Achieving a 300% Growth Rate Despite a Highly Competitive Market and Gender Bias - FunkkOFF!
Today we speak with Joelle Flynn and Sonia Hounsell, two ambitious entrepreneurs helping women live happier, healthier lives through their product, FunkkOFF! FunkkOFF! is a teeth refresher that goes the extra mile - it is uniquely designed to aid women in cleaning their teeth anywhere, even in public, and at any time without worrying about their lipstick or about people's glances. And women love it.
This year, Flynn and Hounsell's company has grown three hundred times larger than it was at this point in 2022. They are also getting requests from large retailers and were recently invited on Shark Tank, an appearance that led to a demand frenzy. They've done this in a market that's led by big brands and corporate behemoths. Part of the reason for their success, our guests enthuse, is that FunkkOFF! is a "badge" product; a product that people can happily show off and use confidently. But that's not all. To find out all the reasons for their success, listen to the podcast now.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
Why you may need multiple patents, domestically and internationally.
The importance of having experts on your team - from legal to branding.
How to make every PR moment count.
How in-person marketing complements online efforts in driving leads and sales.
Why LinkedIn networking can make a difference for struggling entrepreneurs and product marketers.
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, click to watch the full video interview here!
Don't miss out on FunkkOFF! Use the promo code HARVESTGROWTH30 now to claim your 30% discount on your purchase.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon: If you want to learn how to build a consumer product business successfully in retail and direct-to-consumer in a very short period of time, even to the point of growing 300% year-over-year, then you'll want to listen to this interview with two very experienced founders of a woman-owned business that have combined their decades of big company experience into the launch of their very own product.
Narrator: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now here's the host of The Harvest Growth Podcast, Jon LaClare.
Jon: Welcome back to the show. Today I'm really excited to have on two co-founders of a business that's really cool. You're going to love their product, but also their story behind this. The product is called FunkkOFF, F-U-N-K-K, two Ks in there O-F-F, and you can find out more information at funkkoff.com, again, with two Ks in the middle. Let me introduce these two co-founders, Joelle Flynn is actually the inventor of the FunkkOFF Teeth Refresher product, and is founder and co-CEO. Her other co-CEO, other half, is Sonia Hounsell, who's, again, a co-founder and co-CEO in this business. Both of you, I'm so excited to have you on the show. Thanks for taking the time today.
Joelle: Thank you for having us, Jon.
Sonia: Thank you.
Jon: As I mentioned, I'm a user of the product and a big fan, but I'll let you describe what it is. Let's start off with that. What is the FunkkOFF Teeth Refresher?
Joelle: We can tell you what it is or how it came about, or both. What would you prefer?
Jon: Let's do both.
Joelle: Okay. We love that you actually used the product right before the podcast, and your teeth look lovely by the way.
Joelle: Fresh, and white, and clean. The FunkkOFF name actually came from purple funk on my teeth when I was up tasting wine in wineries in Napa and Sonoma. I'd always carry around, literally, a toothbrush and toothpaste, like the one you see here in my little purse to get the purple funk off my teeth in between wine tastings. There came a time when I pulled out lipstick, I think this might have been it actually, that was all-in-one. I wanted something that was all-in-one and reusable, toothbrush and toothpaste kind of thing that was like my lipstick, but for my teeth, and there just wasn't anything on the market so I just started inventing it back in the day, and filed many patents along the way.
I got to a point where I needed help because I didn't know how to launch a consumer product with what I invented. I worked together with Sonia in 2019, and we formed FunkkOFF Inc. We worked very hard together to refine the designs, the usability, and the aesthetics, the formulation inside, and everything to bring my idea and invention to the marketplace in 2019, which we did. I will tee it over to my best friend from seventh grade, and business partner, Sonia Hounsell. What is FunkkOFF, Sonia?
Sonia: It's a two-in-one toothbrush and toothpaste that you use on the go. Inside is 100% natural and vegan tooth gel that we formulated together. Like Joelle said, we worked on refining the design so that you could easily take the cap off, you twist the bottom, and the natural tooth gel that's inside comes up through the middle onto the soft bristles. Then you brush your teeth on the go, you rinse the bristles, and put your cap back on, and you can check your teeth with the handy mirror on the bottom. We put the product together, the branding together, and created this wonderful solution that didn't exist before. Colgate and Crest didn't figure it out. It's been a really fun journey, and we're getting a lot of great reviews about it.
Jon: For those that might be listening, or watching this, I originally felt when I first heard about this, "Oh, there's products like this." Because they have the single-use ones that others have done out there. I've bought those in the past because you need something, getting ready for a meeting, or whatever, especially if you're on the go. The problem is, personally, I rarely used them because you have to pack, they're single-use like, "Is it really worth using it this one time and throwing it away? Well, maybe next time." What I love about yours is the reusability, and I think that's part of the uniqueness behind this, is the fact that it can be used 30 times, I believe, on average, correct?
Jon: You could use it every day for a month, preparing right after lunch, or before a meeting, or whatever it might be, and it takes away that-- I don't know if it's guilt or whatever it is, of throwing away every time I use one of those plastic toothbrushes.
Joelle: That's a great point, and we really thought-- We are a certified women-owned company. Sonia and I own it all, which is awesome. I wanted to mention, it is a reusable product, and that was very important to us. The single-use ones actually cost per use. Ours is actually cheaper for the 30 uses. One single uses and I won't plug any name of another competitor, but they're not actually recyclable, so it's even worse, and the bristles aren't even bristles.
The experience was awful, so we really took a long time to make sure that we brought something to market that we would use, our children would use, is very eco-friendly. I will mention that we have 10 US patents, Sonia, and also one China PCT patent as well, and three trademarks along the way. We try to protect our beautiful little baby, we call her our blue little baby. It's very important that we made something that was as sustainable as we could for the environment. We're continuing, right Sonia, to do that with future iterations of our product.
Jon: That is something I noticed when I started using the product is the bristles as you compared to other "competitors." That they're plasticy, they're hard bristles, again, very single use, but this feels like a high-quality toothbrush. It's the normal experience you're used to as a consumer, to brush our teeth hopefully every day, multiple times. Now you're on the go and have that same experience and a great refreshing feeling afterwards as well. I love how you've done that, and brought that quality to bear, certainly, in your product.
Sonia: Absolutely, and we spend a lot of time working through those kinds of features. We wanted our consumers, who are really like us, women who are busy moms, busy working women who are on the go to enjoy using it throughout the day, and actually be proud of using it. Because it's actually very awkward to be carrying around a toothbrush and toothpaste. You're always awkward in the bathroom trying to hide it, whereas this is something you can actually just use at the table. Sometimes we refresh our lips at the table, you could even use this. It's somewhat of a badge product, and that's part of the branding and the design behind it.
Jon: What do you mean by badge product?
Sonia: A product that you are proud of using, that you want to show your friends, you want to share with your friends, you want to talk about, you want to post about. I don't know if you can tell, but I'm a bit of a brand marketer, so that's part of what I grew up learning how to do working in CPG companies. It's a product that you really want to be proud of using and share with people.
Jon: Yes, I think it's a great way of saying that.
Joelle: That is right, Jon, but I do need to say, she's an award-winning brand marketer. She doesn't pay me to say that, but I'm so proud of her, and I'm so proud of being a partner. She is, so she knows what she's talking about. I learn from her.
Jon: You can tell, with the graphics. I encourage everyone again to visit the website, funkkoff.com. Again, with two Ks in the middle. You'll see that branding come to play in the packaging and the website design, et cetera. You can tell. I love how you described the badge product because it's really the opposite of other options that are out there. Where you're concealing, you're hiding, if you're using a portable toothpick, or if you're taking your little portable throwaway toothbrush into the bathroom, whatever. It's not something you're proud of. Well, this is.
This is something you want to show off. Not show off maybe, but certainly have your friends see and not be embarrassed of while you're solving a problem that everyone has on a daily basis really. I want to back up a little bit. You talked about multiple patents, having 10 patents on this product. We get a lot of questions from our listeners on patents in general. I don't want to turn this into a legal session by any means, but I'd love to ask the question. What is the value of having multiple patents? My audience will hear that a lot, where, "I've got 3, 4, 5, 10 patents." What's the difference, at a high level, between some of these patents and the reason for having multiple rather than a single patent?
Joelle: One million dollars. I'm sure he will be listening because he's been part of our journey, but we the most amazing IP, intellectual property attorney, and his firm has been with us since 2010/11 when the idea came. It's like, why do you lock your doors? Why do you have locks on your doors? If someone really wants to break into your house, they're going to do it, but you'd be silly not to have those locks on your door. We knew that going up against-- and it is 10 US patents. Five are design, for those that want to hear, and five are utility.
To get an international patent on the utility and basically, utility is how it works not what it looks like, which is really hard. For China to award that to us is pretty huge for an international patent. We knew along the way as we were refining designs, making this beautiful. In the original prototype I had, is right here, which, if you come in, you can see it. It's actually the round spinning toothbrush head off of my electric toothbrush and I stuck it on a Chapstick container and started working with designers. From that to what Sonia and I have brought to market is different, but the same as far how it wanted to be used, but the value of it is we knew we're two women going up basically two large oral care companies because this is the space that this product is in. We can talk later about other FunkkOFF products down the way, but we knew we were going up with the biggest of the biggest of the global. Pretty much everybody has teeth and pretty much everybody eats and drinks so it's a universal product we say.
We had to make sure along the way that we protected what we were building before we brought it to market. The value of it for us I think is invaluable. The opposite we got to-- we got into Shark Tank, but we got into a little bit of a back and forth that you spent so much money on international protecting yourselves. The opposite, I would rather answer it that way. If we didn't have any patents, we'd be really exposed. I think they're very valuable. I don't think I could put a number on them. Sonia, could you? I can tell you our legal fees, but I don't think you'd want to know that.
Jon: No, thanks for explaining that, that's very helpful. Let's jump over to the marketing side of this. What would you consider your first big breakthrough success once you went through all this development time, got your patents in place, and now have your product developed, your biggest marketing success from that point forward?
Sonia: We launched with direct-to-consumer marketing and did social Facebook and Instagram and got strong response from consumers, but also were discovered by retailers, which was really great. I think that was one of the bigger things that happened earlier on. Uncommon Goods found us and wanted to list us. A prestigious beauty store in Brooklyn named Shen Beauty discovered us. It was those moments when we were discovered by retailers that we realized, this is a great opportunity for wholesale actually.
While we were doing direct-to-consumer, we actually moved into wholesale more quickly than we thought we were going to because there was demand for it. Wholesale found us, but it was also another way for us to expand our awareness and reach amongst consumers that then fed our direct-to-consumer. It created the wheel that works really hard for us right now.
Jon: That is not as many people are in our audience. I know you guys also understand common right to have retailers reach out to you demanding your product or asking for your product. I love how you use the word discover. When you have something truly unique but also important or powerful by solving a big problem in a way that no other products are. It speaks to the-- I guess the greatness of your idea that retailers would seek you out and seeing this because they get pitched all day, all night by unique products, but having that unique benefit that's really meaningful to consumers goes a long way in driving the success and growth of your business.
Jon: Today, what works best for your business? What drives sales in the best way right now?
Sonia: Right now, it still continues to be our social. Amazon is very powerful. It's one of our best platforms and you just can't beat the volume and the availability of consumers on that platform. That's worked really, really hard for us. Joelle, do you want to add anything?
Joelle: I do. As a consumer purchasing for us, and I'll speak with Sonia on this, I want to know who's behind the brand. I want to know the people. I want to make sure that there really is a Burt behind Burt's Bees. I really want to make sure they're there. I want to know that it's-- I do want to know the story, I want to know how it's made, who made it. A lot of financial sales success comes from us doing in-person events as well.
Wine festivals are fantastic. Food and wine festivals anything, any trade shows are wonderful because really the backbone if there was 50 million of Joelle and Sonia’s out there, we would be through the roof, but these trade shows where these boutiques, which are the backbone of our country, every town has these wonderful entrepreneurial women and men behind, mostly women, behind these boutiques that they curate really wonderful fines. To be able to meet each of these women and companies at these trade shows, we get each other and they want something unique on their counter and we want to be on their counter and their stories behind it. They're real stories.
Jon: That's a great explanation. You've so far this year, the first few months have grown over 300%, 3X what you were the same period last year. What do you think's driving that big change? What's driving the recent growth for your company?
Sonia: Well, the big thing was Shark Tank. We again, speak of being discovered. We were actually scouted to be on Shark Tank and we aired in February. It has really propelled us to the level of awareness and interest in our product from consumers as well as potential markets. International markets have been huge. It's just a very, very powerful platform. We had a lot of fun doing it. We got a deal from Robert, which was amazing and now so many more people know about FunkkOFF. We're very grateful for that.
Joelle: They do. I'm going to add to you on that because I'm big on numbers, but it was really fun to be. We were on season 14, and we were also episode 14. For those that listen to this on Hulu later down the way, season 14, episode 14. Well, I'm a Shark Tank fanatic. I've obsessed with the show, of course. I think we were the only ones ever in 14 years, and they have 22 episodes and I think four to five companies an episode. A gazillion companies have come on that walked in with two glasses of red wine. I thought that was pretty enough and didn't spill them.
The non-spilling was more important but we actually had a lot of fun. We did sell that out within 12 minutes so varying. We've been taking. That definitely is the big accelerator, but what's more validating is what's come our way as far as that exposure are real connections and real distribution opportunities and retail opportunities. Again, it's them finding us through Shark Tank maybe, but validating that they actually want our product. That's rewarding.
Jon: Love it. Great. I know you're sold out now on the website, but coming back very soon and with inventory, just speaking to the tremendous demand you've had for your product. I do encourage everyone go check out the website. If it's still out of stock, it'll be back very soon. Again, check out funkkoff.com. I do want to ask a couple of final questions. One is are there any resources that you guys recommend that have been helpful for you in this journey?
Sonia: Yes, there's so many resources. I always think about if we were trying to do this 20 years ago, how on earth we would've done it without the internet. It's just unbelievable and amazing how many resources are out there. They're out there if you look for them and you're industrious like most entrepreneurs are, but one of my favorite recent books that I think every entrepreneur should read, and actually Joelle gave to me is You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero. I think that truly every entrepreneur should read that book because it's very powerful. It expresses in a really realistic and practical way, the power of manifestation and manifesting. I'm grateful for Joelle that she introduced me to it and I've just really enjoyed that book. That is an amazing resource.
Joelle: Aw, you just touched my heart on the podcast. Sometimes I don't know what you're going to say. That was beautiful and I do love that book. It's actually on my nightstand right over there. I'll be really quick because I know we're at the end here, but resources, I'm a big extrovert, so reaching out and thank God, we now have LinkedIn. Don't forget your high school resources because they're fantastic. You're college as well. Just ask for help. Literally, now you can send emails, you can go direct messaging on LinkedIn and just say, "Hey, do you have 5 or 10 minutes? I have a question." Even if it's just one question, but they're in a category or somewhere, people want to-- I want to help people. The resources are-- you have them now, thank God. Go to LinkedIn, Google search a company, find out who the advisors are, who the key people are. Find them on LinkedIn and say, "I have a question. How do I make a bristle or can you direct me to somewhere else?" It's great network on LinkedIn, I think.
Jon: That's great advice. Both of those, really, as well, that I think we can all take to heart. We've talked about this before on the show, but it's amazing to me every time when you reach out to people, so many of them will respond. We do want to help each other. When I get requests, I know you guys do as well. When you reach out to others on LinkedIn, getting that connection, even if you don't know them directly, if it's a high school friend, college friend, fantastic. Even if you just are a friend of a friend, people will respond, people will help you out. It just takes you reaching out. Is there anything I didn't ask that you guys think will be helpful for our audience?
Sonia: Yes, I think just building upon that and I think it's female entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs, I think seeking out male mentors actually is one of the one thing that I didn't do enough of when I was more junior and younger in my career. I think that's one of the more powerful things. They always say, what would you tell your younger self? I think that's what I would tell my younger self because I think there are a lot of female entrepreneurs and there are a lot more women in business. At the end of the day, it's still a very male-dominated world, especially when it comes to funding and capital raising. I think having those mentors and relationships are really, really powerful and are invaluable.
Joelle: I agree. To add little percentages, of all VC, venture capital funding that goes to female-led and female-owned companies, it's only about 2% to 3% of funding. Then as far as patents that are held by single female, it's only 4% of the patents. I have two daughters and son. Sonia has a daughter and a son. We love men, [inaudible 00:22:13] do with men. I worked as a stockbroker. She was in CPG. Male-dominated world. We want our children to be able to go into a job and ask for a job and get paid the same and treated the same at the end of the day. Until that's going to happen, the lovers go this way. Back to just what-- I'm going to add to Sonia's point of what would I tell my old self?
It's something that I do use still today from an entrepreneurial point of view. Gosh, I have this idea. Gosh, I want to do this, or I want to start this business, or I want to start doing this. Sometimes it can be so overwhelming. I just always say move five chess pieces a day, five, five calls, five emails, five things you're going to do tomorrow and have the big vision over here, but just move it along. I see Z come back to A and build your way. Along the way, talk to LinkedIn, ask for help, men, women, all along the way to get to where you are.
Sonia, you always have a saying that someone asked us before, what's the best saying? Just always have a plan, but know that 100% of the time, plans never go as planned. Then, Sonia, you always have some good ones as well because it's the truth. Nothing ever goes as planned. If you can go in with something, and you just know that-- just be able to be adaptable and changeable. Even today, our date has gone like this, right Sonia?
Jon: One of my favorite quotes along those lines is from Mike Tyson, believe it or not, right? If you've ever heard his line, it probably looks like you recognize that. Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face. It's so true. He's speaking about boxing but it happens in the entrepreneurial life over and over again. You just got to be ready for when you get put off course, and you get surprised sometimes.
Joelle: [crosstalk] I was expecting for Sonia to say because that's what she says all the time. Sorry, Sonia. Go ahead.
Sonia: No, that's okay. I was about to say it, but I'm glad you said it, Jon.
Jon: Stole your thunder. Sorry. [laughs]
Sonia: No, no, no. You didn't steal my thunder.
Jon: I do want to thank you guys for joining the show today. This has been a really fun interview. I know our audience is going to love it. For our audience, please visit their website, funkkoff.com. Again, two Ks in the middle. If you use promo code HARVESTGROWTH30 all caps, the number 30 at the end, HARVESTGROWTH30. You can get a 30% discount off of your very own FunkkOFF. Encourage everyone, please visit the site. If for nothing else, see the great product, the design, and I guarantee, once you try the product, you're going to love it as well. Joelle and Sonia, thank you again so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Joelle: Thank you so much.
Sonia: Thank you so much.
Jon: If you like this episode, and you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product business, please subscribe to our show or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak directly with a member of our HarvestGrowth team in a free consultation to learn the process that has worked for hundreds of businesses since 2007.
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