Amber: Hi, I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Today’s guest is Dr. Mina Yoo of myheroclip.com, if you want to go visit it, which is a company that has a very interesting invention. Tell us about my HEROCLIP.
Mina: So, my company, HEROCLIP, is a consumer product company that makes simple solutions for everyday problems. Our flagship product line, the HEROCLIP line, is a really handy tool. It is a clip, swivel, and hook, all in one, and I invented it so that it could basically be my extra hand. I noticed that I was doing a lot of lugging around stuff, whether I was hiking, or taking my baby around, and I felt like two hands were not enough, so I wanted to create an extra hand. And this can hang on trees, doors, tables, diaper stations, fences, so just like your hand, it’s very versatile and can help you no matter what you do.
Amber: Well, that’s great. And so, speaking of luggage, I know that you have a real interesting story on how you sort of came to that conclusion and it had to do with having a child, and also, no big deal, climbing Mount Rainier. I would love to hear more about that.
Mina: So, I do not recommend trying to summit Mount Rainier several months after giving birth. I decided to do it. I had my first child six years ago and soon after having him, I decided to lose my baby weight by summitting Mount Rainier instead of doing like, Stroller Babes, I decided to summit Mount Rainier. I was doing a lot of training hikes, and I would do weighted training hikes with a backpack. And to take a break I would set it down on the ground, and this is April in Washington, so all the ground is muddy. I’d put it back on, I’d get muddy, and then my car gets muddy, my house gets muddy, and at the same time my baby was really extra-large, so I’d go out with him and I’d be carrying basically a refrigerator on my back with all the stuff for him, and here’s my huge baby and I’d go to change him and there’s nowhere to hang my bag. And who wants to put it on the filthy public restroom ground? So, I concluded I need an extra hand. I wanted something that could apply to my life no matter what I did instead of just having one gear for, you know, everything I did.
Amber: Alright, Mina, so you decided you had a, not a problem, but you had a challenge?
Mina: It was a problem, seriously.
Amber: Ok, you had a problem and you needed a solution. And how did a carabiner come to mind?
Mina: Well, you know, I believe that the carabiner is one of the most ubiquitous, useful tools in the world, and a lot of people don’t even know that this is called a carabiner, but they know what it is once you explain it to them (Amber: They know what it looks like.), and so I was thinking how can I make this even more useful? And this is what we came up with and this is a very simple product, but it took us two years to develop. There’s a lot of mechanics and physics involved, because we wanted it to hang just right and be able to rotate even when there was weight hanging. So, it took a lot of trial and error, but yeah, what we came up, ended up with is just much more than I ever expected.
Amber: So you invented the HEROCLIP, obviously, very protective of it I’m guessing.
Amber: And I’m assuming you have some patents on it?
Mina: I do. I have two utility patents. So, a utility patent means that the use of the product is patented rather than just the design, so I have been working with a patent attorney who is really talented and it is not very easy to get a patent (Amber: I can imagine.). But, we were both very pleasantly surprised that everything that we submitted was approved.
Amber: That’s great. What was the hardest part about that process?
Mina: Reading the legalese.
Amber: Because you probably really do have to read through every piece of it.
Mina: Yes, you do and it is a pain.
Amber: Well, one thing we do talk about on this show, a lot, is for other people to learn from, is the challenges. And I know right now you guys are going through a rebrand, it used to be called the Qliplit?
Mina: That’s right, yeah.
Amber: But you’re rebranding as:
Amber: Ok, I would love to hear the story behind this.
Mina: Yes. I tried to resist, but one of the reasons we are rebranding is because people have a really hard time remembering Qliplet, especially because I decided to spell it with a Q, because I thought that Q was a really high status letter, but then we have all of these video reviews where people say, ‘I don’t know how to say it, as in Qliplet, like Qlipster, like but it’s really cool.’ The other thing is, once we realized that this product is truly universal, no matter who you are, an outdoors person, or a contractor, or a mom, a nomad, whatever you are this product can help you. We really started to think about what we’re all about and what we concluded was that we’re all about creating and celebrating everyday people as heroes. So, you don’t have to climb Mt. Everest and be an explorer and a hero. You don’t have to be a firefighter to be a hero, because in daily life, you’re always doing something that is heroic no matter how small. So, that’s why we decided to call this HEROCLIP, so that this can help you in some small way as you’re trying to be your own unique hero.
Amber: I like that. So, hence the HEROCLIP.
Mina: That’s right, yeah. And it’s easier to say, too, as well.
Amber: Well, and people won’t have any problems pronouncing it, because it’s (Mina: Exactly) obvious. So how many years in are you?
Mina: So, we incorporated in 2013, and we crowdfunded this for the first time late 2014.
Amber: Gotcha. And that was extremely successful, wasn’t it?
Mina: Yes. It was very successful. In fact, that was my mark of validation. I told myself, you know, if nobody backed it, I would just not do it. But it was really successful and it became a business, and then we came out with generation two, which this is. We did almost double what we had done the previous year, so yeah, really grateful to all my backers, they are amazing.
Amber: Did you use it primarily for, sort of a launching vehicle? Was it more truly for fundraising, or market validation, as you said?
Mina: You know it was market validation and fundraising, because we really used the funds to go into manufacturing. I know these days a lot of large companies with big, fat wallets will go on crowdfunding platforms to get the word out, and
Amber: As an excuse to get press or, yeah, I understand.
Mina: Right, but for us it was like really, truly, to raise funds.
Amber: Sure. That makes sense. And then you had another fundraising round, but for private investors, is that correct?
Mina: Yeah, so we’re going through that right now. So, we decided, we were doing very well. We sold about 120,000 units of these, totally boot strapping. It’s been me and one other person. We decided that everybody in the world needs this, and this deserves a chance, so we decided to raise funds and we’re close to closing the round.
Amber: Oh wow, that’s great.
Mina: Yeah, it’s really awesome and we have a really good team.
Amber: And I know you have a background that goes far beyond inventing special carabiners. Tell me about your history in academia.
Mina: Sure. So I used to be a professor at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, teaching Entrepreneurship. I mean, I had a really fun time talking to entrepreneurs and I’ve probably talked to several hundred, in depth, just for my research, but I just felt like I wanted to do it instead of researching and teaching it. You know, what’s been really interesting from an intellectual perspective is, you know, all of the things I know not to do, I’ve been finding myself doing. And I realize it’s, you know, because there’s no other choice, right? When you’re research constrained, and small, and just two people, you end up doing a lot of things that you probably wouldn’t do if you had more resources and so on. But it’s been really fun and, you know, because I used to be a professor, I already knew the business community pretty well. So, I think that really helped out when I needed to get advice.
Amber: Sure, and especially, I guess, teaching entrepreneurship and meeting all those people, and researching and making those awesome connections there. So what is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur and an inventor?
Mina: Ok, first I’ll say this is the most fun I’ve ever had professionally. Like seriously, I’ve noticed more grays, but despite that, I’m having a really good time. And one of the most fun things is just seeing my product at stores. So, we are at all of the Brookstone airport stores, and I’ve gone to about six of them and, you know, I don’t tell the salespeople that I created this. And I just talk to them about it and they are just like really supportive of it, and they love it and it’s a bestseller. So, that’s always fun, and I also love getting feedback from customers. You know, it sounds like an overstatement for somebody to say this, but people have written to us saying that this has changed their lives. I mean, this little device here. So, you know, that makes me feel like I’m doing something really worthwhile.
Amber: And I know you guys are international (Mina: We are.). Ok, and so is that through retail outlets; individual retail outlets, or is it directly through your website, or how do most of your consumers find the product?
Mina: You know, it’s really weird. I don’t know how they find our product, because until recently we haven’t really done any systematic marketing. So, a lot of people have found us through Indiegogo and Kickstarter. People have found us from various press mentions we’ve gotten, and we’ve had a lot of really positive reviews. In terms of people getting these in their hands, people do buy them on our website, but we have also been working with distributors in different countries.
Amber: That’s great, so obviously Brookstone is one of them. What are some of your biggest retailers?
Mina: So, one of the most helpful retailers has been The Grommet, which is an amazing online retailer, and they are all about highlighting makers. So, every day they launch one product. They do a whole story on them, the background, and so on. And they recently started a wholesale arm to help main street merchants, so smaller retailers, get really cool product. So, they’ve been another really helpful one. And, you know, just recently we started reaching out to the really large retailers like Home Depot and Ace. We recently got into 250 Ace stores, which is awesome. So, we’ll be there in Q3. So, this is all really exciting to us. We’re just getting started.
Amber: Sounds like you’ve got a lot of momentum building.
Mina: I think so.
Amber: Thank you, Mina, for joining us today on BusinessMakers USA. We really appreciate it.
Mina: Thank you, Amber.
Amber: Once again, I’m Amber Ambrose, this is BusinessMakers USA, and you can find out more on the HEROCLIP at myheroclip.com.
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