There are many entrepreneurs who have decided to start a business immediately after graduating from college or after working a couple of years in the corporate world, but decided to launch their own business to fulfill their lifelong dream of entrepreneurship–at a young age.
Ann Arbor-based, TurtleCell, a mobile accessories company focused on the integration of retractable headphones and other innovative utility features in protective cases, is a great example of three entrepreneurs, all under 25, coming together to develop a business concept and plan focused on simplifying mobile technology usage–specifically, addressing untangling those tangled ear buds when you’ve taken them out of your pocket and/or purse before making a call or listening to many of your music apps on your phone.
We know about the sports rivalry between the Spartans and Wolverines, but off the field, these graduates from U-M and MSU decided to put aside their on the field rivalry and collaborate on developing and launching a rather unique, but practical, business idea focused on mobile technology.
I recently interviewed, Jeremy Lindlbauer, Director of Brand and Marketing, TurtleCell, to share his story on how three friends and colleagues came together to create and develop a business plan focused on addressing a critical issue for mobile technology users.
And what’s interesting about these young entrepreneurs is they rely on a team of advisers to provide consultation how to proceed with developing and implementing an effective business plan targeting their stated market segments.
Lee: You have two business partners from University of Michigan and you’re from Michigan State University. Please share the story of how you the three of you connected and how do you land on the business concept?
The concept for TurtleCell came about when Paul Schrems, the inventor and president of TurtleCell, was walking between classes in grad school at the University of Michigan. He was constantly frustrated with the time he wasted untangling his headphones and became set on utilizing his mechanical engineering background to create a solution in the confounds of a slim phone case. He quickly connected with Nick Turnbull, a friend and co-worker, who was also a U-M student. The two eventually took a working prototype to Kickstarter where they gained lots of attention and customer feedback but came up short of their $50,000 goal. Nick and I had gone to grade school together and fallen out of touch in college before a mutual friend shared the Kickstarter video and I reached out eager to get involved. It was as that point when I joined the team as the brand and marketing force.
Lee: What is the idea behind the business concept?
The vision behind TurtleCell is creating simple and elegant solutions to the losing, tangling and breaking of headphones. Our tag line is “untangle your life” which is the driving force in our product development. With the TurtleCell, we’re looking to make daily commutes and music listening experiences easier and more enjoyable.
Lee: What audience are you trying to attract? And what is your marketing approach to reach your desired market segment?
Our audience primarily consists of students and young professionals living and active lifestyle in which their smartphone and music play a primary role. Rather than blasting our market with annoying messages, we’re focused on creating engaging, visual content that’s easy to connect with and share. Our goal is to connect with customers in an authentic way and build a brand that reflects our passion for music.
Lee: You and your business partner have limited corporate experience. Why did you decide now was the time to start your own business?
The three of us all had 1-2 years of corporate experience in various industries prior to TurtleCell. We also all had some entrepreneurial experiences which really sparked a passion for seeing the growth and results that a startup can produce. As frustrating as some days can be, every single day in a startup is extremely exciting. In terms of timing, we’re all 25 and younger with no kids. We knew that through TurtleCell, even if things didn’t work out in the long run, we were going to build a vast array of skillsets that we’d never get in a corporate setting but would definitely be relevant if we ever went back.
Lee: What were some of your significant challenges he had to overcome as you thought about washing your business? And since the launch, have the challenges changed and how did you overcome them?
Early on, the biggest challenge, which most startups get stuck on, was raising money. One of the things we think we did a great job of was surrounding ourselves by talented, well respected advisors who had years of relevant experience in startups and design. This allowed us to gain the respect that was necessary to get meetings and eventually close deals with angel investors and our distribution partner.
After raising money, the challenge quickly became turning one prototype of a great product into hundreds of thousands for mass distribution. We had to overcome inexperience and learn to communicate effectively with three different factories. Thankfully, we’ve been able to work through most of the challenges and now have a much better grip on processes for future products.
Lee: Where do you see the business in 3 to 5 years? Are you preparing to sell the business to potential investors down the road?
At this point, we’re laser focused on one product at a time. Our mentality is we need to continue to develop premium products with a great brand and if we’re accomplishing those two goals, we’ll see the value of our company grow. We’re having too much fun to think about selling just yet.
Lee: What advice would you give to aspiring of entrepreneurs were coming out of college and want to make the first step?
I think what most aspiring entrepreneurs coming out of school don’t realize is just how many resources they’re probably surrounded by. Particularly in the state of Michigan, there are all sorts of incubators, business pitch competitions, grants and programs that can help you take an idea and grow it into a business. Often times students think its all about a big idea, and in reality, it’s all the steps taken after that are the hard parts. I’d just encourage people to get their idea out there, talk to lots of people about it and vet your idea before seriously pursuing it. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms are one of the best ways to do just that.