Categorized | Shoestring Startup

A Crazy, a Shoestring Budget, and 1000 Miles of Distance: How Two Entrepreneurs Brought a Crazy Idea to the Market Without Ever Meeting.

A Crazy, a Shoestring Budget, and 1000 Miles of Distance: How Two Entrepreneurs Brought a Crazy Idea to the Market Without Ever Meeting Booty Pillows is quite unique. Aside from the rather unusual product with the name to match, the business behind the Booty Pillow is quite unique as well.

The founders, Nic McGrue and Lull Mengesha, are two young professionals at the very beginning of their careers. The two became friends in a college and always knew they would in some how or form, become business partners.

The idea of the Booty Pillow came from Lull. One day he was hanging out with a girl that he was dating. While the girl laid on her stomach reading a book, Lull rested his head in the small of her back and her butt. It was so comfortable that Lull actually fell asleep. When the girl awoke him, he told her how comfortable it was and that he wished he could always lay there. The next day he called Nic, explained the story and said, “We should make Booty Pillows!” Nic laughed but liked the idea and decided they should pursue it. From there they began creating the Booty Pillow, a pillow meant to replicate the shape and feel of laying on a female’s small of her back and backside.

At this point, Nic and Lull had many hurdles to overcome. They had the traditional hurdles of any new startup such as funding and location of needed resources. However, this venture presented another large hurdle: distance. Nic is an attorney that resides in the Los Angeles are, whiles Lull is a software engineer who resides in Seattle. With this distance between them, they could not collaborate or meet together as most other businesses would.

Lull and Nic are entrepreneurs at heart. Like any entrepreneur, problem-solving and resourcefulness are skills that they have strong command of. Thus, in order to combat this distance problem, the duo looked to online resources that would allow them to work together.

Of the many tools they used, they both agree that Skype has been the most useful. “We’re not able to meet face to face. With Skype that’s okay. We can talk and meet just as if we were in the same room,” says Nic. “At times when things get busy, we often will meet every evening. Even more, generally when I’m on my computer and see that Nic is signed into Skype, I usually contact him just so that we can touch bases and keep each other aware of what we’re doing. I guess that would be the equivalent of me popping into his office when I walk by.”

Some other tools the owners use are Google Documents. “Whether I’m working on a spreadsheet to check off different media outlets I’ve contacted, or the two of us are working on a press release or newsletter to our fans, Google Docs is great because we don’t have to worry about emailing Word documents back and forth, or wondering if we are updating the latest version. With Google Docs, it updates instantly and I can actually watch Lull typing his input,” said Nic.

When asked if the distance was sometimes over burdensome, Lull replied, “Many people have to do business from a distance. With all of the free technology on the internet now, it’s not really a problem at all. For this particular product I think it was an advantage. Having someone in Los Angeles to get a vibe for product from Angelenos, and having someone in Seattle get a vibe from the Seattlelites let us see different things we should change. The markets are a bit different and have different outlooks on different things. The distance allowed us to get a larger sample of people’s opinions.

The idea came to Lull in mid August of 2010. The team started working on the project shortly afterward. They launched the product for sale on their e-commerce website on March 15. After a slow start, the product has begun to take off. Now that they see there is a demand, they are looking to move from solely online sales, to brick and mortar sales as well. They have additionally began sourcing production over seas for larger requirements.

Nic and Lull have added one minority stakeholder to their team which brings the team size to total of three. About adding the new member, Nic says, “Troy was our graphic designer. We started out paying him but it was more like donations, nothing near market rate. Troy was great about it though, he understood we were a lean startup and really just enjoyed working on the project with us. He was always proactive and helped us with things even outside of graphic design so it was really a no-brainer for us to add him in as part of our team.”

Currently, the business is still on a shoestring budget. “Capitalization and cash flow is what could have killed this in the beginning. Nic and I put in money from our savings accounts, which was not an extremely large amount. Our startup costs were modest, but we still needed to have an income to cover some monthly expenses. We underestimated how long it would take before we started selling a sizeable amount of product. But now, we’re getting our marketing and pr strategies down and the orders are flowing in, which helps a lot with cash flow. I guess I wouldn’t actually say cash flow and capitalization almost killed us, but it more stifled and slowed our growth.,” says Lull.

Another tidbit of advice the Team gives is, “Market, market, market,” says Lull. Nic adds, “Even more than marketing, PR. But yes, marketing as well. Somehow, people need to know you and your product or business—it doesn’t just happen magically. We sold a lot of pillows in our first couple weeks but then it got a little slow. Basically those first couple weeks were people that we believe were in our network or one or two degrees out of our network. We didn’t really market at all. I then began emailing blogs and different media outlets to tell them about the product. One fairly big blog caught wind of the Booty Pillow and did a story on it. Within 3 days, that article had over 70,000 views, which brought a lot of traffic to our site and many sales. From that article, media outlets started contacting us—radio shows across the nation, national magazines, and tv shows. I’d say that if you have a unique product/business and a small budget, put your efforts into PR. There’s no way that we would have had enough money to get the type of exposure that this FREE PR gave us.”

Lull gives one final word of advice on something they did well that helped keep costs lean, “Be sure to use the resources in your network. Find people that really believe in you and what you’re doing. They are a good support for the hard times, but also they’re often willing to help you at a well-below market rate or even free. Even if it’s just ideas or suggestions, the help we’ve gotten from our network at minimal costs has been invaluable.”

Because they created this business on a shoestring budget to the fullest, the Booty Pillow owners look to break even by the end of July 2011, just four and a half months after the initial launch. When asked if they were in this for the long haul and wanted to build an empire around the Booty Pillow, they said, “Possibly. The name and the kitschy-ness of it have potential to be a big brand. If so, it might be fun to build on the brand. However, we have many other products and ideas that we want to work on so if the right offer came along, we might be interested in selling.”

The Booty Pillow is now for sale on the company website, www.bootypillows.com. They recently completed filming their two-minute direct advertisement which can be found on theirYouTube page,

httpv://youtu.be/6KoTkjC8wZk

You can also keep up to date information about the company by becoming a fan of their Facebook page at facebook.com/bootypillows or following them on Twitter, @bootypillows.

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