Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is SiDi and I’m the inventor of the ZipSeam, a product that lets you tailor your baggy shirts in minutes. I launched the product 5 years ago to help young professionals dress better without breaking the wallet.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Looking back, I never really had a sense of style. All of my clothes were oversized, some unfortunately on purpose #blunderyears, the colors were tacky, and I was just overall a poor dresser.
After getting a job out of college as a Chemical Engineer, I needed to dress more professionally, but having a ton of student loans, my shirts were right off the clearance rack, basically in the $10-20 range.
One day, the boss man passed out a form for work uniforms, the only measurement on there was just the neck size. I put in 15.5 and a few weeks later received this sail of a shirt that fit me at the neck, but a heap of fabric in the body. That was when I realized just how poorly fitting the rest of my wardrobe was.
Once again with the out of state tuition, I couldn’t afford to get my wardrobe tailored nor did I know how to use/or own a sewing machine. That’s when I thought, there must be a better way (insert groan here).
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I looked up how to tailor a shirt and the process looked relatively simple, simply sew a seam down the sides of the shirt to replace the existing seam, and voila, you got a tighter, better fitting shirt.
I set the Kickstarter goal at $2500 with the intention of making each set in my parents’ basement if there was demand. And to my surprise, we raised that amount in under 2 days and raised nearly $60k in 45 days.
Taking in that concept, my first prototype consisted of 2 planks of wood, one with a nail curved through it to lock into the other plank. To install, just pierce your baggy shirt with the nail, and lock the other piece of wood into the nail and BAM you got that sexy tailored fit.
As you can imagine, it was very uncomfortable to wear and left holes in your shirt. Having no other viable prototypes, I put the shirt tailoring idea to the side. A few months later while driving, I thought hmm what if I used a C shaped tube and then locked the fabric into the channel of the C? Armed with that idea, I went to my nearest Menards (midwest version of home depot) and bought a bunch of fish tank tubing, and then locked myself in my parents’ basement.
After some tinkering with drills and saws, I had 2 prototypes that seem to work pretty well, they were semiflexible and did what I envisioned.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Now that I had some working prototypes, I had no idea what to do next.
After some Reddit research, I needed to protect my idea before disclosing it to the public. So I went to google to see how I can file for a patent inexpensively. Most lawyers would want $5000+ for a patent but I didn’t even know if anyone would want this thing that I had so I decided to just file a provisional patent myself for just the $250 filing fee for micro-entities. I looked up all the verbiage and what to include in the filing and drafted up a few pages and submitted it and crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, used a few more and for the run-on sentence.
Now with some protection (always wear protection kids), I asked Reddit for some feedback about my invention in relevant subreddits like /r/fitness /r/tall /r/malefashionadvice.
Here are a couple examples:
Most of the feedback was positive and there seemed to be a demand for the product, though there were definitely detractors saying to just buy a shirt that fits or just go to the tailor and pay the man. Some of my comments were cringy but I’ll attribute that to my naivete and budding neckbeards.
Still, have no clue what to do next, my friend and I shot a quick video and launched it on Kickstarter under the name ZipSeam (in retrospect, it's pretty difficult to enunciate the M at the end). I set the goal at $2500 with the intention of making each set in my parents’ basement if there was demand. And to my surprise, we raised that amount in under 2 days and raised nearly $60k in 45 days.
After the initial boom, I knew I couldn’t simply make each ZipSeam myself and looked into manufacturers. I used sites like thomasnet.com and mfg.com to find local manufacturers since it was my first product and didn’t want to get scammed by some foreigners.
Also, I wanted to keep an eye on my baby. I found a local injection molder who gave me an acceptable quote (pretty much the only guy who responded to my RFQ). We drew up a CAD for the ZipSeam and manufactured the ZipSeam in small batches. I would pick up each batch from Addison, IL and ship it out in waves with the packing help of my parents. With pledges of over $1000 each day, I thought the money would never stop rolling in, and boy was I wrong.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
All during this inventing nonsense, I was unemployed after being laid off from my engineering job.
I had applied for a commission as an officer in the Air Force and actually got a slot as a pilot! Thinking the sales of the ZipSeam would just drive itself, I created a shitty WordPress site from a theme and waited for sales. Sales weren’t bad at the beginning, probably averaging 4-5k a month for the months that followed the Kickstarter.
Then I dealt a death blow to the ZipSeam. I didn’t like the way the website looked and decided to make a Shopify site without migrating any SEO or backlinks or anything. Sales immediately dropped, I’m guessing the combination of the Kickstarter traffic dying and the drop of SEO made sales plummet. I didn’t know shit about facebook ads or google ads and didn’t ran anything, didn’t create any new content for the website, and basically let the business stagnate, after all, I was waiting for my call of duty.
The 5k months eventually trickled to $1-2k a month and I knew I had to do something. The whole time I thought the ZipSeam could be improved and I was hesitant to push the product further. The first version was still a little stiff for my liking and not 100% comfortable to wear, so I started prototyping a new version. The second version was made from much softer silicone, but due to the softness, the holding power wasn’t enough to keep the shirt tailored. So I added an additional part to the ZipSeam. Of course, this actually made the product worse since it added more steps and made the “instantly tailor your shirts” farther from being instant. Still not 100% with the product, I worked on a third version. One day while watching TV I was playing with some cords for window blinds and tried to use it as the locking piece of the ZipSeam. To my surprise, it worked pretty well and allowed me to install the locking piece by just pulling the cord through the channel. Now the Zipseam could truly tailor a baggy shirt in under 2 minutes (*practice required).
Then my dad passed away and I just stopped doing anything and sales went to an all-time low of $300 a month.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
It took some time to recover but now I am slowly rebuilding the ZipSeam through mostly influencer marketing. I get great conversion rates when the ZipSeam is put in front of the eyes (upwards of 10%).
But, influencer marketing is crazy expensive right now and some channels want upwards of $40k for a video even though their video only gets like 10k views, so I would be hard-pressed to get my money back. Luckily I was able to find a few who were interested in working with profit-sharing only which seems to be mutually beneficial if they were truly influential.
Also a pretty big men’s fashion influencer The Kavalier just thought the product was cool and posted a pretty extensive video on it just because. Since the slowdown, I’ve been able to regrow sales to $3k+ a month and definitely am looking to create more content which seems to do better than the terrible ads I’ve run.
I’m still not running Facebook ads or google ads, though I have definitely flushed down some money down the drain trying them here and there. Ultimately I want to get the ZipSeam into retail as an add on for a few dollars.
I have some 70% margins right now and I imagine with volume I can get the cost down to less than a dollar per set. I am currently building a camper van /r/vandwellers and the plan is to travel to different trade shows and fairs to pitch the ZipSeam.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My biggest mistakes have been not continuing the momentum of the business and keeping the ball rolling. Once that momentum has slowed it’s very hard to get it started again.
Also cliche but true is to stick to your strong suits. I just tried to do a little of everything and nothing was that A5 wagyu quality that makes real brands stand out. It might cost more money but the brand image definitely matters.
I still don’t have that A5 website now A5 product (I still just ship each order in a polybag without any packaging (yes…. To save the environment….)) but I know to go to the next level I’ll need professional packaging design, something I’m not willing to spend money on right now.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Reddit has been a great source of information. I found my patent lawyer through Reddit who also happened to go to UCLA /u/iamanooj and definitely learned how to launch a product successfully if I were to do it all over again.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I would love to find a partner who can do the marketing side of things…. For-profit sharing. I’ve been approached by countless companies who claim they will do it for an X amount per month and link me to their “case studies”, but when I offer something along the lines of 50% of sales until X is paid plus 25% of sales afterwards they always balk at it. The way I look at it is if I wanted to throw money into a pit with hopes it would turn into a money tree I can do that all by myself.
Where can we go to learn more?
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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