In many inspiring entrepreneurial stories, you often hear “fast forward to…” and then learn about all the success they’ve achieved. But in reality, there is no such thing as fast forward in entrepreneurship. The journey through building a successful business is not linear and is showered with adversity, challenges and successes along the way. In today's episode, we talk with Saul Ryan, Founder of The Shade Wagon. He shares with us all the stories that we usually miss in the “fast forward” versions, including several adversities that he has faced and overcome. If your business is facing similar challenges, you’ll enjoy listening to this inspiring episode.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
How to prove an idea is viable before investing time and money.
The power of an effective minimum viable product (MVP) for early-stage entrepreneurs.
Maintaining product quality when working with overseas manufacturers.
The importance of resilience in entrepreneurship.
Importance of thoroughly vetting prospective business suppliers and partners.
Why you should network with accomplished entrepreneurs.
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!
Please visit www.theshadewagon.com now if you would like to have a shading device that is portable, can be set up by one person in seconds, and has a 360° canopy spin and 180° canopy tilt that can be adjusted in any direction to keep the sun rays out.
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!
John: We've been working with today's guest for over 10 years to help launch and grow his product business. Along the way, he ran into some funding and manufacturing challenges that he has since overcome very successfully. If you have similar challenges in your business, then you'll really enjoy hearing Saul's stories on how he overcame many adversities in his journey to getting his amazing product to market.
Speaker 2: 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, John LeClair.
John: Welcome back to the show. Today, I'm really excited to be speaking with a longtime friend of mine, Saul Ryan. He's also the founder and inventor of an amazing product. There's no other way to say it. It's called The Shade Wagon. We've been working together on this project for a very long time, and it's been so much fun. Saul, as you'll get to know him, is a great guy, but also has a great product. I'm going to let him describe the product. We can show some videos, et cetera, for those of you who are watching. Anybody else who's interested in learning more, if you've got the audio feed while you're driving, check out theshadewagon.com. As always, it's in the show notes. If you're driving, when you get to your destination, check it out and reach out to us or to Saul with any questions. He's got a great story, great product. I really look forward to diving into this together. Saul, welcome to the show.
Saul: Hey, thanks, John. Glad to be here.
John: Tell us about... I know the product well. Our audience does not, maybe. Some of them yet know much about The Shade Wagon. What is the product?
Saul: It's a quick, portable setup, like a 10x10. They got the legs, and they're a little bit bulky. It's in a little wagon. It's a one-person setup, and it has adjustability, 180 degrees, and 360. With the sun, the way it moves, it's something that you can just cater your shade to wherever you are without having to move the system.
John: It is an amazing product. One of the things that I love about it is it's really easy to use, too. Living in Colorado, we get 300 days of sunshine, which is great, unless you're sitting in it all day. Especially being a redhead, my hair is fading, but I do still have that fair skin that burns so easily. I'm always looking for shade. Umbrellas, canopies. Umbrellas are a pain, don't work very well. They're small. It can really only work for one person. You got to hold on to them, shade umbrellas, that sort of thing. Shade canopies are much bigger, but they move with the sun. I always find it funny when you've got a family that's sitting outside the shade canopy because the angle of the sun-- In order to get the shade, as the sun goes down, you lose it. It gets thinner and thinner. The beauty of the ShadeWagon, again, for those watching video who have now seen this during this podcast, if you're listening, go check it out at theshadewagon.com, but it's completely movable. Get it in any angle. I've never seen anything like it. Even a vertical wall next to you, if you've got a setting sun that you need to block from your entire family, for example. Again, super easy to use and set up. We certainly love it. I've been having fun with it for a long time. How did you come up with the idea originally, Saul?
Saul: I contracted for 30 years. I can't even tell you how many of them, but I went through at least 30 or 40 of those easy ups with setting up on the job and you need two guys. If you don't pull evenly, they bend up. Literally, we'd buy one, the same day, it would get trashed. It was always a pain in the butt. We'd be on a job for a short time, but we really needed that break from the sun. It was a debate. Do we really want to break that thing out for this 15 minutes? In the sun, it's heaven when you just have it off your back for a few minutes. This was the answer to it. Just something quick and easy that you wouldn't even think twice about opening it up or putting it away.
John: You can tell by Saul's accent that he is from Tennessee. At least, not originally, though. The Massachusetts accent certainly comes out. You've been in Tennessee, I think, that entire 30 years, right?
Saul: Yes, pretty much.
John: When you talk about contracting, it's the hot southern sun that you're in. You've experienced that, as you said, for a long time and looking for a solution like this and really had to develop it yourself. When did you first know that you were onto something? Not that it was just good for you, but that it would be a product that others would buy as well.
Saul: After I got the idea, I used to do doors and windows with Lowe's. Every house that I went into, every single person had one of those 10x10s. It was the same thing. I'd always ask them, I'd be like, "Hey, how do you like your E-Z UP?" They'd be like, "Oh, we love it. We just hate setting it up, so we don't use it." I just kept a pad in my truck and every single homeowner that I talked to that had one, it was the same exact reason. They did like it when it was up, but it was the pain of setting it up and putting it away and never being able to get it back. I realized then-- I think I had a notebook that had over 100 names on it. That's when I just said, "I got to do it. It's needed."
John: Yes, for sure. I think listeners, probably everyone's thinking the exact same thing. Many of us have those E-Z UPs, but it is such a pain to bring out. If you're not going to be there for hours, is it really worth it? Frankly, we've gone to the beach sometimes where even like, "Oh man, we're going to be here for an hour and a half. Is it really worth it? It's such a painful process." You've gotten rid of that. The easiness is fantastic and the flexibility, being able to angle it for usage really anywhere, and the fact that it comes on a cart with big wheels that you could take over sand, over rocks, over grass and really take with you anywhere. You're not carrying this big-- Like a lot of those E-Z UPs. Ours has two tiny little wheels on it. They never go across sand. It's a pain in the butt. It's just heavy and bulky. Yours is again, very different. It's small, compact, fits in your trunk really easily, and is easy to set up. You talked about that early stage where you're talking to maybe 100 people or so, and they've confirmed, "Okay, you've got an idea here." It's a problem they're experiencing. Let's fast forward a little bit when you developed it further. You got to the point where you now had a working model, working prototype of this. What did you do next? Before you really put a ton of money into it, how did you then confirm that there was something here from a business perspective?
Saul: I did a lot of work. You met my cousin, Jeremy. He was a big part of it. I would go down there and work in his shop because he had a real good shop. He had everything that was needed to fabricate metal, steel, just anything, fiberglass. I'd go down there and he would take the prototype to jobs and use it. Just everybody, every time he'd break it out, they'd be like, "Oh my God, where did you get that?" He'd be like, "Oh, it's just something we built, we're working on, trying to get it out there." People would be doing video shoots at the marinas and stuff. The feedback was unbelievable. Every time we brought it out, it was just like, "This is going to be big." We just kept developing it. In the beginning, I thought way too much into it. I had speakers in it. It just had a lot of things on it, and really it just needed to be the canopy system. That's something I wish I would have learned way earlier in the stage. After so many times hearing, "Just get the train on the tracks," I had to just let all the extras and all the other stuff go and just focus on the canopy. I was able to finally do that. It was finding the right materials. That was the hardest part because it had to be strong and durable, but it had to be lightweight for an older woman gardening or something like that. I had to keep all that in mind. Then I had to keep the size in mind, and be able to fit it into a trunk. There was just so many things that I had to figure out and make it all come together. Once it did, I knew it was going to be a good product.
John: Yes, for sure. A lot of that work was done before we met. Back in, I think it was 2018, 2017, quite a few years ago when you had the prototype already. You'd done a lot of that testing and worked out a lot of that kinks early stage. Then after we met, we worked on some market research together too. What I think I found helpful as part of that process and really helped out the early stage of the business is now we're talking to people that have no connection to you. They're not in front of you face-to-face, which is great in the beginning. It's a great first step to work out kinks, et cetera, but to do a final step of market research with people that can be objective, they don't care anything about you personally. They're going to be objective in their answers. Especially, even if you don't know somebody when you're talking to them face-to-face, it's harder to say negative things. Whereas with research online, where they're typing out their answers, it's much easier. Even in that, the response we saw was phenomenal, but it also helped us to figure out how to talk about it, how to price it, who the audience is, who we're talking to. That really teed us up for eventually doing a test campaign. A pre-order campaign, even before you had inventory, which we did together for not a lot of money in terms of media dollars, but it was able to prove out before placing your big order. For our audience's benefit, this is a big product. This is not a $20 gadget. When you've got inventory you've got to bring in, it's a big expense. Before doing that investment, that's where that test market can come into play and worked, I think, so well for you and teed you up for your next round of success after that. Let's talk about some manufacturing issues you ran into along the way. Like any business, especially with a product as complex as yours, as you mentioned, you had features that have come and go as you realized they were maybe too expensive or not necessary or whatever, but you still had to have the quality, you had to make sure it worked perfectly up to your specifications. Along the way, like any product development project, there were hiccups. Can you talk about some of these issues and how you overcame them?
Saul: Yes, it was in manufacturing, that was tough. I was fortunate I got the manufacturer I'm with now through my 3D CAD guy, the guy that did all the CAD work and all that, and I met him through my patent attorney. I guess it is-- Meeting people, it lines up just with everything, but I got him through my patent attorney and then he had products that he had done for other people that this company manufactured. When I went to China in 2018, and I paid a company to bring me around to three different manufacturers and it was good, but all three companies came back with incomplete bids. I'm looking at it and I'm like, they don't even have 13 parts on it because we've got, I think it's just under 200 parts for it. There's lots of pieces and all this, very confusing. The bids came back, not complete and I'm like, "What am I going to do?" Then we had the election going and everything. I opted to go with a company from the United States. That wasn't a good move, COVID had hit. They were charging me five times what they had agreed to charge me because I came back from China and I got some quotes and I got a price from this manufacturer that I was going to go with. Just because of everything, it's in hindsight now, I wish I would have, but it is what it is, didn't go with them, went with this company in the United States and I basically lost all the money for all the molds, everything. It was a couple of $100,000. I wasn't in a good position. I knew I still had my patents and all that, I still had time, but it still was like, "Time's running out, I got to get it manufactured." All my money was gone, my big money. I had that and it was there for that. The guy just said, "Sorry, that's all we can do," and that was it. That was a low point. It didn't even phase me really. I just was like, "Well, just got to figure something else out." I think about nine months went by and I'm like, "You know what? I'm just going to try to get somebody that can-- If I go live with a website, somebody will see it and somebody's going to see the value in it. Just had a website built, put pictures of the prototype on there, not good footage, grainy, and ended up-- A guy had seen it who he ended up being the investor for this product to get it to where we're at now, but he saw it and he saw how useful, how much it's needed. He lives in Florida, and he's just like-- He's been using his ever since we got our pre-production prototypes back. He's out every day with his kids and he's using it and he loves it. He saw the value in it. That's how I got this investor. Once that happened, all the people that had pre-ordered, we had sent them an email and said, "This is when we're looking at manufacturing. We understand if that's a little bit too far out, we can refund your money, but if you want to stay on, and we'll do something nice for you with some aftermarket products," we said. Every single person that bought it said, "No, just go ahead, we want our unit." That was how I got into where I'm manufacturing again because the banks-- The collateral that you need to put up I just didn't have it. It wasn't at that point. All my money was gone on that first round. It was a savior getting the investor Steve in there.
John: Yes, for sure. It's, I think a couple of nuggets from what you just talked about. One is, we get asked questions all the time from especially early-stage inventors, "Hey, how do I find investors to come into my business?" Friends and family are the most common route, but oftentimes when you've got a great product, as far as you can take it and as much word as you can get out about that, oftentimes investors will come in from that, as in your case, right? You had a great product, put together, as you said, a grainy website with pictures of the prototype or whatever, but you could still see through the potential behind this. That's a great learning, I think that isn't always understood. The other piece I want to reiterate of what you said is U.S. versus overseas manufacturing. I think it's most-- In America and the United States, at least a lot of companies would love to manufacture here in the States or, at least on North America versus going to Asia or overseas. It is difficult from a financial perspective because it's often so much less expensive. It's just, we're forced into doing it, but there's also benefits in being overseas sometimes we don't have here in terms of flexibility with help with CAD design. Some of them can be very entrepreneurial and less expensive, even in the development part of the process where many of the U.S. manufacturers are more intended for later stage. One thing I think you pointed out that is maybe a unique understanding or it's not commonly understood is you got to be very careful working with factories overseas to make sure they're not going to take your money and run or whatever it might be. The same thing applies to U.S. It happens here too. You've got to be careful everywhere. That same mantra, that same advice really goes, whether it's U.S. or overseas. It's not like doing everything here is completely safe. You just got to go into every business relationship with your eyes wide open to make sure you understand what's going on. Later in your process, you went over to China where your manufacturing currently sits, and finalized it. They were getting close. You and I had been talking for a long time, back and forth. "We're getting close. We're getting close. They're almost there. They've just got these little tweaks or whatever," and that's very normal. Then talk about how that trip to the factory helped you really shorten that development timeline and finally bring it-- It was the final stage where you got the product exactly where you needed it to be. I don't know, how much time do you think you saved by doing that trip?
Saul: Man, that trip was everything. When we were able to get out there, I only had one guy. He was my contact that can speak real fluent. His name's Mr. Bai. He's the nicest guy in the world. One thing I will tell you, they treat you like royalty. Especially, bringing the product, they would thank me and say, "Thank you for bringing this wonderful product here." Really nice. They're asking, "When are you coming back?" They want us coming out there every six months for quality control, which I can't do that. Jeremy or Steve might be able, but I do want to keep a good relationship with them because that's like everything because when we went out there, we sat in a boardroom for 10 hours and all the engineers would come up and we'd explain it to Mr. Bai and he'd, [unintelligible 00:19:11] real quick. Then the guys would leave and they'd come up with a part made and they'd implement it. We'd go, "Yes, that's exactly what we wanted." We did that all day and they fixed-- We had 12 or 13 different things that just had to be fixed. It just would have been something where if a consumer got it, they'd be like, "Oh, why'd they do this?" It was just little things like that. We did everything in one day and we actually had to get another 40-something thousand in molds. We had three other things that we need made. They said, "If you do the order, we'll do them all for free." We ordered and they did them all. They sent us the samples and we were just blown away. Being there and I will say this, it wouldn't be a fight with some things but it would be like, "Well, you know, can't you just--" My cousin Jeremy, thank God for him. He was able to really-- It was just funny. It's hard to explain but he was almost begging them like, "Please, we can't do that." I can give you a for instance. We have bearings on the casters on the wagon. They were actually going to-- We were going to have the bearings in-- They were expecting the customer to put the bearings in and grease it and put the cap. We're like, "Absolutely not. There's no way. That's terrible." They were able to find an encapsulated bearing, all clean, done. Just little things like that. You got to really say, "Hey, no," for this to really work. You have to convey it. They're real good about doing and they take pride in their work.
John: Absolutely. Very true. If you think back now, rewind to the many years you worked on this to bring it to market in the first place, is there something you wish you would've known in the beginning that would've helped the process that just if you think about our audience to give some of these early-stage inventors and entrepreneurs, any advice? What do you wish you knew back in the day?
Saul: I would probably pause with a lot of my quick actions. I think if I would've taken a little bit more time and thought about things just a little bit longer, I might've made some better decisions. I lost a lot of money from just talking to companies like market research. We did that market research with you and that went great and all that. Well, this other company before we had even did it, sold me on that. It was a few thousand dollars and they were going to do this and that. I really didn't think about it and I should have. I didn't need that at that time.
I'd already had confirmation I knew. Really think about things and also watch out for scammers. This company would put out newspaper ads to new product, all that. This company got a hold of and called the Insight Network. Come to find out it was actually the mob. It was a criminal enterprise and they were targeting entrepreneurs. It took me two years to figure it out but it cost me-- Because they said I had to get this business plan and get incorporated in Europe. Just a whole bunch of things and me thinking it was great for my business and all this. I got scammed and lost a ton of money through that too. My best advice would be to really take your time. Don't make a decision and just jump on it. I probably could have saved, probably close to-- I could have saved all my money with better decisions.
I started talking to you 10 years ago, the initial, and this is when infomercials were the big thing. That whole different game plan and really I should have just kept improving the product and went from there. I did get involved in other things that I thought were going to help me. I lost a lot of money. That's really the only advice I could give towards, pay attention to everybody because everybody's out there to take your money and not help you. There's a lot of people out there that are there to help you. You just got to find them.
John: Finding people with good references, that good experience, et cetera. I remember you telling me a lot more detail behind that story of the European group. It sounded like the time and in hindsight, it's easy to see. In the moment though, these things are tempting. There was I think some promise of funding and things like that. Oftentimes, I think if it's good advice, again it's easy to get swept up on these things but maybe a learning from that is, if it looks too good to be true, check it out extra hard. It does take work. As you've mentioned, it takes work to make a product into a successful business. You got to be careful with shortcuts. If anybody promises that they're going to make your business take off with no investment or low investment right away and without any testing or learning along the way, often if it sounds too good to be true, it often is. Well, Saul, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think could be helpful for our audience?
Saul: When I first started making phone calls, there's some things that I still remember. This woman, she ended up talking to me for like two hours after 100 people were like, "Ain't got nothing for you." She did and she told me my timeline about how long it should take and I always remembered the things about it with the product, the aftermarket stuff. You'll meet so many people. I traveled all across the country, went to different companies looking at their materials and stuff, and met a lot of really good people.
John: Very true. I think you've talked about there's good and bad people out there, of course. You have to be careful for some that are whatever, bad in many different ways. There are also some great people and I heard from you but we've heard from so many of our clients and friends in the industry as well, that there are a lot of great people as well that are willing to help, that often won't charge, just mentors, people that have been through what you're going through at various stages of business. Whether that's in the early days of finding a manufacturer or prototype development or getting investors or whether you've got a $100000000 business you're trying to take to a billion dollars. There's mentors along the way of people and companies that have done what you're looking to do and reaching out to them.
There are good people and good companies certainly that are willing and eager to help, oftentimes. Well, Saul, thank you so much for the time. This has been a really fun interview as always. It's always fun to hang out with you for a little while, and I know our audience is going to enjoy it as well.
Saul: All right. Excellent, I enjoyed it. Thank you very much, John.
John: For the listeners, please go to theshadewagon.com to learn more about Saul's product. Also, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes I've recorded. If you'd like to take a shortcut and learn the process we've used to profitably launch and grow hundreds of products since 2007, download our secret sauce product marketing cheat sheet at harvestgrowthsecretsauce.com, 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 one-on-one consultation.
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