Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
Hi, my name is Jean-Philippe Brousseau, I’m a 32-year-old entrepreneur from Canada, Québec. I’m the founder and owner of phoneloops.com. We mainly sell our universal phone strap that provides a secure, yet relaxed grip on mobiles to B2B and B2C markets.
Our top seller is the Ninja Loop, which is set up to hold your fingers behind your phone case. We are currently expanding our product lineup, with both proprietary inventions and curated collections of mobile accessories.
We’ve been in business since 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. We’ve grown exponentially every year since. As of 2018, we’ve sold over one million Loops in 66 countries. We couldn’t be happier and we are super excited about what the future holds.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
As a graduate of the University of Sherbrooke in mechanical engineering, I worked for six years as a consultant in several industries, applying my knowledge and skills in design, manufacturing, and organizational performance. I also taught part-time in college for about five years during the same period.
I ended up with an expertise in product development and project management. I had never operated a business before Phone Loops, and I started it slowly while working other jobs. It is my first entrepreneurial attempt, but definitely not my first business idea.
I had - and still have - hundreds of ideas for products in mind… You may wonder then why the Loop is the one product that actually made it through all the hoops…
Always be on the lookout for new ideas because they are sometimes right in front of you. In my opinion, it’s the best way to find opportunities. Only then you can try to catch them!
Let’s say I’ve got quite the butterfingers when it comes to handling smartphones — I accidentally broke more than my fair share of screens over the years, whether I was using a case or not.
After a while, the bills started stacking up, and the frustration that came along with it.
In 2013, I set out to find a solution to that very annoying problem of holding onto my phone.
Little did I know - attempting to save my frustrations and money on costly repairs ended up turning my life upside down and giving myself my own full-time job.
So while I was visiting a friend in Montreal and having a beer at the local pub, I took a straw and squeezed it between my phone and its case to act as a kickstand.
It worked. There was a spark in my mind at that moment.
I realized that the problem was not the user, but the phone itself: too light, too thin, too slippery, too expensive and valuable to drop over and over.
How come those $100 point-and-shoot cameras come with a wrist strap and our expensive smartphones don’t? There’s a whole industry behind screen repairs that can get away with charging you $500 for a glass repair…
Describe the process of creating the product and launching the business.
It took me a few months to develop the Petite Loop concept, working closely with 3M Innovation to get the special adhesive just right. Once we got it right, we then launched the business. We later innovated on that concept by creating our most popular Ninja Loop.
But back to the original phone loop... I built the first one myself, then took the specs to a small shop to make bigger batches. I brought it to a promotional materials supplier to set up larger production runs and a custom Phone Loops supply chain.
We have gone through multiple iterations of the product in order to come up with the perfect design in terms of cost, flexibility, reliability, compatibility, production capacity, etc. There’s a ton of factors influencing any product design, even the simplest object.
We launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014 and contacted friends, family, friends of family and family of friends to gain some traction by raising ~$7000 out of a $4000 goal. It initially spread through word of mouth and the wheel has been spinning ever since.
We’ve also gotten in touch with our local media - newspapers, TV and radio stations - as they tend to relish good startup stories. We also targeted tech bloggers in an outreach effort and that drove the initial wave of interest in our products. We still keep a very close relationship with these initial influencers.
How have you attracted new customers and grown the business?
Sales increased at a gradual rate. Early on, posts by tech bloggers definitely drove spikes in demand, but we’ve experienced extraordinary boosts and “new normals” on our retail and custom sides after a number of watershed moments.
For instance, we received great exposure since 2015 through CNET thanks to a feature by Rick Broida - it definitely opened up a beachhead for us on the US market.
Early in 2016, we were contacted by a senior producer at the Academy Awards. She was keen on including Oscar-themed Ninja Loops in the VIP gift bags for the Academy Awards. It certainly got the press in Canada talking a lot about us at that point, and we really had to get media-savvy.
What really sealed the deal, however, was the deal we were offered on the French-Canadian version of Dragon’s Den in the spring of 2017, almost a year to the day after the Oscars. We rehearsed and fine-tuned the presentation for three months beforehand. We delivered it, pitch-perfect, pun intended. Two of the Dragons offered us $75,000 in exchange for 25% of our company. While things didn’t pan out in negotiations after the show, sales and interest spiked on an unprecedented scale thanks to national television exposure. Our business is drastically expanding ever since.
In terms of day-to-day advertising and marketing, our approach consists of influencer outreach, email marketing, Facebook Ads and Google Ads. We also keep exploring new marketing opportunities. E-commerce is evolving so fast… There’s a lot of growth hacking you can do, and it’s easy to get lost. Our motto here is simple: FOCUS. Focus keeps momentum. The rest follows.
With regards to demand due to influencer marketing, we look at it as building relationships. In the end, you are looking for long-term interactions with people as collaborators, and for good things to flow out of that for everyone involved.
On a more traditional but very effective level, we do attend some specific trade shows and events to connect with people and businesses looking out for unique and creative swag for their brand.
The swag industry is quite a profitable beast. Our distributors push hard for the sales of our corporate-branded Phone Loops which contributes substantially to our growth. For an organization, branded Phone Loops get you the most bang for your buck versus other promotional swag. We will interact over 3,000 times with our phone during the next 30 days. That’s a lot of potential impressions for a brand!
That being said, when the order volumes start to grow, we have to be able to deliver. We are glad to have a very reliable supply chain. Having the right partners for an operation like this is a must and finding them is not easy. We made careful decisions here and made sure the operation could be scaled up.
If you could go back, would you do anything differently?
I would certainly be more careful and selective with a range of consultants and services that claim to have the perfect solution to issues we were having, whether they offer some expertise, experience or software.
More often that I’d like to admit, they can’t deliver much if anything at all. It’s important to remember that this can come from people you already know or from strangers fishing around for opportunities. It’s something that can easily break a business if one is not careful enough, especially at the start, when one is open and vulnerable.
Just start. Get the ball rolling with a ROI-oriented 15-minute task. Repeat.
I believe that when entrepreneurs start out, they tend to be pretty optimistic, but they have to watch out for people and gimmicks on the hunt for that kind of fresh optimism - they will try to profit from that in a ton of different and imaginative ways for very little in return.
It’s important to do thorough research, cross-checks and relevant validations before you sign up with a new service or an external contractor.
How have you dealt with competition?
In a very competitive world, being careful and prepared is everything. We did things generally by the book to address the threats posed by our competitors.
We first ensured that we registered a patent for our product to make sure it’s protected from duplications and knockoffs. We were lucky enough to get a thorough patent agent that still assists us to this day to protect our invention.
With regards to other products, we’ve studied our competitors’ weaknesses and found ways to make ours offer benefits, clear differentiators they couldn’t. Loops are a compact, unobtrusive, lightweight solution for a one-handed grip on any smartphone case. It’s the most seamless and affordable way to ensure a secure grip on your device. It’s also the only grip accessory that doesn’t interfere with wireless charging.
We designed the product to be flexible, simple and customizable. That gives us a great, seemingly constant edge versus other products, as technology shifts significantly every year.
Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?
We are looking to expand our mobile accessory line to diversify our product offering. We’ve received many suggestions from clients from around the world. We are currently developing new Loop models, as well as other mobile accessories. We are aiming to make them available throughout the upcoming months.
On the promotional item side, we are also expanding our product line with sublimated lanyards, silicon bands, and other popular swag items.
What platform and tools do you use for your business?
The core of our operation is based on Shopify - that’s the retail side of our business. We have about a dozen plugins installed to do specific operations, but we try to keep it lean. Too much is not always better. Some notable ones we use are Hypervisual, Product Reviews, Quick Announcement Bar and Langify.
The Custom Loops side is almost a different business, relying more on human interaction and building a relationship with corporate clients. We use Adobe Illustrator to put together designs for our corporate clients, and a CRM platform connected with our Quickbooks throughout the production process all the way to delivery.
On both sides of our business, we use MailChimp for strategic and promotional outreach.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Just start. What can you accomplish in the next 15 minutes to get the ball rolling? Do it. Repeat.
Do your homework and learn all you can from free resources, on YouTube and Shopify’s blog for instance. Almost everything you need to know is out there so consume what is relevant to your next baby step.
Always be on the lookout for new ideas because they are sometimes right in front of you. I try to constantly be aware of my surroundings and keep that creative muscle working. In my opinion, it’s the best way to find opportunities. Only then you can try to catch them!
Ideally, associate with people who have been there and done that - you will see immediate results from working with someone with a proven track record. Consider partnering only with people with whom your head, your heart and your gut agree. And surround yourself from people who are talented, who have the will act and the drive to succeed. The ripple effect is exponential.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Super Store: www.phoneloops.com
- Facebook Community: PhoneLoops
- Beautiful Instagram: @phoneloops
- Corporate LinkedIn: Jean-Philippe Brousseau
We are currently looking for a Marketing Ninja. Please email us at [email protected] if you are experienced and interested.
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