This is a follow up story for Glo®. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi again! I can’t believe it’s been two years - and what a time it has been! I hope you’re all doing well. I’m back again to provide some updates - and what better to talk about than resilience and adaptability?
For a quick recap, I’m Hagan Walker, Co-founder, and CEO of Glo. We make light-up drink cubes called Glo Cubes as well as children’s sensory toys called Glo Pals. Internally, there’s a bit of a joke about having both a kids brand and a cocktail brand - ha! Glo has started a classroom project back in 2015 while I was in college at Mississippi State University. We developed and patented a liquid-activated light-up device and, of course, being college kids, figured that the most appropriate use of this technology would be light-up drink cubes to enhance the atmosphere at bars and restaurants. That’s where we started, with the Glo Cubes. We started selling those in 2016, and about a year into it, we had a mom reach out with a fascinating story:
She told us how she had a Glo Cube in her drink at a local restaurant, had taken it home, and put it in the bath for her young autistic son. It was the first time in months that he had gotten into the tub without crying. The soothing light had redirected his senses to something much more exciting - and that made us stoked. My business partner and marketing genius, Anna Barker, took that idea and ran with it to develop an entirely new concept: Glo Pals.
Glo Pals are children’s sensory toys based around that same original patent, but this customer segment is what has propelled us into the spotlight. We’re now in over 1,600 retailers throughout the United States and Canada, including Nordstrom, Macy’s, and even SeaWorld. What started as a classroom project has led us to sell over 4 million products to customers worldwide.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Talk about crazy timing! Let’s just pick this up right where we left off: October 2019. We were doing incredibly well for a startup. Things were looking very optimistic, but not even two months later, the whole world changed. I’ll be completely honest, some people will tell you they had a contingency plan for something like COVID. Some will say that they knew how to handle things and made it through without issue. I call bull. They, like us, had a bit of luck on their side. Luck is certainly one part of it, but I do believe the other side of the equation was that we were adaptable, teachable, and were open to change.
Looking back, it’s interesting to see how our decisions have gotten us where we are. If I hadn’t blown most of our angel round on trying to make prototypes without help, I wouldn’t have learned the valuable lesson of never again being afraid to ask for help. If we hadn’t listened to that mom and taken the plunge to pivot to children’s toys, we wouldn’t be here today. COVID annihilated the bar and restaurant industry, taking most of our Glo Cube revenue with it. Thankfully, we were receptive enough to start the Glo Pal brand and have it running before 2019. Anna and I have since tried to instill this flexibility into our culture, along with scrappiness, transparency, and generosity. So, how has that helped?
Well, we’ll triple, if not quadruple, revenue since our last Starter Story. That really should be higher if not for supply chain issues, but let me not get ahead of myself. Let’s first talk about what we’ve done in the last 24 months, then I’ll get into some of the struggles. We focused on new products, creating the Glo Pal Characters, and even partnering with Sesame Street to create light-up versions of Elmo and Julia. In 2020, our Easter sales beat our Christmas sales, which was incredible. Talking about adaptation, Anna and I made a pact that no matter how tough things got, we wouldn’t cut jobs without cutting our salaries first, and we’d be an open book with our customers.
We also wanted to continue to try to make a difference in our local community, as well as in the lives of our customers. When masks were so hard to obtain, we leveraged our supply chain experience to procure and donate 5,000 N95 masks to our local rural hospital. When stay-at-home mandates kicked in, we created a “Pen Pal” initiative, where each order contained pre-stamped postcards so that children could send drawings and encouraging notes to friends and family. Moms and dads who were now working from home also had to learn how to become homeschool teachers overnight, so we created downloadable lesson plans that anyone could use, with or without a Glo Pals purchase.
Also, in a time with so much uncertainty, we tried to respond with some patience and grace. We extended net terms for our wholesalers, helped some of them create websites to sell while their storefronts were closed, and donated $20,000 to Batson Children’s Hospital - Mississippi’s only children’s hospital. It was a crazy time, but we made it through by reassuring our team (we didn't lower a single salary or cut a single position), listening to our customers, and helping others wherever we could.
In 2021, we renovated and moved into an amazing new building - an old theater that sat abandoned for decades - as part of our commitment to our community and to further help create jobs here in the United States, and more specifically, in Mississippi - typically last in everything. If this interests you, here’s a video. Anna and I are from Mississippi and it was important to us to stay here and to try to make a difference. Mississippi has been good to us and there are opportunities still available here that aren’t available elsewhere. In Silicon Valley, you definitely wouldn’t find an amazing historic theater to turn into your HQ.
So, to sum it up - the past two years have been an absolute blur in the best of ways. Sesame Street, new office, triple to quadruple revenue, new factories, larger retailers, a wonderful and growing team; it is incredible to think about. The coolest part is that we're wrapping up our first major investment round, valuing the company at nearly $20 million.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Ha! Let’s talk about the supply chain. We made it through 2020 thinking that would be the worst of it. Nope. 2021 has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. Strap in! I ordered a full container of materials in February of 2021, fully anticipating delays. We received it in November - nine months later. Again, we’ve been fortunate. We are so lucky to make relatively small toys. We can fit millions of Glo Pals on a semi truck to ship to a distribution center, meaning that even with 5x to 20x increases in shipping rates, we can eat the cost. A manufacturer that can only fit a few thousand items on a semi truck simply can’t do that. This is a valuable lesson in economies of scale, but the first lesson is to have a plan C for your plan B because plan A just isn’t going to work.
The second lesson is leveraging cash flow. Once we realized how fragmented the supply chain was earlier this year, we took a huge gamble and used a line of credit to purchase over $1 million in inventory, with the hopes of getting materials to create products before Christmas last year. This decision certainly could have put us out of business if those materials didn't arrive before the Christmas shopping rush. Things were precarious for a bit. We had to clamp down hard on spending for a few months, but those materials did arrive and the risk paid off. In fact, not only did we have a great Christmas, but after attending January market and hearing from other customers, it looks like we’re one of the few that has the inventory to fulfill wholesale orders currently.
The third lesson is one that I’m still working on, but it’s something to do about stopping to check on yourself, your employees, your friends, and your family. It comes as no surprise, but your company will quickly come to a halt if you do. For me, it’s been a wild two years, filled with stress, sadness, and loads of change. Make sure you’re doing something for yourself and then after you know you're in the mindset to help others, try to where you can. It's been a tough time for everyone. Call a friend you haven't heard from in a while, have additional patience with your team, breathe. My escape is something that I’ve wanted to do for years: I’ll be an official private pilot in two weeks. Wish me luck!
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I said this in the last Starter Story, but it’s the premise that I live by when it comes to Glo: The day that I come to work and leave without learning something new is the day that I’ll know it’s time to give it up. Two years later, I don’t think we’re close to being there. Every day is different and I love that. I’m most excited about what’s to come. We have some incredible products and ideas in development. I can’t release too much detail, but I will share a pretty significant update with y’all. We’re growing the partnership with Sesame Street to include Big Bird, Abby Cadabby, and Cookie Monster. These three new characters will launch in just a few weeks, and you're some of the first to know!
Step back and ask yourself if what you’re doing is helping others.
Ok, ok, one more: we’ve also signed a licensing deal with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, one of the top children’s shows in the world. Some other less shiny (but still awesome) updates are, we’ll be working on distribution to Europe, expanding production capacity (again), and will likely double our employee count in the next 24 months, and while we’re being lofty, my personal goal is to have the company valued at $50 million in the next 36 months. Nearly 40% there!
Have you read any good books in the last year?
This is probably a bit unconventional, but I’ve been reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, which talks about being comfortable with who we are and embracing our imperfections. For me, this hits home. I’ve always cared way too much about what people’s perceptions were of me. Turns out, those imperfections are what makes us different and it's important to embrace them.
Two other quick tidbits: I don’t have much time to read these days (I also have the attention span of a small puppy), but I have become a huge proponent of audiobooks. Last, look into a program put on by Goldman Sachs, called 10,000 Small Businesses. It’s a semester-long program that is truly eye-opening. If accepted, you’re placed in a cohort with a myriad of interesting companies of all different sizes and backgrounds. I graduated from this program in December and, while it’s a ton of work, it has been so cool, incredibly helpful, and rewarding in so many ways.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
A few things: First, find a partner. I have been so incredibly fortunate to have Anna. Sometimes we annoy each other beyond belief, but at the end of the day, we can walk out of a meeting knowing that we have arrived at what's likely the best possible outcome. We approach things from completely different angles, her strengths are my weaknesses, and vice-versa. She is incredibly talented, but another reason for a partner is that starting a company can be extremely isolating. Not many people understand the rollercoaster of stress and emotions. It's good to have someone in the boat with you, so to speak. Find you an Anna.
Second, I hate to say it, but many people that start companies end up going bankrupt because of stubbornness. I'm guilty and it's something I've had to work on and still have work to do. Take a step back. Seriously. It’s so easy to get in the weeds that you might lose sight of the larger picture. I mentioned “being teachable” earlier, but didn’t elaborate. You should never be the smartest person in the room. You should continually try to surround yourself with people who can inspire and teach you. This is the easy part - the hard part is truly welcoming feedback and acting on it. Step back and ask yourself if what you’re doing is helping others.
I think constantly of how my life would be different if that mom had reached out to give us feedback about using our product in the children’s market and we had simply responded by thanking her and continuing on the path we were on. I'm almost positive we wouldn't still have a company. Don’t be afraid of taking feedback and altering your path because of it.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! We’re building out an incredible creative team. If working on an up-and-coming children’s brand is exciting to you and you have experience in one or more of the following areas, please reach out. We welcome remote work, but we also allow employees to bring dogs to HQ, so is working from home truly better? Ha!
- Creative Director
- Senior Graphic Designer
- Storyboard Artist, 2D Animator
- Creative Story Writer
We are an easy-going, close-knit team and would love to meet you. You can email your resume and relevant work to [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
- Glo Pals Website
- Glo Pals Facebook
- Glo Pals Instagram
- Email me directly. I love hearing from people with cool ideas that are looking for (or want to share) advice. Maybe I can help you avoid a pothole that I’ve already stepped in (and vice-versa).
Thank you so much for reading a bit about our story. We're so appreciative of your support and whatever your goals or ambitions happen to be, I wish you the absolute best on your endeavor to reach them. You got this.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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