Dan Barnes and Wes LaPorte built PhoneSoap out of a desire to start a business. The outlet of having your own business and having the ability to create your own destiny was one of the main driving points, and what began as a small start-up in a basement has turned into an extremely successful company, having told over 1 million units and releasing multiple products to continue to make a difference in keeping our technology clean. Learn more about how they did it in our interview with co-founder, Dan Barnes.
The PhoneSoap Story
Barnes explains that he had a college professor who prompted his students to “find a problem and fix it.” Around that same time, they heard a report that stated that the average cell phone was 18 times dirtier than a public bathroom. It is noteworthy to include that this statistic was back in 2009- with the rise of technology, cell phones are used more and more, and the amount of bacteria is getting worse over time. They had identified their problem, and they could tell that “it was somewhat early” in the market.
At the time, both Barnes and LaPorte were studying at Brigham Young University- Barnes in Business Marketing and LaPorte in Life Science. Around the same time they identified their problem, LaPorte was studying cancer research and a career in health care. ‘In his lab, they were using UVC light to kill all the bacteria on the tools they were using. The solution was there in front of us.” They determined to take this proven cleaning method of “shrink it down to make available to the regular consumer.”
They had played around with a handful of other options, such as wipes, but found that UVC light made the most sense- “there was no liquid, nothing to hurt the device, no harsh chemicals that could ruin the coatings on your screen, and no heat with this light. So it’s a very easy way to clean devices that are hard to clean.” Dan explains that “the first couple of years were all about selling the problem”, and then they could move on to selling the solution.
One major step in their journey with PhoneSoap was their opportunity to present their idea on Shark Tank. Being on Shark Tank was “always a desire they had”, and the added benefits of free advertising, prime time, and partnership all looked phenomenal to Barnes and LaPorte as they continued to look for ways to take PhoneSoap to the next level. Barnes explains that a Shark Tank producer reached out to them at the end of 2013, having found PhoneSoap through Kickstarter and explaining that they loved their story. The journey with Shark Tank was long but certainly proved to be worth their while. They were fortunate enough to get a deal with one of the “sharks”, Lori, and they attribute a large part of their success to this incredible opportunity to appear on the show. “It’s been a huge part of getting to where we are now, and we’re grateful for that experience.”
However, PhoneSoap did not peak after their appearance on Shark Tank. They have been able to successfully maintain momentum and continue to grow their business since their time on the show, continually innovating and releasing various additional products, and making more sales than ever before. They have put a lot of emphasis on making the product “better, faster and stronger” so they can keep their edge and continue to deliver. Lori recommended that they introduce a variety of color options to their product line, and while this made it a bit more difficult to manage things like inventory ordering, they have found this addition to be “very beneficial” to the business overall.
In terms of keeping customers continually excited about the product, Barnes explains that staying innovative and keeping the customer in mind has made a world of difference. They recently released an on-the-go version of PhoneSoap called PhoneSoap Go, which is a mobile battery-powered version of the original product, as well as a product called PhoneSoap Wireless, which charges your phone via Qi technology while cleaning and sanitizing.
“The most important thing is to keep them engaged”, Barnes explains. “The standard marketing practices are all true- referral programs, email blasts where we engage them with discount codes, or where we engage them with information. This flu season, we’ve done email blasts around how our devices can keep them healthy this year, and how to better use their devices.” Doing what you can to keep your customers engaged with you and with the product is definitely a good use of your marketing time and effort. As they’ve grown for a small start-up into something much larger, they have expanded their marketing efforts to things like TV ads, subway ads, radio ads, etc.
Finding the Right Strategy
When asked whether or not their marketing strategy would be changing in the next 6-12 months, Barnes’s answer was “short answer is no, long answer is yes.” He explains that “at the end of the day, we still track ROI, customer acquisition costs, and we’re very thoughtful about how and where we spend. But that’s because, in the first few years, we had to spend so much time educating the customer, and that was very expensive.” Their marketing goals and strategies have since changed to more brand activity, but at the end of the day, they are “a business that cares about spending smart and tracking every dollar we spend and how it’s returning for us.”
As the demand for PhoneSoap has increased, it has been important for them to know how to scale their manufacturing needs. Barnes explains that it has “taken years of relationship building, both in China and in the US.” When it comes to production and funding, getting your inventory in place is huge for any and every business. With partnering with QVC, there was a time when they sold over 250,000 units in a single day. They had never produced that many sales in so short a time and their carefully maintained relationships with manufacturers made it possible to meet this demand. “Meeting their needs, matching ours with theirs, and keeping their employees employed” has made a big difference.
Above all, Barnes explains that it has been beneficial to just “keep at it- help the snowball down the mountain.” Staying wise with your money and figuring out “how to spend as little as possible while making as much as possible” has been a big contributor to their success. PhoneSoap has continued to put emphasis on marketing and maintaining exceptional customer service, and it has proven to make a significant difference in accomplishing its overall purpose to “use technology to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable world through convenient and long-lasting products, saving time and eliminating the need for unnecessary waste and chemicals”.