What It's About
Three college friends lean in, creating ergonomic pads for people working at desks.
Words of Wisdom
The guys have some great advice about working as a team, "Partner with people that each bring a unique and valuable skill set to the project. When you can divide and conquer tasks, it makes everyone feel like they’re an equal contributor to the team, and it also streamlines the process."
Kyle and Chris played baseball together in college and have been best friends since. Though they live in separate parts of the country, working on Jelbows has been a way for them to remain close. While they’ve had a few disagreements along the way, they feel their friendship has gotten stronger because of being in business together.
Notes from Chris
Episode 1045Great ideas are often born out of necessity. This was precisely what led Kyle Kunkel and his two former college roommates, Chris and Brandon, to creating Jelbows—an ergonomic solution for desk workers. It all started during a brainstorming meeting. The three friends would meet on a call once a week to throw out ideas for potential businesses they could start. This was also a way to stay connected. Most of the ideas never stuck, but during one call in Spring 2015, that changed. One of them had an idea worth looking into. Working in a call center, Kyle mentioned that his elbows hurt after leaning on his desk while making calls. To counter the discomfort, he brought in actual Dr. Scholls’ heel inserts to put on the desk and lean on. It worked, and he began to bring in more as gifts for colleagues. While at first the idea seemed like a stretch, they realized it might just be crazy enough to have merit. The name would be Jelbows: “Gel for your elbow.” These ergonomic elbow and wrist pads would alleviate stress and tension on joints caused by making calls, leaning on elbows, typing, and other similar desk activities. Kyle immediately went into product research and development mode. He started by going on Alibaba, a well-known site that lists products from Asian manufacturers, to find suppliers who were producing items similar to the initial concept for Jelbows. How much did all of this cost? Their initial investment was about $1200 each. In addition to the production costs for testing different sizes and shapes, they also spent money on ad campaigns, their website, and photography. They made a website, set up Shopify, and began advertising on Instagram (which ended up not being as great of a return as they had hoped!). Live and learn. Sales began during the 2015 holiday season, and they set some ambitious goals, including earning a million dollars in revenue and one day being able to sell the company to retire on a beach. (Start small…) Four years in, their annual revenue is over $100,000, and Jelbows operates on a 50-60% profit margin. They have no debt and are cash positive every month. Jelbows has close to 300 reviews on Amazon, and they offer options for two sizes and three colors. And they are still at their day jobs! Kyle is a Senior Manager at Dell working in procurement, while Chris is in Medical Sales. Their third business partner sold his interest in the company to focus on other work. The two remaining partners now spend time thinking about how to scale and reach their new goal: to triple their sales within the next year. Another future goal for Jelbows is to ship internationally, as they currently only sell within the U.S. While they’ve seen amazing growth since 2015, Kyle and Chris are firm believers in not getting comfortable with where they are … no matter how comfortable their product may be.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- Jelbows: Learn more and get your own set of Jelbows from the Jelbows website.
- Want to launch your own product and are considering working with a supplier through Alibaba? Listen to Extended Cut Episode #400 and look for the Shopify guide to Alibaba, posted in the notes.
- Military-Themed Teddy Bears Help Kids Hibernate: An ad executive turned teddy bear manufacturer creates a military-grade sleep system for children, earning $100,000 in sales and making a lot of people beary happy.
- Fashion Buyer Creates Quirky Comfort Craze: Men’s overalls that double as sweatpants: yes, this is a thing—and an experiment to sell them brings in $64,000.
- Physician Designs Plush Toys to Teach Anatomy: A physician designs and manufactures plush toys in the shape of human organs. They’re used to teach kids about the human body and as “get well soon” gifts for hospital patients.
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