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Burn to Learn: Why Startups Should Budget for Trial and Error When Launching a New Product

Updated: Mar 4


Today, we talk with Jarod Sievers and Neal Desai, Founders of Mart Cobra, a fast-growing company with an impressive list of successful safety and survival products like the highly-reviewed Fire Blanket. Despite being new entrepreneurs, both founders have accelerated to the top through ambition, grit, trial and error, and a vision for solving old problems in unique ways. In this episode, they share with us the values that have grown their company to its current level of success and reveal tips on using tech to improve productivity and reduce stress.




 

In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:


  • Why entrepreneurs must learn through trial and error.

  • The power of TV in an online world.

  • Common errors to avoid when budgeting for a digital marketing campaign.

  • How to decide between organic and paid marketing tactics for your product launch.

  • 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!


 

Visit BuyFireBlankets.com to learn more about how the Mart Cobra Fire Blanket can quickly put out small fires without leaving any mess behind as fire extinguishers do.


To be a guest on our next podcast, contact us today!


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 LaClare [00:00:00]:


You may have seen fire blanket videos in your social feeds, or maybe you haven't yet heard about these simple and safe replacements for fire extinguishers. But today's guests share their journey on how they are turning their fire blanket business into a household name. And they offer some great advice for anyone starting a new product launch or looking to grow their existing business.



Announcer [00:00:20]:


Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other pod tasks, 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 LaClare [00:00:41]:


Welcome back to the show. Today I'm really excited to be speaking with two good friends and clients of ours at harvest growth that run a really exciting business that hasn't been around that long, not decades at least. And they've grown it very fast and been very successful over the past few years. We're going to dive in and talk about their products, but also how they did it. Get some learnings from them. Super sharp guys and good friends. I want to welcome to the show both Jared Sievers and Neal Desai. They are the owners of Mart Cobra, the parent company of a few products.



Jon LaClare [00:01:12]:


We'll talk about one in particular as we get into it today. That's super exciting. It has big next steps to it as well, which is really exciting. But first of all, I want to welcome Neal and Jared to the show.



Jarod Sievers [00:01:22]:


Thanks for having us.



Jon LaClare [00:01:24]:


So let's first of all, talk about Mart Cobra. What products do you sell currently? So a lot of it's done on Amazon. What products are under your portfolio?



Jarod Sievers [00:01:34]:


So fire blankets are our biggest seller. So it's just fiberglass blanket you throw over fires, cut off the oxygen supply to kill the fire. And then we also do mylar aluminized, mylar emergency products, the survival gear, emergency blankets, emergency sleeping bags and supplies of that sort.



Jon LaClare [00:01:57]:


And you mentioned the fire blanket was the first product. I believe it's kind of your hero product. It's taken off them. The other ones are successful, but this has been, for you guys, the most successful. Is that right?



Jarod Sievers [00:02:06]:


Yeah, that's right.



Jon LaClare [00:02:08]:


So let's dive in a little bit and talk more about fire blanket. So for those in our audience that aren't familiar with it. So we've been working on this project launch with you recently, a next stage in your launch, I should say, and we'll talk about that in a minute. But for those in our audience, that aren't familiar as many people. I talk to, friends and family about this cool project that I'm working with or project I'm working on, and they're like, I didn't even know those existed. We've had so many people that have gone to check you out on Amazon. I just had a phone call today with somebody. I mentioned the project and they literally said, I've got something similar in my shopping cart on Amazon that they'd seen on Facebook or somewhere or whatever.



Jon LaClare [00:02:41]:


And they're like, what's the brand Mark Cobra? I want to make sure it's the right one in my shopping cart, but it's been growing in visibility a little bit. But not everyone knows yet what it is. So what is the fire blanket? How does it work?



Neal Desai [00:02:53]:


It's essentially just, it's tightly woven fiberglass and it's essentially for any small type of fire, you put it over the fire and you wait for a few minutes while it cuts off the oxygen, turn off the heat source, and it just makes your life a lot easier than a fire extinguisher would, which you make a ton of mess. And fire extinguisher is not necessary for a tiny little fire. This would take care of it and keep your house safe really easily.



Jon LaClare [00:03:22]:


We did a video shoot with you guys recently and had a fireman, a firefighter on set with us as kind of a safety officer as part of what his responsibilities were. And frankly, he was amazed. And he was talking about how most of the time fire extinguishers are in the home, they're really not necessary. As you mentioned, fires can be small if you catch it quickly enough. A blanket works better. It doesn't make a huge mess. And there's some issues with, hey, how do I put out a fire if it's a grease fire versus a chemical fire versus whatever it might be, and the fire blanket sort of solves that, it's kind of a catch all that is easy. You don't have to think about it, have it close by in your kitchen, go tackle a fire and get rid of it.



Jon LaClare [00:04:01]:


The other issue he talked about specifically as a fireman, he actually mentioned he was in a home one time and had a small fire and was using their fire extinguisher. I can't remember the whole reason behind it. And he had to, like, it took him a second right to know what to do because everyone's a little bit different. Just the instructions of pull the pin now I do what's next? And then you make this huge mess afterwards. Smoke goes everywhere, right? Not the smoke from the fire, but from all the chemicals in the fire extinguisher. It's a huge mess. So he, particularly myself as well, love the simplicity of this. Hang it up, pull it down, push over the fire in a couple of seconds and it takes care of it.



Jon LaClare [00:04:36]:


So it works extremely well. Do you have a sense for so far on Amazon, do you know much about the customer base yet of how they're finding Mark Cobra fire blankets so far? How do they learn about this? That for a lot of people is something new they haven't used before.



Jarod Sievers [00:04:53]:


A lot of it's just been an uptick in searches across all the major search platforms. Google, Amazon and then our digital marketing efforts to really get out there, educate what fire blankets are. We focus a lot on how to videos to where when somebody's like, oh, fire blanket, let me google that. What is this? How do I use this? That information is readily available.



Neal Desai [00:05:22]:


And then when you're doing Amazon to build your brand and stuff, it's just a matter of getting enough pay per click and learning what the search terms are, getting enough in the backend and everywhere else so people can find just you're fighting at Amazon and their algorithm at all times and every other competitor.



Jon LaClare [00:05:42]:


And how did you guys originally get into this business? How did you get started?



Jarod Sievers [00:05:46]:


So we'd made a transition into the private label sector, so essentially selling our own branded products and we started with a couple and nothing really took our passion. So one of the recommendations from a course or something, or it's a course or podcast we listen to is like just go around and touch things in your house. Think about what you use on a daily basis. Think about things like hobbies and stuff that you have. And so when I was coming into this business, which was like exactly when we started this, I was coming out of the military and I didn't want to create a solution to things that already just another product for something that already existed like the military is using. But I still want to go along the lines of survival, safety, something that could help people. And that's sort of where we launched the fire blankets and the emergency blankets, I think pretty much simultaneously, just because they had fit in. My mom had caught her fire on, caught her house on fire when I think she was 16.



Jarod Sievers [00:07:07]:


It was a story that I had heard growing up from my grandma. I'd had a medic catch himself on fire, burning trash in Iraq that he ended up having to leave the country for, as well as just other friends. And it just sort of clicked it.



Neal Desai [00:07:25]:


Our passion, and then we just liked the niche. That's how we kept on the survival niche. All of our products that we're looking for, we have a couple of leftover old products that we're, like, selling off. But as soon as that happens, it's going to be all survival and this kind of stuff. I think it's just an interesting line and I think a lot of people need it. There's chunks of stuff that everyone knows about, and then there's chunks of stuff like fire blankets that are just kind of new, still coming, and we're still finding stuff as we go through it, too.



Jon LaClare [00:07:55]:


What I love about that is when you pick a niche or a category to focus on, it makes it so much easier to grow your customer base or grow the number of products each customer buys, right? So the lifetime value of your customer, they come in for the fire blanket. They know and get to know and love the brand bar cobra. They check you guys out and buy some other products from you, right? Because they're in that same category, it's a similar audience. So it's a smart move to start down something where people could buy one of everything, or at least several of your different products. It's funny you mentioned your, I shouldn't say funny, your mom's story with almost burning the house down. I would say coincidental that I think everybody has a story like that, right? We've all had some sort of experience, small or big, with fire. It reminds me of our oldest daughter when she was pretty young, probably two at the time, and she had gotten a dish towel pushed up on the gas stove. Flames caught it on fire and we went in there she was just as she's yanking on the ground and burnt the floor.



Jon LaClare [00:08:52]:


Right. It was not a crazy disaster, but it's something with a fire blanket. We could have thrown it over top that stopped it and not ruined our, at the time, linoleum floor years and years ago. But I think we all have that connection with some kind of fire that we've had or family, whether it's small or big. And it's always that danger that exists every time you cook a meal. You got to be careful and things can happen. So it's good to get ahead of that. So you've had great success on Amazon.



Jon LaClare [00:09:17]:


It's grown very fast, especially the fire blanket. Besides having a great product that works, that gets good reviews, et cetera, what have been other core drivers of your success? What's really helped you to be successful with your business so far on Amazon.



Neal Desai [00:09:34]:


No one's going to like this answer to begin with, but we had years of selling more generic parts like legos and stuff that built some cash and having cash to make a few mistakes helped a ton. People underestimate it. All those online gurus say you need three grand. It's always nice to have extra cash. And some people do. They make it millions and billions of dollars off of their first three grand. But most people are like me, who burn a lot of money along the way. And you just learn through the mistakes.



Neal Desai [00:10:06]:


And the more you learn, you start to get better at it. Over the last three to five years, we used to do a lot of stuff manually. There's programs and stuff that can help decide products now that can help you find keywords now they can help you that. And we have people we work with that help us with the pay per click and stuff. And just finding the people who work well with you and who do a good job and who kind of treat, obviously it's not their business, but they treat it like it is. And everyone's like trusting each other along the way. It helps a ton. And then now we're starting back end work where we're just like trying to build SEO, trying to do all that stuff that is just like, I think a lot of people start with that.



Neal Desai [00:10:49]:


Not realizing that takes years and years. It's easier if you start with the stuff that gets you some cash going immediately, even if you're not making as much profit. Because in the longer run, once you have some cash on hand, you can start doing the seos and maybe hiring someone to build blog posts and all the little backend stuff that happens to then start advertising on different venues and stuff, not just Amazon.



Jon LaClare [00:11:12]:


I like how you talked about burning through cash. I like a phrase, burn to learn. Right at the end of the day, in the beginning of a new campaign, you've got to burn through some cash in order to get the learnings of what works, what doesn't. Every product launch is so different. You guys have launched quite a few. We've launched hundreds of products at harvest growth over the years. And still everyone has its own little nuances. You've got to learn as you go in the very beginning and making sure you are learning and optimizing and not just, hey, that didn't work.



Jon LaClare [00:11:37]:


I'm giving up, right? Learn from it. What can I do better? But it really is a process. And the other thing you mentioned that I really like is getting to cash, right? Whether you've got a successful private label business, as you guys did in the beginning, to start with cash. The other piece is to get to cash quickly. So when I talk about burning before you learn, right, burn through cash. You've got to get to that as fast as you can, where you get revenues and get the profits. Realize it's going to take some time, but getting there quickly as opposed to waiting for the really long term stuff like SEO and maybe pr. Right.



Jon LaClare [00:12:11]:


That can take a while in the very beginning. But these quick hits of success also give you quick learnings. You'll know if you're on a path selling direct to consumer like you guys always have been, and it's generating profits, it's working right before that point when you're losing money, that's the chance to learn. Okay, what do I tweak? And you can see differences very quickly. Whereas with SEO and other long term pipeline ideas, it's hard to know what is going to move the needle, not only getting it working, but what search terms even matter. Right. What drives actual revenue to your business. So that's a great way of describing it.



Jon LaClare [00:12:42]:


Thank you. So next, where we're excited about working with you guys, of course, is on the next phase, the next step of your business growth, which is national television. So why did you choose national tv as the next step in your journey?



Jarod Sievers [00:12:59]:


I think part of that was because of how few people actually still know about the fire blanket. And I mean, they have a really long history dating back to the Romans where they were using wool, which is not nearly as effective as fiberglass.



Neal Desai [00:13:14]:


These are asbestos, apparently asbestos like it's years ago when we didn't know about asbestos. Also not the Romans, but it's gone through iterations or now it's actually safe. Yes.



Jarod Sievers [00:13:27]:


The cool thing about the fire blanket is especially with, we've seen on Amazon with reviews, is like these things actually work and they're actually saving homes lives. At the very least they're saving somebody a little bit of stress. And so national television just made the most sense. Like, hey, this is a great product that's helping people. Let's get it out there and see what it does.



Neal Desai [00:13:57]:


And then from business side, the leverage of tv versus, like, I kept talking about pay per click because that's how most business happens. Each click costs you money. Where tv, you're leveraging just numbers. And each person who views doesn't necessarily cost you another penny. So as long as the product ends up doing well, as long as you send the message how you want to send it to make the sales. Every additional sale past the point of break even is all profit, where that's never going to be the case with pay per click. Every sale that you get, every click you get is another cost to you no matter what. Where you can leverage tv a lot more than you can leverage most things.



Neal Desai [00:14:34]:


I think you can leverage it even still better than digital, unless you're really good at getting stuff viral and stuff. Like if you're Mr. Beast, different story. But we're not Mr. Beast.



Jon LaClare [00:14:46]:


Yeah, good point. You talk about tv as kind of an education, right? When you've got a product that is unique, it's been out there for a little while, but you said a lot of people don't yet know about fire blankets. So it's a fantastic vehicle because of the broad awareness to drive education. And I would add one thing to what you said. I know we've talked about it before, but you just didn't mention it. Today is credibility. When people see a product on tv, there's that innate trust that exists versus other platforms. Amazon has some of that because of the reviews.



Jon LaClare [00:15:15]:


And you guys have tens of thousands of reviews for your products, which helps, right? But you get to websites, et cetera. There's Facebook marketing, which works, but there's an added level of trust that comes from tv that just drives the overall not only sales, but also brand presence and brand personality and brand trust behind it as well. So I couldn't agree more. Well, are there any resources that you guys would recommend to our audience that have been helpful for you? Books, podcasts or any other resources that you'd recommend?



Neal Desai [00:15:45]:


I think if you're just starting selling before you get into private label or do anything crazy, just try to sell something. Just try to find something you want to get rid of in your house. Sell on eBay, find a garage sale, sell something. See if you like it. A lot of people don't like it, and that's okay. That's completely okay. Some people love it immediately. No matter how much you end up making or don't make, if you don't like selling, this doesn't change.



Neal Desai [00:16:11]:


Everything in this is selling no matter what. And then before you spend money after that, there's a lot of free good information on YouTube. You're going to have to steer through some junk and you're going to have to figure out what's good and what's bad. But the basic stuff of private label and stuff, you can find a lot of good resources on what makes a listing strong, what makes a title strong, how to find keywords, what you're supposed to do. You can use stuff like helium ten. That's going to be a pay program at some point, but that's awesome on telling you how much search volume every keyword on Amazon has and stuff and all that stuff. As you get to know and you start to understand it, what takes you 2 hours to read through? You can skim it in a few minutes and understand this may be a good product, this may not be a good product. And the more you learn and you'll likely end up spending some money.



Neal Desai [00:17:03]:


But the more you learn along the way, the less you'll end up having to burn and mess up on ten. I think we messed up on ten or 15 products and we had trouble getting rid of them and we should have gotten rid of them. We were just like, oh, hopefully it's going to get better. Hopefully you'll have to learn all that stuff. Just like I was wrong, I guessed wrong, maybe I should just dump this product. It's a loser. And that's okay. It happens.



Neal Desai [00:17:28]:


Everyone has those.



Jon LaClare [00:17:30]:


Both great advice. I've got a second on. You have to figure out if you like selling. To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever heard someone give that advice. But it is so true, right? Even if you are extremely successful like you guys are, if you don't have a passion for it, it's going to be a grind, right? It's not just about money, it's about the time and effort you have to put into it, especially in the early days before it becomes a success. Right? Grinding through, figuring things out, optimizing and figuring out that first step of do you enjoy it? I love that advice. Like you said, just sell something from your garage or know sell one thing ac if you're kind of good at it, do you have a natural knack? And then do you enjoy it? So that's fantastic advice. Well, Jared and Neal, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would be helpful for our audience?



Neal Desai [00:18:16]:


The only one with private label. Watch out for the fake gurus, they sit everywhere. If you're going to spend your good hard on money, there are probably some really good systems along the way, but I think you catch most of it free on YouTube. And then once you have some cash, pay someone who may know a little bit more and maybe that'll help you more rather than that first. Two grand, five grand, ten grand, better off used as learning experience money and maybe make a profit on it. The money you give away to someone else to just teach you isn't anything. YouTube may take you a little more time, but I think the time is worth the five to ten grand you may end up saving.



Jon LaClare [00:18:54]:


Yeah.



Jarod Sievers [00:18:54]:


I would also add to that to not be afraid to hire somebody to do something like these little small projects Neal was talking about. Hire somebody to do it at first and then sit there and think about and get your own hands dirty and figure out how they did that because that's something I've done throughout our business all the time is Neal will hire someone to like, hey, let's do this. And then I find out a way. I figure out at least enough basics to be able to systemize it and train it and optimize it to where even if we don't have the time to do it ourselves or can't do it ourselves, we can now connect with that person and understand that person's journey in their own creation process a little bit more just to help get the job done.



Neal Desai [00:19:41]:


If you have something small, something small that needs to get done that you may not be good at drawing something or something, maybe blog posts. Fiver and upwork are pretty great. They don't charge much. And yeah, not everything's going to be perfect, but over time you can find stuff. And we still use fiver all the time for little tasks and stuff and it helps a lot. Stuff we don't have time for. It's better off someone takes care of it, someone who knows what they're doing. And 20, $30 worth it at the end of the day.



Jon LaClare [00:20:08]:


Yeah. And it can be so cheap that if maybe the first person isn't good, but to do two or three could save you a ton of time. Right? The third one is going to be perfect or whatever, right? These steps can save a lot of money and realize what we don't do. We may not be experts in every field. Right? So where you're not an expert, if it's graphic design or whatever it might be, finding especially inexpensive resources to help fill those gaps. That's great advice. Well, Neal and Jared, I really appreciate your time today. This has been a really fun interview.



Jon LaClare [00:20:34]:


I know our audience is going to love it as well. I do encourage our audience. Please go to buyfireblankets.com B-U-Y buyfireblankets.com to learn more about their product. You can see what they've done a bit with their business. You can also search out Mart Cobra on Amazon to see the fire blanket as well as other products that they've worked on. And then did you know that you can meet with a member of my team at Harvest Growth absolutely free for a 30 minutes strategy consultation. We've launched and grown hundreds of products since 2007 and learned some of our strategies while growing oxiclean back in the Billy Mays days. We're here to help, so please go to harvestgrowth.com and set up a call if you'd like to discuss further.

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