How it all started
Phoebe Evans had a problem. As an Ultimate Frisbee player, she often found herself dealing with pain – specifically with trigger points (AKA muscle “knots”). When Evans went to a trainer for help, the trainer prescribed using a lacrosse ball.
Evans found using a lacrosse ball difficult – with no flat side, the ball would often roll away from her when she tried to use it on her back. Rolling out the awkward spots that were in pain was a difficult task.
Other frisbee teammates were prescribed golf balls for pre-hab and re-hab techniques, but these weren’t a perfect solution, either.
“Why are we using these products that weren’t designed to be used for what we are using them for?” Evans questioned, “I started thinking about the idea that ultimately became Gumdrop. Everyone has different knots to deal with, and I wanted to create a better solution that could still be handheld.”
When assessing the tools available on the market, many were cumbersome and ugly. Evans made it a personal mission to create something that wasn’t embarrassing to have out on a table, throw in a gym bag, or bring to work.
At the time, Evans was in graduate school at Northwestern for engineering design and innovation, focused on human-centered design and design thinking (convenient, right?). The idea around Gumdrop ultimately became Evans’ thesis.
Getting from idea to product
It’s one thing to have an idea — it’s a completely different beast to make that idea a tangible product. Evans made the first prototype herself; she made seven prototypes before perfecting it for her final presentation of her thesis.
Evans was the creator and first user of her product and carried her prototypes with her to Ultimate Frisbee practices and games. It didn’t take long before her teammates started asking where they could get one.
Everything is better with friends
When Evans realized this idea could be bigger than a graduate thesis, she asked her good friend Arjun Vellayappan to help out. In the beginning, he served as a great guinea pig during her presentations, but as time and demand progressed, his role quickly expanded.
Vellayappan went into the experience with curiosity and a willingness to stretch himself. A consultant by day, Vellayappan was doing everything from figuring out LLC formations to understanding the patent process for Gumdrop in his limited free time.
“We did a good job at the beginning setting expectations for what we wanted out of the company and setting realistic goals,” Vellayappan explained. “Both of us were in it for the right reason: a learning experience.”
The founders also leaned heavily on friends to get Gumdrop off the ground. A friend of a friend helped film the promo for their Kickstarter campaign. An old debate pal was conveniently a helpful patent attorney. Evans’ Frisbee teammates were happy to model for their video and photo shoots.
“We couldn’t have done any of this without other people who were willing to help us,” Vellayappan admitted.
At the time the duo decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign, Evans was able to make around four Gumdrops a day.
There was a clear demand for the product in the market: the Kickstarter campaign went viral. Suddenly, the duo wasn’t just selling Gumdrops to friends or friends of friends anymore. The Frisbee community loved it, and runners started to discover Gumdrop shortly afterward. Sports that Gumdrop didn’t originally have a connection with were driving new uses for the tool.
It wasn’t long before Gumdrop ran into a “good” problem: they needed to figure out a way to make more than four products per day, and fast.
Since the Kickstarter success, a few big things have changed for Gumdrop. The team was able to get to a high enough quantity level with a manufacturer in Michigan to have inventory ready to sell. With inventory in hand, Gumdrop was able to launch a new e-commerce website. The design patent for the adorable little tool has since been approved.
From the initial idea to selling over $10,000 of product on Kickstarter, Gumdrop has come a long way. The founders realize they still have a journey ahead and are currently working through their sales strategy and future plans for the company.
Lessons and takeaways
[Note: PE for Phoebe Evans, AV for Arjun Vellayappan]
1. Get by with a little help from your friends
PE: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are amazingly talented in different areas, and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot closer to people with this experience.”
2. Saying and doing are two different things
PE: “Fulfilling a Kickstarter order was much harder than raising the money on Kickstarter! Over 75 percent of Kickstarters do not fulfill on time.”
AV: “We made it, and we were pretty proud of that.”
3. Small can be mighty
PE: “The thing about being so small is that you are so close to the customer. We have been able to incorporate a ton of feedback really quickly – we’re the ones that answer every customer service email. For example, we knew people really wanted a red color option, so we could made that happen.”
4. Sweat equity is not all glory, but it can be worth it
AV: “The sweat equity part – people talk about it like it’s cool but it’s hard. There are a lot of late nights or nights after working. Packaging inventory, waking up a 6 am to be at a marathon, driving to Michigan… you need to have a lot of confidence and willingness and resilience to do all that, especially when you are a product-based company. It required a lot more in-person time and going in to demo the product. On the bright side, you learn a lot more this way. Everyone is kind of making stuff up, and that’s the best thing you can take away from these processes.”