About this episode

This week's episode my guest this week is David Barnett the inventor and founder of PopSockets, now I know you know what a PopSocket is because they just sold their 200 millionth grip.

The brand PopSockets are so much more than just the accordion PopGrips they launched with. PopSockets now have an entire catalogue of products that are all designed to increase the functionality of our devices.

In fact, this past March Fast company honored PopSockets as one of the most innovative companies in the world.

Now here's the crazy part about the PopSocket story, did you know that it all started while David, who was a philosophy professor at the time, got tired of having his earbud cord get tangled. In fact, he first tried to solve his problem by gluing buttons on the back of his iPhone 3. But before we can even get to the part where he glues buttons on his iPhone 3, we need to start about 20 years earlier to fully understand where his journey begins.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • David shares how he was not raised by entrepreneurs but did take to being an entrepreneur at the early age of 12.
  • How at the end of High school he turned to having fun and had no big plans apart from business in the future.
  • He took philosophy course at collage then went to physics as he enjoyed it.
  • David share that he was working as a Philosophy Professor when he stumbled across a problem with his iPhone earbuds that kept on tangling. This sparked his entrepreneurial flare to start PopSockets.
  • He explains how he first tried to solve this problem by sticking buttons to his phone case.
  • David shares that when he showed the product to people they laughed and dismissed him but this only drove him to want to do it more.
  • David shares how he wanted his Kick Starter Campaign to stand out so he made a dance video.
  • How he launched his company in 2014 and it had a lot of traction.
  • How he had many issues with the manufacturer, who would change the pattern of the design without tell him and deliver the wrong product.
  • He shares how as the company was growing it changed from just being a side business to being his full-time job.
  • How the impact of celebrities and middle school children were pushing the rapid growth of the product.
  • How he didn’t have a buyer persona and everyone with an iPhone was his customer.
  • He shares how he did no marketing or advertising and the business at the begining was very scrappy.
  • David shares how he would go to consumer market shows and pitch to everyone walking past. This got his foot in the door with Sam’s club,Best Buy and T-Mobile.
  • He shares that his first big break was T-Mobile, which had a huge operational impact of the company.
  • David shares how he sold their 200 millionth grip the 7th year of business and was names the 2nd fasted growing company with a growth of 72,000%
  • David shares how trade shows really helped his success and got him on the map.
  • He shares the positive impact of influencers and the companies first influencer was Jenna Marbels
  • How he hired people in the beginning with no business experience but people who could solve problems
  • David shares how Plant based PopGrips are currently being made. These pop sockets will be 100% decomposable and the ingredients they use to create them are grown by them
  • He shares the technology side of Pop Sockets with their app.

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Pop Socket website - https://www.popsockets.com
Pop Socket app - https://apps.apple.com/us/app/popsockets-make-print-art/id1455513437
Kickstarter video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35CFb9q1rJw

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Episode transcript

David Barnett: I'm David Barnett, the founder of PopSockets, and this is MY startup story.

  • Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story. *


James McKinney: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to thank our episode sponsor Movo On-Demand. If you've been a listener of The Startup Story from episode number one, then you might remember Movo because they were our very first sponsor and helped to launch The Startup Story. Eric Solis is the founder of Movo and has always been a great supporter of entrepreneurs and startups everywhere. He's equally passionate about simplifying our current day banking experience and exceeding existing security measures that, to be frank, have gotten a bit lacks in the United States. That is why he rebuilt Movo On- Demand Mobile Banking with end to end contactless payments.

On-Demand mobile banking is a new digital banking experience, purpose built from the ground up. Now look, fintech is super finicky about compliance and marketing so let me give you the boiler plate first. Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking with end to end contactless payments provides real-time settlement, instant issue, unparalleled safety and security, convenience, transportability, low fees, interoperability, and inclusiveness, all contactless and in a single app. All right, now let me translate that for you. All that means is that you can send and receive peer to peer payments in seconds and not days. This also means once you've received those funds directly to your Movo account, you can go that same day and buy a cup of coffee, fund a new Facebook ad campaign, or rent a Lamborghini to create those ridiculous Instagram photos that so many people actually believe are real.

Look, the Movo Cash Card also helps prevent fraud by using a patented tokenization that enables you to create and fund a new digital debit card. Use it as your default card on file when shopping online. Think about how helpful that is. Now, every time you sign up for a subscription service you can create a new digital debit card specifically for that service, and when you want to cancel that service you can do so easily because you get to manage that specific card. Never be double charged, never be overcharged or unknowingly charged again. The new Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking app is available on iTunes or Google Play today. Once you download and sign up, you're going to receive a ready to go activated digital Movo debit card for use everywhere MasterCard is accepted, so go download the Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking app today, or visit movo.cash/app to learn more.

One last bit of lame legal disclaimer stuff that all fintech startups have to deal with. Banking services provided by Coastal Community Bank, member FDIC. The Movo Debit MasterCard is issued by Coastal Community Bank, member FDIC, pursuant to license by MasterCard International. All right, make sure to visit movo.cash/app to learn more, and of course we're going to include a link in the show notes for easy access. Now let's jump in to this week's episode.

My guest this week is David Barnett, the inventor and founder of PopSockets. Now, I know you know what a PopSocket is and the reason I know this is because they just sold their 200 millionth grip. That is a crazy impressive number, but keep in mind that number only represents the sale of the actual pop grip. The brand PopSockets is so much more than just the accordion pop grips that they launched with. PopSockets now has an entire catalog of products that are all designed to increase the functionality of our devices. In fact, this past March, Fast Company honored PopSockets as one of the most innovative companies in the world. Now, here's the crazy part about the PopSocket story. Did you know that it all started because David, a philosophy professor at the time, got tired of having his earbud cord get tangled? In fact, the first way he tried to solve his problem was by gluing buttons on the back of his iPhone 3. Now, I'm going to stop right there for a moment because his story is really, really good and I want you to hear it directly from him. But before we can even get to the part where he glues buttons on his iPhone 3, we need to start about 20 years earlier to fully understand where his journey begins.


David Barnett: I was not raised by entrepreneurs or wolves. I was raised in a pretty ordinary suburban community in Colorado outside Denver, and I did take to being an entrepreneur pretty early on. So I had jobs. I had a job with a restaurant at age 12 the first time, and then I got let go because the labor department found out. And then at age 14 the labor department got involved again. They had to interview me and the restaurant got in trouble because they were not allowed to employ me the second time. But I'd ride my bike in the dark at 5 in the morning to go deliver muffins to people's tables to try to make a buck. Then I had a long string of businesses. I was a greedy little hustler I'd say as a kid.


James McKinney: That's awesome.


David Barnett: My nickname was H Ross Perot, which will mean nothing to some of your audience, and will make the other half laugh depending on how old they are.


James McKinney: I love every bit of it. When you mention Perot, I immediately go to the infomercials.


David Barnett: Right, so you are old enough to know how H. Ross Perot was. For those listening who don't, he was the presidential candidate, entrepreneur out of Texas, quite a personality, and that's what my neighbors called me because I was always hustling, coming up with bike repair businesses, lawn mowing, mix tapes, whatever I could do to drum up some business.


James McKinney: I love that. So when you think back to your… life creates these natural chapters sometimes and the end of high school is one of those chapters. So when you think back to your senior year, you're about to wrap up your education, or at least your required education. What did you think you wanted to be? Here you have all these side hustles that you were developing. You got a flavor for what entrepreneurial freedom could be. I don't know if you saw any downsides to entrepreneurship. Don't know if anyone in your life had owned a business and lost a business so you saw the downside to it, but you were definitely exposed to the upside. So when you think to your journey coming to the end of high school, what did you want to be?


David Barnett: Sure. So my entrepreneurial side was much younger than high school. It was grade school and maybe early middle school, but by high school I had turned to having fun and social activities. So when I graduated high school my goal was simply to get a college degree and then maybe go to business school at CU Boulder. I really, I wasn't a reflective person. I was just living and enjoying myself really. I didn't have big plans. And then in college, well I'll let you ask the questions from here.


James McKinney: So going into college, just business was the large umbrella which you were pursuing? There wasn't an objective anywhere in there?


David Barnett: No, that's what I'm saying. It was business only because that was the default, only because I had no idea what college could offer, and I didn't know what the possibilities were, so it was just checking a box.


James McKinney: So going into college then, what were you wanting to learn within those four years? And then at what point in that four year journey did you get some clarity on what the future was going to hold?


David Barnett: Sure. I'd say you're attributing… you're being way too charitable in thinking that I had some goal when I went into college. I really was just going to college because everybody else was just going to college and that's what you were supposed to do. I got into Emory University. I was going to Emory. I really didn't think about things like what my goal was for college other than have some fun and learn a little bit. Then I got there and I took a philosophy course pretty early on, and really enjoyed it. That's when I started enjoying learning for the sake of learning I think, with philosophy. I took some science classes too that I really liked. Then well, from college I ended up getting serious about college. So I graduated from college and decided that I would be serious about college and enroll in a physics program here at University of Colorado, and that's when I was a serious student.


James McKinney: So that's an interesting couple pivots there. You go in for business because I think for a lot of degrees business seems a pretty clear road map. You graduate with some business degree, marketing, accounting, whatever the emphasis is you can kind of check into a job at some point, and that's what you go in with, again not knowing what you wanted to do. But then you take a philosophy course and I'm not going to lie, as a parent if my kid, my daughter is 15 and said, "I want to go to this school and I want to take philosophy," I'm going to be like, "What are you going to do with that?" Outside of teaching it I have no idea, so I don't know what your parent's response was when you said you were going to take philosophy. Physics I can kind of back into some opportunities, but as a parent, a roadmap in business is much clearer. How do you get from business to philosophy to physics? And is it truly because you've said it so I want to make sure I lean on it and press on it a little bit more, was it truly just because it was of interest to you? There was no forward thinking on what the plan was.


David Barnett: Oh, I had no plan whatsoever. I had a college counselor who sat down with me. I was at one point a double major in economics and philosophy, and he asked me whether I was enjoying economics. I said not really. He said, "Drop it. This is the one time in your life where you can take classes about anything in the world. It's your time to learn whatever you want to learn. Take a jazz class, take an art class, art history, anything, geology." And my eyes just lit up. I was like, "Really? I can do that?" So I dumped economics and I took all sorts of classes that I just enjoyed. I enjoyed the subject matter and certainly that was the motivation for majoring in philosophy. My parents, they had no opinion. They were not helicopter parents. They were the opposite of helicopter parents. I don't even know if they knew what my major was.


James McKinney: That's remarkable. So let's talk about the ending years of your undergrad. You go on to do graduate school, but come the end of your undergrad was the pursuit to be a professor of philosophy?


David Barnett: No. By the late years in my undergrad I had decided that I wanted to be a physicist, a theoretical physicist. I applied to the physics program at University of Colorado to catch up on my physics, and then I was going to get into a PhD program, get my PhD in physics, and understand the nature of… I thought it was to understand the nature of reality.


James McKinney: Again, I'm curious, can you unpack what theoretical physics is for someone who has zero idea of what that is? All I hear is science.


David Barnett: Sure. So some fundamental questions in physics would be what ultimately what physical things exist. So are electrons the most basic things in the world, are quarks the most basic things, or maybe strings are the most basic things. What are space and time and how are they related to one another. What governs the behavior of the little tiny particles that make up our bodies and make up everything in the universe, and explain basically all the physical phenomena. These are the fundamental questions of physics. The nature of energy. So that would be theoretical versus say experimental physics where you're actually in a lab doing experiments with lasers and whatever apparatus you're using for your experiments.


James McKinney: So then how do you get to philosophy from there?


David Barnett: Well, through frustration. So I would debate with my, I remember one quantum physics teacher here at University of Colorado I'd had debates with, and he would contradict himself. We're talking about the fundamental nature of reality, like the bottom of the universe, what explains everything, and he would just contradict himself again and again, and he'd laugh when I'd point it out. And I'd say, "But you just said the opposite." He'd laugh, and I'd say, "How can you laugh? This is it. There's nothing below this so you better not be inconsistent here." And the more I dug, the more I realized these physicists, they may tell you they're interested in the nature of reality, but at some point they seem to be happy with equations that would predict what would happen without understanding why it would happen. So I walked out of a physics lab in the middle of lab one day, walked straight over to the philosophy department, got an application, and decided I wanted to study… really understand the nature of reality which could include studying physics, but from a philosophical perspective.


James McKinney: Fascinating. So you go on to get your PhD in philosophy, correct?


David Barnett: Yep.


James McKinney: And how many years do you spend teaching it?


David Barnett: Let's see, I started teaching in 2002 maybe and I'm not sure when I taught my last class but maybe 2014 probably.


James McKinney: 2002 to 2014. Again, I go back to your childhood years and you have lots of experience trying new things, hustling for a buck, doing all kinds of different ventures to generate some income for yourself. You're now a professor of philosophy. During possibly one of the most innovative 15 years in human history, I mean the things that technology wise took place in that era were remarkable. Do you remember as a professor looking at that landscape, thinking through solutions, whether it be technical or physical, before PopSockets, do you remember thinking through solutions that you could bring to market if you weren't a professor?


David Barnett: Certainly not. So as a philosophy professor I was more disconnected on what was going on every day in reality than a theoretical physicist or a theoretical mathematician who is sitting in a white room, wearing white gloves, disconnected from all reality, just thinking all day. I had no connection to reality. No TV, no connection to pop culture. I was thinking about highly abstract questions that had no practical application.


James McKinney: That is so funny. So when I hear that though, I hear that you are entrenched in your current world, your current state, your influences are very near if you will, and so can we talk about the origin story to what ultimately becomes PopSockets? I mean, the I buttons if you will, that was the initial name I think it was. And so help me unpack. You're in class, you're having a problem with your headphones. Can you tell us the origin, the main problem that you were trying to solve that ended up becoming PopSockets?


David Barnett: Sure. I was a philosophy professor at the time at University of Colorado, but I was not in class. I can vividly remember still where I was. I was at my house up in the mountains outside Boulder and I pulled my earbuds, they used to have cords back then, I pulled my earbuds out of my pocket and they were tangled. And they were always tangled every time I pulled them out and I liked to use them to make phone calls. So I just remember this is it, I can't deal with this anymore. So I got in my car, drove 20 minutes to town to a Joanne Fabric just to try to find some solution for myself. Eventually, I walked out of there with a couple of big 1 1/2 inch diameter clothing buttons and a couple of little tiny spacer buttons that I used to create a gap between these big buttons on the back side of my iPhone 3. Put a piece of packing tape on the backside of my iPhone 3 and then glued my buttons onto the packing tape so that I wouldn't ruin the iPhone 3, and wrapped my headset around them, and my problem was solved.


James McKinney: To solve a problem for yourself is one thing, but then to try and think that there might be a larger problem… what were the steps that got you thinking maybe there's an iteration of this that can be more popular? Because I have to imagine most people, again the iPhone 3 especially for the first time anyone had ever seen anything like it, it was I mean it was glossy, it was smooth round edges, there was so much sex appeal to the iPhone 3 for what it was. In fact cases were something you just didn't even want to put on it because you wanted to show off how beautiful it was, and here you are adulterating it with buttons and packing tape. So I have to believe there are people that were shaming you for doing such a thing. From that perspective I look at it and think well no one wants a solution for this. Walk us through some of the things that occurred in your life to get you to the point where you think maybe there is something larger to be had here.


James McKinney: Okay, hold on a second here. Before David answers that question I have a question for you: would you like to learn directly from founders like David Barnett, or Christina Stembel of Farmgirl Flowers, or Ben Chestnut of Mailchimp? Would having their tactics delivered to you every quarter be helpful to you as you build your business? Well that is the exact experience and knowledge sharing that is delivered to you each quarter when you become a Grindology member. Grindology is an entrepreneurial subscription box that ships every quarter full of resources to help fuel your grind and your hustle.

What's included in your Grindology shipment? Well first and foremost, every single Grindology shipment will include a copy of the Grindology tactical manual. Every single issue of Grindology will be chock full of real tactics from real business builders, not journalists. Within the pages of the Grindology tactical manual we will be delivering to you tactics and strategies that you can integrate into your business immediately. How great would it be to receive specific user acquisition strategies that a SAS company used to acquire their first 1,000 customers? Or hearing directly from a founder of how they increased sales and lead conversion by 120% when they leveraged a simple video tool? Or even better yet, how they took old marketing content, revamped it, and drove over half a million dollars in new revenue? Tell me those tactics wouldn't be helpful? Well those are the exact types of tactics that will be found in each issue of Grindology. Like I said, real tactics from real business builders.

Grindology was created specifically for you, the founder, hustler, entrepreneur, maker, and creator. And in addition to the tactical manual, each shipment includes uniquely roasted coffee and an exclusive mug that speaks to the unique nature that is you, the entrepreneur. Everything about Grindology is about helping to fuel your grind and your entrepreneurial journey. So visit gridnology.com to learn more, and we'll include a link to grindology.com within our show notes for easy access. Now let's jump back into our episode with David Barnett, inventor and founder of PopSockets.


James McKinney: Walk us through some of the things that occurred in your life that get you to the point where you think maybe there is something larger to be had here.


David Barnett: Sure. The way you're describing it reminds me of an incident in the parking lot of a Costco with my wife's father when I showed him my iButtons, and he laughed and he said, "That's like buying a fancy BMW and spray painting random stuff all over the side of it. That's just awful what you just did to your phone." So that's the reaction I got from friends and family. A lot of teasing. People said it looked ridiculous, and that motivated me to think maybe I could build a respectable looking case that has more functionality where these buttons could collapse flush in the back side of the case, expand much farther away from the back of the phone than the current buttons are to act as a stand, a grip, a clip. And so I set out looking for a mechanism that would enable me to do that.


James McKinney: So it was the mocking of others that got you to actually think through the potential of iterating your solution. Now were you thinking of iterating for your own purpose or were you thinking I think there might be a market opportunity here?


David Barnett: To be honest I don't remember when I first thought there's a market opportunity. I certainly didn't think there was a serious marketing opportunity until I had a couple of experiences with students and on campus. I remember on the University of Colorado campus some middle school kids were walking through campus and I showed them one of my early prototypes and watched their jaws just drop and their eyes just bugged out into this. They went into a trance, and I just didn't forget that for the next three or four years when I had so many struggles and had so many people tell me it was the dumbest idea they had ever heard of. I would go back in my mind to the picture of those kids with their jaws dropped, and I thought there's something here. I could at least sell a few of these to those kids.


James McKinney: I love it. Absolutely love it. So here you are iterating. You come to some solution and I really think if we were to, and correct me if I'm wrong, if we were to consider kind of the go to market moment for this product, and I don't know what it was called at the time for the Kickstarter, but would you say the Kickstarter was your go to market moment for your V1 of what ultimately becomes PopSockets?


David Barnett: Yep. That was the motivation for the Kickstarter program was marketing. The amount of money I asked for, I think I was asking for $12-13,000. That was gone in a week or two, so the amount of money was insignificant that I was asking for. I really wanted some press and some feedback too from the community that I could use to help me develop this for commercial purposes.


James McKinney: What year was that Kickstarter campaign?


David Barnett: 2012. I think January of 2012.


James McKinney: If I'm not mistaken that's fairly early on in the Kickstarter story as far as when they got on. So now the machine is totally different than when you had joined, but do you remember the planning that took place in your Kickstarter journey? Now I've had Emma Rose Cohen, the founder of Final Straw, talking about her Kickstarter journey which raised $2 million, and the seven months of planning and lead up time in order to launch the campaign and the grabbing of the press names, and all the things that she had to do. Whereas back then it was a bit of a different machine. So do you remember your pre Kickstarter planning?


David Barnett: I do. There was no machine. It was a grad student that I found who liked photography, and me, and then a friend of mine who was in the film business. He worked for the Coppola's film company, and he was in LA, a good friend of mine. So he and I would chat about what this video would look like, and then the graduate student and I would film scenes in a room in the philosophy department at CU Boulder, and edit them. In addition to that, I do have an interesting story. I was a novice renderer, so I was using the computers to create animated renderings of this product, but I didn't really know what I was doing. I actually had to take over three different huge computer labs at the engineering center at CU Boulder, and I took over all the computers at like 2 in the morning. So on their security footage they see this person moving from computer, to computer, to computer as I'm using all the power they have in these three labs. And then I'd go through the door across the hall to the next lab and I have all the computers there at 2 in the morning, cranking on this short little animation that I'm going to include in my Kickstarter campaign a few days later.


James McKinney: That's hilarious. I love it. What about when you were creating, again I see your philosophy background being really applicable to marketing, consumer behavior, really storytelling, understanding how the mind is mapped and thinks, and the things that they're looking for. Do you remember things kind of coming to full circle for yourself when it came into this Kickstarter world? Because now you're creating something of your own and you're trying to understand the persona of those who would want to contribute, those who would want to buy the product, those who would want to speak and share about it. Or was it just an arbitrary experiment?


David Barnett: Yeah, I think you're being too charitable again with me. I had no intention of connecting with people who actually wanted to buy my product. I wanted to have some fun and create a video that was not so boring. So back at the time, back in the day when I created the video all the Kickstarter campaigns looked the same. It was two people, usually guys, usually two young white guys, sitting on a bench. I mean they were so homogenous, these videos, and they would use B roll. They'd edit in some images of prototypes, and then edited in some images of them walking with their experiment. It was just the same thing again and again, and I just couldn't get myself to do it. So I made a dance video instead. People either hated it or loved it, and the people who hated it really hated it. I got like a death threat on Reddit that said, "I want to kill that guy" in all caps, for dancing.


James McKinney: So we're definitely going to be including a link in the show notes for that video, because it is remarkable. Too there's, again it's one of those technical archives. Looking back to 2012, the way Kickstarter was done, the way the videos were created. I think there's something to be said about the way in which you created the video now that would still be very compelling when it comes to like from a content perspective. But you did, you exceeded your goal. We're not going to talk about the delivery of Kickstarter, we're not going to talk about because that's aged news, but once you actually did deliver the product, when did you start cycling through that this is now a business, I need to start moving forward on this, it's no longer a side hustle, it's no longer something that I can continue to teach in academia and run this? When did things start clicking that this was something that I need to move forward on?


David Barnett: So during that Kickstarter campaign I actually, I was approached by one of the major case makers and I formed a deal with that case maker to license out my IP - my intellectual property - so I didn't ht ink I was going into business. But I did tinker during that time with the standalone, developing the standalone product that really turned into the hit, the PopSocket grip that can stick to just about everything versus a case which is what my Kickstarter campaign is on, which I licensed. So I kept tinkering. That deal fell apart. The case company never came through with a quality case. I ended up offering refunds to all my Kickstarter supporters. But then after I developed the standalone I thought okay, I'll do this by myself then. I'll just launch a website. I didn't think I was quitting my full time job, but I launched the website and pretty quickly started getting some traction. It's a lot of work too, launching a business, and I was burnt out from academia. As soon as, I thought to myself, I see a strong enough sign of success I'm happy to leave academia and jump in full time to this, which was some time in 2014 after I launched.


James McKinney: 2014. Now real quick, after you launched, but I assume there were some metrics that had to be in place before you… for you to consider it success. Was it units sold? Was it a capital fundraising? Have you done any fundraising? What were the things that actually were the catalyst for you to leave and go all in?


David Barnett: It was the growth. It was a combination of things. It didn't have to do with raise, but I'd raised some friends and family money over the course of a couple of years. I think I raised maybe $400-500,000 over two to three years from people I'd met around town. But I was burning through so much cash. I had a lot of problems with manufacturing that we could talk about if you want. But burning tons of cash, so it wasn't investment that gave me the confidence. It was more that growth curve. So second half of 2014 I started seeing a really sharp exponential growth in terms of visitors to the website and conversions, and we started to see the product in hands of celebrities which really helped. It was taking off with middle schoolers. And by 2015 we were experiencing 10-20X our monthly sales from the year before. Each month we were going up at that rate, and then we started making some retail deals too. It was clear certainly by the beginning of 2015 that I had something that could be a sustainable enough business to support myself.


James McKinney: That's incredible. I want to ask just because you mentioned it twice now, and that is the demographic of the middle schooler. You saw traction with middle schoolers and you mentioned early on in our story that it was the response of the shock and awe from a middle schooler that you just kind of hung to. In my mind I would have thought high schoolers or just teens. What do you think it is about that demographic that latched on so quickly to the solution?


David Barnett: There's something psychological and then there's something just accidental. What is psychological, I think middle schoolers are less self conscious. Well, I say that but you might say whoa, wait a second, middle schoolers are the most self conscious people in the world. They're more willing to experiment than high schoolers. By the time you're a high schooler, you're too cool for school, right? And in order for you to try something new you're really most likely going to wait until the 5%, the experimental people, do something experimental and it's okay, and then you'll do it. But you're not going to put some weird thing on your phone. You're not going to be the first if you're in 95% of the population. Middle school is not like that. People are willing to try stuff I think, especially the females. They're willing to experiment more with style.

But then the accidental feature is that my sister started planting these in middle schools in Denver. She lives in Denver and she had middle school kids, so she went to the middle schools and said this is a great fundraiser, just try selling them. They sold quite well. The school raised money and then the kids started telling their friends and family about them.


James McKinney: That's incredible. I love it. So let's talk about some of the challenges in the early days, because again you're manufacturing a product. This is not, we're not buying a product and reselling it. You had to deal with design. You had to deal with prototyping, you had to deal with sourcing and manufacturing. I don't know if you were overseas or you did manufacturing here in the states. What were some of your early day challenges when it comes to bringing PopSockets to market?


David Barnett: I had massive manufacturing problems. Finding the right supplier, and eventually suppliers, was just really difficult. The accordion, so the product centers on this… our core product centers on this accordion mechanism that expands and collapses similar to an accordion. It's difficult to manufacture that at the small scale that I designed it. My design goes against all of the rules of design. They would tell you on day one of a design class, "Don't let the walls of your product change thickness from thin to thick, thin to thick. When you're pushing hot liquid plastic through that, that's a really bad idea." That's exactly what the walls do. On a really small scale, it's thick and then it crams it through this tiny little space, the hinge, and then it opens up again and crams it into the hinge. The factories just couldn't figure out how to make it so I had defective products that would tear within a few days, tear after a few weeks.

I had defective gel. It was really difficult to get this adhesive that's repositionable to be the right strength and have the right durability. So batch after batch of defective gel, where these grips would just fall right off of people's cases or phones. I had defective packaging. The factories would change the dimensions of my product without asking me. So the accordion is attached to a platform that sticks to the phone. They decided it was easier to assembler the accordion to the platform if they just lengthened the tip of the accordion that sticks into the platform, without asking. They lengthened it so much that it hits the phone before the adhesive touches the phone, and I got 30,000 of these. Received them in the mail, and none of them, I mean the adhesive didn't even touch the back of the phones. They'd just fall right off. It was a nightmare dealing with manufacturing.


James McKinney: So now it sounds like if I'm hearing things correctly you did not wait for manufacturing to be solved in order for you to start shipping product. This was something that you were learning on the fly, learning as you go. So you were sending out defective products, again not knowingly of course, but you're sending out defective products. The reason I say that is because some people want to try and nail everything down until it's perfect before they get to market, and it sounds like you didn't wait for that moment.


David Barnett: No, it was a mix. It just depends on what the defect was. For instance, if it's packaging that was popping open we would not sell that into a retailer. We didn't have big major retail partnerships at the time so maybe we were selling at a couple local stores, but we were not going to put that on a peg if the packaging was going to pop open two weeks later. If the product was just going to fall off of a phone, no we didn't sell that. I actually had my friends and family pull the gel, the adhesive gel, off… including myself, 30,000 of these units. We pulled the gel off. It's really hard to get that gel off. It's hard to get it off of one. We did 30,000 and then I went to a local die cutter here in Colorado where we had sheets cut of the new gel, and then we put 30,000 new gels on that product. We really, yeah we tried pretty hard not to sell the defective product and luckily our volumes weren't that high even though the growth rate was really high. We weren't in major retailers yet so the volumes were still relatively small.


James McKinney: Okay. How did you identify, again had success with middle schoolers, some celebrities were using your product. But if you were to think back to the buyer persona that you had in your head upon launch of this product, who was that person? Sometimes people name their personas. Maybe it was Paula PopSocket or Paul PopSocket. What was that original buyer persona for PopSockets?


David Barnett: Sure. So until let's see, until I'd say three years ago, maybe four years ago, I had neither heard of a persona nor thought of a persona and now our company has these things Personas with names. So it never crossed my mind who that persona was. It was anybody with a smart phone who wanted to use their phone better. It didn't make a difference to me what kind of lifestyle this person led, where they lived, how old they were. At some point, a couple years into it, we noticed that we had traction among middle school girls and so of course we designed more and more graphics to appeal to these middle school girls, but it wasn't necessarily to the detriment of other targets. We didn't even use language like that, targets. We were still trying to sell them wherever we could and we wanted to have a broad enough offering to include anybody that had a smart phone.


James McKinney: It sounds so scrappy the way you describe it. We didn't care who it was, we just wanted to sell the product. Was it truly like that? Were you out there at like promotional product tradeshows trying to get the product out there? Were you at other conventions just trying to get product out there? Or were you just strictly focused on D2C website?


David Barnett: Sure, so we were at tradeshows, promotional and retail. We did no advertising the first, certainly the first year. Second year maybe I did some search terms on Google but we really did no marketing or advertising. It was scrappy. My sister and I would go to consumer electronics show with a tiny little table in the corner of the CES where there were no brands that were recognizable in this corner, and we would grab every person that walked by us all day long. We were exhausted by the end of the day. Nobody was allowed to pass that booth without getting the pitch, telling them what the product was, how it works, and it worked. We ended up grabbing people from Best Buy who ended up getting us into Sam's Club. Sorry, we got people from Sam's Club at first. Best Buy was later, T-Mobile too experience at CES. So we did get our foot in some doors.


James McKinney: What was the first big break for you when it comes to retail?


David Barnett: Those two, so in a single year we got into T-Mobile. My sister had been sending samples to T-Mobile and meeting people at T-Mobile stores. It was scrappy. She'd meet sales people, show them the product, ask them can I have the name of your district manager. Talk to that person, can I have the name of the regional manager. Talk to that person, can I have the name of the buyer, send samples over the course of a year. And then we finally met T-Mobile at CES. We changed our pricing for T-Mobile. We changed our packaging. And I think it was that same CES that we met with Sam's Club. Those were our first big retail deals.

And by the way we had no logistics. We had no… we didn't know how to unload a pallet. We didn't know how to put a label on boxes for a pallet. It was just a few people sending products out on ecommerce. So when T-Mobile said we're going to send… we need product for whatever it was back then, 5,000 stores and we're ordering however many hundreds of thousands of product, and we need it by this date, I tried to stay calm in the meeting but I thought to myself wow, they have no idea who they're dealing with here.


James McKinney: It's in my garage right now.


David Barnett: Exactly.


James McKinney: I love it. Now you did mention that it wasn't until just a few years ago that personas started coming into play, you started leveraging the idea of personas. I love… this is why I love The Startup Story is hearing these things. Because you had massive success before that moment. And right now there are startups that won't even pound code away until they understand who it is that their personas are so that they can leverage the user experience. There's just so many obstacles we create within ourselves and you launch with arguably, without the most fundamental thing that startups now hang up on is who is it that's going to use your product, and need to understand their use case, their scenario. And yet you have massive success. I keep hammering that home because again it is a sticking point for so many people, but I love that it was not part of your story and you found massive success because of how hard you guys hustled to get the product into consumer's hands. The dollar is single, to me is the greatest point of validation there is if someone is going to spend money on your product.


David Barnett: You're making a great point. You're reminding me of an anecdote where a friend of mine who was an inventor, who is an inventor, he sat down with me early on in the process. I showed him the product. He said, "This is good. This is clever." It was probably my first year, and I said to him, "You know what though? I think I know how to make this thinner. I've got this design in mind." He goes, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, no. stop right there. Do not make this thinner. Your product is fine. Quit fiddling with it." He goes, "Don't overcomplicate this, just go to market with it," and he was absolutely right. We haven't made it thinner since. We can if we want, but that idea of wanting to be a perfectionist and make it a little better, a little better, it can really kill you. And sure if you've got $100 million from venture capital or some private equity then send all the money you want on personas and your marketing plan and all of that. But if you don't, just throw something out there and get some feedback from people. That's a really low cost way to learn is to test it.


James McKinney: I love it, I love it. What year has been your biggest year? We'll say units, by the way. I'll reframe that question in units, not dollars.


David Barnett: We just sold our 200 millionth grip, but we have quite a few other products as well. 200 million grips we've sold. We just finished our seventh year of business. The first couple years were out of my garage, out of a tiny office or two in Boulder, so the first two years we did not have much volume at all. COVID was the first year that we had a reduction in revenue. We were, before COVID, in over, globally, over 120,000 stores and so with COVID a large majority of those doors were closed at some point last year, if not the entire year and so our sales were down last year. So the biggest year was the year before that and then this year will be our biggest year.


James McKinney: So every year has been year over year growth?


David Barnett: Yeah. We were named the second fastest growing company in the US by Inc 500 for a growth rate of I don't know 72,000% or something over three years.


James McKinney: That's incredible.


David Barnett: At some point, but it sounds incredible. It helps to have a really bad year your first year so you can get that number, right? If you go out of the gates too strong you're not going to be a good candidate for that kind of growth. And it's a once in a lifetime thing. It's not as if you get a second shot at that because once your sales hit a certain level there's no way you could have that kind of scale.


James McKinney: If you were to think through your growth, your sales, what were some of the attributes that you would point to and say this had a significant bump, this caused a significant bump, this was very influential for us? Could you point to a few things that really kind of helped move the needle in significant ways to create a new plateau? We're always going to have a plateau, it's never going to be this ongoing hockey stick ,but what were those things for you that were triggers?


David Barnett: Let's see, I'll name two or three of them. One was quite early on. You suggested it, it was a trade show that I went to for the promotional industry. So this is an industry where companies buy products, put their brands on them, and give them away to people. So Coca Cola might put their logo on our grip. And Last minute I shared a tiny little booth at the major promotional tradeshow. The product was just a massive hit there. I had crowds around me the entire three days because the people in that industry saw the potential. It's just a walking billboard, this grip. It's on the outside of your hand. People have their phones out all day long. The brands would love to have their logo just in people's faces, and that allowed us to get orders through T-Mobile, Yahoo, indirectly through distributors we had orders, Microsoft, major brands to move volumes.

And what that did was get the product into people's hands, and as soon as it was in people's hands we'd see that big step up because they were getting asked in public, "What is that thing?" And then people would give the sales pitch. "This is amazing, you can take your selfies with it, you can text with it, it's a stand." So they'd give the pitch and they'd end up selling it to a certain number of people every week, we'd see that growth. That was the first event.

Then second I'd say was somehow the spread in Hollywood amongst celebrities. We still don't know how this happened. It was not deliberate. We did not plant these, but celebrities started using them. Some, I'd say… well, if they're listening I don't want to offend anybody but some B List celebrities reached out to me wanting to partner, and wanting to get some equity in exchange for getting behind it. These are known names, but not the top names I'd say. And I just don't know why. Somehow it became a thing, and so they were showing up in media, on social media, PEOPLE magazine, these celebrities were using our grip. When one did, we'd see another one step up, and then our first influencer partnership was with Jenna Marbles. At the time, she was one of the top YouTube stars and she created her own collection around her dogs. It was a huge hit. We saw a big increase in sales. And when we'd have an increase in sales due to the word of mouth, it was not a spike. It was rather a step so you'd see this step up, and it's not that the next day it would go back down. It was a step up, then we'd wait for the next step up to the next level, and the next level because more people would be using the product and become our evangelists for the brand.


James McKinney: I want to ask a question talking about the influencer market. Now people have started businesses around brokering influencer promotions and things like that. Until 2019 there was just this level of skepticism I had around the influencer market and truly their influence until I had an episode where Kylie Jenner had given me like 10 swipe ups in her Instagram story, and I saw the numbers of influence, and I was like wow, influencer stuff is real. Were you a skeptic at all in the influencer space until you saw the impact of it? Or did you know it and you were just appreciative of it from the get go?


David Barnett: I knew nothing. I still know nothing about the influencer market. I knew nothing about it. I've really never really used social media. If anybody has sent me a Facebook message in the last two years they've not heard back because I haven't been on my Facebook account. I'm not on Instagram, I'm not on Tik Tok. That world is just foreign to me. All I know is that if you're authentic and you have somebody with a big following, their following is following them for a reason. They respect them, they look up to this person, and if that person actually likes our product and they're using it in an authentic way, then of course it's going to have a big impact on our brand so I love to see our grips organically in the hands of Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid and all of these other influencers and celebrities.


James McKinney: I love it. I love that you're not even in the social media space and yet your product is such a center point for all like social media creation. We've probably used the term selfie for at least a dozen times, and I would love for there to be some metric like PopSockets, powered 400 billion selfies or whatever the metric is, because your product is huge in the creator space.


David Barnett: It does improve the experience of selfies, mirror selfies, photography, and anyway we're lucky that mirror selfies caught on too right about the time that our grip became popular because it's front and center in that photo.


James McKinney: No kidding. Man, it's unbelievable to me how… what a center point your piece is. In fact, I remember on LinkedIn which is another platform you're not on a lot, but I remember one of your executives had posted a video really highlighting the creative space and how PopSockets really powers a lot of creativity and enables it. I was just reminded about how pivotal PopSockets are for creativity, just the mount elements of it, the wallets. I know you have a partnership with Otter as well. There's so many things you guys are doing that truly does enable creators to do what it is they're doing. I'm fascinated by how we have gotten there as a culture, as a consumer behavior because you were so early on. Again, iPhone 3, that's when really it all started. And now with all the other phones out there, it's unbelievable to see.

But as we're talking, I'm thinking through some of the areas that might be your strengths and some of the areas that might be your weaknesses. And I think when it comes to hiring, it's always best obviously to hire around our weaknesses. So as this business was growing, as you were seeing success, what were the weaknesses that you had to hire around for? And what were some of your first hires?


David Barnett: Sure. My very first fires were Warbear and Little Big Hands, these two-


James McKinney: Those are real names?


David Barnett: Those were nicknames I gave them. Warbear I think he had that name from prison where he had just gotten out. These two giants who were removing burnt trees from my hillsides. My house had burnt down and I basically looked out my window and hired the first two people I saw. They were, I don't know Warbear is 6'6" probably, 240 lb, all muscle, gang tattoos across his chest and arms, bullet wounds to his chest, shotgun wounds to his groin, taser marks across his back.


James McKinney: That's awesome.


David Barnett: They would pick up these heat presses. It would take me and three of my friends to move a heat press that we used to print on these grips. He and Little Big Hands, who towered over him, they would just pick these things up like they were little pieces of plastic and move them around my garage. So I had these two giants with these huge hands assembling these tiny little PopSockets, putting buttons on the accordion and popping the accordion in the platform. It was really cute. But they did not have a lot of business background. Great guys. And from there I would hire, I'm not exaggerating when I say I would literally grab whoever walked by our office door.

I grabbed Stacy Belcher, one of our first employees, really was just walking by and I grabbed her and said, "Would you sit down and start assembling PopSockets? We need your help." She said, "Sure." She ended up staying with us for I think five years and really moving up in the company. And then it wasn't for a couple years until I hired my first adult, and by adult I mean somebody with actual business experience. He's still with us, D Dunn, and he was in ecommerce so that was the first expert I hired, somebody with some actual experience in ecommerce. Typically though for the first few years I just liked to hire smart people. So what we call athletes, somebody who can adapt. Maybe it's a theoretical physicist with no business experience, ,but someone who can just solve problems and gradually though we started to fill seats with experts in operations, finance, marketing, sales, et cetera, and start building those teams out. But that really wasn't until years three, four, five.


James McKinney: Looking back though, what are some areas that are not your strongest that you wished you would have staffed around earlier?


David Barnett: Manufacturing is number one. If I had a manufacturing expert by my side, it would have saved me a lot of pain. I would have learned a lot less too. I did learn my lessons but it seemed gratuitously painful, those lessons. So a supply chain expert. And then after that, you know, interestingly enough a hiring expert. If I had someone next to me who, once I had enough money to actually hire adults, people with experience, then if I had someone next to me to really help me hire the best people and to know what caliber person was available for the amount of money I had and for what PopSockets had to offer, that would have been quite helpful too.


James McKinney: I love it. Now let me ask this question when it comes to, because one of the things that came to mind as we were talking right there, the idea of staffing around our weaknesses and our strengths. Again, a lot of what you have said is you just kind of moved forward with hustling, moved forward with getting your product to market, moved forward with trying to generate sales, moved forward with partnerships. Again, back to some of the narratives that some entrepreneurs get hung up on, especially when it comes to an invention, it's about IP. I'm not putting my product to market at all until I have secured all the necessary patents and protections. That sounds like, obviously we didn't tell the story completely linear, but it sounds like you did not wait for that either. I assume obviously you have all the protections, but what would you say? One, I guess did you move forward without the protections? And would you do it again that way?


David Barnett: I didn't wait. So I'll tell you the IP story, the intellectual property story. It's a lot of luck, but while I didn't… I never held up the business for it. I did file early. So that was it turned out to be a good move. I filed for a patent long before my Kickstarter campaign and I found someone, a lawyer here in Boulder. She was willing to give me a great deal. She was excellent and had an engineering background. And this patent has been through some serious battle at the Hague, in Washington DC, in London. I've been around the world defending, in China defending this patent. So she did a great job. But we worked together before the Kickstarter campaign, the two of us, developing a patent to file around it.

The lucky element is that the brand protection efforts started right when the counterfeiting problem blew up. It just exploded. We were probably the most counterfeited product on Amazon at one point by many of Amazon's own measures, the number of takedowns they had. I had just hired somebody that helped me with brand protection. When I hired her, it wasn't a big problem but I just blew up over the number of weeks after I hired her and she was there by my side to help me. We were lucky to come out successfully from that battle.


James McKinney: It reminds me though of, again a previous episode, where the founder ran a Kickstarter and as soon as the Kickstarter came to be there were knockoffs on Amazon, within a week or so. It was so fast.


David Barnett: They'll teach you a bit of humility actually, these usually Chinese knockoff we'll call them artists. I think to myself if they can develop a product this quickly and get it to market, manufacture it and get it to market, I mean we are so slow. How do they just whoop us again and again? So they do teach you a thing about speed.


James McKinney: It's incredible. There are going to be, if not already, there are going to be case studies on PopSockets. It's going to be a remarkable story in business schools, again if it's not already. And again having been in academia, sometimes academia is slightly different than the real world even in the business school environment. So if a business student was looking through a PopSocket case study because they had an idea for a physical product that they wanted to invent and bring to market, if you were to have coffee with them and they were asking, "David, what are the three to five things that I need to know right now before I move forward with this idea," what would that list consist of from you?


David Barnett: I can say what would make PopSockets a case for a business school study, and then I don't know exactly how that relates exactly to your question. We can talk about that. But it is in ways the perfect product, and it's not by design, it's that I happened to design a product that's lightweight so it's low cost to ship. It's also low cost to manufacture relatively speaking. It's a whole new category. There was no grip category so it's the beginning of a category which means there wasn't much competition. And then the other element is I did file that patent early on and it issued, so I was able to protect this category. Here's plenty competitors now in the category, but I did have strong IP around that embodiment, and it's low cost. So I had one other element, it's for almost anybody, anybody who has a smart phone. That's a lot of people in the world, so it's a massive market.

What would I say to the student? Look for a point of friction in your life or someone's life around you and try to solve it. So invent something that makes someone's life a little bit easier. Try to protect it. Like you said, don't focus solely on protecting it. Get the product out there, test and learn, and start small too. I did not start with the ambition of selling 200 million grips. I only started with the ambition of selling a product in a single story. That was my goal, and then get feedback. So don't open up 20 stores in one day.


James McKinney: I love it. When you think back to the early days, we all have this metric of well if I can get this, if I can hit this target or this milestone, whatever the case may be, what was that metric where you said okay this is what success looks like? What was it then?


David Barnett: Oh man, it was changing so fast. I remember it really was at one point to get my product in a store. There's a store called Into the Wind. It's a favorite toy type store on Pearl Street here in Boulder, and I thought to myself that would be so cool if I actually had a product on a peg there in their store, and I could walk in and point and be like, "That's my product!" so that was my measure of success at one point. Then when I started seeing some growing sales I thought I could maybe make $1 million off of this. This company could sell $1 million worth of product by selling thousands of these. It just kept changing right, and then as we exploded it's gotten to the point where it's absurd now what I think we could actually do globally, and how we could harness that to make a positive impact on the world too, not just sell sheer numbers of product for the sake of it.


James McKinney: Speaking of that global impact, I saw a post again on LinkedIn, that's probably the only social platform that I truly do love. The rest I use because I have to. LinkedIn I saw someone had posted I think it was a biodegradable PopSocket that you guys just launched.


David Barnett: Plant based.


James McKinney: Plant based, thank you, that's what it was. Plant based. Tell us a little bit about how you got there.


David Barnett: Sure. We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint. We did a lot of research. Initially, I was really excited about a compostable grip. I thought how cool would that be if you could just take the grip, and I mean backyard compostable where you could just take your grip off your phone and just, not that we would encourage this but just throw it in your backyard. Or if it were to fall in the ocean that it would just degrade, and really degrade, not into micro plastics but degrade into something that the bacteria would demolish basically right? So I was quite excited about that. There are biodegradable, well compostable cases.

The more research we did, the more we came to the conclusion that's just not good for the environment, a compostable product. 4% of people in the United States have curbside service for composting. Of the 4%, only 2% of those have the sort of facilities that could compost, conceivably compost a plastic product. They're made to compost food, not plastics. And then, you put it in those, once it hits the compost most likely within 90 days it gets filtered out and thrown in the landfill and here's the worst part of it, people think they're doing good by buying these plastic compostable products. Once it goes in the landfill it's 40X more potent for global warming gases than a regular… sorry, it's emitting methane compared to products that compost and emit CO2. And methane is 40X more potent. You end up doing a lot more damage to the environment than good buying one of these compostable plastic products often, so we went with plant based instead, using plants to capture the carbon. So we grow plants. The plants take carbon out of the atmosphere and then we use those plants as ingredients in our product, and they lock in that carbon into the product. We're trying to expand this to other products too.


James McKinney: I was just going to ask you, do you see that being foundational to the product manufacturing going forward? Or will this be a singular product type?


David Barnett: Oh no, very much. We're looking. It is expensive, but we're looking at ways to expand this to as many products as we can.


James McKinney: I love it. Absolutely love it. David, I asked you about milestones of success early on and I'm sure it does change all the time. But if we were to have a "where are they now" episode in five years, where is the PopSocket brand? I know you have many products, but where will it be in five years from now?


David Barnett: In five years we will have built what I call an eternal positivity machine. That's what we're working on. We're working to convert PopSockets from a company that was not built to make a positive impact on the world. I mean, I wanted to help people have a better experience with their phones, but you know from that is story that we're not making solar panels, we're not curing cancer, we're not developing vaccines. So we're in the position of most consumer products companies. We're a business that's fulfilling some consumer need, but we're not built to address climate change, to reduce our dependency on factory farm animals. What we want to do is convert our company into a company for good. An eternal positivity machine is a machine that's built to last.

So in five years, PopSockets will be a global brand. It will be adaptable. It won't just be in mobile accessories. It will be in a number of categories so that it's not susceptible to disruptive technology, say a phone turning into a watch or something. It will be a global brand and you'll see that it will have developed into a brand that has a growing positive impact on issues like climate change and animal suffering, and human happiness and health, health and wellness.


James McKinney: Fascinating. I look forward to having that where are they now episode to get that update. One of the things we haven't talked about is the technology side of PopSockets. Right now everyone listening knows PopSockets as a physical product brand, but I believe PopSockets has a mobile app.


David Barnett: We just launched a mobile app. It is pretty cool, I have to say. It has a lot of hidden features to it. The app focuses on customizations, so it has a number of photo editing tools. I think it really does rival some of these popular photo editing apps, like Pixart. These are apps that have I don't know 200 developers working fulltime and we had a group of two or three people. They've been working on it for years, but two or three really talented people developing this app for PopSockets lovers. You can come in and make really cool images. Start with some image and start adding filters, adding certain effects, and they're unique effects and filters. And end up with something that you might want to just share with your friends, or you might want to put on one of our products and have a grip or a case or a wallet with the image on it. That's the focus of the app. It does have a number of other features.


James McKinney: That's very cool. Very cool. I want to honor your time with recording this episode. I'm so appreciative of it. But at the same time my listeners look forward to my final three questions of every episode, and I know they do because they hit me up after the end of every episode talking about some response that my founder gave. So that first one has to do with the idea of entrepreneurship at a higher level. The thought is that out there if you will, with the advent of Shopify and the Amazon reseller market, or Amazon sales market, that anyone can be an entrepreneur. Do you believe that anybody can be an entrepreneur or is there a certain makeup to entrepreneurship?


David Barnett: Whoa, tough question. I'll put it this way. Certain people are far more likely to be successful an entrepreneur than becoming entrepreneurs. But I think anybody can be an entrepreneur if they surround themselves with the right partners. Like you said earlier, they plug certain gaps that they have, then sure. Just make sure you have good chemistry on a team. If it's a one woman or one man show, then geez you really do need to have certain dispositions. You've got to be tenacious, so you can't give up easily. You've got to be tough in the face of failure and you've got to be able to teach yourself just about anything. So certain characteristics like that. And also you have to admit not just be tough in the face of failure, but admit failure and change course, and not be stubborn and continue course. Those traits I would say are close to essential if you're going it on your own.


James McKinney: I love it. Another narrative to entrepreneurship is this idea of going alone, this idea of I'm going to couch surf for the next two years and raise $100 million while I'm just pounding code on my buddies sofa. And it becomes this isolating mindset that it's just nose to the grindstone, I'm just going to grind this out by myself. That's not, while you can go that way it is not necessarily the healthiest way to navigate the entrepreneurial journey. So when you look back on your entrepreneurial journey who are all the people you point to with such immense gratitude for the role they played in your story?


David Barnett: First and foremost I want to thank my friends and family for telling me this was the stupidest idea ever, back before it evolved into the current PopSocket. That motivated me to refine it and make it better, and turn it into a product that people would actually like so thank you friends and family for making fun of the idea. Second though I want to say there's just a false presupposition here. I actually went down the wrong path early on. This was one of my biggest mistakes. I was the lone wolf. I did not surround myself with experts. I didn't take the time to join communities. In Boulder, there's some great communities here in Colorado, startup communities, and communities of entrepreneurs who support one another. I just didn't think I had time to do that, so I didn't, and it was a big mistake. As a result, I can't name five people that met early on that helped me with X, Y, and Z. I suffered. It was painful.


James McKinney: Yeah, but I love that honesty though and I hope all my listeners caught that because again, it is a tough road to hoe by yourself. There are communities out there. Again, Startup Grind is a great community. Every major metropolitan city has its own economic development community. There are startup incubators and accelerators everywhere that are hosting something. So there's definitely a community to get plugged into.

The last question is as much as I would love to afford a one on one moment with my listeners and you and all my founder guests to just kind of glean from them, it's unreasonable, it's just not possible. And so if we were to role play if you will a coffee talk with you and one of my listeners, maybe it's the entrepreneur who is finding themselves in their mid 40s, early 50s with a book full of ideas and just scared to go to market with it. Or maybe it's the individual in their 30s who has had a business for some time and just a problem with getting traction, they just aren't seeing the level of success that they had hoped for. Or maybe it's the individual who lost their business because of COVID. Whatever those personas that you would like to speak to and have a coffee talk with if you will, what would you say to that individual? One, what is that persona that resonates with you, and what would you say to them?


David Barnett: Wow, there's so many. I love talking to entrepreneurs. So over the years I've talked to quite a few entrepreneurs. I would be a horrible advisor on most companies boards, but I feel like I'm fairly good at giving advice to early stage entrepreneurs. And some of the, let's see which ones do I want to talk to of the ones you described? Maybe I'll talk to those who are considering dropping everything, and I've met these people too. They give up their day job, successful day job. They risk everything, invest their life savings, and they just go for it. I would say don't do that. My advice to you is just stay calm, keep your day job. I am not normal. I got extremely lucky. The phone grow into my invention. Do not follow this path. I also had a day job that I kept until I saw signs of success. But keep your day job. Use your weekends. Use your nights to test and learn and fail, and be okay with failure. And think small. Don't think big. Don't think about scaling up 10,000 stores. Just get in one store, get a successful experience. Or if it's ecomm, get one successful experience and once you get that and you refine it, it shouldn't cost you a lot of money and a lot of resources, but if you can provide that good customer experience and really refine it, then you can start expanding your resources and scale it out and things should go rather well.


James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value David Barnett brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. In fact, I hope you will show up for David and the PopSockets brand in a huge way and download the PopSockets app. Their new app has some innovative and unique image editing and creation tools that can turn photos into sharable art. You can actually use your own pics or choose from thousands of incredible images to kick start your masterpiece. In fact, you can take things to the next level and print your creation on a PopSockets product or the Otter Pop phone cases. Think of it as a cool t-shirt for your phone, or having a cool phone that matches your t-shirt. Either way, it's a pretty cool experience and you can download it today. Now that I've hyped you up, you're probably searching your app store for it, and it's only available for iOS right now, so if you are an iPhone user make sure to give it a download. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So hit up our show notes for various PopSocket links including a download link for their newest app. And now for my personal ask.

The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

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May 11 2021
David Barnett, founder of PopSockets

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