Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am just an average 13-year-old kid with a small business poised to eclipse half a million in sales in 2019.
My name is Tripp Phillips and I go to Dalton middle school. I play football and golf on the DMS team and still manage to do my homework and run a business. I give speeches about once a week to schools, colleges, local chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, Kiwanis clubs along with podcasts, television and print publication interviews. I love to tell my story and try to inspire people I touch to believe they can achieve whatever goal they set for themselves. I am also one of the youngest patent holders in US history!
My product is Le-Glue, the world's 1st water releasable adhesive created for building bricks like Legos. We sell to brick builders, young and young at heart, all over the world. We are the answer to that evil KRAGGLE!
Since our appearance on Shark Tank, we have averaged over $35,000 per month in sales. And once Mr. Wonderful kicks in his help, we hope to quadruple those sells this year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Here is exactly how it started...
My 3rd-grade teacher, Mrs. Martha Thomason, challenged me to write a paper or come up with an invention, so I got motivated to show some creativity. As I told the Sharks, “I did what any logical 9-year-old boy would do, I chose to avoid the writing”.
I came home and said Dad, “I need to make an invention. How in the world do I make one”? Dad told me what now has become our core belief: “ Tripp, you have to Identify a problem and then come up with a solution to fix it. ”
Our cost dropped 91 cents per unit. In turn, it gives us one of the best gross margins ever mentioned on Shark Tank. At 96%.
I went to my room to consider what problem I could solve. After 30 minutes, I ran to my dad’s room and shouted “I GOT IT! I was playing with my Lego Delta airplane and the wing kept popping off. I need a way to glue the pieces together but not forever!” Dad looked up and thoughtfully said, “Buddy that is a pretty good idea. Let me look into it.”
Dad and I began searching the USPTO (patent office) to see if anything existed in that area of adhesives. I searched and searched and found nothing, which was good news. The next day Dad called a very good friend of his that owned an adhesive manufacturing business. The man, Benny Woods, thought for a few minutes and said, “I think we can make this happen.”
Mr. Benny provided us with a couple of options. So I built and broke and built and broke to make sure which formula fit what I had envisioned. I settled on my choice. As a laboratory director, my dad had the means to set up real tests to prove that the adhesive actually worked.
We proved it to hold the bricks together over 10 times stronger than the frictional bond of the brick itself. Just as I directed to “not be forever”, we found our formula was easily dissolved in water, strong but not permanent.
Le-Glue was born! Mrs. Thomson entered my invention into the International Torrance Legacy event, and I won 1st place, with competitors from 1st grade through 12th grade. I even beat the high-schoolers!
A small investment
Since the idea appeared to have merit, Dad decided to invest $1000 to see if we could make some units and try to sell them.
We filed for a trademark online to protect our name that we came up with. Both of our names are “Leon” so we chose LE-glue. As an added feature, it also might remind users of why we made it, Glue for LEgos.
Before I was born, my dad had two great inventions stolen, so to avoid that from occurring again, he filed for a provisional patent. This would give us time to develop and prove the product. At the same time, we had met an awesome young man, “Uncle Fred”, that needed some assistance with an invention he had.
Dad knew how to build what he needed, so we traded services (Dad calls this bootstrapping and feels it is vital to all new entrepreneurs) as Fred is a world-class photographer, editor, and graphics creator.
Fred and Natasha Ruckel (RUCKSACK NY) have been our #1 asset in creating the designs, logos, and themes to our business. They are the best in the world!!
Making the product
We went ahead and purchased little tubs with tops, made five gallons of Le-Glue and printed some labels.
We scooped glue into the tubs with my sister Allee’s baby spoon. We applied the labels, screwed on the lids and then started a listing on Amazon. It was somewhat time-consuming to fill each tub by hand, carefully placing the label and UPC code.
Allee was the fastest and neatest worker, so she became the “packaging manager”. We could do about 30 or so units per hour. To our surprise, Le-Glue started selling. Two, three,four, five units each day.
Before we looked up, we had sold almost $50,000 worth of Le-Glue. Our Hometown, Dalton Georgia is a manufacturing town so we leaned on some larger businesses and friends to help us start thinking about how to get bigger, how to grow professionally and how to just turn my idea into an actual business.
Our first pitch event
With that came our next adventure. Our banker Bill Davies and a carpet titan Bryan Macon both contacted my dad about a local entrepreneur event called Pitch Dalton Innovation Accelerator. They both knew of my invention and said I should enter Le-Glue.
They told me we could win valuable services. My dad responded, “we really don’t need anything.” Bill said there is a $5000 cash prize. Well, that changed my attitude so Dad and I followed their advice and we filled out the paperwork.
My dad says “you cannot meet a goal if you never set one.” And I say “You cannot have a dream come true if you never dream.”
There were over 60 entries in the event, all adults except for me. We made it through the 1st couple of rounds, then we got placed with some mentors to advise us. It was similar to The Voice when they bring in advisors to make the contestant better. In our first meeting, I was was a little nervous but I felt like I still did a pretty good of explaining our business.
Rob Bradham, president of the Chamber of Commerce was impressed. Jodi Wren of Shaw Industries and Kristie Blalock of Inventure IT were the other advisors, and they were so helpful and supportive. In our second meeting, Mr. Rob made a bold prediction. He said, point blank, “Tripp, I have already told the other teams they are playing for second because you will WIN.”
So Allee and I gave a 15-minute live presentation in front of hundreds in the audience, along with the four expert judges’ panel. Le-Glue won the Pitch DIA. I got to hold the giant check, like winning golfers get on TV. I got to shake hands with the mayor and a billionaire (not the same guy), plus we won that list of services that my dad and I had thought were “un-needed” from local enterprises. Little did we know that The Minor Law firm would be needed to apply the shares of the business into a trust to protect our business from those nasty Sharks, nor that
John Minor would have to spend hours on our behalf looking into the complex contracts a business Shark would lay out, nor did we know that there would be thousands of hits to our website in the first two minutes of the show airing that would have shut our site down without the prize of IT services provided by the experts at Inventure IT.
Those “un-needed” services were of utmost importance and helped to move our business forward in an unbelievable way.
On Thursday the week before the PITCH finals, my dad’s client and friend Eric Ruppert of 3M came into the office and asked, “Did you know Shark Tank is holding an open call this Saturday?”
Dad did not know but texted me to see if I wanted to go. I was stoked and I really wanted to do it. We got up around 4 AM and drove to Suntrust Park. It was really cold and we had to sit outside in a long line hoping to get in the door. We met lots of entrepreneurs with some good and some bad ideas. It was a great learning experience for me. We shared our story and we listened to theirs. It provided a good sense of comradery as the Shark Tank event is not a contest between entries but a potential success for all if you are good enough. I still stay in contact with friends we met in line that day.
When the “crew” finally came out to hand out the bracelets that guaranteed our entrance, we waited with anticipation watching and hoping they did not run out before they got to us. The anticipation was killing me as we watched each person ahead of us, one by one, receive their golden bracelet.
Then they came to us, the young lady stopped and looked me in the eyes and she said, “I know you! You are the Le-Glue Kid. We’ve been watching you!” I was stunned, and yes we got the bracelet (It still sits inside the Pitch DIA Trophy on my shelf). We grabbed a pizza and started practicing the pitch. When our time slot came up we went inside to the debriefing.
The young lady was not just anybody, she was the casting director! “Miss Mindy” was the boss, and she knew who I was!! Dad said, “Little Buddy, it’s a BIG Deal that she knew you.”
When my number was called, I went up in front of the producer table and gave my pitch like a little Billy Mays from Oxi-clean.
It was my pitch so my dad decided not to utter a single word until the producers started asking him questions directed to him after my speech. The producers said Shark Tank would call within two weeks if they wanted us to move forward.
On Wednesday of the next week, I was playing Xbox at about 9:30 PM when I got a call on my cell phone. I heard dad walking up the stairs towards my room. We have a 9 o’clock PM cell phone curfew, so I was thinking I am about to get in trouble. Dad opened the door, and I had my phone sitting on my chest, leaning back, while playing Xbox.
Dad gave me “the look” and I casually whisper, “Shark Tank.” He starts jumping around and pointing like I should hand him the phone so I told him “I got this.“ And I did because we had made it all the way to those famous swinging doors of the “Super Bowl of business. Plus I made the deal with my all-time favorite Shark, Mr. Wonderful.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We no longer have to scoop Le-glue with a baby spoon, because of an idea that I had one morning.
I was eating applesauce, Motts to be exact and I looked over at the old man and said, “It sure would be good if we could get Le-Glue into a squeeze pouch like this.” He stood up and said, “That idea is better than the glue itself”.
We searched the world over and found a large flexible packager in our backyard down in Atlanta. Because my dad knows businesses in the polymer and film industry, he was able to contact friends and get pointed towards companies that could help us with packaging.
I went to meet with Printpack Inc. this giant boardroom. I felt like a mini-executive. We were able to secure packaging and use our artwork to get a “ready for retail”2.0-ounce flex spout pouch. We bought ourselves filling machine that let us put Le-Glue into a huge funnel and the air piston pumps the glue into the pouch. We manufacture the adhesive in-house and we package and ship in house. We are Made in the USA!
Our production went from 30 an hour to 500 per hour. That is with me and my 10-year-old sister running the machine. Our cost dropped 91 cents per unit. In turn, it gives us one of the best gross margins ever mentioned on Shark Tank. At 96%.
Mr. Cuban fell out of his chair when I told them the percentage. So it follows right back to what I said our motto has become. Identify a problem and find a solution!
Describe the process of launching the business.
We did a Kickstarter campaign that Rucksack NY helped us get set up. We ran it fairly quickly from the point we knew we had a product that could be sold, December of 2015. We met our goal of $3500 raising $4,000. This helped us hire our patent attorney and fund the actual patent.
Kickstarter is a good way to measure if people like, appreciate and understand your concept or product. I would recommend it to other entrepreneurs.
My dad is a self-proclaimed financial wizard and he hates, and I mean hates, debt. Kickstarter helped us from having to raise outside capital. Dad’s requirement was that we pay for everything as we go and not borrow any money, other than the original $1000 he put in. As a side note, he has been repaid completely and with the current value of his shares has made about 3000% on his investment.
After the Kickstarter campaign, sales begin to increase on our website and Amazon. We try to stay relevant and use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other web advertising to keep our “drag” going as Mr. Fred would call it.
The biggest lesson I learned was pretty early. We had sold around $300 worth of Le-Glue to a small store and the next day I asked my Dad, “Where is my money that we made?” Dad said, “I can give you a couple of bucks but the rest of the money has to be used to buy more ingredients to make more Le-Glue.”
I was not happy. But the lesson I learned is you have to use the money you just received to buy more ingredients, market and sell the product, invoice, wait to get paid, then use that money to buy more ingredients to make more Le-Glue, market and sell, invoice…..
You get the point. Because if you don’t, you will not remain in business long. Just because you made it doesn't mean it is going in your pocket.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
If you want to bring in customers, you have to do Amazon ads for sure.
I am speaking completely about selling a product, so selling services may not be the same path. You also need to determine the target market for your product. We think we made a small mistake in our initial television commercial as we tailored it to children.
Make sure you keep your customers satisfied. If they have an issue, go out of your way to help them work it out. I don’t think the customer is always right but I do care about our customer and want to make their experience right.
We discovered children do not buy our product, it is the grandmother, the grandfather, the mom and the dad that see and understand the issue we solve. Kids love to use it but the majority of calls, responses, and interactions we receive are from the adults. So that is who we target the most. If you can get it running correctly, Amazon is the absolute best channel to sell on.
Most of our advertising dollars are spent through Amazon because of the success we have been able to see with the cost of each sale (ACOS). We run at around 3% currently which is very good. Rucksack NY manages our system for us and they pick the keywords and ad types that show the highest rate of success.
While Amazon is something a person can do themselves, we decided that we are better at manufacturing and allow true experts to do what they do best. The value is much greater than the costs so I highly recommend looking into it. I also suggest talking directly to the clients of whomever you interview for managing to advertise.
Everybody says they can deliver but do not just take their word for it. If they are good, they will not mind letting you talk to their clients.
We use several selling channels but none of them compare to the volume of Amazon. You still need a good running website that is the basis to find real information about the products you offer but it will not sell as much as Amazon.
Connect with your audience on social media. Make them laugh, make them cry, but make them remember you. We made up a little Mascot that I built myself, LEGLUE MAN. He is fun cute and has become famous as he has traveled from New York to LA to South Florida. Find a way to get your customers wanting to see what you have to show them today. Make them like or if you can, love your story.
Le-glue Man with Ole St. Stick!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are still early in our business and have had some major advantages with Shark Tank and Pitch Dalton.
However, a lot of the success was driven by very good gross margins. It helps with our cash flow and allows us to reap some of the rewards more quickly than those operating on lower margins.
It seems simple but it is not. You have to identify processes and procedures to be able to manufacture efficiently, effectively and not input too much money up front. I was asked to judge a business enterprise-class business start-up competition at our local college a few weeks ago (kind of funny, me at 12 telling college students what to do). I recognized something during the presentations. Each group made wonderful presentations with spreadsheets, predictions, values but all of them were spending money like it was water to get their business started.
I told my dad as we walked to the car, “Two things got me tonight. The first was that the student based everything on a perfect set of circumstances. Nothing goes exactly right in business so where are the contingency plans? Two, why do they want to go in so much debt and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to start a business.
They could have just opened an Amazon store selling rugs made right here in Dalton.” My dad said, “Tripp you learned more in there tonight than those college students did.”
I say that because I think the trouble comes with too much pressure. We have been profitable since our 1st quarter. We could have spent way more money on ads, bought huge machines, built a new building.
But we didn't, because my dad knew how to do it. That’s my opinion but I am sticking to it. Our future is bright because we have a good foundation plus I am only 13 so that makes it even brighter.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The internet can make you or break you. Good press is great, but bad press can kill you. Make sure you keep your customers satisfied. If they have an issue, go out of your way to help them work it out. I don’t think the customer is always right but I do care about our customer and want to make their experience right. That is what they are paying for.
I have learned locality and “who you know” can make a business much more successful than if given other circumstances. Dalton Georgia, our hometown, is an awesome place to manufacture. We are able to buy chemicals locally and find good used equipment that fits our needs. We have workers available that are experienced in manufacturing.
Because of the billion dollar companies located here, we have so many wonderful tools available to us. We owe Dalton because I am quite sure we would not have been as profitable somewhere else.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We built our original site, we meaning Rucksack NY built it, on Shopify. The low cost and ease of use were paramount in our picking that platform. We have moved to ShipStation for our shipping platform as it compiles all channels into one funnel so we can print with much less navigation.
It has saved us a lot of time so it is worth the monthly fee. Plus you get a decent discount off shipping costs with ShipStation. Dad uses Quickbooks for accounting and since they are a sponsor of Shark Tank, I am hoping to get to be in a commercial for them. Hopefully, they will read this.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am in the 7th grade so I really do not have time to read for fun. I do like to read about the Generals in WWII. I draw inspiration from theirs and others heroism.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I am probably not really qualified to offer a lot of advice but I will tell you this. My dad says “you cannot meet a goal if you never set one.” And I say “You cannot have a dream come true if you never dream.”
If you are not a dreamer and a goal setter, you probably are not best suited to be an entrepreneur. You must be self-motivated. If you don’t like competition, pressure, hurt feelings, roller coasters of emotions, failures, and successes, just go work hard for someone else. It takes a special person to be an entrepreneur.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for a commissions sales rep that can assist us in getting into the educational world. Our product was made by a kid for other kids so we know it is very useful in the school environment. If you know how to break into that area directly or through magazines, feel free to contact us.
Where can we go to learn more?
You can find Le-Glue at www.le-glue.com.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram handles are all Leglue4you. Reach out! We would love to hear from you.
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