Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, I’m David Zamarin. I’m 21 years-old, a student at Babson College and founder of DetraPel.
At DetraPel we know that life can get messy, and we want to help. That is why we manufacture and distribute powerful, planet-friendly, cancer-free protective coatings designed for use on all your favorite fabric and leather belongings.
Using innovative nanotechnology, DetraPel liquid repellent sprays create completely harmless, invisible barriers that protect your items from damage caused by water, other liquids and even food!
You could say we’re in the business of protection, which is why we stand by our slogan Protect What You Love. This phrase to us means so much more than protecting the stuff you own. Unlike many of our competitors, we deliver climate conscious products, that contain no cancer-causing fluorochemicals (like PFAS) and deliver state-of-the-art packaging that contains zero harmful propellants.
This way you can protect the things you love, while protecting the people, pets and planet you love too! The greatest part is that everyone can use DetraPel on just about anything. The benefits and surfaces are endless based on the technology. Whether you want to protect your white carpet from wine stains, your brand new shoes from getting dirty outside, or your car seats from accidental coffee spills, DetraPel has got you covered.
Since starting DetraPel over 5 years ago when I was 15 years old, the versatility and eco-friendliness of our products are just two of the many factors which I believe enabled us to make over $512,000 in sales in the last year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The DetraPel idea started for me when I was in high school, but I had my entrepreneurial itch even earlier than that.
After just 4 months I was given an offer to sell for $150,000. The decision was easy. I sold my first business and invested all of the money into starting DetraPel.
Growing up in Philadelphia with divorced immigrant parents taught me a lot of what I needed to know to get to where I am today. I grew up watching my mother hustling daily to provide me with the best possible life.
I learned very early on that success meant hard work and sacrifice. So at an early age I started dabbling in different business ideas which included selling popular headphones and watches.
Luckily, for high school I was accepted into one of the best public schools in the country. As a present from my grandparents I received $200, which I used to buy 2 brand new pairs of Jordan shoes.
Not having owned anything like that before, I was desperate to keep them clean. I wished then that I could create a spray to protect the shoes that I could peel off whenever they got dirty. But I wasn’t a chemical engineer, I was a freshman in high school so I had to pivot my idea and started a shoe cleaning business. This required me to swallow my pride because I was a kid who didn't want to clean shoes for a living.
Nevertheless, I went out and I worked HARD, and the next thing I knew I was cleaning shoes for all the local university sports teams in Philadelphia. This business ran for 4 months and we generated $25,000/month in revenue. I was ecstatic. After just 4 months I was given an offer to sell for $150,000. The decision was easy. I sold my first business and invested all of the money into starting DetraPel.
The idea for DetraPel started from the conditioning service we were offering with my shoe cleaning business. I was using a competitor’s product, which I later found out was extremely carcinogenic, caused birth defects, dried white and ruined fabric. On top of that it was extremely expensive.
It was a blessing in disguise that the product was back ordered for over 4 months, which is what drove me to sell the shoe cleaning business because I knew the only scalable part was the conditioning service.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As you can imagine, developing the first line of DetraPel repellents was a huge challenge for a 15-yr-old with no chemistry background.
Luckily, I’ve always been driven no matter how daunting a project I’ve set for myself has been. When I was a freshman in high school, I got really interested in nanotechnology. I began researching it profusely and became fascinated by it as a potential basis for a stain repellent formula.
Being resourceful, I reached out to the brand new Singh Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania where I met a leading researcher in the space. I was concerned that the University of Pennsylvania would own the intellectual property so I reached out to a friend who has a PhD from Drexel University.
Through him I was able to acquire access to the labs and lab equipment I needed and then I spent my entire summer working on a formula. When I finally created one I was happy with I hired a manufacturer.
The manufacturer added a 1-2% proprietary part that was crucial to the product we were trying to sell. Unfortunately, 8 months down the line they went bankrupt and refused to disclose the 2% proprietary ingredient. This was a huge setback for my company which was just preparing to sell product.
First Prototype Design for DetraPel Fabric & Leather Protector (2oz)
I had to go on a long hiatus to try to reengineer the formula. Lots of blood, sweat and tears, and 3.5 years later I announced my new formula which had some slight changes but all the efficiency of the first formula and more. Today, we are proud of our new formulas which are 100% manufactured in-house and 100% sourced and manufactured in the United States.
The next phase of developing our product was deciding on the packaging. The flagship product launched and is currently still being sold in a 2 oz pump spray plastic bottle.
Over the last year we’ve realized that there are many disadvantages to the existing packaging as it is small and can be frustrating in the application process. Determined to make the customer experience better, I was long on the hunt for a new type of packaging.
From an application perspective, I realized that an aerosol bottle would permit a consistent and effortless application. However, I have a major problem with aerosols. The harmful propellants in aerosol bottles completely contradict my mission to produce non-toxic and planet-conscious products.
Luckily, in 2018 I found a solution to this problem. We partnered with a planet-friendly aerosol that is powered purely by air and contains zero propellants. We are excited to be releasing our new packaging this month for an enhanced customer experience.
Two out of the many new products we will be launching this February, 2019.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since I started so young, from the beginning I was limited with capital.
I invested most of my money to the R&D so I at times had to be resourceful or cut corners when getting label designs, using credit cards, and asking for help from friends and others. I was forced to learn how to code, develop websites, use Photoshop, Illustrator and although the quality of the work was not the best, it helped me learn the languages so I could talk to future employees or partners.
My first rule always is: Get Shit Done. We have a board in our office with 3 mottos written on it: 1. Get Shit Done 2. See #1 3. We don’t fail, we learn.
I also was always a big fan of accelerator programs. To this day, I participate in 1-2 accelerator programs every year, because I do not believe you can ever stop learning or meeting new people. Accelerator programs give you access to knowledge, expertise, mentorship, and people who are willing to pay it forward with what they have learned from their previous experiences.
Overall, I learned that you must do whatever it takes to start and maintain a running business especially if you have capital constraints. If you are a student, take advantage of that. If you are someone just transitioning from working a corporate job, don’t be afraid to take risks and recognize that a startup is like 2-3 full-time jobs, so you must put in the work and treat it like that.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One of our biggest successes to date has been our appearance on Shark Tank last January. Shark Tank has a national audience of about 10 million people.
This type of exposure was invaluable to our brand and allowed us to acquire thousands of recurring customers overnight. Of course an opportunity like this is hard to come by as there is an average of 45,000 applicants each year.
What we learned from our experience on Shark Tank, is that any type of press can be a good catalyst to get the ball rolling and allows for excellent brand exposure. That said, you cannot solely rely on one big break to continue to attract and retain customers.
The process of actually attaining and retaining customers is hard work. Digital marketing is insanely competitive and can get very expensive. At this time we spend money on Facebook, Instagram and Google ads, but we’ve chosen to double down on the methods that gave us the best ROI. For example, we know that it typically takes a few months before seeing growth from paid digital. Instead, we have spent our time on SEO which yields the highest return along with remarketing. At the beginning, it is important allocate a budget where you can test several methods and see which yields the best return.
One method that consistently brings in sales is our email marketing campaigns. Sending regular monthly emails to our subscribers always guarantees a spike in sales on our website, thus it’s very important for us to do this on a consistent basis (not to mention we like reaching out directly to our customers and spoiling them with goodies and promotions). We normally send campaigns once a month, but are aware that it is recommended to do more. We are working on expanding our team to do this. Each new customer that purchases from us is automatically added to our email list, and conversion from there is typically high since the customers are repeat customers.
In 2019, one of our goals is to continue to increase brand exposure and to get our product directly in front of our consumers through retail shelves. We have been investigating and are in talks with several trade shows this year and look forward to interacting with potential consumers and getting instant feedback from our direct target markets.
Another useful tactic for us has been increasing our sales channels. Our direct website continues to be the source of most of our orders, but being available to consumers through other channels like Amazon, Zulily, The Grommet and Groupon has proven to be effective as well.
For the same reason we will be looking to get into some major retailers in the coming year as well in order to increase brand visibility and help us approach large B2B clients to do partnerships.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today as a company, we’re busier and happier than ever. This last year has been one full of growth and new developments.
We went from a 3 person team to a 9 person team, from a 4,000 square foot facility to a 12,000 square foot facility, brought all of our manufacturing and development in house, and even landed a deal with Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner on Shark Tank. Though it’s been a whirlwind of great news, we also have been working hard on brand new developments that we look forward to announcing next month.
Some things to look forward to in the upcoming months include developing our new website and launching our new brand and new formula. We are excited to be making the announcement soon about these developments and more.
Similarly to our current distribution models which helped us be profitable in 2018, we will be selling direct to the consumer through online channels like our website and e-retailers.
We also plan on launching a comprehensive retail program in 2019 as we intend on expanding the brand in order to maintain shorter sales cycles and better cash collection cycles than if we were to solely pursue industrial and wholesale deals in the B2B sector.
By working on our brand visibility and recognition, we plan to approach large corporations that may be interested in partnering with us or treated their products in advance.
By maintaining good margins we are able work on bringing new products to consumers that we will be launching next month and throughout the year so people can safely protect all of their belongings and save themselves time and money.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As a young entrepreneur one of the things that I’ve learned in the past year has been the value of hiring experienced individuals and creating a well rounded team.
When I first started out I had a team of hard working peers. Together we hustled and learned a lot through trial and error. However, as the company began to grow rapidly I had to hire more people to join us.
I went from hiring primarily college students to building a team of individuals with more work and life experience than the amount of time since I was born. I couldn’t tell you what a difference it has made for the overall benefit of the company to have a diverse team.
Individuals from diverse backgrounds offer different talents, skills and experience. This sparks innovation, growth, and allows employees to learn from one another. Young entrepreneurs such as myself who are growing a business might be worried about the costs involved with paying higher salaries for experienced team members, but a salary is a small price to pay for a more productive and cost-effective work environment. Among our management team today I’m proud to have several accomplished individuals who through their expertise add extraordinary merit to our company.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As we primarily function as an e-commerce business at the moment, the most important tool we have is our website.
The matter of our website is an interesting one because we’re in the midst of changing our platform at the moment. Currently we’ve been using Wix to host our website which we have noticed has several pros and cons.
Though our company really enjoys the design aspects of Wix and the ease with which we can make updates and changes to our website, we have realized how much it is hurting us from an SEO perspective and through lack of integration ability. Next month we’re excited to be releasing our newly designed website which will be hosted on Wordpress.
Increasing SEO and improving efficiency in our office by implementing integrations between various programs such as Wordpress and our accounting software or Wordpress and our shipping software will make day-to-day operations smoother and will save us valuable time too.
Other tools and platforms we use include:
- Shipstation for fulfillment
- Quickbooks Desktop for finance
- Mailchimp for email campaigns
- Google for calendar, contacts, and internal email
- Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for social media
- YouTube to showcase our videos
- Slack for internal communication
- Cloze as our all-encompassing CRM tool
- SEM Rush as our marketing tool for website demographics
- A bunch of plugins for social media marketing and our website
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg is a fantastic book that helped me when I started my entrepreneurial journey by showcasing so many successful entrepreneurs who built their own education systems around their work.
Another great book that really shaped how I run my business is Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. This book teaches you the importance of knowing what and who matters for your business and how to build a meaningful and exceptional culture around that. For me, that was my team.
I regularly like to read and listen to a variety of podcasts and books to continue my education.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My first rule always is: Get Shit Done. We have a board in our office with 3 mottos written on it:
- Get Shit Done
- See #1
- We don’t fail, we learn.
Getting shit done is really what separates the entrepreneurs from the “wantrepreneurs”. I have met countless people who have had incredible business ideas and done very little about it. Starting any type of business for the first time is overwhelming and many people fear the unknown. But it isn’t until you can overcome that fear and take risks that you will ultimately stand a chance at being successful.
Making mistakes is also a huge part of the journey and you’ll never stop making them, but each one is a learning opportunity. You can imagine that when I became a teenage entrepreneur I didn’t know anything I needed to know about business, and I’m still nowhere close. But not dwelling on my mistakes and learning from them allows me to be more and more efficient and effective each day. It’s really important to keep moving forward. And yours aren’t the only mistakes you can learn from. I value all of the brilliant expertise and experience I can get from my mentors. Do NOT shy away from help. Chances are there are people out there who have gone through or are going through the same challenges as you are. At some point you have to cut the ego, the more gratitude and humility you show, the more likely people will be willing to support you.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At this point in time we’re looking to hire another chemical engineer who has previous experience with coatings and superhydrophobic films or polymers.
We are also looking for a digital marketing expert to join our team full-time. We are always on the lookout for talented sales people who are interested in joining the DetraPel family. Any and all resumes should be sent to [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: www.detrapel.com
- Email: [email protected]
- Facebook: DetraPel
- Instagram: @detrapel
- Twitter: @DetraPel
- Personal Facebook: David Zamarin
- Personal Instagram: @davidzamarin
- Personal Twitter: @DavidZamarin
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 others get started.
Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!
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!