Motivation hunting: launching a small business during isolation

Tldr: My motivation plummeted during WFH. I launched a small business by drawing motivation from helping friends, and used techniques like brute force and just showing up.

Contents: 1. Minimum Viable Product 2.Website 2b. Material Optimization 3. Marketing 4. Sales 5. Next

1. make a minimum viable product; motivation by helping someone

For the first prototype mask, I sketched out my first guess on paper, cut out the fabric and sewed it. I decided to use the clamshell CDC recommendation because it was easier to breathe through and sealed the face better, even though it was 10x harder to make. Breaking the paralysis of analysis to make my first prototype took some effort. But I wanted to help my mom. My mom tried it on, and the mask didn’t reach past the chin, but she liked it because she is my mom (see Left picture below). I optimized my prototype to conform to CDC guidelines including extending below chin, and double layered high density cotton material. My friend Jim has a longer face, so I made a bigger one to fit him. Helping my family and friend motivated prototype optimization. So, now I had two sizes which could fit most men and women.

My mother was instrumental in launching because she taught me how to sew, provided materials, and showed me many crucial tips like finishing and steam pressing with an iron, and trim your threads when you make them. Thank you, Mom. The company is named after her because of her many solutions.

2. make a business and website: motivation for attention, and no fixation of perfection.

Here, I had to fight coupled loosely constrained unknowns, my least favorite type of fight. The state of Vermont requires a distinct business name, or it won’t grant you a small business. I need to be registered as a small business to take money. And I need an available, memorable url that matches my business name and product. So the unknowns are if my business name is unique, if the url is available, or if the name is good. I solved this with brute force and sleep deprived impulsivity. I made a list of possibilities, and sent it to my sister. She jokingly converted Vermont Gear to Vermont Gran, inspired by a childhood joke, and I went with it since grandmothers are full of benevolent solutions. It was 2 in the morning and anything was better than nothing. So, I incorporated my business with the state and reserved my url with google domains:

2b. Material optimization

I realized I didn’t have enough tie material, so I went to joann, where the staff told me a major breakthrough: swimsuit liner can be used as the ties because there is elastic built in to the fabric. Nobody could find elastic at this time since there was a nationwide shortage. So, this super useful insight was generated by just showing up.

3. Marketing

Someone said, “2/3 of my money is wasted in marketing, I wish I knew which 2/3.” Anyway, I initialy posted on facebook, and got orders from my friends. From April 5 – May 5, most of my sales were generated from front porch forum and the Governor’s site. Around May 15, I posted fliers (see picture below) which netted 3 orders, and put a tiny ad in the Boston Globe that ran Fri May 15 – Sun May 17 (see picture below).

Spent about 12 total hours posting fliers in Montpelier and Barre, Vermont and Jamaica Plain and Roslindale in Massachusetts.

4. Sales

A major breakthrough in my breadth was that Governor Scott, alongside his mask wearing suggestion, posted a list of local face masks makers (I think April 17, see impact in sales figure below). My friend saw this, and posted my site for me, thank you. So, once I got on the list, my weekly sales tripled. I had to stream line my manufacturing so I cut out the outer layers and inner liners with a rotary cutter instead of scissors. Here, my motivation came from serving my customers. I really believe that people should get their masks asap, so I send it out on the same day as the order.

In the end, I made a profit which is more than some unicorns can say, donated masks to anyone who requested them (about 50), and made over 500 masks.

My Mask orders. I donated about 10% of the total masks I made.
One recent daily shipment. We always ship the same day as ordered.

5. Next: I would like to make a tailor shop making fitted comfortable work clothes. I think I can beat the current market which is handicapped with high shipping time. I am making a prototype bird shirt for my first day in lab. Please email me if you want to invest in my company toward getting a fabric cutting machine.

I am a researcher, and my first planned experiment explores the cell dynamics of spinal column elongation.

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