David Barnett, the founder of PopSockets, shares how he turned his idea into a fast-growing business and why doing good is good business.
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What did philosophy teach you about business?
David said it taught him how to solve problems.
Where did the idea for PopSockets come from?
David was motivated by his frustration with his earbuds, back when they had cords. His cords were always tangled when he took them out of his pocket.
So one day, he’d had enough. He went to the local JOANN Fabrics & Crafts store. He put a couple of giant clothing buttons on the back of his iPhone 3, so he could wrap his headset around them. The two buttons covered the back of his little iPhone 3.
So, David says, he sold his tangled cord problem. But now he had a new problem: It looked ridiculous. And it didn’t have much further functionality. He started tinkering with ways to solve these two problems.
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At what point did it go from solving a personal problem to realizing you had something to market?
David says he was walking across campus. There were some seventh-grade students there for some reason. When they saw the large buttons on the back of his phone, their jaws dropped, and their eyes went into a zombie state.
They asked, “Where can we get these?”
David remembers thinking, “I could actually sell these.”
This was an important part of his journey. His family and friends had made sure he knew they thought his idea was stupid.
Even once it was perfected and ready for market, people who saw his design would laugh. They told him it was the dumbest thing they had ever seen. And they added: “Nobody’s gonna ever buy that.”
But the experience with the kids gave him confidence to keep moving forward.
How many prototypes did it take to perfect the product?
David says he went through about 60 rounds of prototypes.
Want to hear about the prototyping process David followed? Would you like to know why (and how) he taught himself computer-aided design (CAD) with no previous experience? Listen to the podcast by clicking the PLAY button above.
How much money did you need and where did it come from?
He invested several hundred dollars pre-launch. He invested about $800,000 in total.
Half of that money was his. He invested all of his savings from his years as a philosophy professor. In addition, he was “fortunate” that his home burned down. He hastens to add that he didn’t start the fire. His house was in the path of a forest fire. Rather than replacing all the contents, he invested a portion of the insurance settlement into his business.
He raised the other half from individual investors. They were people in that he would “meet around town.”
Note that none of the money came from institutions. David says they shouldn’t have invested, given he had no record or expertise.
Once you launched, it seems like things just took off. How did it feel to see celebrities with PopSockets and to see yourself trending on Instagram?
David says the first two years (2014 – 2015) were tough.
He did a Kickstarter campaign in 2012. That yielded some attention.
Then, he launched the business in 2014. He was still a philosophy professor. So PopSockets was a side hustle for a while. And like many successful entrepreneurs, he started the business out of his garage.
They got into retail stores at the end of 2015. Somewhere between 2014 and 2015, the product became popular with Hollywood celebrities like Ryan Seacrest, Gigi Hadid, and Meg Ryan. A long list of celebrities were showing up on Instagram and People magazine with our PopSockets grips in their hands.
David emphasizes that they didn’t pay these celebrities. They didn’t even seek them out deliberately. PopSockets just started spreading. It became a cool thing to have among celebrities.
PopSockets has grown about 800% a year. Want to know how they managed that kind of growth. Just click the PLAY button above to find out.
How is PopSockets doing more good?
From Day 1, David says his plan was to “get rich as hell and use the money to do good”.
When he talked about ethics as a philosophy professor, he would ask his students how much good different activities could do. For example, he would ask them:
“Do you think you should stay in college? Get a degree? Become an investment banker and use the money to save lives? Or do you think you should drop out of college and join the Peace Corps? How are you going to make the biggest impact?”
David continues, “I propose to them that I should quit teaching, start a business, and make millions of dollars. And that’s the way I can make the biggest impact.”
He asserts that he had no plans to do this. But now here he is.
And he says he discovered that the people around him also wanted tomake a positive impact. He realized the company had more leverage than he did as an individual.
David created a Department of Do Goods in 2017. He hired a Director of Do Goods. Her sole job was to do good.
They started by partnering with organizations that helped people with mobility issues – from people with chronic arthritis, Parkinson’s, ALS, spinal injuries, brain injuries, people with prosthetic hands, etc. With PopSockets, these people were able to hold their phones better and communicate with their friends and family in a way they couldn’t before.
Next, they decided they could make a greater impact by letting their community choose who gets the money from a sale. So now, you can go to their website, design your own grip, upload that design, and tag a 501(c)3 of your choice. PopSockets will donate half of the SALE price (not the profit) to that non-profit.
Now Target, T-Mobile and other retailers are getting on board. Part of the sale in their store – David thinks it’s a third – goes to a charity chosen by their retail partner.
So their idea evolved from picking causes to supporting causes their community wants to get behind. They call it Poptivism.
They have already given away nearly $400,000 through this program. And they’ve donated over $2 million in cash and product to worthy causes.
It just reinforces that doing good is good business. That truly is BIGG success!
– You don’t need a business degree to succeed as an entrepreneur.
– Do you have an unsolved problem? There may be a market for it.
– Side hustles can become BIGG business.
– Try to make do with your garage, basement, or a spare room (or part of a spare room) as your first piece of corporate real estate.
– Look for opportunities to do more good as you do more business and make more money.
Here’s to your BIGG success!
George “The Professor” & Mary-Lynn
Co-Founders, BIGG Success
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