t know what to expect, but we took it out there. We had a positive response from the employees and the guests. We figured we can probably do a hybrid and sell the product and rent it at hotels. That’s when we decided that weekend that, that was probably going to be our model going forward.
Felix: You mentioned that you … It was a very challenging time because this was going to be your first potential client, but you didn’t want to come across as the first customer that you’re going after with this, with this hotel. How did you prepare? What was your approach to get them to believe in you, to trust you as a company, as a product, as a brand? To essentially be your first … You don’t want them to think that they were guinea pigs, but they were guinea pigs at the end of the day. How did you get them to trust you in this experience?
Jonathan: We went in there with the idea that, “Listen, we’re going to be completely transparent with you. We have a great idea. You can tell from the surface that this is a really good idea. We haven’t necessarily figured out exactly how we’re going to roll this out yet, but if you can give us a chance and prove that we are very capable of rolling this product out effectively and we think your guests will be very receptive to this product. You really have nothing to lose. At the end of the weekend, if it’s not a good turnout, we take the product. We move on. We never come back to your resort again. If it does do very well, at least you helped a group of entrepreneurs pursue the idea. We’ll give you aggressive pricing because you’re the first hotel we’re going to start with. You really, really have nothing to lose.”
As long as they liked the idea and they can see the potential for it, realistically, they were just helping us get a start. If it worked out, great. If it didn’t, that’s also okay.
Felix: Got it. Now you have this success at this hotel. One thing we haven’t even mentioned on this podcast yet was that you guys went on Shark Tank and ended up … a successful appearance on Shark Tank. Tell us about this. When did this happen? Was this before or after the hotel experiment? What was the timeline here?
Jonathan: The hotel experience was prior to Shark Tank. We went onto Shark Tank maybe six months later. That experience completely magnified our brand because it made a lot more people aware of what we had to offer that never knew of us beforehand. It just completely sped up that curve for us.
Felix: Let’s talk about the experience first. I definitely want to talk about the results of being on TV, on national television. You went into there seeking a deal, ended up … getting a deal, at least on air; and we’ll talk about this a little more. But getting a deal with Damon for $75,000 in exchange for 25% of the company. I know that with Shark Tank, things may change after the fact. What was the result at the end? Were you able to ultimately secure a deal with Damon?
Jonathan: We did secure a deal with Damon. He works very closely with us, closer now than ever before. The deal that you saw was the deal in the show. It got slightly renegotiated. We just cannot divulge the intricacies of the deal.
Jonathan: Just know that the deal still stands, and we work together on a very frequent basis.
Felix: Yeah. What is like working with him? You said that he works with you very closely. Obviously a super busy man. How does he work with you to … How does he work with you? Again, I’m assuming on a limited time that he gets with you.
Jonathan: He’s great. I can’t say anything negative about him. He’s got a very positive relationship with us. He’s extremely open with us. He never not answers a call, not answers a text. He’s super responsive. He’s very open to communication. It’s not like he delegates. He is close with us himself. We’re truly appreciative of that.
Felix: Now when you work with him, do you approach him with particular … Let’s say that you guys are in your day-to-day and when does it come to mind like, ‘Okay, let’s ask Damon for advice.’ What kind of advice do you typically go to him for, for help with?
Jonathan: If we have a complicated deal, if we think that there’s … more negotiation on the table that we may not be taking advantage of because a certain establishment that we’re talking with is much, much bigger than us, or we feel like our leverage is really not there, we’ll ask him if we can negotiate a little bit further if he thinks that the hotel we’re talking to is a hard stop and they’re not going to budge at all because obviously he has more experience than us dealing with a lot of these larger corporations. We basically pick his brain off of the experience and the success that he’s seen himself. That’s something that we wouldn’t necessarily [inaudible 00:32:25] to.
Felix: Right. His experience is obviously invaluable, and not many people have been able to … have that kind of experience and that background that he has. What have you found is the most valuable business advice that he’s given your team?
Jonathan: I couldn’t pin it down to an exact quote or an exact comment. Overall, his advice has been on point. Everything he tells us makes sense, whether we realize it at the moment or it takes a little bit of time. Usually what he tells us is the best option.
Felix: Okay. Is there anything that, maybe not specific quote or anything, but just based on working with him, if you were to … I guess give your advice based on things that you learned from him, what would it be? What kind of area would you say that you would tell people to focus on?
Jonathan: If I had to pin it to one thing, maybe it comes down to just working as hard as you possibly can, being relentless, and not giving up because … you can go working 15 hours a day in and out and not see … the success that you want, when you want it; but maybe that work pans out a year and a half, two and a half, three years down the road. If you didn’t have the patience to endure all the ups and downs throughout that cycle, you may not necessarily be around to see the fruits of your labor if you don’t wait long enough. It’s not going to be a smooth ride.
There’s going to be big ups, big downs, and sometimes these ups and downs are day-by-day. You can be on top of the world one day, next day you’re … thinking, ‘What’s going on? How is this happening?’ Stability really isn’t there when you’re first starting out, but you just have to kind of put your blinders on and realize you’re embarking on a journey. It’s going to be a ride. Just be patient and work as hard as you possible can; because somebody behind you is always trying to work. A little bit hard on you to basically catch up and pass you.
Felix: Right. Work as hard as you can, but then have the patience to see the results, and don’t expect payoff right away. I guess kind of the related question to this is what do you find other entrepreneurs maybe spend too much time on, working too hard on, when they should be focusing elsewhere. What do you find that a lot of entrepreneurs essentially waste their time on?
Jonathan: I don’t know if I know exactly what they waste their time on. I can say always be open to change because the way you think today may not necessarily be the way you think six months down the road. If the environment changes, just be cognizant of the fact that your initial thought isn’t always going to be the best thought. Just keep your eyes open and realize that like I said, the environment will change. As long as you can navigate around and embrace the change, you’re going to be much better off than being stubborn and not wanting to divert from your initial thought.
Felix: Can you give an example of this where you’ve had to pivot as a company, based on changes that came your way?
Jonathan: A specific example where we had to change. Well, I would say … one of our prototypes … maybe it was our third or fourth prototype. We had a completely different design.
We took the advice from somebody saying, “Maybe you should make it a little bit different.” Although, we didn’t necessarily want to change the design because we put so much time and effort … and many drawings to get to a design that we all kind of liked. Somebody brought a different angle to us.
We said, “You know what? Their argument makes sense. You know what? Let’s just move forward with that,” because realistically, although we committed so much time to a certain design, they articulated why they though the different design would make sense. It was something that we all didn’t see initially. We made that decision to move in a completely different direction from what we all thought was going to be the finished product.
Felix: Part of that sounds like don’t be tied to an idea, don’t be tied to a path just because of some cost. You’ve invested time and money into something, but that doesn’t mean … That in itself is not enough reason to stick to a path if you have compelling reasons, compelling data to tell you to go in a different direction.
Jonathan: Correct. You have to be able to cut losses. Even though you dedicate a certain amount of time and energy into one specific thing, whatever it may be, if 95% of the way through you figure out, ‘You know what? This is not the best option,’ you have to be willing to write that off and start from scratch again knowing that the direction that you’re now going is going to push you into a better situation down the road.
Felix: Yeah. It’s a certainly scary crossroads essentially, to get to where you are so close to pushing all the way through on this one path when you’d known back of your mind that it’s not going to … bring the same results as if you had gone a different direction. It’s never too late to change, like you were saying, cut your losses and start moving in the right direction. Now, let’s talk about the results of being on Shark Tank. You’ve done the recording. Several months or however long passes. It goes on air. What was that first day, that first week, that first month like after being on television?
Jonathan: It was incredible. It’s the difference between your phone never ringing and all of a sudden, your phone starts ringing and emails start coming in. Your inbox is flooded. We had an idea of what to expect, although that’s never guaranteed. We prepared for the best, we hoped for the best. All of a sudden, the business felt like it took a completely different turn. Now, a lot of people knew of who we were and what we were offering. It was amazing, to say the last.
Felix: What kind of doors opened for you after Shark Tank that weren’t open prior to Shark Tank?
Jonathan: It’s not necessarily that doors opened that never opened before; but it was more like … certain places that you didn’t necessarily know how to get into, or have the right contacts to get into were reaching out to you because either they saw you or somebody who knew them saw you, reached out to them, and they got to you from that.
Felix: This entire time prior to Shark Tank, you’re kind of in like a push mode; pushing, pushing, pushing. Then, Shark Tank is magnetic, now you’re pulling all of these … opportunities towards you rather than chasing them down like you were before because of all the exposure.
Jonathan: Right. We were, before Shark Tank and even after Shark Tank, we still did just because we maintained a certain work ethic that we really didn’t ever navigate elsewhere from. We would walk into hotel after hotel, boutique after boutique. I didn’t care if it was a small store, a massive store. We walked into so many different places because we knew that there was a very good chance they never heard of us, they’d never seen anything like us, and there was a good chance that they can actually use something like our product. The only way to really get out there and have all these people know who you are is by walking in, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget. Most start-ups don’t have that, so it comes down to boots on the ground walking into all these businesses.
Felix: Is that your marketing strategy today? What has, now that you’ve been on Shark Tank … I want to talk a little bit, at some point the Indiegogo Campaign that you have going on; which is already surpassed the goal. What’s been your most successful marketing strategy? How do you get people to find about the product and ultimately buy it today?
Jonathan: We reach out to anyone and everyone. We are very relentless when it comes out to … or when it comes down to reaching out to the public, letting them know what we have. Every editor, every journalist, every blogger. We just … Any time that we’re not spending generating business, we are looking for people to … cover the product, find interest in the product, and expose our product to their audience.
Felix: Is that responsibility spread to all three of you? How does that … Who’s responsible for getting out there? Is it one person? What’s the strategy for getting as much exposure as possible?
Jonathan: It’s a joint effort. We all try as hard as we can. One day, one of us may have more time than the next. It’s not exactly spread evenly every single day; but overall, we all put in our best effort to get as many people as we possibly can to cover our product.
Felix: Got it. I want to talk before we go about this Indiegogo campaign that you’re currently running as we’re talking today; already blew past the … meager goal of $20,000 and raised over $200,000 from over 1700 backers on Indiegogo. This is for … This is a new product that you’re coming out with?
Jonathan: Correct. Our initial Aqua Vault, that’s what put us on the map. That’s what basically told people, ‘Okay, this is a new product. This is it’s use. This is how you’re going to use it.’ We took information from all of our customers and suggestions, and we figured, ‘Okay, what do you guys like about this product? What do you dislike about this product?’ We started to realize that people liked a softer, less cumbersome product. That’s when we came up with the FlexSafe. Then, to take it a step further, we realized that it’d be pretty neat if we incorporated a motion alarm sensor, and a solar charger, and a couple other features to this product to really make it the ultimate portable safe. That’s when we decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign and release that to the market to really see if they accept it or not. Like you said, the acceptance has been tremendous.
Felix: Yeah. It says here as of today, over 1000% of the goal has been reached. That is for the FlexSafe Plus, again, a bunch of more features that you guys just listed just there. Thank you so much for your time, Jonathan. TheAquaVault.com T-H-E-A-Q-U-A-V-A-U-L-T dot com is the website. Where do you want to see the business, the brand go this time next year?
Jonathan: We should be in many more retailers. We should be in many other countries. We’re just going to focus on expanding our global imprint, as opposed to just here domestically in the US.
Felix: Very cool. Again, thank you so much for your time, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thank you very much for having me.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: I definitely recommend having someone that you hire who is more on your side, working for you, as opposed to you going to the factories not knowing Chinese.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your story today, visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to Shopify.com/blog.