Hi there, my name is Ali. My wife, Zohra, and I created SimplyHold – The World’s Most Convenient Screen Holder. We live in Austin, TX. SimplyHold isn’t your traditional company. It’s a very busy family of four coming up with an idea, designing it, and then getting it made for others. Now we wanted to share our process and product with everyone else.
Here is us at Disney a few weeks before coming up with SimplyHold.
This post may be long, but I wish there was a post like this when we started our journey. We wanted to share our steps of coming up with the idea and then making it a reality, and all the struggles in between. We highlight important takeaway lessons throughout this as well. If you guys have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to use at email@example.com.
For those wanting a TLDR summary with all the golden nuggets, here it goes:
- 99% of things you don’t know in the venture process can be found on YouTube, UpWork, and reaching out to others who’s been in your shoes already.
- If you ever come up with a product idea, sketch it right away and share it with at least 5 people.
- Spend as little money as possible by validating your product idea. Social media has made this unbelievable easy. But don’t forget to meet with people in person to get their input as well.
- Spend a lot more focus on market and competitive research. The worst thing you can do is build a product the market doesn’t want or already exists.
- Create a plan and budget. Put exact dollar amounts and deadlines. Check on progress weekly
- When coming up with a budget and timeline for your venture product, multiply the budget by 1.25 and multiple the timeline by 1.5. This will help manage expectations better.
- Do your diligence on product designers, and any outside support.
- Have fun...venturing a product idea is not as bad everyone made out to be.
So, how did SimplyHold come about? It all started solving one problem. Then we uncovered multiple other use cases afterwards.
In early 2019, I was learning to play the guitar through music tutorial apps (e.g. Yousician, YouTube, etc.) using my phone. I did this by placing my iPhone on my lap while I was playing the guitar. After about 20 minutes, my neck started to hurt after looking down. After several weeks of playing this way, I was fed up, and asked myself, “Why can’t my phone be at eye-level when I was playing”. I would pantomime exactly where the phone needed to be in the air. About 12 inches away from my eyes and about 18 inches above my knee.
So, I looked online, and bought every 4 to 5-star screen holder product. I tested them all. In short, I disliked them all. The other screen holders required you to have a piece of furniture (i.e. table) to clamp the screen holder down to. When each of the screen holders arrived, I was disappointed to learn that the screen holder clamps could only work with furniture (i.e. table) 4 inches thick or less, which none of our furniture met that requirement. Then there are several other screen holders that wrapped around your neck. This looks promising on paper, but when I tried using them, my neck started to hurt even more, the phone would shake constantly, and the phone screen was only 3-4 inches from my face. I wasn’t a big fan. So, I kept looking for a product online that met these basic requirements. Fast forward. I never found one.
In summary, I had three basic requirements in a screen holder
Ali’s Product Requirements
- The screen holder should not rely on a piece of furniture to clamp on to
- The screen holder should hold the phone at or near eye level
- It needed to be comfortable (i.e. not to wrap around my neck)
The Idea is Born
Knowing there wasn’t a solution out there, I knew I would just have to suck it up and continue to learn to play the guitar with my phone on my lap. On March 2nd, 2019, (Saturday), I was playing the guitar and my iPhone fell off my leg once again. The top right of my iPhone screen cracked. I was frustrated. I immediately got up and told myself, how hard is it to have something hold your phone at eye level when you were sitting? So, I did this high-level sketch. Don’t laugh.
After drawing that “masterpiece”. I got up and went to my kitchen cabinet. I had the other unused screen holders sitting around. I took one of them, broke the bottom clamp piece. Then sitting right near it was a medical compression thigh strap. I cut a small hole in the thigh strap and stuck the broken screen holder through it. Lastly, I took a piece of a Amazon corrugated box, and glued the thigh strap to the phone holder. I just needed to test for myself was this idea feasible. So I tried it. I sat back down. Put the thigh strap on, and voila! SimplyHold was born. It met the requirements, and as terrible as it looked, it worked really well. It solved my problem. Here are some images of the first prototype.
- If I didn’t take five minutes to sketch my idea, SimplyHold would have never happened. This built the momentum for the next takeaway:
- If you can. build a prototype yourself. It doesn't need to be pretty. It just needs to be directionally functional. This was a big inflection point. I had a product I could test. By using it myself I was able to confirm it did solve my problem and it helped us articulate everything we needed to do to make it better.
From cool idea to let’s make it happen
I was using the new prototype daily at home but, I still wan’t focused on commercializing the idea. I didn’t have time for it, but more importantly, I thought it was too niche of a market. How many people have the same guitar learning issues as me?
Then we uncovered more use cases. First, I walked into our bedroom one night and I saw Zohra was wearing the prototype while she was streaming a Netflix show on her phone while bottle feeding our youngest daughter. I thought, holy sh**. I wasn’t even considering this use case. Now we are on to something.
Secondly, on a family road trip to Houston, our eldest daughter begged us if she could watch a movie in the back seat. We didn’t have TV screens in our car, so we strapped on the prototype, put on a movie on Zohra’s phone, and she sat quietly watching in the backseat for the entire ride. Another use case we weren’t thinking about.
Lastly, I started traveling with the prototype. I started wearing the prototype at airport gates so I can take video work calls while keeping my hands free to take notes or eat lunch. Once at Cleveland airport, my flight was delayed for two hours so I put on the prototype and streamed a Netflix movie at the gate. While I was wearing it, nearly 10 people approached me and asked me which store I bought the product? I was perplexed. You would actually buy this?
More Use Cases
By traveling with it at multiple airport gates and at hotel lobbies, people came up to me and kept telling me how they would use the product. Here were some of the most common use cases I heard:
- When we travel, I could finally watch a Netflix movie with my spouse next to me. We didn’t have to take turns holding the phone. We could both sit or lay comfortably and watch an entire movie next to each other.
- I could now Face-time with my grandchildren and no longer need to struggle holding my phone at eye level.
- I could read my Kindle while eating a snack or drink coffee at the same time.
- My child plays his Nintendo Switch for hours. This would be perfect for this.
- When I travel, this would be perfect for me to put my makeup on while I use my phone video as a mirror.
In addition, more of our close friends (who we trusted) were encouraging us should make it happen. Several of them pre-ordered one already, which is always promising. And it was in late early April 2019, Zohra and I sat down and decided on the name SimplyHold and put a rough plan together. It looked something like this:
Project Action Plan
- Put a one-page business plan
- Do a basic market & competitive analysis? Do people really want this?
- Build a better prototype
- Take professional lifestyle and product photos
- Make a website / landing page
- Test the idea on social media; get more people to validate the idea
- If people don’t want this; stop. Don’t invest any more time.
- Reach out to potential suppliers on Alibaba
- Get the products to Austin
- Sell, Sell, Sell.
How did we know this was the right process? We didn’t. It seemed reasonable. Also, I do like to read. There were several business books I can recommend that helped shape our initial strategy, but the best book for anyone thinking to venture an idea, it is Running Lean by Ash Maurya. It’s practical handbook for anyone looking to get started in a business. It’s also a very easy read. I highly recommend it.
Also, important to note, Zohra and I laid some ground rules for taking this project on. I felt this was the most important thing to do when venturing an idea. We knew how busy we already were, and it was important for us to enjoy this process. Here were the ground rules.
Zohra and Ali’s Ground Rules
- We didn’t want to raise any money from friends or family. Nor did we want to do an initial Kickstarter. We wanted to take the risk ourselves. This isn’t a right or wrong approach. This was our approach. By using our own capital, we knew it would allow us to live stress free. It would also make sure we take our time to get it right and not feel any pressure to rush to market. Important to note, Zohra and I come from a Finance background. We know more than the average person on general wealth management. We treated this as an investment in our portfolio that was riskier than any other investment class (stock, bond, real estate, bitcoin, etc.). We agreed we wouldn’t lose sleep or fight if we lost our entire budgeted investment in SimplyHold. This also forced us to focus on making money quickly as our north star.
- We listed all the major unknown risks we knew at the time and agreed that is where we would focus on. We uncovered the following three major risks that Zohra and I had zero experience in:
- Is there a viable market? Will people buy this?
- Social media marketing. How do you effectively use social media?
- How to find someone you can trust to make the product?
- We agreed to only work on this on weekend mornings or after the kids went to bed. Family and our current careers were a higher priority. If we needed more time, we pushed out deadlines. Again, being stress free was another north star. We wanted to have fun.
- Get in-front of people with your idea. People are overly concerned about someone stealing your idea. It’s obviously a warranted concern, but don’t let it stop you learning new use cases and getting feedback to improve the product. More important to get live feedback at this stage.
- Making a decision to venture is a big decision. Don’t take it lightly. Put the time together to put a plan in place. Think through all the steps. Plan out all the things that can (will) go wrong. Will you (and your partner) be OK with these setbacks? Would losing your entire investment dampen the mood at the next Thanksgiving family dinner? Are you willing to take a calculated gamble? For those of you that don’t have the capital, going the Kickstarter route may make more sense, but be weary
Go make this happen
First off, business plan. I took Ash Maurya’s “Lean Canvas” tool in Running Lean. It’s one page. I put this together in 15 minutes. This helped us clarify our own thoughts. We would highly encourage everyone to put this together as well. It will help drive clarity in the venture process.
Market & Competitive Analysis
First, I subscribed to Viral Launch. It’s an amazing market analysis tool that provides you critical Amazon.com data for every Amazon product. It’s worth any penny. There are amazing YouTube videos on this subject if you wish to learn more. I am just going to summarize what I learned from my market research. The takeaways included:
- The screen holder category has been consistently growing by sales consistently over the last three years. It was an established and growing category.
- Doing general research, I found free articles from leading consulting and research firms that provided evidence to my following hypothesis:
- Global mobile device market will continue to grow over the next 10 years
- The amount of time everyone will spend on their mobile device per day will continue to grow.
- Hockey stick growth in the amount of time people will stream services like YouTube and Netflix on their mobile devices.
For competitive analysis, I looked at the top screen holder products on the internet. I built the following spreadsheet (see below). I did this for my own sanity. While putting this together, I read through every single customer review for each product. This helped me understand what people didn’t like about each product and what they liked. This was critical to make sure I incorporated these into our own design (which we did).
Tracking every penny
Early in the process, Zohra and I created a simple spreadsheet to put a plan together of all development costs, manufacturing costs, and potential revenue. This helped put sanity to the plan and determine if the eventual profit margins would be worth it. We did some general research on the internet to make a reasonable guestimate of each expense category (i.e. engineering, marketing, legal, etc.). There are great YouTube videos out there as well of others sharing their venture costs. After we got to a final cost number, we multiplied it by 1.25. We knew we would make mistakes. We also knew there would be blind spots of unknown costs. We tracked every penny using Expensify and spent every Saturday morning tracking our actual costs versus our budget items. Here is an example of one of our early morning “review the numbers” meeting with Zohra (the boss).
- Create a budget spreadsheet. Know what all your future costs will be. Do research on the internet to get it as accurate as possible. The worst situation is running out of money on the 20 yard line. If you would like to see the Excel template we created, shoot us a note a firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to share it with you.
- Track every penny and do your best to stay under budget.
- Look at this every week. Are you on track? Where can you shave costs? Was there something unexpected?
Time to build a better prototype
We had a very rough prototype. We needed to make it significantly better. We had no idea where to start. We are not handy people. We don’t even own a toolbox. So we needed a product engineer. Through basic research, we were blown away at a costs to hire a product engineer / designer for a consulting basis. Some costs ranged as high as $15K for basic CAD (3D) designs. We narrowed in on the search. It was important for the product engineer / designer to be near us in Austin, TX. We knew we would have a lot of questions. We didn’t want to be nickel and dimed for every minute of their time. We were looking for a partner. So through Google searches, we narrowed down to three companies. We met each one. We decided to move forward with Bruce McLellan at McLellan Engineering. Bruce had proven experience. He invented products and commercialized products himself, which is important criteria for us. Also, Bruce was located just 15 minutes away from us. In our initial meeting, he was genuinely excited and was more concerned how Zohra and I limit our costs and do this right. He gave us a reasonable fixed fee rate, and he welcomed meeting us at a local Starbucks every other Saturday. This was super important to us. Bruce was great. A true engineer. Bruce worked with us on several prototype iterations. We would try them, test them, and make it better. We did this cycle constantly. Bruce would pick up my calls on the weekends. I would be able to bounce ideas. Bruce also invited me over to his garage to test new product ideas on his 3D printer. For the amount of time and effort Bruce spent, he was worth every penny. We are grateful for Bruce. His passion for this product gave us even more confidence, which was very valuable to us. Bruce said the best way to repay him was to get SimplyHold made. We didn’t want to let him down. Here are some pictures below of us working at the local Starbucks, an image of Bruce's garage where we iterated on the product, and a sample of the many iterations of the prototypes.
- Hiring a product designer / engineer to create drawings or a prototype is expensive. Do not go crazy here. Looking back on it, we over did it with the countless iterations. Get to a “good enough” prototype” not a “perfect prototype”. We were lucky to find Bruce to keep costs low, but we could have kept costs much lower here.
- If you are looking for an product designer / engineer, we recommend first using UpWork. UpWork was helpful in learning the different cost ranges and see their work portfolio. After reviewing UpWork, google around your area. See if there is a Bruce around your area that can be a great mentor.
- Interview multiple product designers / engineers. Choose one that:
- Has experience with your product category
- Has experience in the entire venture process is a major bonus
- Finding someone in your area is a major bonus (I prefer face to face interactions)
- Do they have the bandwidth to work with you?
- Ask for references. If they shy away here, run away
- Are they able to articulate end deliverables and does it align it to what you want
Website, Video, and Photos
We had an updated prototype. Now we had to create a basic website and marketing collateral to eventually use it to test with social media ads. Goal here is to keep costs low. We used UpWork. We hired Andrew Murray to put together our initial Shopify page. Andrew did this very quickly and professionally. We also hired Alex Hoffman to put together the video and photos. Alex lives in Tennessee, so we mailed Alex our only prototype. Alex was awesome. He was able to run with the idea with little input from us. He also took great lifestyle photos. We were really pleased with the quality of work. You can reach Alex here for any video projects you may have at email@example.com. You can click on the image to see the video Alex created. Looking back on it, I am torn whether a video was necessary at this point. We love the video. It showcases the use cases very well. However, it wasn’t necessary this early in the process. It showcases our v1 product, which we have made drastic improvements since. Perhaps we could have just gone with photos and create a basic video ourselves using our iPhones. I would recommend this approach for others who want to keep costs low. Also, on our website, I had Andrew iterate on this way too much early in the process. The current website is a lot simpler than the original one. In addition, for those with a little more time and tech saviness, I recommend building your own e-commerce website. There are great YouTube videos that have step-by-step walk through guides that you can set-up under 30 minutes. It’s also a great skill to have so it’s worth the time investment to learn.
- UpWork is a great place to find marketing resources. Look at their ratings, review their portfolio, and take the time to document your requirements (lesson we learned).
- Create a one page website to start off with. Keep it simple. Feel free to get inspiration by looking at the last three internet store websites you bought from. What did you like about it?
- Focus on getting professional lifestyle and product photos. This is a place you want to get right. It’s a relatively much lower costs than doing videos. You can do this yourself, but for the ROI you get on this, it’s worth every penny getting someone who dedicates their living on this.
- Hold off on creating a professional video early on in the process. A 60 second high-quality video will range between $800-$2,000. It can wait after you have validated your idea. Also, with the recent improvments in the latest phones and free video editing software, you can create your own high-quality video yourself.
Validate Your Idea using Facebook Ads
This is an important milestone. Hopefully you kept costs low to get here. By using your professional photos and your website, you can begin building a pre-order list. There are amazing YouTube videos that show you how to do this step by step (recommend YouTube searching something like “Validate Product Idea with Facebook Ads”). Here is the process. You can create a handful of Facebook ads. We recommend using AdEspresso for ad inspiration. Interested Facebook users can click on the ad, get directed to your website (landing page), and sign-up for a pre-order list. Note, you want to manage expectations accordingly. This should be a coming soon page, not a buy my product page. Be transparent. I hired Nick Cesare, a social media marketing expert, to help lead me through the process. I wanted to get Nick’s candid feedback on how the ads were performing. So how did SimplyHold do? In over 3-4 weeks the ads had a click through rate (CTR) above 4.5%, which is very high. It showed there was high interest for the product. There was also very high engagement in Likes, Shares, and Comments, which was very promising. We were able to collect over 1,200 emails in a few short weeks, and received over 600 pre-orders (committed over a $1 to reserve their queue spot). Lastly, we also collected good demographic data. Example, nearly 60% who clicked on the ads were between 45-55, and relatively even split between male and female. This is another good reason why to hold off on spending much efforts on creating any professional videos and photos. The data here will tell you who to make the photos and videos for. Here is an example of an ad below we used:
- This is the first time we ever ran any social media ads. It felt scary to start off with. However, it was easy to pick up quickly. Also, once again, there are countless YouTube step by step tutorials on how to set-up social media ads.
- I would ballpark $500 minimum to do this. It’s worth every penny. This should be a mandatory step to start testing your idea in the market.
Should we continue investing time and money?
Yes, we liked what we saw. Based on the market analysis, using the product at home, the competitive analysis, dozens of 1on1 interviews, and positive social media testing, Zohra and I decided to move forward. We made a decision at the time to move forward with a 1,000 unit order to limit the downside risk. Now we had to figure out on the hell to get it made.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” -Mike Tyson
After tons of research on the manufacturing process, Zohra and I felt we had a good handle on next steps. Goodness gracious, were we wrong. Based on getting feedback from multiple mentors, including Bruce, our master plan was to source all the parts (phone holder, gooseneck, strap, and plate) separately, get them shipped to Austin, and assemble, package and ship to future buyers. Why do this? Here were the two key reasons in doing this:
- Keep the product a secret from each supplier – By having the suppliers focus on each part separately, no one supplier would know what’s the overall product we are trying to make.
- Keep costs low and quality high – Having a strap manufacture focus on just making a strap ensures that 1) They will be pretty darn good at making that one part, and 2) Since this is their bread and butter; it should keep costs low.
Zohra and I scoured both US and Chinese manufactures. We were quick to realize based on costs and the small number of units were initially creating, getting this made in China was the only option. We used multiple sourcing sites, but Alibaba is king. We became Alibaba experts. We had our own way to score each factory by experience and quality and boy did we spend a lot of late nights (early morning China time) communicating back and forth with each supplier. Getting samples from each supplier (for each part) wasn’t too hard to do, but it got expensive quick. As a reminder, there are four key parts to SimplyHold: screen holder, gooseneck, strap, and plate. For each part, we wanted to receive samples from 2-3 different suppliers. So in short, we were receiving over a dozen samples. Each sample shipped from China costs on average $40, so costs were quickly adding up.
After we reviewed and tested each sample over the course of 6-8 weeks, we realized how taxing of an approach this was. What happened on several occasions, one supplier recommended an adjustment to the design to lower the costs, which had a ripple effect on the design for the other suppliers. So we had to notify the three other shortlisted suppliers of the design change to their part. This increased their unit cost based on this change. It was getting to hard to manage. More importantly, I was seriously concerned about the overall quality control. If we shipped 1,000 units of each unit to Austin, and one of the suppliers made a mistake, the entire product was a failure; not just that one part. Another risk factor was shipping costs. By working with multiple suppliers, we now run the risk of quadrupling shipping costs from China to Austin.
Zohra and I had to re-look at our north star: keep stress low and have fun. 4 weeks already passed working with suppliers. So we went back to the drawing board. This was a critical juncture. This was the first time we were really stuck. Was this worth it? We had so many pre-orders already, we didn’t want to let them down.
I had to remind myself of advice I give others. The next thing I did changed the trajectory of the SimplyHold. If you are lost in your journey, ask for advice from someone who is already at the destination. I knew it was worth the effort to chat with small companies who were 1-2 years ahead of us and have gone through the manufacturing struggles. But where could we find people like this to chat with? It hit me instantly. Kickstarter. Kickstarter has a list of successful companies that met their fundraising goal. It didn’t take more than 15 minutes I shortlisted 8-10 companies of products that were around the same price range as mind and who successfully reached their fundraising goals 12 months prior. I then used my LinkedIn profile to find the company, which wasn’t hard to find who the CEO / founder was. Others had their email addresses on their website. I sent them a quick 2-3 sentence email. What we are doing, where we are stuck, and if I could get 15 minutes of time.
I would have been happy if one company took my request. Nevertheless, nearly 70% of them followed up and were happy to chat. A few of them called me directly on my phone within 2 hours of sending the email.
Here are a group of people that were exactly in our shoes and went through the struggles. We shared our story, our concerns, and wanted to get their recommendations of what to do next. Here was their consistent feedback:
- The myth that all Chinese suppliers will rip off product ideas are overblown and outdated, especially with the potential backlash and death sentence it could provide on social media.
- Be patient. Biggest lesson learned from all the Kickstarter interviews was the gross underestimation on the time it took to make a product. Whatever realistic timeline you have in mind, multiply it by 1.5.
- Making this in China was the only way to make this a short-term and long-term success. Building relationships with reputable suppliers now will pay dividends in the long-term. Many of the companies we chatted with wished they spent more time building these relationships.
Time to Pivot
The feedback was unanimous from the Kickstarter mentors. Getting this assembled in Austin (in our garage) would be very bad. Each mentor gave us warnings the quality control will be waaaay too difficult to manage. And if our north star was least amount of stress, this was completely contradictory.
I asked several of the mentors if they had a trusted manufacturer in my mind that can manage the full manufacturing for a product like SimplyHold. A lot of them weren’t comfortable to share this type of information, but others did. There is one mentor that just got back from China and met with a manufacturer at their factory and thought SmplyHold was right up their alley. The mentor also did reference checks to confirm that they were legit. I asked if he could put me in touch with them. He did. And a week later I was talking to the CEO of the manufacturing company over Zoom video call. The product was right up their alley. The CEO liked the product, but shared concern we were too small of a company to take on at this point. But by showing them our pre-order list and the landing page site, this gave the manufacturing company assurance that this is worth spending time on. I was also upfront in sharing my concern with them of the stories I hear about intellectual property theft in China. They were aware of that perception. To alleviate my concern, they agreed to sign a lengthy confidentiality / non-circumvent agreement. This is still hard to enforce, but their eagerness to sign one in place did alleviate initial concern.
We were lucky to be put in touch with this manufacturer. They were responsive, spoke and wrote great English, and felt like a partner. I am still shocked how lucky we got in getting connected with them. One knock is that they won’t follow your timetable. The whole process from initial contact from the first shipped products took over 6 months. I am glad the mentors prefaced this upfront. Overall, I wish things obviously went quicker, but couldn’t be happier. The biggest value they provided was to completely re-design the product. The latest prototype Bruce and I built was heavy, expensive to make, and overly complex. A lot of work took place for their team to test new ideas and see what worked best. We didn’t have to spend a dollar on the new design work, which would cost us over $20K to do it in the US. Another reminder that we spent too much time and money on all the initial prototypes.
We scheduled video calls twice a month for them to showcase new prototypes and we worked collaboratively across the Pacific Ocean to get SimplyHold to where it is today. When we received the final prototype, we were overly ecstatic. It was 2x lighter (weighs 12 ounces). The innovative design also made the gooseneck much more stable (less shaky). And most importantly, it was very comfortable to put on and take off. I had to admit, I teary-eyed when I put it on the final prototype. It was way better than we ever dreamed the product at the beginning. I still use this final prototype every time I take guitar lessons online. In addition, they added the ability to easily assemble and disassemble the product for traveling purpose. They also added the ability to take the plate and gooseneck out of the strap and rest it on a hard surface like a kitchen counter. We weren’t even thinking about this. Another major differentiator.
One major takeaway is my perception of Chinese suppliers has changed. Maybe we got extremely lucky with the manufacturer we had, but the horror stories I read on the internet and hear from my network is simply unwarranted.
Getting SimplyHold shipped from China to Austin
After some final design iterations, SimplyHold was ready for prime time. We needed to make a 1,000 of them and get it shipped to Austin. We agreed on a final price with our manufacturer. Then we learned getting things shipped from China to Austin is not straight forward as you think. First, we needed to find a freight forwarder. Luckily, our manufacturer put us in touch with a good one. We also got myriad cost options of ways to get it to Austin. You can take a crash course on global logistics, but to save you time, you want to have a light product. Shipping costs are determined by package size and weight. This is why I am so thankful our manufacturer focused getting the product as light as possible and fit in the smallest box package possible. This saved us thousands of dollars in current and future shipping costs. Then there is a question of getting the shipment from a plane or ship. In short, air freight is expensive, but you get your product in less than a week. Delivering by ship is substantially (2-3x) cheaper, but it can take up to 8 weeks, and you can deal with customs issues that can delay you even more. I learned a lot here. I am going to spare you with any additional detail, but again, make your product as light as possible, and packaging as small as necessary.
We obviously agreed to go by ship. We had no pressure to meet any deadlines, but more importantly, we wanted to keep costs as low possible. At last minute we agreed to up our initial order from 1,000 to 2,000. We were getting even more pre-orders at this point, but the main reason was that the delivery cost to ship 1,000 versus 2,000 units by ship were negligible. To deal with potential quality control issues, we hired a third-party inspection services company (they’re a lot of them out there you can Google) to walk the factory in China and confirm the quality was good before and after the assembly process. They shared an inspection report that alleviated and concern. We highly recommend doing this. Also, make sure you document in detail what makes a good product and a bad product. Giving an objective checklist will ensure all parties are aligned on qualifies as an acceptable product. Don’t leave anything up for interpretation. I am happy to share you our quality control list if you share an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They finally arrived
The 2,000 order shipment arrived at our Austin home on Valentine's day 2020. Some reading this will ask, why did you ship this to your house and not a fulfillment warehouse, like Amazon? Zohra and I made the decision that for this first time, we wanted to store the inventory at our place. We wanted to control the end to end user experience ourselves. We did a lot of research on Amazon fulfillment. We heard good things and bad things. The positive is that they do everything in getting your product to the end consumer, but some of the issues we were concerned about were the growing costs and hearing more concerns on inventory issues and delayed customer support. It was important for us to understand the end to end order fulfillment process. So if you order a SimplyHold, yes, it’s a few feet away from us and Zohra and I are shipping each package. We have USPS come pick up our shipments daily, and I even drop some off myself on the weekends at our local USPS store a few blocks away from our house. So far so good. Demand for SimplyHold has been growing fast over the last few weeks, so we know that in our next order with our manufacturer, we will very likely hire a fulfillment service to manage.
Side tangent on worry on sharing too much that someone is going to steal your idea.
Side note, you are likely reading this and thinking, is it smart for Ali and sharing so much information with consultants, engineers, manufacturers, and know this blog. At the end of the day, it’s all about execution. To think that your idea is so good that someone will see it, steal it, and dedicate a chunk of their life to make it with no guarantee on success, is absurd. And I am going to say something else crazy: I welcome competition. It will help drive a market for a product that didn’t exist a short while ago.
Nevertheless, we did take some precaution to protect SimplyHold. To protect ourselves for the future, we did file a provisional patent, and if the product continues to show promise like it is, we will file a utility patent process. Filing a provisional patent is easier than you might think. I want to give kudos to the InventRight team. InventRight is a support community that works together to license ideas. They have great videos like this one (Afraid to File a Provisional Patent Application? Don't Be!) that talk about this subject at length. With their guidance, I was able to file a provisional patent myself over in less than four hours of time.
If you read this whole thing, god bless you. Overall, we couldn’t be more excited. I promised we would publish this at our launch, and here it is. We will write more on our journey over the next few months. Mistakes will be made (guaranteed) and you guys will be the first ones to know about it.
Hopefully you found it helpful in your venture journey. If you guys have any questions or areas we can support, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com.