We made it to a full year of the Consumer Show at Switchyards, and what a year it's been! I've seen presenters dance their way onstage with more enthusiasm than anything else; I've been shown some pretty slick demo videos; I've debated the pros and cons of letting raccoons gnaw on your trash; and I've watched founders take their shirts off onstage for "a live demo." (Yep, there's pics of that last one. Thank Jason Seagle for that.) I've watched the show sell out, time after time.
I heart this community, y'all.
But I know you're not here to listen to me wax poetic about the awesomeness of Switchyards (though I will if you ask me...). Pitch recaps, coming right up!
THE PITCH RECAPS:
Goodwipes: The quick way to get clean. When you don't have time for a shower, it's time for a Goodwipe. | Goodwipes actually pitched waaaaaay back at the second Consumer Show, and I have to say, cofounder Charlie Siciak's energy has not waned one bit. It has, in fact, gotten even more in-your-face (and considering Charlie was the aforementioned founder who live-demo'd his product shirtless, that's saying something).
As a quick recap, Charlie and his cofounder, Sam Nebel, bonded in a frat house over using baby wipes instead of toilet paper. (Yes, you read that properly.) And now, after an initial promising launch and an intensive round last summer at The Brandery in Cincinnati, Ohio, they're back at Switchyards where it all started (as members six and seven!), and they are ready to take over the world of wipes.
What did they do really well? They have never looked for permission, they "just do shit." They're not afraid to fail, and just lean into themselves. They have a great team, who get people and trust people, and view every interaction with anyone, from a shopper to a hater, with a number one objective to make a friend. They assume positive intent and "beautiful things happen." They also have "stick-with-it-ness," because creating a startup takes tenacity and patience.
What can the community help with? How much time do we have? No, seriously, when Dave and Tavani started Switchyards, the original post talked about three ingredients that make a great brand, and the one that matters most is the community. Unfortunately, they were originally so focused on the sales that they neglected the community, but they have a new commit to engage and give back to the community. So if you see a use case or intersection, please share and introduce them.
— Goodwipes —
The team sees serious gaps in the existing wipes marketplace, as well as combating the "social shame" of baby wipes and lack of convenience in the current offerings. Goodwipes addresses these issues with a convenient way to stay fresh on the go. They have a flushable line that offers both individually wrapped and package options, as well as "ingredients and scents made for adults, not babies," all to fit the modern world's transient life in motion.
It is, as Charlie so succinctly put it, "a shower in your f***ing pocket."
If you think there are products out there for the at-home hygiene routine, you're right: It's a $1.3 billion person care wipes market. But Goodwipes says the big brands talk aisles and categories, while in reality we live in a consumer democracy and need to be more reactive to consumers' needs, demands, lifestyles and aspirations. Goodwipes does this with what they call an unforgettable brand experience that consists of eco-friendly products which are fresh, convenient and shareable, while tackling taboo topics with "witty, smart and engaging social strategies."
If it looks anything like Charlie's presentation style, that's accurate, and the press and consumers seem to love it so far. They're now in national retailers including Bed, Bath and Beyond, The Container Store, Urban Outfitters and Amazon (with five-star reviews!), and have sold more than 1.5 million wipes. With a 65 percent gross margin, they're doing well, but they also invest up to 50 percent back into marketing because they believe the creative side is the variable in commoditized categories. In terms of pricing, full packs are comparable to feminine care items, with a 32 count available for $3.98, and a singles 30-pack for $5.99-$8.99 depending on the style.
A common question with this type of product is always around the "flushable" aspect, and this event was no exception. First question out of the gate was a read from the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management page which claims flushable wipes cause millions in damages, energy to treat the wastewater, and more. The Goodwipes team didn't flinch, and in fact said it's their favorite question as they've spent a lot of time and effort on research and development, resulting in a substrate that disperses in a shaken bottle of water (though, Sam says, "the lawyers want us to add that it's best to only flush one wipe at a time"). Also, and an interesting point, it's really hard to change human behavior, and Charlie believes if the city thinks they can affect flushing behavior they'll lose in the long run. (As a product manager who looks at user behavior every day, I'd say this is a fair statement.) Goodwipes thinks it makes more sense to start thinking of better ways to distribute flushable waste through the city.
City woes aside, Goodwipes has a scaling plan to get into every corner pharmacy and be at your fingertips, so the next time you're in a rush, grab a Goodwipes pack and you'll be good to go!
Incubate: The digital time capsule. | I don't know who did Incubate's video, but I think you should hire them.
Founder Michael McCluney kicked off the presentaion with a "Mad Max: Fury Road"-inspired, post-apocalyptic video that showcased Incubate's ability to bring a message from to past to the future. It could be a sweet message from your deceased grandma, or a below-the-belt photo from a dead boyfriend. (Yeah, I never thought I'd have to come up with a professionally appropriate euphemism for that cultural phenomenon, either.)
What did they do really well? They convinced people who are good at making videos to do pro-bono work for them. (This got a round of applause, btw, as it should!)
— Incubate —
Basically, Incubate is a time-delay messaging app for up to 25 years in the future, which I'm sure could lend itself to below-the-belt photos galore ... and so, naturally, they're now in the wedding space, much to their surprise. They had to hire wedding consultants and figure out the space, where it turns out 63 percent of brides are seeking new technology for their weddings, and would be willing to spend a minimum of $200 on a time capsule capture at the wedding. Of course, you can imagine the big issue there — it's really, really hard to get 300 wedding guests to all download an app — so instead they created a central repository and the world's first "future wedding booth" with a custom 55-inch iPad that sends video messages to the couple up to 25 years in the future. Based on the epic wedding trade show response, they've now coined this "the coolest effing thing you can have at your wedding." (tm)
I'm going to try to touch on the majority of audience questions here, but Michael could double as an auctioneer in his spare time, and he sometimes outpaced even my journalist-rapid typing skills. Okay, deep breath: How does Incubate future-proof for 25 years, when technology is changing so fast (for every person who pays for the product, Incubate puts money into an escrow account to cover Amazon Glacier storage for up to 25 years, so videos and pictures "hatch" in that repository as well as the mobile app, and can be delivered via a Web site portal); how's the message sent, and what if phones change too much to accept the messages (it's sent similar to Snapchat, but it turns out 55 percent of people who downloaded it used it to schedule SMS text messages, so they're now adding that functionality back ... though that opens a can of worms around what if two years later, that number has changed hands and now an 11-year-old girl gets that below-the-belt photo...?); and how are they different from Timehop (Timehop is the inverse of Incubate, they are not the inverse of Timehop. They strategically take the present and send it to the future).
I loved their branding, y'all, and honestly I wish this had existed for my wedding! And if you haven't watched their video yet, you should do that. Maybe not something that makes you think "wedding," but definitely funny.
Steppingblocks: Your digital career counselors. | Did you have problems picking out your major when you were thinking about college? Did you pick the wrong one and have to switch later? Not to worry, you're in good company: Steppingblocks CTO Levi Perkins had the same problem. He grew up working on a poultry farm, so when he graduated high school, "poultry science" as a major just made sense. It took him awhile to find his true passion in technology and education, and he had to change jobs to get there.
The problem is that students don't know what lies beyond, and they don't know what real-world implications a particular major may have for the direction of their lives, but Steppingblocks can help with that. As a platform designed to help parents and students make educated, informed decisions about college majors, it shows real-world data in a fun and interactive environment. Which is apparently important, because the first iteration was mainly the data, and those same students basically said, "I'm not going to read or look at that, I need pictures and instant gratification, and be entertained in the process." So, they pivoted to address those requests because, as Levi said, "It doesn't matter what information we give you if you don't use it."
What did they do really well? The original idea was by cofounder Carlo Martinez, who worked his way up from a bank teller to senior VP of analytics, and he built it for himself as he needed that platform. With more research and a pivot, they took this powerful analytics engine and put in front of high school students and parents, as well as career counselors, to help scale their efforts to think about life after graduation.
What can the community help with? Give them money! They’re currently selling in a few high schools and colleges, and are looking for investment money and new leads, so send them people you know who would benefit from the platform.
— Steppingblocks —
Here's how it works: If users aren't sure where to start, Steppingblocks offers a Meyers-Briggs test that then matches them to suggested majors based on unique qualities. They showcase common first jobs for those majors, common fields to use them in, and even salary ranges where professionals with those majors worked. Students can dive into the sample and learn more about individual career paths from the search results. The program also shows the total cost of college, how long in particular jobs until they would break even to pay it back, and even has a scholarship search engine feature to find ways to reduce costs, using religion, race, field of study, etc., to match. And, finally, the platform offers relevant content based on your goals, plus access to a great mentor network where students can post to verified professionals and get responses back to specific questions. Really, it's the ultimate career analtyics engine (I do love a good analytics engine, y'all) with a great social impact twist.
They're currently focused on high school students, but user testing for not only college students but also workforce participants is on the horizon. They typically sell to both individual students as well as larger packages to learning institutions, where career counselors can use it for advising and college admissions counselors can use it for recruitment into specific programs. The data comes from publicly available resumes, and the platform plugs it into an algorithm to estimate salary and returns it in a digestible form. As a brand-new company they haven't done trending data yet, but will be set up to do so moving forward.
Investing in education can be expensive (don't I know it!), and many students don't understand the financial implications until it's too late. Steppingblocks helps you evaluate how today's decisions impact your future.
Now if we could just get an analytics engine for the rest of our life choices, that'd be great. (Hey, Carlo, talk to me about what all your algorithms can do again...?)
tapStory: Picture books, reimagined. | TapStory is the tale of a creative idea that's looking for a business and marketing boost. Created under Playful Art, LLC, and founded by former teacher and software engineer Owen Mathews, tapStory's iPad app "augments picture books with creative play, creating a novel immersive experience for young readers."
Children can animate characters from the stories, from resizing to rotating and flipping, choosing backgrounds and saving text, and then read the story aloud. They can then play back the performances (including their recorded voices) onscreen. Additionally, tapStory offers a "create mode" that allows kids to make their own stories using artwork from any stories they have purchased.
TapStory solves "the parents' iPad dilemma," where they love the educational abilities but then have to regulate yet another screen, all while finding solid apps for their kids that they feel good about. And while the picture books app is a large existing market, they aren't creatively engaging for kids, and the beautiful illustrations often distract from the reading process. Owen wanted to figure out how to engage kids more and harness their creativity, and tapStory grew from his belief that all children are creators, given the right tools.
TapStory, which is targeted at kids ages 3-7, is free to download and comes with two stories, and there are in-app purchase options of up to eight more stories (they work with the publishers and pay royalities on those stories) and extra art packs in create mode. To create and save more than one story at a time also requires an unlock purchase.
The concept obviously resonates, as tapStory was featured in the App Store in October, first in the kids' section with a banner and then on the front page under "Apps we love." The downloads to date number more than 35,000, but unfortunately purchases so far (only 400 instances) don't match the numbers and they haven't found enough traction for a sustainable model.
What did they do really well? Owen skipped this question, but see my last paragraph in his recap to see what I think he's done well.
— tapStory —
This is where that business/marketing thing comes in. As next steps, Owen wants to understand the market better and determine if there's a mis-match between the growth and the original intended audience, and how to pivot to address — Subscription models? Upfront purchases? Special needs? Focus on the story creator and allow kids to draw their own characters? Have more reading languages? Print the stories out or export into YouTube? License familiar copyrighted characters? Add an Android app? Sharing abilities between friends and, say, Grandma? Change the platform name?
There are so many questions, y'all. And Owen knows that. He's been a solely bootstrapped company until now, but that's meant he doesn't have those marketing and business resources that could help him with these types of questions. When he mentioned the price for in-app purchases ranges all the way up to $8.99 and that he didn't want to make everything 99 cents, the audience interrupted him to say that, yes, he does. (As one vocal questioner noted, not moving to 99 cents means he's leaving 34,600 customers on the table who downloaded the app and then never bought anything. It's a lot easier to commit to a dollar than $10.)
I think the best part of this presentation was that Owen has built an awesome app on what he's passionate about — software and education — despite being, as he put it, "a dev who sees the value of an app and wonders, 'Who wouldn't want this?' instead of, 'Who would?' " He fully recognizes the need for user behavior research and investigating the psychology of how to grab the next five minutes of a user's attention, and I think his pivot to focus on this is going to pay off in a big way for him.
If you've got kids, download the app, give it a try, and get Owen some feedback. And if you're in marketing, business or other areas, give him a hand. It's a great creative app, it just needs a little boost.
Qoins: Freedom from debt, faster than ever. | Every person to whom I've mentioned Qoins founder Christian Zimmerman has said, "That guy, he's a hustler!" Big praise from the startup community, indeed. And with a high-energy presentation at The Consumer Show on his young startup (it's a 4-month-old app), I'd say they're right.
Qoins rounds your purchases up to the next dollar, automatically (automagically?) helping you pay off your debt. As Christian said, it's like going to the gym: You know you need to go, but it's so hard to make yourself go. You slack off. Nobody holds you accountable. With Qoins, you get a personal trainer to hold you accountable and help you pay off your personal debt.
What did they do really well? They've listened to users, because customer feedback is very important, and they iterate fast because of "customers emailing and telling us what to do."
— Qoins —
Eighty percent of people have some form of debt, and student loans and credit card debt in the U.S. alone totals $2 trillion. For Christian, this is near and dear to his heart, as he graduated from Georgia State University in 2015 with $30K in loans and debt. In trying to solve his own problem, he found out how powerful spare change is when applied to debt.
Qoins launched a Web app four months ago and an iOS app three weeks ago, and already has some impressive numbers: 750 payments have been sent out; $9,867 of interest have been saved; and users have already paid off $30,668 in debt! They're also getting some pretty excellent business partners like SoFi and personal finance bloggers.
Qoins is easy to use (Christian masterfully powered through a technology glitch on his video and described it for us): You add a funding source, then the lender, and then the debit cards (you can have up to three and one funding source), and the extra change from debit card transactions just automatically starts flowing into supplemental payments (this doesn't replace the monthly payment, don't forget). It's similar to micro investing tech in many ways, but the initial target market is millennials who are frequently in a transitional time of life who want to pay down debt versus build up savings.
Qoins charges a $1.99 per month lending fee per lender, but they take that out of the spare change you collect so you don't really every see it. There are not currently payment rules based on habits, it's just a simple connection from the card to the lender. They do meet all the financial regulations, though: They're PCI and ACH regulation compliant, encrypt the data at rest, keep everything on AWS servers, don't store the data on their servers, and conduct regular security checks.
So next time you're looking at that latte, instead of thinking about the $5 you could be saving, think about the extra change you're accumulating for your credit card debt!
That's a wrap for the 12th Consumer Show at Switchyards; see you there next time?