Where do you put your valuables when you go for a swim? We were robbed and learned the hard way.
"Nobody is afraid of heights, they're afraid of falling"-Kurt Cobain.
My partners and I invented the original AquaVault after having our valuables stolen while going for a swim. We "inconspicuously" tucked everything in our shoes and hid them under our lounge chairs hopeful that everything would be there when we returned. What we didn’t predict was we’d be coming back to everything being gone. This was a lesson learned and a harsh reality as it is for anyone that experiences the feeling of having all of their valuables being stolen. The fact of the matter is that most people are uncomfortable with leaving their belongings unattended when they go for a swim but because a solution was never created, we all just dealt with the uncertainty and hoped for the best. Fortunately for us, we decided enough was enough and something needed to be invented. When we created the AquaVault, we were convinced this was forever going to be our flagship product. What we didn’t know was that we were soon going to have a new flagship product when we invented a different version which we called the FlexSafe.
If you formulate the wrong partnership, develop the wrong product, target the wrong market, or hire the wrong person, you should be humble enough to recognize the mistake and rectify the situation going forward. Too often you’ll find entrepreneurs that aren't willing to accept responsibility for a mistake they made because they cannot get comfortable acknowledging that they were wrong. Being wrong is not a bad thing. Being wrong and believing you are right can be detrimental. We originally envisioned our only target market would be the people that traveled to beaches and pools but quickly learned that water parks, theme parks, and cruise ships were all markets that were being left on the table. Once we started to hone in on those sectors, the sales began to measurably increase.
Too many people fear failure, fear the unknown, and suffer from paralysis by analysis. Mistakes are inevitable but the way in which you pivot from your mistakes can be the critical factor in determining the outcome of many businesses. The ability to examine your mistakes rather than simply move past them is a significant differentiator that can oftentimes determine the trajectory of your company. We’ve made plenty of mistakes over the years and some of them were more painful than others. Blockbuster Video is a classic example of a company that may have refused to acknowledge they were making a mistake by not adapting to change. Sadly enough, we all know how that story ends. Change is inevitable and if something works today, that doesn't necessarily mean it will work tomorrow.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After getting robbed at one of the well-known pools in South Beach, we decided to invent a product that got the attention (and investment) of Shark Tank’s favorite Daymond John. Our invention solved a problem that historically affected millions of people around the world. Where do you put your valuables when going for a swim?
It is important to surround yourself with people who are unafraid to challenge your opinion. It is during these discussions that you will learn significantly more than if everyone were to agree with you.
Ultimately, getting robbed led to the invention of a Portable Travel Safe called the AquaVault. This portable safe was engineered to attach to lounge chairs in order to secure your valuables while you go for a worry-free swim. In a few years, we were able to pioneer a market, attract celebrity fans, and go from less than $100,000 our first year to now generating millions a year with a recent eight-figure valuation. My partners and I knew next to nothing about the invention process other than we were going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. We just needed to make sure that we avoided any that we could not recuperate from.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The fear of the unknown is an automatic deterrent to many would-be inventors around the world. People are inherently intimidated by jumping out of their comfort zone and doing things that they know very little about. This is why a majority of ideas wind up being taken to the grave. The perplexity of the unknowns can be draining and uncomfortable but you must accept them. Questions like how do I create a prototype? Can I trust a patent attorney? How do I find a manufacturer? Is an overseas manufacturer the most cost-effective method and if so, how do I know my product won't be sold through the backdoor? These are all common questions that run through people's minds when they think of inventing a product.
Reid Hoffman said it best, “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.” When building a startup it would help to minimize the worrying about all the things that can go wrong and all the hypothetical fail scenarios. You can drive yourself crazy wondering what can cause you to fail. Execution is everything and as long as you're making progress and creating a vision, that numbing fear of failure will eventually begin to dissipate. You just need to put your head down, begin the journey, and embrace the rollercoaster. The moment you become complacent marks the beginning of the end. Remember that comfort and entrepreneurship rarely go together in the same sentence.
When we were starting out at our first inventor tradeshow, we had a gentleman from an unknown company approach us with an interest in manufacturing our product. Automatically our guard was elevated as we were curious about his intentions. After a lengthy conversation and asking what we thought were all the right questions, we decided to collectively go with our gut and give him a shot. We knew it wasn’t a foolproof plan and there was a risk that we could fall victim to another inventor scam but we also knew that we needed to eventually take this chance. Fortunately, everything worked out and listening to our gut paid off. There comes a point in time when you have to move forward and take a chance. Just remember to cover your bases, perform the proper due diligence, and be methodical in all your decision making.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The timing is never going to be perfect. You just need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. In the beginning, everything is going to feel new and exciting but it is imperative to maintain that excitement and high energy as you move forward. Our first prototype included a lock that was cut out of a briefcase and beyond embarrassing, to say the least. Rather than immediately hiring a professional engineer, we wanted to conserve the capital and do what we could ourselves. We created six prototypes until we finally decided it was time to send the CAD drawings to the engineer and have it professionally designed.
Now came the moment of truth where we needed to test the market. Whether it was a complete bust or a wild success, we needed to know what everyone thought of the product before creating a mold and going to mass production. After experiencing a huge success at our first show and witnessing firsthand how welcoming tourists were to the concept of locking a safe to their lounge chairs while vacationing at the beaches and pools, we decided that we were ready to go all-in and advance to the next phase. Because we were the ones bootstrapping the entire operation, the capital was limited and every dollar made a difference. We had to be very careful with our expenditures and being that molds can be very expensive, it pays to get multiple quotes to ensure you’re paying fair market value.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
When it comes to growth and expansion, it pays to be patient and meticulous when building your team. Make sure that everyone shares the same corporate culture. You never want toxicity permeating the environment. When everyone is on the same page where incentives are aligned and the overall growth of the company is the main objective, that’s when you will grow fast and strong. Understand that you cannot be a jack of all trades and when you hire specialists, they are there to bring value and fill that particular facet of the business. When it comes to marketing, this is an extraordinarily important aspect to many businesses so make sure you spend a significant amount of time deciding who is going to be responsible for spearheading this task with brilliance and precision. If executed inefficiently, it becomes very easy to burn through a lot of capital with unfavorable results.
More often than not, entrepreneurs are reluctant to ask for feedback because they are intimidated by the constructive criticism that naturally ensues. It is rarely comforting to listen to your weaknesses but if brought to your attention, these suggestions can make an impactful difference. Listen to the people that care and the people that want you to succeed. We made it a point early on to develop a top-notch customer service model where people would notice how we operate outside of the box and go above and beyond. We knew that each customer had the ability to be our voice and if they were satisfied with the product and how they were treated, there’s a good chance they would feel compelled to share the experience with others. This type of free advertising is valuable and instrumental to the growth of any startup especially when capital is limited.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have expanded from one product to a handful of products and will continue to innovate as we strive to enhance our position as a market leader in the travel and security space. We realize the importance of continuously expanding our IP portfolio and it’s something we spend a considerable amount of time focusing on.
In terms of remaining ahead of the curve, we have a thorough understanding of the need to always remain innovative and never adopt any sense of complacency. Our wheels are always spinning and the pressure is always on. This is the environment that we’re used to and these are the conditions that we thrive in.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
They say it takes many years to become an overnight success. The truth is, a lot of the work you put in may not deliver results until years later. When we first started out, my partners and I would have tense conversations about how all of our hard work was yielding minimal results while we continued to work 12+ hours a day feeling discouraged and unrewarded. The fact of the matter is that nothing good comes easy and you need to put your head down and work like there's no tomorrow if you want any shot at success. It may take Disney World, Walmart, or Home Depot five years before they notice you but if you stop pursuing them and give up in your third or fourth year, you'll never know that you were a few months away from getting that account.
Many times some of these big companies may be gauging your "staying power" and credibility. They want to make sure you're a real player and not a "fly-by-night" company that will be here today and gone tomorrow. As long as you're persistent and not in an obnoxious way, the door will always be left open. Don't forget, you're on their terms and they’re in the driver's seat most of the time. Some of our biggest accounts took several years and countless rejections before they decided to give us the green light. Just remember to be overly prepared for those important meetings and phone calls because nobody gets a second chance at a first impression.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have used Shopify for quite some time now and are very happy with how it integrates. In terms of how we fill our orders, we have a couple of fulfillment centers stocking inventory, and depending on where the order needs to ship to will determine which location we send them out from.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is an incredible story on what it took to create Nike. The entrepreneurial journey Phil embarked on was something that everyone can learn from. It highlights risk, passion, perseverance, and a whole lot more that would interest anyone looking to create a company.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Minimal experience and a lack of guidance can seem overwhelming at times. The degree of uncertainty can feel overpowering making it extraordinarily difficult to feel confident with your decisions. As my partners and I embarked on this journey together, our curiosity was magnified as we had so many questions that we needed to find answers to. What amount of capital should we comfortably have set aside and what are pros and cons to raising capital? What goes into making a prototype? Should we manufacture domestically and if so, will that cripple our margins? Who can we hire to file patents and how long should that take? Is that a one time fee or ongoing? What's our plan to effectively get our product to market and how do we scale? At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is quite an emotional roller coaster filled with countless variables.
You have to embrace the unknown and accept that there are many times where you will not have the right answers. Mistakes and failures are part of the process but you must learn from them. Many times making mistakes will actually contribute towards building a stronger foundation.
In terms of the formula for growth, you’re better positioned if you can embrace the idea of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. The risk will always be a critical part of the equation but remember, the key is to mitigate your risk without crippling your progress. As long as you are making progress and building towards conceptualizing your vision, any fear of failure or lack of confidence will slowly begin to dissipate as you recognize that this is simply part of the game. Our belief is that an undeniable work ethic combined with a voracious appetite for knowledge is the golden formula when building a successful company. It is important to surround yourself with people who are unafraid to challenge your opinion. It is during these discussions that you will learn significantly more than if everyone were to agree with you. When discussing rejection, this will undeniably be something you must get used to as it’s a stepping stone for any successful business. Many doors will close on you, countless phones will hang up on you and plenty of emails will go unread. It is your raw passion and dedication which will set you apart from the many people who decided it was easiest to simply give up.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are not looking to hire anyone at the moment but are always open to receiving submissions and discussing opportunities where we see the value.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.
Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:
- Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
- Step by step guides on how to start and grow
- Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
- And much more!
Are you ready to boost your revenue?
Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!
Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!