Trouts – A Case Study on Marketing

I’ve been consulting small business owners about digital marketing for seven years now at RevLocal. Some days it feels like nobody will listen to our well intentioned advice or they still do the same things that keep them small. But every now and then, there’s a local business that does every little thing right with marketing. And it’s beautiful. This is a nod to Trouts Fly Fishing Shop. They’re light years ahead of their competition and a great example to mom n pop shops everywhere.

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Last summer I started to really get back into fly fishing. As I geared up and geeked out, Trouts dominated every purchase path. Here’s what they do so well and other local businesses can emulate.


  1. Give away HUGE value first

Today’s education economy flips the sales funnel. 30 years ago – get paid, then give info. Now – give the best free content, then get paid. Trouts has THE go to fishing report for the whole state. Most other shops update every two months, at best. These guys give detailed weekly reports on which rivers are fishing well, what to use, where to park, and insider tips. From March to November I’m visiting their site twice a week. My uncle visited from Boise this summer and before we hit the river he was blown away by their blog. Who do you think has his business? Not to mention they do free seminars and classes in their shop throughout the year.

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  1. Cater the message to personas

Marketing dorks will do in depth research on various customer types brands have. They’ll name them, describe them in detail, paint visuals for corporate synergy. Trouts nails this. If you’re “Guided Gary” – the client with money to burn who wants the best gear, on the best water, with the best guide, and a three course lunch – their marketing will speak to you. If you’re “Gearhead Glenn” – the experienced dude who spends just as much time reading about technique and rods as he does on the water – their website will keep you up at night. If you’re “Newbie Ned” – the client who’s new to the sport but doesn’t want to look like a fish out of water – Trouts will be your safe space. In turn, the marketing machine hooks clients from entry level to big spender.

Kokanee salmon run in Gunnison

Kokanee salmon run in Gunnison

  1. Show up in search results

On average there’s 72,000 searches per month on Google in greater Denver related to fly fishing purchases. ‘Fly fishing shop Denver.’ ‘Fly shops Denver.’ ‘Best fly shops Denver.’ ‘Guided fly fishing, etc.’ They own the Google machine. Plus long tails aint just for trout – they also show up for long tail keywords that may be more likely to convert new clients such as ‘dream stream fishing access’ or ‘colorado steamer fishing.’ Trouts is elevated in the local and organic search results. AND, they stand out with the most Google reviews – 77 at a 4.8 star average. On Yelp they have 37 reviews with a 4.5 star average. Local search is the best online real estate to gain new clients, and it’s an area where you can outrank big corporate stores if done properly.


  1. Encourage employee ambassadors

Dear owners: quit trying to control the message…you’re smothering it. Owners ought to see their employees as extensions of their brand and encourage creative freedom. Traditional marketing and new algorithms from social media like Facebook make it too hard to reach enough people. Gyms are the best example at leaning into this; instructors promote their brand within a business on their own social media then fill up classes with loyal customers. Yet other industries still seem too scared to give up a little control and get big return from employees promoting in their own voice. At Trouts, each of the dudes does their own promotions – like Tanner who has 27,000 Instagram followers.

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  1. Pull off ‘Purple Cow’ events

Seth Godin is the guru of modern marketing. His book Purple Cow illustrates how today’s consumer easily tunes out traditional advertising unless it’s something unforgettable – like seeing a purple cow. Trouts events are totally unique and unforgettable. From guided fishing trips with the Rockies baseball players to film fundraisers to having a Christmas happy hour sale with Santa Claus to avoid the mall. One event I participated in was the ‘Deckers River Clean up.’ The store was closed black Friday and customers volunteered that morning cleaning up the most popular front range fishing area, Deckers along the south Platte River. While all other shops did Black Friday discounting, Trouts closed to do some good and elevate their brand.


  1. Don’t Overlook Email

Let the kids have their SnapChat. Dollar for dollar, email remains the most cost effective marketing medium. Their website does a great job getting new subscribers, and their email content has a ton of value beyond what’s found on the homepage or social media.

11 Mile Canyon in December

11 Mile Canyon in December

In the end, the Big Boys at Cabella’s or Bass Pro Shop can afford huge TV and media buys. Meanwhile Trouts is running a multi-million dollar business out of a tiny house on 6th Avenue in Denver because their small business marketing is totally dialed in. Small businesses everywhere can work smarter to be the one shop that stands way above their peers – whether it’s a dentist in Chicago, a bike shop in Tahoe, or a construction firm in Columbus, for example. Cheers to spring fishing coming soon, and cheers to Trouts.


More Q2 in Q1

January is over. That time of year when the gym was too crowded and everyone was posting their fleeting resolutions. Not sure about you, but February 1 snuck up on me like a big mogul on a low lit ski run. Ooofff.


But this isn’t a post about resolutions. This is a post inviting you to join me in spending more time in Q2 in Q1. Huh? Q2 – stealing from Stephen Covey’s 4 quadrants of time management – means spending time on activities that are important but not urgent. Things like planning, relationship building, exercise, budgeting, taking a breath. They’re all things we should be doing; instead we let things in Quadrant 3 steal our time. Things like emails, distractions, mindless wandering, too much social media, emails, and more emails. Q2 is sharpening the saw; Q3 is being busy and being busy being busy. And telling people how busy you are.


Resolutions will come and go because we lose motivation and don’t invest the time. My plan in the first quarter of 2017(Q1) is to continue invest more time in Quadrant 2.  More planning, less winging it. More reading, less late night TV. More mindfulness, less wandering. I wanted to do it myself before writing about it with all the noise of new year’s resolutions.

busy meme

 So what do Q2 activities look like for me??

  • 30-45 minutes on Sundays to plan my week
  • reading before bed and finishing 1 book per month
  • 4 workouts/week
  • 2 date nights per month
  • being more diligent with my calendar
  • assigned times for email
  • quarterly goal setting and budgeting

I’ll admit football being over soon already makes it a lot easier to invest more time in Q2. But the second half of 2016 I was spread too thin and allowing everything to seem urgent. Hopefully it’ll translate into more productivity, less stress, a lot of balance and a couple more blog posts. Stay tuned!

5 Years at RevLocal

This post is a reflection on my 5 year work anniversary at RevLocal. There’s no way I could boil it all down to one blurb, so I decided to look at the 5 stages of my journey. While I’ve had friends venture into three different careers in that same time (which is cool and the new normal), I somehow held the same job since leaving school at DU. It’s been a wild ride.


Stage 1: Is this real life??

Every day my alarm went off that first month I remember thinking, “Is this real life?” Half way through the day the doubts continued, “Is this the rest of my life.” When I accepted the job, it sounded sexy on paper – new startup, lead the sales team, blaze a trail. The reality of my first pitch with a small landscaping company made me feel like a washed up yellow page salesmen. “Is this what I worked so hard for? High school, DU, selling books, MBA – for this???”

My first office in a basement in rural Ohio.

My first office in a basement in rural Ohio.


Funny how the least sexy jobs on paper pay the biggest dividends. And the most glamorous internships or jobs tend to mean zero responsibility and development.

Then things started to change; or maybe my perception changed. I leaned into the challenge. I started to enjoy working with small businesses and I realized how massive the opportunity was within our space – never before could the little guy show up on the front page of Google, now they had their shot with a company like ours. Clients started to have success with our services and I felt like we were doing a great thing.

Baby face and pleated pants. Running a training class.

Baby face and pleated pants. Running a training class.

Stage 2: Adulting

Adulting. I learned what it means to be a great employee. How to create a professional network. How to become a student of your craft. I started to understand personal finance, investing, and my student loans.

Then RevLocal became my identity. I would obsess over every part of the company and its expansion. Not just our little sales team that was starting to grow, but our culture, our operations, and our product mix.

Twelve hour days became the norm. If I didn’t work a few hours on Sunday I wouldn’t be able to turn off my brain and go to sleep. I could reasonably see us becoming the next QuickBooks, Paychex, or Salesforce – household names in the B2B community. All the while, we racked up awards for our growth year after year.


There was something special in our KoolAid and I was one of the main contributors.


Stage 3: The tug-of-war

The Passport Protector tug-of war. After a couple years of working with small business and entrepreneurs, it’s impossible not to wonder, “Why don’t I start my own business? If that guy has succeeded, why can’t I?” But I never knew what I would want to dive into.

Until the summer of 2013 when we were headed to Europe and my passport was denied for ‘wear and tear.’ The idea was born and the opportunity looked ripe. Plus I thought it was the perfect test to see if I had the ability to walk the walk of entrepreneurship and actually build something.

I successfully juggled 50-60 hours per week as a sales manager with RevLocal while launching my LLC. I studied crowdfunding, tested product designs, learned about manufacturing, and created a business plan. It’s also the most burnt out and stressed I’ve ever felt.

Stage 4: Time to Choose

The fork in the road. While I somehow balanced being a sales manager at RevLocal and launching a crowdfunding campaign, I did not successfully balance a great relationship with Brie. And for the first time, I felt slighted at work. I had been given massive opportunities I’ll forever be grateful for, and the leaders of the company were heroes in my eyes. But one major decision blindsided me.  Years of work and trust disappeared in a flash. (PS – there may be a +40 year old reader thinking I’m stupid for criticizing an employer in a personal blog. There’s also a reader younger than 30 who appreciates honesty and transparency more than corporate-speak.  )

Meanwhile my relationship with Brie was strained. And it was then that I decided to truly put our relationship before work. Even if I said she was #1, my actions sometimes spoke otherwise. I told myself, “I can give my all at work and who knows if a job will always be there for me. Brie, however, will be.” A couple months later we were engaged.


Stage 5: Sticking Around

Despite the major conflict, I’m still here. Wounds heal and I took the feedback to become better (with the help of this book).

The dance of balancing life and keeping the workaholic in check is still a challenge. The urge to leave and do my own thang still tugs at me. The biggest reason I’m still at RevLocal after 5 years? My team.

I’ve never had as much fun working with other people and feeling like I make an impact as I do now. I lead a team of 12-15 people across five cities made up of young kiddos straight out of school to sales veterans finally enjoying their dream job. I still love working with small to medium sized businesses and I geek out on marketing. But the biggest kick is leading people towards their potential and seeing them grow.


Watching horse races at Keeneland, Kentucky. #squad

Stage 6, 7, 8, 9, 10?

Will I be at the company another 5 years….? Who knows. The opportunity still checks the big boxes of what I’m looking for in my career. I am so very grateful I took the leap to Columbus all those years ago. And I’ll forever be indebted to a couple guys who took a chance on me at 23 to be their first sales rep.

My Favorite Podcast of 2015

2015 has been a wild ride. Boston, Napa, NYC. Weddings, moving, Brie’s graduation. Through all the changes and travel one thing was a constant – my love for podcasts. They’re entertaining, get my head right in the morning, and often easier to learn from than tackling a novel.

Two years ago I blogged about where I was in different areas of life. Last year I looked back at a few favorite books. This year I wanted to share my favorite podcast episode.


Some of the podcasts I subscribe to:

  • EntreLeadership for inspiration and leadership principles in business
  • Michael Hyatt’s show that seems to help with balance and intentional living
  • The Tim Ferris Show is a smorgasbord of interviews with top performers, life hacking and thinking outside the box
  • Tropical MBA Podcast will make you want to quit the corporate gig for travel and entrepreneurship
  • Pardon The Interruption is my guilty pleasure and sports fix. And because Mike & Mike take too long to get to the damn point

Of the hundreds of podcast episodes I’ve consumed this year, ONE was a stand out favorite. Entreleadership #121 with Shawn Achor on How Happiness Fuels Your Success. The interview hit me like a ton of bricks and left a lasting impression. I loved how actionable it is, the refreshing perspective and the fact his consulting work is based on years of research. The 15 minutes is packed full of nuggets. Here are my 3 biggest takeaways:

  1. Joy vs Happiness
  • “Happiness is the joy you feel moving towards your potential…even when life is not pleasurable.” A simple and powerful distinction we often confuse.
  1. Happiness Is A Choice
  • “90% of long term happiness is based on how your brain processes your world.” Studies show it’s not income or genetics, but learned behaviors on how we choose to see our own situation.
  1. The Business Case
  • “The greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain.” Sales increase, entrepreneurs are more resilient, and information is better processed.


But what tends to happen? 

We let circumstances dictate our attitude.

We say we’ll be happy once X happens.

Then we’re not happy and waiting for Y to happen.

We say we’ll be in a better mood when things get easier.

We compare, and compare, and compare. Thank you, Facebook.

We do what feels good now thinking it’ll make things better forever.

We always find what’s wrong.

Instead we need to remember happiness is a choice and take small steps every day to train our brains through gratitude, exercise and reflection. Our careers, relationships and 2016 will be better for it. 

An Update – The Passport Protector

“Hey man, how’s The Passport Protector thing going??”

“Hey man, we’re crushing it.”


That’s what I wish I could say when I get asked twice a week. The truth is I’m not crushing it. Manufacturing is crushing me. Since the first found of production, it’s been nothing but setbacks.

After talking to +25 plus companies who said they could handle making the product, we picked a great firm in Ohio. We made the big steel injection mold overseas, as well as the first 400 units, then we’d ship the steel tool back to resume manufacturing in Ohio. That’s where things have been a struggle…

Our initial samples from manufacturing seemed great and we were excited to ship to crowdfunding customers. Most people who got the product were excited and pleased overall. But 8-10 people of our Indiegogo backers said their case broke after using it. 10 out of 400 is way too many. I was frustrated but not too worried because we would soon have the big steel mold and be able to make improvements….

quality tee

*tee from

So I thought. At the same time the injection mold was en route to Ohio, there was a labor strike on the ports of California. So, our precious cargo sat there with many other companies for 3 months. Tic, tock. During that time, I had large buyers, travel companies and independent stores telling me they wanted to place an initial order. But we didn’t have enough product to fulfill any purchase orders.

Finally the tool arrived in Ohio at our manufacturer. I was hoping we’d strengthen the lid some customers had issues with and get back to making product and marketing. Instead it’s been months of waiting and wishing. When you make a steel injection mold, you better be 99% accurate, otherwise it’s very hard to make adjustments without needing an entirely new tool.

So, as it stands today, I‘m waiting to see if the next manufacturing samples are great. If they’re not or we can’t make proper improvements, The Passport Protector will be put on pause. Changing the design and/or making a new steel injection mold could cost $20,000-30,000 and take months to be production ready.


Every time I see an airport store without The Passport Protector.

We’re at a pivotal crossroads as a business – get over another hurdle or possibly shut it down. Thus far it’s been a wild ride coming up with the idea to solve our own travel nightmare, tackling design and crowdfunding, then shipping the finished product. Hopefully we keep improving and get back to marketing.

Thanks for all the support and encouragement through the whole process! 

Feeding Your Brain

We all know the side effects and benefits of most foods. An early morning donut will likely put you to sleep at your desk, whereas some solid protein for breakfast puts an extra pep in your step. Many of us are relatively intentional about what goes in our mouths, but we’re not nearly as picky as we should be with what goes in our brains.


When is the last time you thought about brain stimulus like food groups? I’ve noticed a big difference in my productivity, my attitude, and my energy when I pay attention to what I feed my brain throughout the day. Below is how I think about certain stimulus as if they were food groups:

Good stuff:

  • Reading a book will cleanse and nourish (my favorite in a long while: Zero to One).
  • Podcasts. Great pick me up and creative boost.
  • Industry articles and blogs are like eating salads. Should do it more often and feel good about it when you do.
  • Ted Talks and speeches are like Kale. It’s all the rage and your friends on the west coast have been doing it for years.


Bad stuff:

  • Checking email and social media when you first wake up. It’s like a giant donut ruining the rest of your day.
  • Local news. At any time.
  • Morning radio. Almost as bad as eating no breakfast at all.
  • Toxic people. Give them up like you should drinking soda.
  • Reality TV. Small doses and never two days in a row.


Nobody’s perfect and we all don’t want to be the paleo-diet-crazed-friend who just can’t go three sentences without talking about Crosffit. And like junk food, the guilty pleasures can be a nice relief in small doses. Overall, if you’re more intentional about consuming and reading quality content, your performance and attitude will dramatically improve. We all have morning commutes or daily routines that are opportunities to remove the junk and insert some quality brain food. Just for a week, put down your email and pick up a book.

Best Reads of 2014

Another year, another bookshelf. I can’t say I read as much as intended, but I picked some gems. Below are some of the most impactful ones I enjoyed in 2014:


Unbroken. These days most books I read are on business, leadership and marketing. I forgot how refreshing it can be to read a great story; Unbroken is an epic true story about an Olympic track star turned WWII captive and his life after the war.

My big takeaway: My ‘challenges’ are a joke. 47 days lost at sea and 2.5 years as a prisoner of war were just the start for Louie.

Quote: “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.”


The Defining Decade. My peer group needs this book. Bad. The author Meg Jay is a psychologist who relays life lessons by retelling some of her patients’ stories – specifically 20 somethings. Each character seems like a part of me or a replica of a good friend. Bouncing through relationships, flailing through meaningless jobs and procrastinating on adulthood.

My big takeaway: Being a professional bruncher derails your family, career and relationships.

Quote: “Feeling better doesn’t come from avoiding adulthood, it comes from investing in adulthood.”




The Obstacle is The Way. During the lowest point I’ve had in four years with RevLocal, I heard an interview with Ryan Holiday. His book was one of the biggest things to pull me through and help give perspective. This dude has accomplished more in his young career than most, including leading NY Times best selling books launches and previously running marketing for American Apparel. This short read looks at people like Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Edison or Malcolm X and their ability to see eat challenges for breakfast.

My big takeaway: If you’re doing anything worthwhile, major roadblocks are inevitable. We must be able to quickly perceive the setback and act quickly as if it was part of the plan all along.

Quote: “Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps…how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty.”


Leaders Eat Last. I’ve had a mancrush on Simon Sinek since the first time I saw his Ted Talk, ‘Start With Why.’ He’s brilliant at creating timeless frameworks for motivation and leadership. His new book dives into the biology and psychology of what organizations can do to make people feel safe at work and deliver incredible results. A lot of his studies relate directly to some of setbacks I had in 2014.


My big takeaway: I need to be part of the solution. And as much as we want to quantify everyone or lead through fear, its less effective.


Quote: “Truly human leadership protects an organization from the internal rivalries that can shatter a culture. When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers….the strength and endurance of a company does not come from products or services but from how well their people pull together.”


Did you read anything awesome I should add to my list in 2014? Or what do you plan to read in 2015? Comment below!


One of the biggest challenges working with employees? Employee mindset. Avoiding risk, not acting as if your name is on the line, short term thinking, and being more concerned with not being wrong than the right decision. Easier said than done, and I’m just as guilty.


Whether in my own workplace or as a customer of other companies, I’ve seen a broad spectrum. I remember meeting a potential client who was a mortgage broker with Fifth Third Bank – he was so entrepreneurial it took me the first half of the meeting to wrap my head around how he worked in such a corporate environment for a big bank. Turns out he ended up leaving shortly thereafter for a smaller bank with more room to experiment. And at the other end, I’ve seen employees so paralyzed by the rules, the process and what the boss may think that they destroy customer relationships or forever box themselves in to entry level jobs. Or account managers who don’t do what’s right for a client in the moment and present their decision later, but instead they wait and wait and wait for approval while a customer dies on the vine.

So what to do about it? Every organization needs process and standardization. But there’s a few things we can do to try to free up employees to think like owners:

  1. Use language of ownership and personal responsibility
  2. Allow employees to make their own decisions without approval. i.e. If the decision involves less than $100, do what you think is right to take care of the customer.
  3. Edify employees who make strategic decisions, even if some are wrong.
  4. Minimize ‘Yes men.’ In group discussions, make sure leaders are last to speak. If they’re first, everyone simply echoes their thoughts.
  5. Let go! Your front line employees know the day to day business better than most removed managers. Give them some breathing room and autonomy.


It’s all easier said than done. And most the time, our brains are programmed to follow the crowd, follow the rules, and follow the other employees. But to be innovative, scalable and nimble –  employee mindset is a major setback.


Thoughts? Have you experience crippling employee mindset as a customer? Or been part of a great organization where you’re free to make some of your own decisions? Comment below, unless your boss might read it….


Takeaways from a Crowdfunding Campaign

There’s no better teacher than experience. Last month we wrapped up a successful crowdfunding campaign to start mass production of The Passport Protector. We raised $16,081 or 107% of our $15,000 goal; we 14,788 visits, 4365 views of our main video, and 202 backers in 40 days.

While we clawed our way to $15,000 – there were products in Columbus going viral for $250,000 in funding, Solar Roadways raising millions and sunglasses raising $400,000. I’m an even bigger fan of crowdfunding now, but it to an outsider it may look like easy money until you’ve run a campaign. So what were the big takeaways??

  1. It was much harder than I thought it’d be. 90% of any campaign’s success is determined in advance, and it was still a ton of work. Leading up to the launch, I invested nights and weekends for a couple months studying crowdfuding. It was also a lot of work to get most of our promotions ready beforehand. We raised 50% within the first week, but for the rest of the campaign, I still invested a couple hours every night and had to push right up until the deadline. In the end, persistence cures all.

The type of stressful funding I was trying to avoid:

IndieChart 2

And then that’s exactly what happened:


2. Good public relations is critical, but it’s not easy.  For a crowdfunding campaign to really get beyond family and friends, you have to get exposure with blogs, news, magazines, etc. We mapped out a PR gameplan to get specific influencer groups to share our campaign. Travel writers, study abroad programs, and gear/gadget sites were our main targets. Around 80% of people we targeted never even responded; once they did reply, we had about a 50/50 shot of collaborating. It took months of reaching out and communicating with different organizations to see if they were willing to share. Initially I also invested in a PR campaign that was a complete flop and waste of $700. Oddly enough, there was a different campaign for half the cost that had a massive response with travel bloggers and resulted in over 70 industry experts sharing our story with their followers. We saw some backers come through PR channels, but it also played a major role in validating our efforts with would be backers.

3. Don’t overlook the details and user experience. Graphics, photos, copy, email strategies, video, pricing levels, timing, updates, social media and more have to be considered. A big part of our initial success was due to a well executed email marketing campaign. We used MailChip to deliver solid graphics, fresh content, updates, and calls to action. Again, user groups were segmented based on influencers, friends/family, personal network, etc. We sent 15 or more customized email blasts over the course of the campaign. One area I shot myself in the foot was setting up the type of Indiegogo campaign. Basically, I went for all or none funding, but that meant people could only use PayPal – other formats allow backers to just purchase with a credit card. I had a number of people say they donated…but the transaction didn’t go through because of too many steps with PayPal and I’m sure many others just gave up or couldn’t remember their password. Bottom line, we could have done everything right to share the message, have a great video, etc and the last step in the funnel wasn’t easy so we lost backers.


4. The ‘framily’ plan made it happen. Social media guru and angel investor Gary Vaynerchuk has said, “I would rather have social capital than venture capital.” Ultimately the majority of our backers came from family and friends who already knew me. Would they be as excited about The Passport Protector or trust the team to deliver if they didn’t know me in some other area? Probably not. The good news is I’m grateful those relationships lead to a successful launch and I plan to make them proud early backers. The tough news is we have some work to do to get the same type of buy-in from the rest of the market. Friends and family may have bet more on me than the product, but the validation we got from travel experts shows the big opportunity ahead for The Passport Protector.


The campaign seems like it was ages ago. Now we’re well into manufacturing and will have more updates to come. For anyone interested in a crowdfunding campaign – do your homework and don’t be afraid to ask others for lots of help and advice.


Thoughts on crowdfunding? Backed other projects or thinking about a product launch? Share your thoughts and comments below. 

Behind The Scenes – The Passport Protector

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster leading up to official launch of The Passport Protector on Indiegogo. I wanted to share a ‘behind the scenes’ peek into the work we did over the last 9 months up to this point. Good news is we’re well on track to hit our goal of $15,000 in presales and crowdfunding.

Each of these steps could be its own extensive post on a critical lesson in business and product development. Here’s a brief of what we’ve done to get here:

Step #1 – The Idea

Our trip to Europe was ruined when my passport had ‘wear and tear.’ So I came up with the idea for a hardcore passport case. After seeing what was currently on the market, I was surprised by the lack or great products. Nothing so far seemed to be truly waterproof, have innovative design, or a pure-play in the category.

Step #2 – Attorney Feedback

I spoke to a local patent attorney, Bryce Miracle, who I’d met previously and gave him a quick, excited pitch. He gave me some research to do and asked if I had designer yet. Being totally clueless, I luckily got hooked up with an industrial designer firm in Columbus.

Step #3 – Concept Development

I met with Steve Sauer, who owns Bigger Tuna design firm, and has a wealth of knowledge on taking products to market. I told Steve my story and possible ideas for how I envisioned the product. His team came back with amazing innovation and creative ideas.

concept proposal

Concept brainstorm

Step #4 – Prior Art Search

We went back to the attorney and compared our ideas to every possible related patent over the past 100 plus years. Long story short, we have a patent strategy, although I’ve become less and less hip to patents throughout the whole process. I’ll bet our future on creativity and moving quickly, not squatting on intellectual property and suing all trespassers.

Step #5 – Concept Refinement

Because we don’t have endless monies and distribution, it was time to focus. Startup hipsters drop buzzwords here like ‘niche, getting lean, beta, pivot, and minimum viable product (MVP).’ Fifteen possible cases boiled down to one final concept based on what we would want, the patent landscape, and ease of manufacturing.

Concept 5Concept 10


Step #6 – Rough Sketch Model

Time to go from drawing board to holding something in our hands. Steve created a rough sketch model that we could test and experiment. It ended up super thin, but in order to hold larger passports and be manufactured, we had to go a little wider.


Step #7 – Brand Development

While design took shape, we started to think about branding, target markets and distilling our story. I realize part of our big challenge is educating consumers that they actually need to have a passport case. Hence, the name is the world’s most straightforward value proposition – The Passport Protector. I borrowed a move from THE Ohio State University. ‘The’ lends to original, premier, best. As far as our slogan, ‘Ensuring worldwide travel,’ a friend mentioned it over coffee and I liked how it could play a double meaning on product and scholarships. I loved the way the logo took shape with an image that resembles a passport and also has elements of a moving flag.

logo sketcheslogo concpet 2 logo concept


Step #8 – Website Draft

When I was thinking of possible names, I was excited to see domain available. The team at RevLocal developed a draft to encompass a first impression of travel and the product’s functionality. I looked outside the industry and tried to incorporate the feel from sites like Airbnb, XJet, Bing backdrops and the ski industry.

Step #9 – Final Prototyping

We made prototypes through 3D printing and Stereolithography. One was painted and dressed up to be used for our photography, video and marketing.



Step #10 – Manufacturing Quotes

We talked to companies in the Midwest who have experience in plastics manufacturing. Many different approaches and prices came back to create steel injection molding tools, select materials, and make the product. If there is a Rosetta Stone for understanding manufacturing, please let me know. Trying to make a smart decision about a $15,000-45,000 investment is hard when I don’t have any background or know who to trust. After a long process, we finally narrowed it down and had an idea of how much to raise on crowdfunding and pricing the product.

Step #11 – Video Shoot

Eric Wager, who normally is busy working with major brands like Tim Hortons and Nationwide Insurance helped with our video. The owner of Uniglobe Travel Designers who booked our original trip was also nice enough to be interviewed about the product and why she supports what we’re doing.


Step #12 – Prelaunch Video

Friends from all over the world shared quick clips saying what our slogan ‘ensuring travel’ means to them and the type of life experiences that can’t happen without a passport. Days where the work gets the better of me, I watch the video again for motivation. Mario Masitti in Denver was awesome in editing everyone’s clips and blending it together.

Step #13 – Crowdfunding & PR Study

For the past 6 months I’ve studied successful crowdfunding campaigns, read blogs, and learned about PR strategy. I hired an executive assistant to do a lot of the heavy lifting on research and organizing our campaign. But for all the research and planning, there’s still hours on end of hustle every day to keep the funding moving.

Thanks for backing the project, giving your feedback and investing in our success! Please share with friends, family, or world travelers you know who might appreciate what we’re doing.