The founders of "Mobile Phone Charger" consist of Phil Crain, Daniel Dziuba and Kit Stanwood. Additional information about the founders can be found at our blog.
At the begining of the semester we had a few ideas in mind, but after two weeks of debating and interacting with potentional customers we decided to focus on our innovative idea of manufacturing and selling on-the-go pocket chargers. With the help of Phil Crain's brother, we were able to design a compact pocket charger that would be capable of charging iPhones and Droids, or any other devices that contain a USB charger port. We have found students whose phones die often on campus to be our target market, but we hope to expand to other markets as well. Additional information about our product innovation and history of production can be found on our blog.
The first segment of people who became interested in our product were students with smartphones and were early adaptors of new technology. Also, this segment found our product to satisfy their need of a external power source for their smartphones due to low battery life they experienced from high usage of their smartphone throughout the day.
Our first MVP was four AA batteries, a few wires, a chip and a circut board all stored in an ugly and large tin can, which made us feel like we were designing the first cellphones from the 80s.
The second MVP incorporated a switch light, which allowed the user to see if the charger was on or off. For the third MVP, our focus was condensing the product down to fit inside a standard Altoids can; we thought that would propel sales as a trendy item but customers disagreed. Also, the third MVP was capable of providing charging capabilities to Droids, iPhones or any USB chargable platforms.
Our final MVP is the most compact design we could manufacture. The design incorporates all of the mechanical parts from previous MVPs, except with a reduction of AA batteries from four to two. The size of the tincan is 1" by 3". The final version improved on the previous designs, reduced the number of AA batteries required from four to two, and proved to be the best design that could possibly be created in the limited time available.
Our first resource was Phil's younger brother, who has a background in computer science and has been creating a similar product during his spare time.
A second resource we used was Amazon. Through Amazon Prime, we were able to order and receive materials in two days, but the majority of materials used for constructing the product were not amazon prime products. Therefore, shipping for non-amazon products took one to two weeks for delivery.
A third resource we used was Altoids cans, which reduced the size of the product and made it more compact.
A fourth resouce we used was the JMU Engineering Department, which gave us insight and support on improving our MVP and trying to obtain circuit boards at a lower cost.
One of the biggest problems that we have encountered on our journey of creating our pocket charger has been logistics. We thought that having Amazon Prime would ensure fast and reliable shipping, but we encountered a major problem when ordering non-amazon supplies. In our case, all of the supplies we needed for our MVP were non-amazon supplies, which meant receiving supplies in two weeks instead of two days. This logistics issue hindered our ability to produce and innovate our MVPs within a semester's worth of time. We learned that what sets successful businesses apart is having fast and reliable logistics.
The greatest challenge in designing our product was vetting a company to create a Printed Circuit Board that worked for our needs. We talked to a engineering department professor, Dr. Holland, and learned that JMU has its own printed circuit board making machine. However, even Dr. Holland was unsure how to operate it. So we started looking at custom ordering the boards; most companies we found required minimum bulk orders of 100 and were extremely expensive. Ultimately, we found a company called Adafruit that carried the type of PCB we needed for our charger, but unfortunately we could only purchase a couple since they did not offer mass orders of that product.
Our charger underwent several forms and iterations throughout the semester, culminating in a charger powered by two AA batteries in a 1" x 3" case. As a result, our ability to scale this product to mass produce was always in question. We would continuously be upgrading our design, rendering previous purchased supplies obsolete. However we were able to replicate several copies of our final MVP prototype.
Words of Wisdom Edit
Dan - You will generate a profit by selling a simple idea like Silly Bandzs, but the most rewording experience in the class will be designing a new product and innovating your MVP. Also, start your research on designing and creating your product early, as well as building an in-depth contact list of suppliers for parts and connections on campus. For example, for designing the pocket charger, our group should have reached out to the engineering department earlier, as well as contacted multiple suppliers earlier to prevent late orders and delayed shipping.
Phil - Choose team members that complement your skill set, and assign specific roles to each other. This helps divide the work throughout the semester. When deciding on what product to sell, pick one that is in line with at least one person's skill set. You will be tempted to act right away on your own assumptions and theories, but instead truly listen to your customer base and see what needs they have that you can fulfill. Lastly, meeting at least once a week at a regular time will help with communication between members and make sure your team is meeting its goals.Kit - I would suggest that you should follow a main idea, but you should have a solid back-up plan because you never know what will happen with suppliers or if there is a demand for your product. We also did not realize that it would take an hour to make our product. I think that it would be helpful to start filming as much as you can. You should have a video camera rented out all the time from the library so that you do not have to worry about putting the video together during the last week when your trying to make your last few sales.
We were able to launch 4 MVPs. The first was a basic pocket charge in a tin can for Droids. Our second MVP was designed to charge iPhones & Droids. The third MVP was a more compact charging device in a Altoids can; which we thought would be trendy but found majority of our customer discoveries to view it as "cheap". For our final MVP, we made our product extremly compact, reduce the batteries down to two, ...
Besides making design improvements to our MVPs, we also learned a lot about what it takes to "cold-call" for materials and about improving our networking skills by reaching out to experts that could help improve our MVPs and overall product. Thus, we were able to achieve four sales of our product, but we did not come close to breaking even due to heavy R&D.
If we could redo the semester, we would have researched and contacted more suppliers for parts to reduce our costs and shipping issues. We also would have consulted the engineering department earlier for advice on improving our product. If we did this, then we would have been able to spend the couple of weeks that we needed to order parts, have the parts delivered in a manageable time, and then manufacture somewhere between 10-15 Pocket Chargers to break-even. Overall, we ended the semester with $175.65 in expenses, and $60 in revenue; which caused our entrepreneurship journey to end with a loss of $115.65.
Our group's outgoing advice to next semesters' groups is to develop and idea quickly, research the hell out of your product, and sell your MVPs even before the product is "perfect". If you do this, then you will meet the goal of generating profit at the end of the year, but your customer relations may suffer due to a poor quality product.
Dan, Phil and Kit!