- Tell us something about yourself, your background
I am a travel nurse, inventor and serious taco-enthusiast! For the last 7 years, I have traveled around the US to work in short-staffed hospitals or in areas of crisis. Currently, I am performing Covid-19 testing for NCAA athletes at Colorado State University & University of Wyoming.
- Can you tell us what product you invented with a brief explanation
iFLEX: This is a thin, flexible silicone phone holder with a memory metal core.
- How/Why did you start inventing. What set you off? How did you get from idea to finished product?
Like many good ideas, they’re inspired by the world around us. As a passionate nurse who (used to) pick up every extra shift I could, the inspiration for our first product, the iFLEX, came from the healthcare setting – a thin flexible foam splint meant for stabilizing known or potential fractures. The splint is usually wrapped around an appendage like an ankle or wrist. Once the doctor removes the splint, the splint is discarded. I would keep a few of the smaller ones that were only in the best of shape.
Once properly disinfected, I would use the smaller splints to hold my “stuff” as I wheeled my computer workstation from patient room to patient room. I bent the splint into a shape so that it held my pens, meds or phone and nothing slid off of my work surface. I was able to corner and make sudden stops without dropping my “stuff” on the floor. The other nurses noticed this and started using the splints, too. A light bulb goes off in my head. At the same time, my business partner and long-time friend – Scott Anderson, & I were looking for a product to sell on Amazon. Our only goal was simple – make enough money to go to Mexico twice a year to go deep sea fishing and eat way too many tacos.
I sent some splints to Scott. He lives on the east coast and I travel around the US, but we connect daily to keep our idea moving forward. We played with many different uses but decided that it the flexible splint could sell best as a mobile phone holder, particularly on airplane flights as they could offer a hands-free way to view your phone. Our research had shown us there were very few options for an in-flight phone holder, but the demand is there and could grow with proper marketing and product awareness.
Soon after “testing” our new phone holder, we found a problem that we needed to solve – the 3 layer foam splint only lasted a short time because the 2 foam layers would peel apart and expose the inner metal layer. Afterall, these splints were meant for single use, not the repeated bending we were giving it as we bent & rebent the splint to fit the current need. Scott & I discussed how to make a better, one-piece, flexible holder. With our plan & with $13 in supplies from Home Depot, I made our first rubber iFLEX prototype. It was crude, but it was one piece and it worked very well. It didn’t peel apart like the foam and the rubber made it grip even better than the foam ever could. Now that we have our million-dollar idea, we were ready to create and launch a product. The only problem was – we didn’t know how to do any of this….yet
Luckily, we live in a world full of resources for those motivated enough to invest their time looking for them. We are self-taught, perpetual students of Google & YouTube University. We also use Jungle Scout when looking at sales potential on Amazon. We use Fiverr & Upwork for a lot of freelance work like creating videos & storyboards, etc. We learned that while there are many 3rd party companies to assist you with your business, it’s crucial to know enough about every aspect of your business that you can determine if you are getting optimal results from those 3rd parties. Perhaps, in time, there will be roles that you can fulfill yourself because you have learned how it applies to your business. The key is to know how much your time is worth and to only spend your time in ways that advance you & your business – delegate the minutia. Know the minutia, but delegate it. We quickly educated ourselves on how to create an LLC, find a manufacturer, create a mold, file a patent, & perform independent product safety testing, among so many other things it takes to launch a product.
We shopped for manufacturers and found a great partner that made our first official FLEX (we later changed the name to iFLEX because we thought it sounded more “techy”). The iFLEX is a thin, flexible silicone phone holder with a memory metal core. That’s a fancy way of saying that it holds its shape when bent. The iFLEX can be bent in a variety of ways….to do a variety of things. We started out with what we thought was a great in-flight phone holder. Our customers started sending us pictures of the other ways that they use their iFLEX, too. One mom uses the iFLEX to wrap around the door handles on their snack pantry to keep her toddler out. Several customers place their curling irons &/or hair straighteners on the iFLEX so they won’t burn their countertops. One guy wrote us to say that he uses his iFLEX to hold a flashlight so he can work with 2 hands as he’s crawling around in air ducts. The only limitation is your imagination. We quickly launched a #showusyourflex campaign where users submitted pictures of how they use their iFLEX and using our hashtag.
After a successful launch on Amazon, we continued to perfect our PPC/page ranking. Sales were doing so well that Scott & I decided to go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas after being invited to display the iFLEX at a booth in “Eureka Park”, which is the area designated at CES for new, start-up business with either no sales or very little sales. Eureka Park is meant to serve as a platform for these new businesses to gain exposure. Anybody who has ever been to CES knows that it is a technology lovers paradise. There is so much innovation and some very cool products & ideas to see. The iFLEX is simple in its design, but it can be used in so many ways. For this reason, the iFLEX was often referred to as the “post-it-note of technology”. No bells, no whistles & no electricity. We were hoping to get some attention…. and we did! The simplicity of the iFLEX was highly embraced and we even found some great customers who ordered from us making our show a success and proving that our iFLEX concept was a valid one.
With the success we had at CES, we also decided to hire a consultant to help us get into big box retail. We had tried reaching out to retailers ourselves, but we were so naive that we didn’t realize that this isn’t typically the way things are done. At that time, we didn’t even know what a sales deck was! After hiring a consultant with a proven track record, we were able to license the iFLEX & find a great distributor. Our consultant pitched the iFLEX around and we were able to get a deal & shelf space in the Electronics Dept in Walmart. The process took about 10 months of going back and forth with new product & packaging designs. In the end, we created an exclusive iFLEX just for Walmart and are testing sales in 839 stores throughout the US.
Even though we now collect a royalty, Scott & I stay active with iFLEX in a marketing & research capacity. We are constantly coming up with ways to extend the iFLEX line. In addition, we have created 3 other products (non iFLEX related) that we are currently pitching…so I can’t discuss those products yet.
- Let us know of useful resources that helped you i.e. Books, websites, software etc
- Jungle Scout
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
- What are you up to now?
I continue to work as a travel nurse, but now I can choose how often I work & I can be picky with assignments & only accept those that still allow me to spend time inventing. I prefer to spend my time inventing and inspiring others. Recently, I spoke to a group of high school business students about inventing. The teacher had seen the iFLEX & through a friend of a friend, they invited me to their class to discuss how we got started with the iFLEX, where we are now & where we would like to go. My overall message to the students was that even ordinary people can do some really cool things if they just – do something, even if it’s wrong! Some of my coolest ideas were the result of a mistake. I also encouraged them to be willing to make the kinds of mistakes that successful people make. The class is now reviewing our product to think of new products to make that incorporate the iFLEX concept, but most importantly…the students have agreed to create an engaging social media campaign. It is so cool to see the creativity in these students.
Going forward, I will continue inventing new products with my awesome business partner. Now that we have one product in Walmart, it seems that our other products are being taken more seriously by buyers. We even helped another inventor connect with our consultant so that he can launch his product, too. From inventing our own products to helping others launch their products – our imagination is our only limitation! Now, my dream is to buy my own island, name it La Isla de Taco and spend my days riding jet skis & eating tacos with friends and family as I invent new products!
— End of Interview —
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