10 min 2 sec

Engineer Invents Bestselling Pocket Tool After Getting Locked Out

After getting locked out of his apartment, a software engineer creates a pocket tool that sells 500,000 units and now employs 17 people.
Crowdfunding Manufacturing Product Resourcefulness

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What It's About

A multi-tool design leads an engineer to multi-stream income.

Business Model
Skills Required
Design & Bootstrapping
Profit Potential

Words of Wisdom

Nate decided to crowdfund his new multi-tool project for a couple reasons. First, it would give him some capital to actually create the product in a larger quantity so that his price per unit was lower. But more importantly to Nate, he wanted to make sure this wasn’t just some crazy idea. He wanted to make sure that there was a market for it, so asking people to put money down seemed like the best way to test this.

If you're really excited about a new project but aren't sure how well it will be received by the general public, crowdfunding is a fantastic way to validate your side hustle idea while also generating capital to get you started!

Fun Fact

Nate’s products have saved at least one person so far. A customer posted that while they were out hiking in Moab, they stopped to watch a rock climber as she was rappelling down an arch. When she was about 30 feet from the ground, her hair got stuck in the belay device and she just barely managed to stop herself so she could try to get her hair unstuck and continue down to the ground. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a knife on her and her hair was getting more stuck the longer she messed with it. The customer happened to have a WildCard in his wallet, which has a small knife built into it and managed to throw the card 30 feet up to her so she could cut herself free.

After all that, the customer's WildCard got confiscated by TSA on his way home. So, of course, Nate shipped him a free replacement.

Notes from Chris

Episode 345
Nate Barr’s hustle starts back in November 2012 when he locked himself out of his apartment...again. He had just run to the corner store and managed to only have his wallet on him. As he was waiting for someone to come let him in, he started thinking about how if he just had some sort of metal shim he could maybe get the door latch open and about how something like that would work.

Once he got back in his home, he immediately starting thinking about what a tool like this would look like and what other things he could fit in there.

He wanted it to be super thin and fit in his wallet like a credit card, so that he would carry it with him by default. With the general idea in place, Nate made a list of all the things that would be cool or useful to have on this tool. He knew it wouldn’t necessarily be a pocket knife replacement, but he wanted it to be super functional and also pass through TSA with no issues.

A couple weeks and about 100 iterations later, Nate came up with a design that packed as many tools as possible into one tiny metal card and got a metal prototype of it. There was a bottle opener, screwdrivers, hex wrench, phone kickstand, and a headphone wrap in addition to about a half dozen other features. And once he road tested his prototype to the point that he was confident that it would work, it was time for a Kickstarter campaign.

He launched on November 30th and by December 14th of 2012, he had over 1900 backers and raised over $27,000 on Kickstarter and an additional $20,000 on his own newly created website, Zootility.

Nate was encouraged by the enthusiasm for the campaign, and he began to look into getting the PocketMonkey produced.

As of 2017, he’s up to 17 employees and dozens of products. To date, Nate has sold over 500,000 PocketMonkeys alone and has no plans to slow down with this hustle. He recently launched a line of tool jewelry called Tülry that stacks either 4 or 10 different tools into a stylish chevron shaped necklace and as always, has more ideas in the prototyping and percolating stages.

I’m pretty sure he’s glad he didn’t take his keys with him that day. And I bet he’s also glad he followed up on his crazy idea!


  • Zootility: Never find your self on the wrong side of your locked door again—check out Nate's website and learn more about his products!
  • Inkscape: The free and open-source software that Nate used to draw up a few different design concepts for his multi-tools
  • Kickstarter | Pocket Monkey: The Wallet Utility Tool: The Kickstarter campaign that kicked off Nate's multi-tool success

Inspiration is good; inspiration combined with action is better. Now get back to work!

Yours in the revolution,

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Quote of the Day
"By controlling our entire supply chain we can tell the difference between something that is actually hard to do versus someone trying to hype it up. Since we’ve done it all ourselves and learned about each step, we know what to strategically outsource and what’s a reasonable price point."
—Nate Barr #SideHustleSchool

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To infinity and beyond,

Chris Guillebeau