How I Created A Collapsible Metal Straw And Raised $1.89M on Kickstarter

$200,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
product
Final Co.
from Santa Fe
started April 2018
$200,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
144K
alexa rank
72K
followers
3.19K
followers
605
subs
platform
email
productivity

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Emma Rose Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Final, known for the reusable, collapsible FinalStraw that revolutionized sucking.

I found my passion in sustainability while I was studying at University of California Santa Barbara. It was the first time in my life that I came face-to-face with how the single-use culture, when concentrated in a small location, can have a massively devastating impact on the environment. I began organizing beach cleanups with a group of friends. Soon enough, we were attending city council meetings dressed as mermaids and offering the councilmembers plastic filled sandwiches.

At this point, I realized I wanted to formalize my work experience. I earned a master’s degree in environmental management and sustainability at Harvard. I also spent four years working in waste minimization at Los Alamos National Laboratory. But government work doesn’t suit a mermaid. So, I traded in the government credentials and began working on my passion project — FinalStraw.

In the last year, we’ve sold 300,000 straws, preventing approximately 27,000,000 single-use straws from entering the environment.

how-i-invented-a-collapsible-metal-straw-and-raised-1-89m-on-kickstarter

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

As a child, I’d roam the neighborhood where I grew up, collecting fruit from neighbors’ trees. When I was seven years old, I set up shop at a local farmers market to sell the fruit that otherwise would have been doomed to a perilous, rotting existence.

FinalStraw was born after a voracious Amazon search for a reusable, travel-friendly straw. There was nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. We saw the huge gap in the market for fun, innovative items that replace single-use plastic straws. So, we decided to go for it.

Two decades and several business ventures later, I found my passion in sustainability. In October of 2017, the stars aligned and I was introduced to my former co-founder. A mutual friend told him to give me a call because he had a concept for a portable, reusable straw, and thought I might be able to help. After all, my friends do refer to me as the “straw lady.”

At this point, Seattle was just months away from implementing a straw ban. I saw the opportunity to work on this project as a great reason to quit my job at the lab (though my mom begged me not to) and work on something where I could express myself creatively.

FinalStraw was born after a voracious Amazon search for a reusable, travel-friendly straw. There was nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. We saw the huge gap in the market for fun, innovative items that replace single-use plastic straws. So, we decided to go for it.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We came up with the idea in October 2017 and found someone in Los Angeles who could mock up the CAD design for the case.

Then, we used standardized metal tubing and found a lathing shop in LA to create the tentpole like structure of the straw. We were stumped on what to do for the tubing.

how-i-invented-a-collapsible-metal-straw-and-raised-1-89m-on-kickstarter

When we launched the Kickstarter campaign, we had a goal of $12,500. In the first 48 hours, we raised over $200,000. By the end of the month we had raised $1.89 million. Our excitement quickly turned to dread—we had 5 months to design, manufacture and deliver 100,000 straws.

But then, after a late night going down a rabbit hole on the internet, I realized medical tubing would actually be the perfect fit. We capped the ends off with dental rubber bands to hold everything in place.

We wanted to have multiple colors for our Kickstarter launch, so I headed to my favorite aisle at Home Depot—spray paint. After much deliberation, I picked out four colors and hoped for the best.

When we launched the Kickstarter campaign, we had a goal of $12,500. In the first 48 hours, we raised over $200,000. By the end of the month we had raised $1.89 million. Our excitement quickly turned to dread—we had 5 months to design, manufacture and deliver 100,000 straws.

how-i-invented-a-collapsible-metal-straw-and-raised-1-89m-on-kickstarter

Through word of mouth and friends, we were connected with a design firm that helped us take our prototype to design for manufacturing (DFM). This process is a lot more difficult than creating a prototype because you have to make something that is financially viable to mass produce. Finding a trusted manufacturer can be a huge hurdle for a company. We were fortunate that our design firm was able to connect us with the manufacturer that we work with.

When we launched on Kickstarter we had filed for a provisional patent, but had not converted to a utility or a design patent because we didn’t have enough money. We launched the company with $30,000. As soon as Kickstarter went big, we put money toward securing the entire IP portfolio. Leading up to the campaign, we put $10,000 into creating the video, $13,000 into creating the prototype, $5,000 into advertising and $2,000 into legal.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Prior to launching FinalStraw on Kickstarter I was busy studying at the “University of YouTube.” I learned incredible skills, like Photoshop, and found a passion for making memes. This new talent came in handy as we prepared to launch the Kickstarter campaign. I started creating shareable content for the FinalStraw Instagram account and would repost it on my personal social media channels to help us gain more traction.

embed:instagram

It worked. People liked the content—especially the memes—and began following along. We didn’t even share a photo of the prototype until right before the Kickstarter launched. The memes and the educational content that we were putting out into the world helped us build an audience of 10,000 followers on Instagram and a list of more than 4,000 emails. These people supported and shared the campaign as soon as it went live.

embed:instagram

Our first website design was, for lack of a better term, a bit janky. It looked pretty childish, but it gave us some credibility and generated revenue because people were able to place pre-orders.

We financed FinalStraw with the Kickstarter and have not taken any outside investment. We’re planning to continue bootstrapping the company for as long as we can. At this point, I would only consider outside investment from someone who is not only interested in investing money, but also passionate about our mission.

I’ve learned some pretty big lessons in the last year. When you go from $0 to $5 million in revenue in the first 9 months of your company's existence, you experience all of the trials and tribulations of a regular business in an extremely condensed period of time. Typically it takes many years to grow a business like this, doing it right off the bat meant we went through some incredibly hard times including one particularly challenging time we like to call straw-mageddon.

Straw-mageddon hit at Christmas of 2018. We had 200,000 straws to fulfill and our operations were a disaster. The day before Christmas 20,000 orders had still not gone out and people were pissed. “You ruined Christmas” was a common email in those days.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far is simple—slow down to speed up. When disaster hits, instead of diving in head first, take a day and create a plan. There were moments that I didn’t do this and I may as well have been a chicken running around with my head cut off. Hitting the stop button, creating a plan, and prioritizing what is most important to accomplish is one of the best things to do when times get tough.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I always try to create marketing material directed at a very specific person. If you try to market toward the masses, the message you’re trying to convey becomes diluted and is no longer memorable. I find it effective to keep a specific customer in mind as I’m creating messages.

The environmental movement can be incredibly depressing. The problems we’re trying to solve are complex. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these issues. So, instead of stressing people out about the topic even more, I try to make our messages fun and engaging. We want to create solutions in bite-sized chunks so anyone can take a nibble and start living a more sustainable life.

Our main growth channel is social media. We use Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to get FinalStraw’s message to the masses. We also pitch a lot of stories to the press because FinalStraw is about more than just a straw. It’s about a movement to eliminate single-use waste from our lives.

With the help of A/B testing, we’ve been able to attract and retain customers by testing what performs the best. When we see something that works, we pull those characteristics into other marketing efforts. These kinds of experiments help us realize when something is working, and when it’s time to move on to a new idea.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

By Final’s first birthday, we did over $5 million in revenue. FinalStraw is sold primarily on our website, but we’ve also expanded to sell on Amazon and are growing in brick & mortar locations.

Our team is spread across five different time zones—we’re completely remote. As a team, we’ve prevented 27 million straws from entering the environment in less than a year. It’s crazy to imagine the impact we’ll have in five years!

We started with a straw, but we’re not stopping there. We are working on an entire line of Foreverables—items designed to replace single-use plastic and last forever.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Success is a combination of luck and hard work—it’s a lot like playing cards. Getting dealt a good hand is lucky, but then knowing how to play it involves determination and perseverance.

Working hard and learning to play the game is the first step, but in order to maintain performance, it’s super important to take care of yourself. When the Kickstarter first launched I stopped working out for three months, I was eating really unhealthy foods, I wasn’t sleeping, and I was putting a lot of stress on my nervous system.

It’s so important to look at whatever you’re doing as an opportunity to improve, because you’re going to fail many times. A piece of advice? Dive right in. The Internet is an abundant resource with just about every answer under the sun.

Once things began to calm down, I was able to find my routine again. I start everyday with a one minute meditation. Before doing anything else, I count backwards from 60. This might sound easy, but when your mind is racing with things you need to do, or forgot to do, it’s so easy to let your mind wander. Doing this exercise shows me where my mind is at as I start the day. I also dedicate at least one hour a day toward being physically active. By releasing energy, I’m able to clear my mind and am more productive.

By learning how to take better care of myself, I’ve been able to help create the company culture I envisioned for Final from the very beginning. I always knew I wanted to set up our company like a family. We all learn and work in different ways and at different paces. It’s important for us to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we can work more effectively together.

Finding time to do things that aren’t directly related to work but help create that kind of familial unit feel is something I’ve learned is essential to our success. Because we’re remote, we have to get a little creative. We have #Random and #PetSquad channels on Slack where we share whatever is on our mind and pictures of our furry friends. We recently started an #OxygenMask channel as well, to remind each other how important it is to put your own oxygen mask on first. It’s easy to hide emotion, especially when you don’t have to look someone in the eyes. These channels are a reminder that although we’re physically working in different places, we’re all very much a part of the same team and are always there to support one another.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our team works across a handful of timezones. Platforms like Slack, Google Hangouts and Trello help companies like ours thrive. They allow us to connect on a more personal level and build a stronger team.

We have several weekly video conferences and even have a virtual happy hour on occasion. We also use Shopify with a 3PL in Los Angeles and we use Klaviyo for email marketing.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

How I Built This with Guy Raz is one of my favorite podcasts. I love, love, love to hear the stories of successful entrepreneurs that have changed how society functions. I’m pretty new to this world and didn’t really consider myself an entrepreneur until about a year ago when FinalStraw took off despite having started a few companies before. Listening to other entrepreneurs’ stories and learning about their crazy life experiences that eventually led them to starting an incredibly successful company is inspiring.

The Tim Ferriss Show is another one of my favorites. Tim chats with everyone from investors, to athletes, to entrepreneurs and is a master at getting to the nut of a story. His always digs for the details when he asks his guests questions, so by the end of the podcast you aren’t left with any unanswered questions.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve been the leader of an entire team. The Culture Code is a book that has helped guide me to create a team that feels like a family. The book takes a deep dive into different types of high functioning teams—from navy seals to pilots. It looks at what creates ideal communication—both verbal and nonverbal--and how to implement different forms of communication into everyday work to help an entire team work together.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just do it! You have to commit to your new idea/business. I quit my job, started eating ramen and spent three months working on the Kickstarter campaign. I felt like the worst thing that could happen was it would fail and I’d have lots of experience; the best thing was that it would go well.

As an entrepreneur, you can’t be afraid of failure. It’s so important to look at whatever you’re doing as an opportunity to improve, because you’re going to fail many times. A piece of advice? Dive right in. The Internet is an abundant resource with just about every answer under the sun. While we were launching Kickstarter, I set up Google News Alerts for plastic straws. I compiled a list of every journalists’ name who wrote about straws, so we had a list of about 700 reporters who had written about the topic. I reached out to them just before launching on Kickstarter and didn’t receive a single reply. Undeterred, I kept following up until I was able to break through. Remember, if that wheel ain’t squeaking, it won't get greased.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re looking to fill a part-time position on our customer success team! The role requires approximately 15-20 hours/week that will be spent replying to emails. The ideal candidate should have good attention to detail, a flexible schedule, and strong writing skills. Reach out to our customer success team for more information about how to apply!

We are also looking for a website designer with extensive Shopify experience. Lastly, we are looking for a product designer who is detail oriented and has experience working with manufacturers and wants to make badass products that save sea turtles.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Emma Rose Cohen,   Founder of Final Co.

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