How I Invented The Ultimate Flying Gadget And Landed Massive Press

$15,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
The Airhook
from Seattle
started November 2014
$15,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
629K
alexa rank
17.8K
followers
537
followers
8
subs

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

My name is Craig Rabin, from an early age I spent his time dreaming up inventions. These are now a source of inspiration as I make sketches from my childhood a reality, thanks to 3D printing. My entrepreneurial spirit and passion started early and led me to start my first business when I was 16 years old. Since then, I’ve moved from Chicago and have gone on to create eleven companies... woo!

It was during one of these business endeavors that I developed a love for traveling and started thinking about how I could improve the experience for others. I was no stranger to air travel, racking up more than 150,000 miles in the last few years, and was able to identify the basic human need for more space and convenience when flying. Thus, The Airhook was born in 2015 and my invention career began.

Since launch, we’ve shipped to every state in the U.S. and have a presence in 73 countries around the world! Plus, The Airhook has been featured in over 100 publications and was the first product in history to win Steve Harvey’s Funderdome on ABC in 2017 and won Travel Product of The Year in 2019.

how-i-invented-the-ultimate-flying-gadget-and-landed-massive-press

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

The idea for The Airhook came from a flight I was taking, and I was wearing a sport coat for a meeting I was to attend after landing.

I asked the flight attendant if they had a place to hang it… it was full. I thought about putting my coat in the overhead bin but didn’t want it to get wrinkled. So, I wore my coat and was incredibly uncomfortable the entire flight. At some point as I was staring forward, I began to think I could create a hook for the tray table to hang my coat on. Nothing special, just a simple hook that worked with the tray table closed.

how-i-invented-the-ultimate-flying-gadget-and-landed-massive-press

I went home and created a few versions using my newly purchased 3D printer. Mind you, I’m not an engineer! So, before I could even create what I had envisioned I had to learn how to design using new software and how 3D printers worked. After a couple of months of learning, trying, [and repeating] I had designed the simple hook I wanted. I brought a handful of samples on my next flight… and it worked perfectly! And then…. I ordered coffee from the flight attendant. Nooo! I had to put the tray table down to hold my cup and coat once again became the problem. Or did it?

Everyone talks about the spark that created their company/product/etc. and this was my spark moment. Could I create a product that helps more than just your coat on the back of a tray table?!? I mean, does anyone really order food on a flight anyone – costs as much as the ticket!! :)

how-i-invented-the-ultimate-flying-gadget-and-landed-massive-press

So – the dream began. What I needed was feedback, so I studied over travelers’ habits when I’d be sitting in the airport or next to them on the plane. What I noticed – everyone had their own device and nearly everyone was using it inflight to watch movies, play games, work, etc. I needed to incorporate this! So, on a stormy evening in my parent’s garage, I cut an old pair of sweatpants and used the elastic from the seam with an eye hook to hold a device! I used it on my flight home [to Seattle] and even with the crazy looks or what had to look like the top of underwear – passengers asked me where I purchased it.

Game on! I hired a small team of engineers to create a two-in-one solution that incorporated a beverage holder with an electronics device holder that features an adjustable cord, so it could hold a larger range of mobile phones and tablets and attach to a closed tray table. The Airhook was born.

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

For anyone trying to invest in a new product… know it’s not as easy as it was coming up with the idea and sketching it on your bar napkin. You will find good days and bad day along your journey. In the case of The Airhook, we spent 13 months developing the concept.

how-i-invented-the-ultimate-flying-gadget-and-landed-massive-press

Design – build – break – repeat

We went through 9 versions of The Airhook and there were times I was ready to throw in the towel. The biggest point of failure… the prototypes wouldn’t hold any weight… kind of a big deal! So that main functionality we kept redesigned was the tray table anchor. From sizes to different shapes, to adding silicone, etc. It was the combination for all of those solutions that allowed us to finally start testing with weight. Here is the first pic of a heavy object being supported :)

The KEY is that I surrounded myself with people who’d go out of their way to support me. Do the same. Bring others into your inner circle and make the journey as a team. You will find that your team will motivate you to keep your head up and even out those highs and lows.

Build your strategy like you are building your brand. You must convince one person at a time of the value of your product.

For us, our very first shipment was coupled with more problems then I’d even like to remember. First, we didn’t know much about shipping vessel vs. air. We paid wayyyy too much by shipping pallets via air and it wasn’t even a significant time advantage. Lesson learned. Then, when our shipment arrived it was HALF SHORT! Yes, HALF. Our manufacturer failed to complete the order in time and shipped ‘what they had’. SHADY! It didn’t help that our local contact ended up acting fraudulent. The whole situation sucked.

Of course, we didn’t quit! Communication with our customers became key and we exposed all of our hardships that we faced, no excuses, no lack of responsibility or push of blame, and we made it work. We then FIRED our existing manufacturer and everyone who shaded us along the way and hired fresh. Happy to report that fixed all our issues and we’ve been running strong since.

Describe the process of launching the business.

When I told anyone unfamiliar about the topic that I was crowdfunding, the initial response always seemed to be, “so how much money, for what percentage of your company?”. Thinking it was like the role of an angel investor, but on a much smaller scale, I would then explain the concept. Put simply, you’re selling product directly to consumers vs. a percentage of your company to an investor.

It’s important to remember this end user distinction as you plan your campaign. Build your strategy like you are building your brand. You must convince one person at a time of the value of your product. This means a focus on ALL of your campaign’s content – not just your video! We know how important the video is, but impeccable product photos, use cases, consumer research, testimonials, etc. need to be on-point too. Plus, make sure your website and any print collateral you get is geared towards the consumer and follows a similar look-n-feel to your campaign page.

It's important to remember 63% of Kickstarter projects go unfunded. 80% of products that make it to market fail. It happens. Know the numbers.

The Airhook had a funding goal of $15,000 / $20 pledge per user = 750 backers needed. How in the world are we going to get 750 backers?!? The first misconception is what your network will do. In my case, I had 900 friends on Facebook, 1200 connections on LinkedIn, and 300 Twitter followers – that should do it, right?!? No.

Here is how we interpreted these numbers.

2,400 total network 10% of these people will click on the Kickstarter link I send to them = 240 visits 10% of these people will pledge = 24 backers

Wait – we still need 726 more backers to reach our goal! You need to focus on the real driver of any good crowd-funding plan… influencers.

Influencers are anyone who has a voice in your product's industry that can spread the word about your product to their greater networks. For The Airhook, this was travel bloggers, product reviewers, Twitter & Instagram accounts with a travel focus (and over 500K followers), etc. We talk about this more later in the story, but all you need to do is a simple search like below – and this is only the top couple hits! It’s that easy!

how-i-invented-the-ultimate-flying-gadget-and-landed-massive-press

Since this information is free and available [to your competition], it is important to think outside the box and find an influencer who can relate to your story/products. Make a list and reach out to all of them, if 10% respond with interest, you are doing well and telling a strong story.

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

The best thing that has worked for us has been to listen to our target market. In fact, we’ve done a handful of consumer research studies to do just that, ask what they think of the product! It was crucial to our success to adapt to what the market was asking for, not just what we thought would be neat to design.

From there, it was all about increasing our reach through creative… often grassroots-esque… marketing strategies. I’ll focus the majority on a few noteworthy ones:

The Power Of PR:

This has been SUPER important for us, BUT not necessarily by using a publicist. We often found that media preferred to be contacted directly by us vs. an agency that pitches story after story. So… how do you get those contacts… RESEARCH!

For us, we started by looking for the top ~50 news articles concerning travel or travel-related goods. We then broke down each news outlet and either a) contacted them directly by simply using their web page contact form – we got a surprising number of responses, or b) the news outlet was owned by a larger conglomerate [these are the real biggies] and contact information was seldom found.

So… USE LINKEDIN! Think about it, you now know the company name, you know which department you need to speak with, you can probably even determine the job title… you see where I’m going here :)

Then – pitch, pitch, PITCH! Figure 1 in 10 responses is a good ratio. The Airhook has been in roughly 100 publications since 2015, I’m confident I’ve pitched at least 1,000 times – typically ~5 daily based on current events and HARO (Help A Reporter Out – further explained under recommended tools). Once the PR train starts, keep it on track! Make time everyday for media outreach.

Celebrities/Endorsers:

This continues on from the PR piece, it’s all about telling a story. For some, their source of information is from celebrity or social media folks they follow. Now all options aside about the right/wrong of this approach… it happens. And your business needs to use whatever the world has to offer you. So instead of calling them celebrities, I’ll refer to this group simply as Influencers.

How to find them? Google it! Really, go search “top travel influencers” and look at the top few hits – that was our list. It’s that simple. From there reach out them individually, AFTER [and only after] you see what type of posts they have. Get to know their work so when you reach out asking for a favor, it feels more like a friend who knows something about them and appreciates their craft.

Then, pitch, pitch, PITCH! Expect a 1 in 20 response, but we promise the longshots have the biggest gains. Here is The Airhook being represented at 2019 The Oscars!

Networking

Which also continues from above. Outside of press and others who can push the story – YOU can. Get out here! Go to networking events, find ground on meetup.com, or freakin’ go door to door! If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a complete stranger about your business – how can you expect someone else to?

Facebook Ads

Mehhhh – these have never worked well for us. Even with all the fancy targeting that you can do – the conversion rates are not there. Facebook is for birthday reminders and baby pictures – not where they buy travel products so it was an easy pass for us.

Other Digital Strategies:

The digital landscape itself is vast and always changing. From setting us your shop with proper SEO, optimizing your conversion funnels with analytics, or your retargeting methods – it’s a class that never ends. If you can’t immerse yourself in this world – DON’T – but hire a fire/friend/college who can on your companies behalf. Special note, also very important to monitor social media for customer issues and addressing their needs.

Outside of the above, our company culture is one of openness and communication. When we experienced challenges with our manufacturing that delayed deliveries by ~4 months, I broke down crying. I told our customers this in a long drawn out update and promised that no matter how upset they were their pre-orders wouldn’t arrive soon – it was to no degree of how crushed I was. It was simply the truth. It worked and instead of complaints… we were praised for owning up to the responsibility.

Would you do business with you? Make sure the answer to this question is always a resounding, YES!

how-i-invented-the-ultimate-flying-gadget-and-landed-massive-press

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

The most powerful thing I’ve learned is that you can’t try to impress everyone. It’s really difficult! The worst part is that if you try and don’t… you’ll start to second guess yourself. To make matters worse, trying to impress others often goes hand-in-hand with also comparing yourself to others. In the age of social media, this is very dangerous.

If your only goal is a paycheck, being an inventor might not be the right fit for you. Not that it’s not profitable, but your focus needs to be on innovation. The money will come with the right solution to a problem everyone has.

For example, sometimes my hard days are not fought with business issues, but rather deep-rooted thoughts of who I am, what I’ve become, and where I’m going. In my mind I know the solution [for me] is to unplug and to write out a plan and/or my thoughts. But this takes work! So instead I find myself browsing social media thinking, “I wish I had his/her job” – “Their family looks happier” – “I wish I lived there instead”… which are all very detrimental to motivation.

Instead, compare yourself to a previous version of YOU. Are you better today than you were yesterday? Then last year? What do you need to do today so you can answer YES tomorrow?

This lesson has done wonders both in and out of the office.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

With over 18 years of Entrepreneurship (wow, did I just age myself?!?) I have a lot of tools I’ve tried and lost interest in. The hit list below is what I’m rockin’ with today:

Website

We’ve gone through all of the platforms from current & past companies. We broke these down further based on our experience. Please note, my first company was a web design company so read below with a mid-high level of experience. [ranked from worst to best]

  • WIX – Sucks. We hired a developer and even she couldn’t figure it out!
  • SquareSpace – This was simply too basic. The tools are incredibly easy to understand and if you are new into the space – start with SquareSpace. It has low-cost options for online stores too and a great way to test out your concept. As both your knowledge and your business grow, look to move to the platforms below.
  • BigCommerce – This was the system that we just switched from. BigCommerce is perfect if you have an online presence that has an absurd amount bandwidth or complex backend database needs. This is a PRO platform and you will absolutely need to hire a developer. If you think you can do it yourself, you should be giving the recommendations are you are far better than I :D
  • Shopify – WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER! After all the years and struggle to find a platform that had everything we needed – enter Shopify. First, there are a bajillion templates to choose from so you don’t need to know much about web design. Second, you still have

Newsletters:

MailChimp is by far the easier platform we’ve used. It has all the customizations we need and really powerful analytics tracking that you can enable. For bonus points, use A-B testing on your campaigns and go data crazy.

CRM

Pipedrive works the best for us as it not only tracks each client’s to-dos, but it pulls in all the email messages from the same client. This makes it really easy for us to pull up clients on the fly and know everything about them in a couple minutes.

Social

Hootsuite works great to track all our social platforms in one place. More importantly, it makes it incredibly easy to monitor for anything/everything that mentions our brands.

PR

HARO – Help A Reporter Out. Go to the website and sign-up to receive 3 daily email blasts of reporters working on stories. Really, add this to your daily routine. It only takes a couple of minutes so scan the emails for stories that may fit and 75% of our media comes from this FREE source.

Networking

Meetup is a great tool for connecting to your community. Get out there! You can search for any topic and if you don’t find what you are looking for… start a group! I was the President of The Puget Sound Inventors Society for a number of years and it was incredibly influential to my personal growth.

Random Design-esk Work

Freelancer is amazing for any creative project you need done. Once you post a job you’ll see dozens of requests for work with a range of freelancer pricing and qualifications. Pick the one you want and go from there. We typically find the best work from international sources and have not once been screwed over. Tip, be patient with English translations, set clear milestones, always over-explain, and check-in often for proofs.

Thrust for Knowledge:

Start with the library, not google. Really, the search for information helps you retain said information. If you can’t find it in a book, Google it.

Mood

Crank up the tunes with a Spotify subscription and keep your mood high and your mind right!

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

As much as other recommend reading, I’ve never been someone who comprehends by reading. For me, I either need to be doing or engaging in conversation about said topic.

So, instead of recommending anything you can study, I recommend an exercise on doing. The Notecard Challenge.

Once every day (or every week to start) write on a notecard one of the following:

  • A good invention
  • A good business idea
  • How you’d make an existing invention or business better

And then throw it in a shoebox! At the end of the year, if you can wait that long, go through it all. The neat thing is that having so many ideas literally at your fingertips, is that it gives you a perspective of what you like/dislike and think is good/bad. From there, whittle down your ideas until you have a handful of keeps and see if it’s something you want to pursue. You’ll be amazed at what you came up with.

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

Here are the 5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company:

1 - Friends make difficult colleagues

After so many companies after all these years, some have involved friends as either bosses or colleagues. It’s tricky. It’s hard to tell someone you care about their ideas don’t have merit… and yes, it’s hard to hear it too!

We were so young and chasing a dream we didn’t think through it and it led to much much larger divides at time of turmoil. It brought added opinions and friendship alliances in the mix, doesn’t make for the best chill weekend.

2 - Always ask a child for their opinion

Let’s face it, if you have a bad product and ask a family member for feedback, more often than not they will say it’s great. It’s not a lie – it’s love. Instead, ask a child who doesn’t know any better. You’ll enjoy the honest and candid feedback!

3 - Students have the highest motivation-to-dollar conversion

The youth, in my opinion, is the most motivated of all employees because they have the most to gain. It’s no secret that graduating and finding your dream job are less likely than ever, but it takes years to even find what one wants to do!

Graduating students, from College or High School [for those jumping into the workforce] have more to prove, more to gain, and don’t waste money like we adults do! Give em’ a chance.

4 - Always have a plan B and C

Throughout my journey (and even this story) I’ve mentioned how often I’ve utilized my backup plan. They are key! The strange thing is that early on I always thought that meant, “ok I need a plan if I fail on my main plan?!? well guess what I won’t fail – so I don’t need one”.

I was wrong! Not having backup plans, yes plural, for your key strategies gives you no options when things really do go awry and leads to overall failure. Crazy, right.

5 - You must give back to get back

If your only goal is a paycheck, being an inventor might not be the right fit for you. Not that it’s not profitable, but your focus needs to be on innovation. The money will come with the right solution to a problem everyone has.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We always love hearing from folks who feel that can help our business accelerate. That might be sales to keep the bills paid, an editor to create social content, or an office comedian to keep our smiles on! If you feel you can help – reach out to me personally at [email protected] and let’s chat.

Please note, NO I am not interested in buying your ‘million dollar’ invention… but YES I am absolutely willing to give you tips on how to get to market :D

Where can we go to learn more?

Social media networks are:

And we are always available at www.TheAirhook.com :)

-  
Craig Rabin,   Founder of The Airhook

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!

-  
Pat Walls,   Founder of Starter Story

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment

Check out our premium interviews: