Picture of David Barnett and an image of his invention, PopSockets

Doing Good is Good Business for PopSockets

Picture of David Barnett and an image of his invention, PopSockets

David Barnett, the founder of PopSockets, shares how he turned his idea into a fast-growing business and why doing good is good business.

Brought to you by, plenty of money for life.

On The BIGG Success Show, we were joined by David Barnett. David is a philosophy professor turned entrepreneur and founder of PopSockets. Here’s a summary of that discussion…

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!

Lessons Learned

– 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
signatures: George & Mary-Lynn
Co-Founders, BIGG Success

Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file | podcast:

Derek Evans book title: Made to Change the World: How Ordinary People Are Called To Do Extraordinary Work, The Story of Project 615

Local Entrepreneur Shows How to Change the World

Derek Evans shows us how to change the world as a local entrepreneur. See how his t-shirt business makes a difference in Nashville and globally. Brought to you by

Today on The BIGG Success Show today, we talk with Derek Evans, president and co-founder of Project 615, an apparel company on a mission to end homelessness and addiction. Over the last nine years, Project 615 has donated over $500,000 to worthy causes in Nashville and around the world.

He joins us today to talk about his book, Made to Change the World: How Ordinary People Are Called To Do Extraordinary Work, The Story of Project 615. Here’s a summary of that discussion.

It’s good to get laid off

Things seem to be going Derek’s way. Still in his early 20s, his career was falling into order. He got a promotion at the construction management firm he was working for.

But little did he know, trouble was brewing. The Great Recession was in full force. Just a few short months after getting the promotion, Derek’s boss delivered a brutal blow. He was the first employee to be laid off, as the company struggled to survive and, eventually, go under.

Derek says, “As soon as the boss handed me my small, little severance check, I said, ‘I’m moving to Nashville.’ And so six days later, I moved to Nashville.”

So getting laid off got him to Nashville, the place where he would start a business to change the world.

Not only does Derek think it was good to get laid off, he says he was FORTUNATE to be let go. To hear why, listen to the podcast. Simply click the PLAY button above.

Why Nashville?

Derek grew up in Indianapolis. He visited a friend in Nashville. Derek said he had always pictured Nashville as “this cowboy boots kind of town.”

But he saw something completely different. Young people. Musicians, of course. (Every bartender and barista’s a musician, he says.) Athletes. And entrepreneurs.

Nashville is the city of dreams. Derek was inspired by all the opportunities there.

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Why start a t-shirt business?

It was 2008 – the height of the Great Recession – when Derek moved to Nashville. It was really hard to get a job and hold onto it.

During this time, he hung out a lot with a friend who was a graphic designer. When they got together to watch games or grab some wings, they would talk about their jobs and life.

At one point, Derek asked him what he thought of starting a business. He encouraged Derek to go for it.

Derek asked him what he thought of joining forces. As they thought about what business to start, they considered their respective strengths.

Derek says, “We both just kind of spit out the word ‘t-shirts’ one day.” So they started a t-shirt company to do cool t-shirts.

Derek says he launched his business in spite of being in a broken place. What motivated him to keep pushing forward? Click the PLAY button above to listen to the show and get the answer.

Derek found his calling on Skid Row in Los Angeles

Derek heard his church was planning a mission trip to Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. They went to feed the thousands of homeless people there.

Derek signed up. So did his college friend, Matt. They met people who were still homeless and people who had turned their lives around.

They were in their early 20s. They wondered how such a thing happens. And then, they got an idea…

They could help people with the money they made from their t-shirt business.

As entrepreneurs, they could do more good in the world.

After experiencing Skid Row, they found the mission of their business – giving profits away and partnering with non-profits around Nashville. In addition, they would hire people who are recovering from homelessness and addiction.

Since they launched their business, they have given away over $500,000 to worthy causes. Among other things, they invested $25,000 to build an orphanage for boys in Uganda.

Getting started

Derek says it takes five years: “If you’re not going to spend five years on this business idea, don’t spend five minutes on it. Because that’s literally how log it will take.”

They got back to Nashville and just started. If they made 50 cents, they put 25 cents in the bank. They reinvested in the business. And they paid themselves a little bit.

(Derek was still collecting unemployment. His friend, Matt – who became his business partner – had a full-time job as a graphic designer and worked with Derek in his spare time)

Derek adds it takes a lot of dedication. They were fortunate, though – they were both single and didn’t have many responsibilities yet. So they worked 60 – 70 hours a week.

But they didn’t have any investors. And they didn’t have any debt.

How did Derek finance his business?

They outsourced. They didn’t buy equipment to print t-shirts. They contracted with a firm to do it for them.

And they made sales. They called on churches, schools, and bands.

They landed a few major musicians. It was good money. They reinvested most of it.

They did “silly things that [they] really didn’t want to do,” says Derek Evans. Like selling t-shirts at youth softball tournaments. So they were on the road nearly every weekend for a few years. They didn’t really want to do it. They sacrificed their social lives. “But,” as Derek says, “that’s kind of part of a new business. You do have to certainly sacrifice a lot of your own time.”

An orphanage built with t-shirts

Derek’s dream was to help change the world, and his business has donated over $500,000 to worthy causes. When we asked Derek what stands out, you could quickly tell he wasn’t quite sure where to start.

Then he said they’re celebrating nine years in business. Every year, for their anniversary, Derek says, “We go to the very beginning. We tell our story, reengage with customers. We tell everybody who we are, where we’re from, and why we’re even in business.”

Last year, for their eighth anniversary, they funded the building of an orphanage in Uganda. Project 615 had it built with $25,000 of money raised from selling t-shirts. It houses 18 boys, who previously had no place to go. It’s thriving.

Derek says, “It’s part of our DNA that we wanted to start a business that helped people.”

Get the whole story

Derek has a lot more to say about the story of Project 615. We highly recommend his new book to you: Made to Change the World: How Ordinary People Are Called To Do Extraordinary Work, The Story of Project 615.

BIGG Lessons

– Opportunity often shows itself as adversity

– You don’t have to wait until you retire to live where you want

– You don’t have to have a lot of money to start a business

– Entrepreneurship is hard, but fulfilling

– Profit and philanthropy can go hand-in-hand

Here’s to your BIGG success!

George “The Professor” & Mary-Lynn
signatures: George & Mary-Lynn
Co-Founders, BIGG Success

Direct link to The Bigg Success Show audio file | podcast:

Become a Celebrity CEO and Watch Your Business Grow blog post image

Become a Celebrity CEO and Watch Your Business Grow

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Ramon says that small business owners have the ability to go very narrow and serve a niche market. Few of us are going to be Oprah Winfrey or LeBron James.

But we can all have a narrow lane where we are well known. That’s a celebrity CEO. It’s Ramon’s story. He’s not known to the whole world, but he’s well known in his little market, in his little world, in his small lane

Want to hear what Ramon’s wife said when she learned that the title of his new book was Celebrity CEO? Listen to the show. Simply click on the PLAY button above.

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