What is your startup and what does it do?
Gerp was born from a simple concept, to create a better way to use the gadgets in our daily lives. We develop and distribute life-hack tools and platforms for the enhanced consumption and production of digital media — most specifically to aid in the use of mounting and holding tablets, iPads, smartphones, Phablets, phone, GoPro, video/action cameras, but also with a variety of other valuable life hack uses.
At whom is your startup aimed?
The strength in the original Gerp idea is that it has become more and more relevant over time. Our audience grows every day and to date, has consisted primarily of Tablet, iPad and E-Reader users. However, with the increase of smartphone, iPads, tablet and Phablet-users, our audience continues to grow. So in a sense, the Gerp is aimed at everyone that uses these devices in their daily live. With our new innovations and increased versatility and compatibility with GoPro, video and action cameras, GPS devices, rangefinders and all sorts of other devices, we’re extending our audience to include pretty much everyone that uses electronic devices.
How does your startup stand out against its competitors?
What sets the Gerp apart from all the other grips is its ergonomic and universal design that features a pistol-style grip (which reduces stress and fatigue on your hands and wrists by working a larger muscle group), and a strong secure-suction mount, which attaches to any smooth, flat, non-porous surface. With our latest innovation, The Gerp Mount, we’ve extended the utility of the Gerp across a much wider range of electronic devices. None of our competitors can offer the same versatility and compatibility of The Gerp Mount across virtually all-electronic devices.
Where did the idea for the startup come from?
Interesting enough, the idea for The Gerp came to me in the early 2000’s, before tablets and iPads, while I was eating a huge plate of nachos. A group of my high school buddies and I were living together after college and we didn’t have a coffee table. Nobody really ate at the dining room table because we all liked to watch TV while eating. I actually thought of it as a joke product to be sold on an infomercial – a handle that could be fixed to the bottom of a plate for a sturdy hold and easier consumption of gratuitous amounts of food. The Handle Plate!!
Fast forward to the fall of 2012 when I bought my first tablet, a Samsung Note 10.1, and I quickly realized how awkward it was for reading while lounging or laying, and also for using the stylus. I bought a case with an elastic strap, and that didn’t’ do much except add even more weight. I’m also a Landscape Designer and wanted a better way to display images on my tablet to my customers during consultations and for use on the job site.
Before the tablet purchase my brother had encouraged me to Patent my “Handle plate idea” from way back. He said he still hadn’t seen anything of the sort and had even looked on Google extensively. After buying the tablet, I felt the idea would also be able to solve my frustration while using my tablet.
The beginning of 2013 came around and I was feeling inspired so I hunted down some things from local stores that I thought I could utilize. Those products then sat on my table another couple months until one day I finally got around to building the first prototype. Once it was created, and the JB weld had finished it’s chemical process, I tested it on my tablet. Success. When I went to set it down with the tablet I realized it had a double function as a stand, after which I fell in love. My passion and energy has not stopped from that moment, and I fully believe The Gerp can and will change the way we perceive of holding and using our tablets, and even enter into the catering and food serving industry.
Did you have any concerns when starting your business, if so what were they?
I think everyone has concerns when starting a business but for me, I believed in the idea so much that those concerns naturally faded away.
One of things that new business owners often struggle with, as I did, was fear-based thinking. There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with starting a business, and fear is unavoidable. This might manifest in being conservative or making “safe” decisions, but once you truly believe in your idea you begin to think through those same decisions and push forward through the fear.
Another concern is feeling that you don’t have the skills to pull off what you’re trying to do — basically devaluing your own skills or feeling insecure. Again this is related to fear. The best way to avoid this type of thinking, something I do daily, is to practice self-awareness. Ask yourself where your fears are coming from and then analyze and realize nothing gets done when you’re in a paralyzed stat. I call this fence sitting, I hate sitting on the fence. I want to be moving forward but not so fast I forget to enjoy the journey. I’m a “pull off the band aid” quickly person. If there is a problem, let’s take it as challenge and make it a priority to solve it so we can learn and move forward.
What is your business background, and what got you interested in startups?
I never planned to work for a big company and growing up I always took on jobs where I was learning a skill. Doing things like construction, yard maintenance, helping people move, and hood carrying for a brick mason. All these things taught me the value of hard work. This in turn allowed me to always know I could take a labor-type job and survive. With those experiences I found landscaping and naturally took to design. I went to college and received four years of education, but changed my major so often I only received my two-year degree. I figured out early that life was about networking, and business was about honesty and passion. I found myself always in demand for landscape projects and partnered up with a long time friend. We attained a CCB license and later I studied and received my Landscape Contractors license. From this point I grew a medium sized multi-faceted landscape contracting and design business.
The economic crash however took me down, when I was in a big-growth push with new equipment and an average of 40 employees. With the economy in the tank, we quickly ran out of our high-end, high-margin work. I switched to doing commercial work, and that strapped the business even more. I tried to hang on for as long as I could but I finally had to dissolve the business due to many factors at the end of 2011. My hopes and dreams were crushed. However, I learned a ton about business, accounting, marketing, and management during that process. I also realized contracting is a very difficult business mode. It’s all about passion but there is little upside without a ton of risk. After this major setback in my life I wanted to go live in Maui and never worry about business again. That didn’t last long because people still wanted me to work for them, so I started just doing landscape design and consulting. For this I bought a tablet and that led me to the Gerp, and a reigniting of my passion for business. I now can apply my lessons of failure to a much more exciting business model.
How did you initially raise funding for this venture?
My friends and family. As a family we’ve been able to come up with just enough resources to get to where we have our first order of product. All in, we are close to $90K. We made a conscious choice to retain control until we feel we need money to scale and grow. I’ve learned from past mistakes and listening to other entrepreneurs that taking money isn’t always a recipe for success. I didn’t want the additional stress to impede the creative process. My main focus was to design this product so I had complete confidence in its ability. I have achieved this and now it’s ready to get this out in the world to help others with the same frustrations of limited tablet gripping options
How long has this been in the making, and who is the team behind the business?
The first prototype was created in early spring of 2013. My brother helped me most for the next 10 months. We put the concept together and were able to get a logo, packaging, product design, intellectual property, and the start of a website together. He had to move away and I had to keep working on my landscape projects. This killed momentum a bit for the spring of 2014. I kept working on my own, but needed help. My current partner Eric Paulson and I have become friends through business. We met back in 2004 when I was looking for a vendor for a product I was designing and selling in my landscape business. Eric was here in Portland and was importing products from China. We built our relationship slowly and eventually built a very strong friendship based off entrepreneurial interests. He ended a consulting contract about June of 2014, and I was able to get him on board because I knew I needed his help and I trusted him. During about the same time I was in talks with Eric, I met Daniel Getachew at a friend’s birthday party and we hit it off talking about my product. We then realized we had some similar mutual friends and we explored working together. The timing worked out well, and adding team members ignited my passion for the product all over again. Once we all decided to work together as a team we have achieved a great amount of momentum. We are still learning about our strengths and weaknesses but over all we have collectively made a lot of progress despite the fact we are all running on fumes financially and no one is getting paid yet. This team is 100% fueled on passion, trust, and positive synergy.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Managing time and balancing priorities. Most entrepreneurs have other jobs they do to pay the bills. For me finding the balance and enough time to focus on my passion versus work to pay the bills is the most challenging. I deal with it by utilizing technology to stay organized, create lists, and to communicate and delegate to my team and supporters.
In the coming year, what would you like to achieve with your business?
The coming year is about building the Gerp brand while increasing sales and our footprint, and continuing to innovate the product for greater utility and compatibility. It really is an exciting time; we’re opening a lot of doors and finding ways to get this one-of-a-kind super product into the hands of as many people as possible.
What has been your most valuable lesson so far since starting your business?
I would have to say learning to be patient. It’s very difficult to pause and stop and listen. Take it slow and be open to listening to many points of view. But this time around it’s been patience! A close second would be keeping a balanced life. Don’t lose yourself completely in business.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about starting a business, what would it be?
This comes from life experience and I touch on it earlier. Avoid making fear-based decisions. Do your homework. Understand your strengths and weaknesses, but above all else I would say keep mining that positive energy. None of the experiences I’ve had in the last two years have been predictable. I stay open and follow up with every opportunity to learn and talk and listen to people. I share and I give back along the way. The process of creating a product is a journey that I feel so fortunate to have fallen into. The positive results from just putting oneself out there are more valuable than money can ever be. So yeah, steer clear of fear and network with like-minded creative, inspired, and passionate people and above all else use this to create synergy!
To sum it up another way: Only work with people who share your vision and are passionate about what they do, as well as passionate about what you are doing. Also learn to be comfortable, and be uncomfortable. Live frugally and dedicate every available hour to dreaming and thinking and working on your business. This is how you know it is born from passion!