Interview with Deena Ravella, Co-Founder of Kyss Bags.
Tell me about your current business. What is Kyss Bags?
We created a line of bags that have a built-in locking system; hence the KYSS (Keep Your Stuff Safe) bag with the easy-to-use integrated Safe Tote™ theft deterrent system. The design includes a theft-deterrent security lock that not only locks the bag closed, but allows the owner to actually lock the bag to another item, such as a cooler, chair, lifeguard stand, desk drawer, etc., both easily and discreetly. The locking system is designed to give people more peace of mind, as the system deters theft of items in the bag and/or theft of the bag itself. But we also made sure the bag is of such great quality and comes in such attractive colors that, even if the security system is not used, one would still have a beautiful bag.
First, we designed the product. Then we found and contacted manufacturers, coordinated the production and shipping of samples through e-mails, evaluated samples, finalized the design, wrote up the patent, ordered bags, set up a website, arranged payments and shipping, and are now marketing our product, mainly over the internet. Sales have been terrific! We even have a number of repeat customers as well as a lot of positive feedback. It is not just a great bag, but it fulfills a need, which we are very proud of. We are now working with a couple of sales reps in order to get our product into stores.
When did you start the business?
We came up with the idea in the summer of 2008 and began to actually sell on the internet in September of 2009 and have been growing at a steady pace ever since.
The process has been a bit slow, especially since we do not have any previous experience in this type of business at all. We had to teach ourselves most of it first, and then we had to take what we learned and implement it.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
My fiancé Fred Larson and I had totally given up our previous lives in upstate New York in order to move to Sarasota, Florida. After spending about 5 years vacationing in Florida and finding it harder and harder to leave every time because we loved it so much, we decided to make this huge change while we were still young enough to enjoy it. Fred used to be a mechanical engineer, and I used to be a dancer/teacher/choreographer. Owning my own dance studio is our only other experience in owning a business.
After moving to Sarasota, we kind of knew we would like to start our own business, but we weren't sure at exactly what. We were very lucky in that we had some savings to live on so that we could experiment a bit. We are now both working on our business full time and loving it!! Well, most of the time. Other times, we are still frightened by it a bit, because all of this is so new to us. (smile)
How did you come up with your business idea?
Avid beach goers that we are, we were well aware that every time we got up from our chairs to take a swim, visit the concession stand, walk around to look at the sand sculpture contests, etc., we always felt a great deal of anxiety when we had to leave our bag with quite a number of valuables in it. We figured there had to be a better way to secure them, so we came up with the idea of the locking bag.
I must also say that, even though it is a terrific item for the beach, we also realized that a locking bag is needed in other places. For example, as a dancer, I remember the problem of leaving a purse in the dressing room, and many of us had things taken from time to time. Now when I perform, I bring our bag and lock it to a table leg or something. We plan on expanding our line in the very near future to include different sizes and styles to suit different kinds of situations.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers …? Would you suggest others do the same?
So far, the only other people we have "hired" are a few sales reps. We have been lucky so far in that both Fred and I have some complementary skills that have enabled us to do most of the work without hiring out. For example, Fred's background as a mechanical engineer, in addition to his tremendous talent in drawing, enabled him to fully design the product himself and write the patent, complete with drawings. I definitely would have had to hire someone else for that if I didn't have Fred.
However, I absolutely believe that, especially if you have the money, you should hire anyone who can take the burden of the business that you have the most difficulty with off of you. That will give you more time to apply your skills for what you do best in regards to the business, and will also take some stress off of you.
What outside resources were helpful for you? Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, etc.?
The only other outside resources that we found helpful, besides our family and friends, were SCORE. We were very fortunate to hook up with a mentor who has taken a special interest in us and our business, and we are very grateful to have met him! Fred also attended some free workshops sponsored by SCORE, and he found them helpful, too.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
We operate our business solely from home at this time. The benefits are great. With my dance background and previous business ownership, I am pretty self-disciplined, which helps Fred to be the same. I am also pretty good at prioritizing and organizing us and pushing us to get things done. And Fred is more computer savvy and doesn't mind the long hours of sitting at the computer, which helps me to do the same when needed. And we enjoy being together! We love to strategize together, exchange ideas, inspire each other, support each other when one of us may start feeling overwhelmed or insecure about something…and the list goes on. And operating a home business makes doing business, any time of the day or night, so much easier and more fun. We love the freedom of time it offers us! The only problem we have is knowing when to STOP working, as you could literally work all of the time, and you need to discipline yourself to make time for other things. But we are actually pretty good at that.
I guess the biggest challenge would be how to store our product. Right now, being relatively small, we store bags in our home. ALL OVER our home…we have boxes of bags in the guest room, our room, in the office, etc. And we live in Florida, where it is humid. No storing of boxes in the garage or attic here, as they are not climate-controlled. We know we will have to rent out storage space eventually, but we're not quite there yet!
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
The best tip I could give is to use technology, as well as all of the free resources available! Almost anything you need or want to know can be researched on the internet. It may take time and a lot of effort, but almost anything you need in order to start a business…including but not limited to knowledge, forms, contracts, finding sales reps, advertising, setting up a "store", website design…can be found on the internet, for free or just a small fee, at times.
I still like to use books for research, so we found a lot of free info at bookstores and the library. There is also the Small Business Administration, SCORE, networking groups of other entrepreneurs, etc. And don't forget your family and friends. So much help, at little or no cost, is available. You just have to be diligent about finding it and then utilizing it!
And advertising, especially for an internet business, can be well managed. Google AdWords is awesome…and you can set your own budget, as well as change it in an instant. There are also social networking sites that are free and terrific, such as Facebook. And the sites themselves give you step by step instructions on how to use them.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
First, I would suggest finding a product you really believe in. It makes it so much easier when you have pride in what you are doing. It makes doing even the really difficult or sometimes unpleasant things associated with running a business that much easier because you know it's for something you love.
And then I would tell them how absolutely difficult it is. Definitely NOT impossible, but difficult. But it IS worth it. Being persistent is key. That, and getting help with the things you can't do. For example, we are good at the designing and have research skills that enable us to learn to do such things as setting up a website, but neither of us is comfortable with selling. Learning to sell on the internet has been a fun experience, but neither of us is comfortable with approaching people directly. So we had to get help by finding reps to do the direct selling to stores for us.
The best advice would have to be racking your brain for anyone and everyone who has any experience and/or knowledge regarding the things about the business you are having difficulty with. For example, when I first started writing press releases, I didn't have a clue what to do. After doing some research, utilizing both books and the internet, I wanted to know if what I had done was practical in the "real" world. Then Fred remembered his mother's cousin works as a PR person in Palm Beach, Florida. We contacted her, and she was very helpful in giving us PR advice. We also remembered an old friend from the Northeast who is a sales rep. We contacted him, and he is now enthusiastically working with us in getting our product into stores, as well as helping us in our dealings with other sales reps. It's amazing that, when you really sit down and think about it, you probably know more people than you realize who could offer some help. And they all seem to like to be asked!
Thanks for talking with us, Deena. I'm going to have to get one of your Kyss Bags before I go on vacation this summer.