How 2 Non-Engineers Built a Best-selling Electronics Product - Chubby Buttons
Today's episode is a 20-minute masterclass on solving big business problems when you're new to entrepreneurship. Our guests are Michael Cherkezian and Justin Barad, inventors of the world's first wearable Bluetooth remote, who developed their product without any engineering or product development background and got a spot on Shark Tank shortly after. Today, their product, Chubby Buttons, has amassed thousands of 5-star reviews and is ready to dominate multiple consumer markets.
Cherkezian and Barad eagerly share their dramatic success story and reveal helpful tips for old problems in bootstrapping, marketing, talent recruitment, and management. Whether you're new to entrepreneurship or not, this exciting episode will inspire you to do more.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
Why entrepreneurs must shatter societal expectations to find success.
How a healthy relationship with customers can benefit marketing and product development and reduce business costs.
How to land a spot on Shark Tank.
How to find great talent on a bootstrapper's budget.
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 chubbybuttons.io to see the world's first wearable Bluetooth remote in action! Use code 'harvest' at checkout for a 15% discount on purchases.
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: Today's guests invented an electronics product with no previous engineering experience and launched the product 15 months after having the initial idea. Since then, they've had great success selling direct to consumer and also appeared on Shark Tank. They also share how to connect with your consumers to generate powerful marketing content. You're going to love this interview.
Presenter: 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 LaClare: Welcome back to the show. Today, I'm really excited to be speaking with the co-founders of Chubby Buttons. You're going to learn more about what that product is and their pretty cool origin story behind it as well. I want to talk quickly about the founders. Michael Cherkezian and Justin Barad are the co-founders of this product, this brand Chubby Buttons that's had a lot of success over the years. They've been friends for a long time. They can talk about that part of their story, their origin story as well, how this product came to be what it is, and really how it helps you. I know you're going to love this story. First of all, Michael and Justin, welcome to the show.
Justin Barad: Thanks, man. Thank you for us this is fun.
Jon: Let's get into the product so what is Chubby Buttons and how does it work?
Justin: Sure Chubby Buttons is the world's first wearable Bluetooth remote for action sports. It is essentially when you boil it down, it is a fat button remote control that you can strap onto your arm that has five big tactile buttons that are engineered to control the media functions of your smartphone while you're wearing gloved hands. There's no apps required to use the remote. It bonds seamlessly to any tablet or smartphone that runs iOS and Android.
It essentially is seen by your smartphone as a Bluetooth keyboard if you will. It's got five buttons on it, volume down, volume up, track reverse, track forward, and play in the center. Not only does it control those media functions but it also handles phone calls. You can pick up phone calls. You can decline phone calls.
Michael Cherkezian: Summon your digital assistant.
Justin: You can summon Google and Siri and it also a nice little Easter egg that we like it. Functions as a selfie remote and people really like it.
Michael: We want to just really create a simple tool that solves a common problem for skiers and snowboarders. That's where it really started but we'll get into that in a little bit more.
Jon: Let's talk about the origin. How originally did you come up with the idea?
Michael: Actually, we'll go even before the idea, Justin and I have been best friends since we were in high school. We knew each other since we were 13. We would go on trips together with a bunch of our guy friends and one year we went out to Colorado and we were skiing and I loved to listen to music when I ski. A lot of people loved to listen to music when they ski and snowboard, but when I'd have my earbuds in and I'd have my phone in my pocket and I'd have my gloves on, there was a lot of friction with me taking my glove off, digging into my pocket, making sure I don't drop a pole off a chair lift. After one or two runs, it got a little bit annoying for me and for my friends and--
Justin: He was literally stopping at the top of every hill where it's like, "Come on, man." He's taking off his glove. He's fishing for his phone. It was hilarious.
Michael: It was really funny and then I remember we were on [unintelligible 00:03:47] I was like I just wish we had a big fat button to control our phone. I think we looked at each other. We had a light bulb moment. It was a really funny moment.
Justin: The original idea on the chairlift was a big button almost an easy button from Staples that you could slab on their helmet. We thought about that we were like, "That might not look so cool in the slopes and neither does big fat buttons sound pretty good." We did a little sketching and then we ended it up with Chubby Buttons and we thought that was a great name for it.
Jon: Awesome from that idea or inception the idea to having it ready to ship, how long did that take?
Justin: A long time. [laughs] None of us were professionally, I guess, technically trained in product development and we both were working full-time. One of the things that we're really good at is, I guess, finding answers to problems. Today's day and age, I don't know technically how to code for Bluetooth. I didn't know at the time what the durometer of particular pieces of rubber means. I don't know how a printed circuit board is created. However, there's this great resource we had on the internet where you can learn everything and so we were determined on nights and weekends to figure out how do I make a thing. There's no PDF online that tells you here's how you make a thing.
We knew what we had to get to. We needed a prototype and so we were working together. A design was mocked up and then we went-- Once the visuals were there, we brought it to a mechanical engineer that turned it into a 3D printed prototype. We had a piece of plastic and we're like, All right, cool. That looks nice." Then, we contacted someone that was an electrical engineer and had a very bare-bones version of the printed circuit board.
Then we made a prototype and then once we knew all the pieces necessary that were part of the BOM, the build materials, we then decided to find where they made those things in China. We literally got on the phone with tons of different people overseas that were LED manufacturers, button manufacturers, plastics manufacturers, and then we flew to China and we met them all on our Thanksgiving break.
We spent about two weeks there and met tons of different manufacturers. This is the long story, but generally, the short answer to your question is I would say from the idea to the first 5,000 units that we brought over to the states was about probably a year and a half.
Michael: I think also the fact that it started out as a passion project was a good thing because if we gave ourselves a hard deadline if it wasn't something that we loved it may have frustrated us too much. I think because we took the pressure off of ourselves and said let's see what we can do, let's create this because we love it. Because we were friends too, it was not just the destination. It was like a journey too.
I think that made that length of time manageable and because I think with another product it could have been really, really challenging.
Justin: I talked to a lot of people that had made a thing. I'd got in contact with some friends. We had a good network of people here in New York and spoke to couple of people that had spent tons of money. Okay, I had this idea I want to make this thing and they would spend, I think their budget was somewhere around $100,000, $300,000, $750,000. It was a lot of money that were like, "We got to do this a little differently." One of the things that we did with our process was we did it diligently. We did it slowly but we never delegated any understanding.
The reason why it took a little slower is because we didn't just reach out to a designer and say, "Make us a thing." We didn't reach out to a firmware developer and say, "I wanted to do this, go." We didn't reach out to a box manufacturer and say, "Please make us a box." We spent time with all these people on the phone, late night phone calls, tons of PowerPoints back and forth, in-person meetings, really, really tried to figure out how to communicate what we wanted.
Jon: The interesting thing is I would say almost despite all of that, a year and a half is actually a fairly fast timeline. You talk to people in big companies. I've worked at Kraft Foods and [unintelligible 00:08:30] back in the day. To bring out a new product, it can take years sometimes, even a simple one. Especially if you walk into it not knowing what you're doing, as you guys said, you weren't engineers to start with but you learned along the way. I like that you talked about the passion though.
That's a big difference. When you've got that passion it makes the product better and it can make the journey faster. Certainly ends up making the product something that people are going to want if you love it if you've got true passion behind it. That's a great way to put it. Let's play uses of the product. You mentioned it's mainly for or was developed at least for action sports, skiing originally. What are other common uses you see your consumers using the product for?
Michael: I think first just within the sporting community, we had a very narrow vision initially. We said this will be something for skiers and snowboarders. Then, one of our big surprises was when we started marketing it that in the springtime, motorcyclists found their way to it. That took us by a little bit surprised but then we thought it was funny that we didn't initially think of that ourselves and then we realized mountain bikers and that there were all these other people across different sports that were doing, whether messenger bikers or electric vehicle, personal electronic vehicles.
Then started there and then we realized also in the home, there's a great set of applications as well. People could bring this into the kitchen. I have a friend who's a chef and he would stick it out to the hood of his stove because when his hands were dirty he didn't want to touch his phone. He was able to knuckle the device and be able to control his music. Even mothers when they're taking their children into the bathroom and doing things there. There are all these places in the home that seem to be applications. People have taken them into their airplanes as well. We have a whole list of other places that we are excited to bring this, it's just we got to take one bite at a time.
Justin: One of the features that we didn't mention before because they weren't specifically pertaining to the Buttons function, but on the back of the device, there is a material called Nano-Stick. It's very similar to what we might have heard as the GOATcase, the greatest of all time phone case. It's a non-adhesive backing that when you touch it, it doesn't feel sticky at all, but when you look closer with a microscope, it's got thousands of tiny suction cups. It adheres to non-porous services, like mirrors or tops of hoods of an oven, for example.
That's where the home use comes in. You take off the armband from you're outside, you can stick it onto a mirror, you can stick it onto a shower. People use it to control their podcasts when they're in the shower, sing along to different tunes, and so a whole other use case in there as well.
Really, it grew out from an action sports product to, "This is really cool around the home." Like Mike mentioned, we would get reviews sent in. He handles all social media, I do all customer service, every email that comes in, and [chuckles] people are sending us pictures. Some guy put it on the-- Is it the heads-up display of his private plane or something like that. I was like, "We're in a plane now," and then someone was in the jet ski, someone put it in a sailboat. It was all over the place and we couldn't believe all these different use cases. We made the thing because we wanted one. We just had a problem we wanted to solve, we had no idea [chuckles] that this would be useful for tons of people.
Michael: That's actually one of the more exciting things too because I get to see on social media when people write and then they say, "Oh, my gosh, this product does exist." They tag their friends and their friends say, "Remember we were saying we should have something like this?"
Justin: Everybody says, "I thought of that idea." Something I'm sure you hear all the time.
Michael: They send in pictures too, which is really exciting. It makes my job for handling social media pretty easy because they send photos all the time about like, "Oh, look what I was able to do with Chubby Buttons. I rigged it onto my motorcycle. I put it onto my jet ski," or, "This is something that I use in another use case." There is a really nice enthusiasm from our customers and that's just very validating. It's very validating.
Michael: [unintelligible 00:12:47] something that people like.
Jon: It's such a powerful tool to use UGC or user-generated content, the marketing terminology for it in marketing campaigns now. Oftentimes, we go out, we find the influencers, the consumers, whatever, send them samples, have them use it, send us photos, videos, et cetera. It's so much more powerful when you have that connection directly with your audience like you guys are talking about.
When they love the product, when they show real uses, some of them surprising you, that connection, if you can get that with your audience, can give you endless stream of content no matter what your product is because it's real passion. They're sharing your passion, not just doing a marketing message. Which can also work. We do a lot of it. UGC's great, but if you can get that real connection, that much better.
Justin: That's true.
Jon: What would you say was the first big success for your business?
Justin: I think selling out of our first 5,000 units probably was really great. That was a great milestone. That was [unintelligible 00:13:47].
Michael: Also, we were in a gift bag for the X Games and that was really exciting too because--
Jon: Oh, cool.
Michael: That felt really validating because that organization recognized that our product was something that would resonate with professional athletes that are doing sports. I think that felt very exciting. Most recently, just participating on Shark Tank, that was obviously, again, another big place of validation. We still think we're just getting started.
Justin: I have a cool story about that as well. I guess it's a humble brag in a sense because it was a glitch that ended up becoming something fun. It was a situation where we had just iterated and produced our second version of our product. We were selling Chubby Buttons 1 in the beginning and then just like most companies where you hear the complaints, you hear what's working, what's not working, and then we developed the second version, and that's the one that's being sold today. We no longer sell Chubby Buttons 1.
Upon release of CB 2, we had an issue with the firmware. Actually, we learned that it wasn't working with some Android devices. Not all Android devices, just wasn't working with a good number of them, a particular smartphone. Here we were, they were all out in the field, they were all out in the market and there was an issue.
Fortunately, what we had done is, we did something really smart, when we released the product we had this little ticket, I guess, that's a serial number, that's on the back of every box. It says, "Register your product, enter a chance to win an Amazon gift card." I think it's $250. It was the smartest thing we've ever done because we have tons of people that are registering their products that are now also answering all these questions for us, including, would you ever want to be a beta tester for a future firmware we rollout?
Fortunately, with the second version, we were able to update the firmware over the air. We were able to collect this army of beta testers within 24 hours. I got over 300 people that are willing to test this firmware that was going to fix the problem and all of them were just gung ho about it because [unintelligible 00:16:08] to hire a marketing team or anything like that. I had actual users.
It was so cool just to talk to my users that were really excited to help us solve this problem and within two weeks we'd actually solved it, rolled out the firmware update. That was a really big success.
Michael: It's just nice also getting pressed by a lot of these premier publications. We were in SKI Magazine, that was a big hit. It feels we were this garage band tech company and now we're getting recognition from SKI Magazine and that's very validating.
Jon: That's cool. I love that the term you keep using is validation. Oftentimes as marketers, we need that. You've got the passion, you know it's a great idea for you. It's great to hear that real consumers out there also love it in many different ways, whether it's a publication or success with customers or the fact that they respond so quickly when you have a need for beta testers. That's fantastic. You guys, you mentioned this is your first time launching a product. You were new to this. You've had great success with it so far. What are some resources or what is maybe that resource that you'd recommend for our audience that's been really helpful to you guys?
Justin: I have one answer and it's what our entire company was built upon. It's Upwork. Upwork is the reason why Chubby Buttons exists. There is no way you can build a nimble team of people around the world that are masters of their trade, that are willing to work with you for a good price. We assembled a team of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, box designers, you name it. We found them through Upwork.
Justin: Graphic designers as well. It wasn't just the first one that we spoke to. One of the things we pride ourselves on is our ability to suss out good relationships, and we found really great people that are still part of the team today, almost just part of the group. I would say Upwork was invaluable for our growth.
Jon: That's a great resource. I'll second that. No matter what business you're in, whether you need marketing help, designing a logo, packaging, engineering, et cetera, we've had great success. Like anything else, you have to vet it, but there are amazing resources on there and the prices can be very inexpensive, especially when you're starting off with a new business, but even as you grow, for sure. That's a great answer. Is there anything I didn't ask that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Justin: Do you want to talk a little bit about just the process for getting the Shark Tank application? I know that a lot of your--
Jon: That'd be great, yes. A lot of people have that question.
Michael: There are some things that we can talk about and we can share with our experiences, and just also full disclaimer, there are things that we just can't talk about [unintelligible 00:19:00].
Jon: Of course.
Michael: What we can say is, it was very exciting process. We prepared extensively for it. From what we did, as far as when the process began to when we appeared, that was many, many months. We really made sure that everything we did, through every step of the way we did, is the best we could. We wanted to make all parts of the application extremely professional so that anytime we delivered anything to them in that process, we delivered the best.
Like we were saying before earlier, we were so proud of ourselves because there was not one part of that application that we phoned in, and throughout that process that we phoned in, and I think it paid off in the end. Some of the other things that I-- We worked really, really hard at that entire experience. I think our preparation was something that I looked back at and was what helped make that episode be a good episode. We created flashcards, we researched the top 100 most common questions on Shark Tank.
Justin: We watched every single episode ever made. We sat there for hours and hours and took a tally of the questions that they asked and how many times they repeated them, making them the most commonly asked questions. Then we even made a heatmap of certain companies and what they came in and what they asked for. What they left with, if they made a deal, did they cry or not, all these little things that are really helpful.
Through all of the episode watching, we came up with this, I think 200 flashcard deck that we were drilling over and over and over again, to this point where we even did army drills the week before [unintelligible 00:20:51] California. [unintelligible 00:20:52] the beach. It's running up and down doing sprints and push-ups if we didn't get the question right. It was so much fun. I think that for anyone that's going through the process, really making it fun is important. It helped us see our business in a way we never were able to see it before.
Getting someone who's really involved with your numbers and the history of how you came to get there was such a treat. It came to the point where even if we didn't get on the show, we were still grateful for the process of applying because it really makes you see how to do it. There are so many times in an entrepreneur's life where you just need to keep on looking forward. You can't look back. What we were able to do, is look back and really see what we did right, what we did wrong, what we could have done differently, and that helped us have a really honest experience in the show.
Michael: I'll just add the last thing. The sharks were fantastic. They were really rooting for all the entrepreneurs. I think that's just something that anybody who would be going through the process should keep in the back of their mind. I think they really do want the entrepreneurs to win. [unintelligible 00:22:01].
Justin: They were really nice. [chuckles]
Michael: They were great. They're fantastic people.
Jon: That's great. Thank you for sharing that behind the scenes. I think it's great advice. Whether it's Shark Tank or anything else, preparation is so important. I love how you guys talked about making it fun. It's a lot of work to prepare that way. What great value that was, I'm sure, to you. Frankly, I'm sure you could sell your heatmap and list of questions as a PDF on some other website, maybe down the road. It's great advice for anybody preparing for any big meeting or big sales event or a trade show, whatever it might be, but go in prepared and you'll find success.
I want to thank both of you, Michael and Justin, for your time today. This has been awesome to hear your story. Such a cool product. I do encourage everyone, please check out chubbybuttons.io or you can go find them on Amazon by searching for Chubby Buttons to see the product on either source, their website, or Amazon, and a minimum to support them and check out the product. Super cool idea. I love the additional concepts or uses you gave today. I think that's really, really helpful for me, for our audience [chuckles] too. Really excited what you guys have done with this business. Thanks again for your time.
Michael: [unintelligible 00:23:07] Thanks for having us. This was great. A lot of fun.
Justin: Thanks so much.
Jon: Go to chubbybuttons.io to learn more. Also, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode, do you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your own business, please subscribe to our show or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak directly with a member of the Harvest Growth team in a free consultation to learn the process that has worked for hundreds of businesses since 2007.