Monthly Archives: May 2014

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

minimal

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

logo

Step #8 – Website Draft

When I was thinking of possible names, I was excited to see domain passportprotector.com 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.

 Refinement

 

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.

preview

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.

7 Reasons I Started A Business

This past Wednesday morning I launched my first LLC, The Passport Protector. After 9 months of work, we unveiled a consumer product to solve a problem I had as a traveler. We still need lots of support with our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to presell the product to start manufacturing.

 

And even after crowdfunding, there will months of hustle and many late nights. For anyone wondering….a side hustle requires full time work.

 

I love my full time job and plan to be there for a long while. After +3 years, I’m still grateful for my coworkers, the industry and the long term opportunity. So why did I put a side business on my plate? Why invest all that time and energy not knowing if it’ll pay off?

1. Our experience was miserable. I’d love to prevent other travelers from going through the same ordeal.

We planned a 2 week trip to Europe, probably the last one we’ll be able to take for many years. After months of planning and saving, we finally heard our boarding call for the flight from Charlotte to Rome. Then in an instant, the airline gate agent wouldn’t let me on the plane because of ‘wear and tear’ on my passport. The short version is we lost 4 days and it cost $2500 to salvage the trip. The long version gives me flashbacks.

If that was my study abroad in undergrad – most my spending money would have vanished before I ever arrived. That would have meant never seeing Rome, Vienna or Madrid. Imagine someone else being stopped as they try to head to Mexico for a honeymoon, or a daughter traveling to see her mom in China for the first time in 10 years, or a fan going to their first World Cup and missing all the festivities in Brazil.

Our view stuck in Buffalo, NY when we should have been in Rome.

Our view stuck in Buffalo, NY when we should have been in Rome.

2. I was surprised by the lack of solutions in the marketplace.

When we finally arrived in Europe, I remember thinking about ways we could have prevented the whole situation. The idea come to me for a hardcore passport case in Paris. Immediately the wheels started turning with marketing ideas, design and creating a lifestyle brand. Returning home I started to research the current cases on the market and didn’t love anything I saw. Flimsy leather cases, leather brand names that wouldn’t protect against liquids, and not one pure-play in the product category.

I’ve written before about a lesson from the founder of Whole Foods to ‘criticize by creating.’ I had a choice to gripe with the airline for the rest of my life, or create a solution.

3. I see long term growth in the product category. 

Who knew you could be denied for ‘wear and tear’ on your passport? Not me. Not a lot of people apparently. However, immigration in the EU and across the world is rejecting documentation and handing out $10,000 fines to the airlines. So, more and more consumers like myself are left dealing with the chain reaction. Travelers’ insurance won’t cover you, and ultimately it’s the responsibility of the customer to provide a pristine passport. If you don’t know, now ya know.

4. I’m extremely passionate about travel.

I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to Europe, Costa Rica, Mexico and beyond. I studied abroad in southern France and had the most eye opening semester of my life. I’ve never had so much fun and learned so much about humanity or myself.

Travel transcends time, money, politics and misconseptions to creates life’s most beautiful memories. Travel bridges the gap between the way we think things are and a newfound lense of culture, humanity, cuisine. Where and when comfort zones are crossed, travel delivers enlightenment and adventure.

Enjoying the Rugby World Cup in Aix with Sven.

Enjoying the Rugby World Cup in Aix with Sven.

5. The business creates an opportunity to give back.

Did I mention I love travel and it’s been important to me….? We plan to donate a fixed portion of sales from every Passport Protector sold to study abroad scholarships. Our slogan, “Ensuring worldwide travel” means you’re ensured your passport is safe, and we’re ensuring more people get the opportunity to go abroad.

I can’t wait to see the first couple students impacted by the growth of the brand. Going abroad is not cheap. And if we can send even one high school or college kid on a big life adventure – mission accomplished.

6. I didn’t want to live with, ‘What if?’ the rest of my life.

I was struck by the idea of the product. Then immediately struck by all the business aspects I would have to navigate. I’ve taken some potential risks that have paid off such as four years with Southwestern Advantage or moving to Columbus for a little startup. I’ve hesitated on others and always wondered, ‘Well what if I had…?’ Not this time. And if I’m wrong and it flops, at least I’ll learn a lot

7. I wanted to test my chops as a business owner.

Every day I get to help small business owners with their online marketing. I’m amazed by the work and dedication required. For some it creates a lot of income and freedom. But I’m still on the other side of the table as an employee. And one of my favorite books recently, The E Myth, explains why so many people fail as business owners. This is my chance to see if I have the ability to execute on a business by scaling the systems and profitability.

Marseille, France. 2007.

Marseille, France. 2007.

That’s it folks. I’ll be back to blog about other business lessons on product design, crowdfunding and PR. Until then, if you like our product and believe in the mission, back our campaign on Indiegogo today. And tell all your friends. Thanks!