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July 31, 2023
John Rizvi, Esq.

Solemate Inventor Becca Brown Challenges With Manufacturer and Benefits of Sharing A Brand Story

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00:00

Happy Friday, everybody. Becca, I want to welcome you to the Ask the patent Professor show. How's your day going so far?

00:08
It's going pretty well. Thanks for having me, John. It's such a pleasure to speak with you.

00:13
It is your you're storing your story is inspiring. And I can't wait for us to get into that. I see participants coming in now. And Jenny is our Moderator. So she's got the cheese shows up as q&a for anybody that sees that. And let's, let me just share my screen and tell our viewers a little bit about yourself. So let me do that now.

00:46
Okay, so they said Ask the patent professor. And today's guest is none other than Becca Brown. She's a co founder of soulmates patented line of heel protectors. We have she has prototypes that you'll be able to see that today. She's pitched her idea on Shark Tank, partnered with CVS, and her product is now available in 3000 stores worldwide. So she co founder Monica Ferguson also pitched the product to Shark Tank as well. So let me without further delay, Becca, tell us a little bit about your your background and how, what you what were you doing before you became an inventor?

01:28
Yeah. I love answering that question. Because I was doing nothing related to what became of soulmates, I was actually working in finance, worked at Goldman Sachs as as did Monica, my co founder. And this idea for a high heel protector actually first planted that seed in my mind when I was a senior in high school because I was trying to take pictures with my friends before our prom and we were on my parent's lawn and we were all wearing high heels and we were all sinking into the grass and I ruined my heels and I felt really uncomfortable and embarrassed. And it was such a vivid frustration. It really stuck with me and then fast forward to this couple years and I was going to different events and weddings and really constantly confronted with this frustration. So after several years of that I decided you know what, I want to invent something to prevent a high heel from sinking into the grass. Very simple concept. But I knew nothing about inventing or patenting or manufacturing a product so I really was starting from scratch but I saw the need it was you know a need that was very personal to me. So that was the original Genesis of what is now soulmates.

02:42
Perfect and Jenny if you can play a short video and that way the viewers get an idea of what exactly soulmates is and how it works what it does.

03:34
Yeah

03:37
I have I mean you might think why would I know about high heels but I you know, of course I'm married and I have four daughters that we have plenty of heels in our family and talk about it. I know all about the damage. It's so easy incontinence. Yeah, always that hold that up again hold it right.

03:59
So this is this is the actual Heel Protector. So we make it in three different sizes so the heel goes in here and the opening of the top and the base is obviously bigger than the the heel itself. So how it works is it increases the surface area on the base of the heel which dissipates the pressure so you don't sink in and it is made of a durable rubbery plastic material so it will stretch so you can put it on the heel but it's strong enough so that it can withstand the pressure of the where you actually wearing it.

04:31
Well Wow. And just the nice thing is it's barely visible. So yeah, you know even

04:38
that was important to us. That was very important.

04:42
change the look of the shoe.

04:45
Exactly. That was such a critical design element for us as we were really developing it because we did not want a high heel in my opinion is beautiful and I didn't want to put something clunky looking on the high heel that would detract from the aesthetic So we purposely designed it to be as discreet as possible. And when it's worn in grass, it's virtually invisible. And that was our main goal. And of course we do, it's clear. So we make we make it as invisible, invisible as possible. We do have it in other colors, but clear is the most popular.

05:16
So and is it easy to take off as well?

05:19
It is yeah. And again, it's just, it's, it's flexible enough. So I can squeeze it a little bit, you can see how it's flexing. So it's easy to put on and to take off. And the hourglass shape is actually what part of what keeps it on the heels. So you can see that it's skinnier in the middle. And then there's a little base that the heel actually like clicks into. And that's what allows it to grip. And so it was a really interesting process designing it. I'll tell you a quick funny story when I first thought, Okay, I'm going to do this after years of ruining my heels, I said, I'm going to create something. So first thing I did was I went to Home Depot and I bought rubber tubing, super glue and plastic discs and I thought I could make it in my kitchen. I quickly realized I could not make it in my kitchen because it requires engineering and stress testing and things like that. So but that was you know, my first my first attempt to creating the solution.

06:11
Oh, it's funny like hearing your story reminds me of Sara Blakely, the, you know, the founder of Spanx, I mean, the world's youngest female billionaire. And her initial prototypes for Spanx was just taking existing pantyhose. And with scissors just cutting off the hose. So prototypes don't have to be sophisticated. And from your sounds of a your original prototype was not sophisticated, either.

06:37
It really wasn't. And that's such a compliment, by the way to even put me in the same sentence as Sara Blakely because she's such an icon for me and so many other inventors out there. But yeah, she's done an amazing job. But again, started with a simple idea and where there's a will there's a way.

06:53
So And speaking of her of this, tell me how, like having a female founded company and your partner's female as well. Has that, how that's impacted, the impact you're making on the world and even bringing your product to market?

07:10
Yeah, that's a big part of our company. Yeah, that's a big part of our company, and always has been. And it's interesting go back to the early days when we were first trying to design it. And we met with a whole slew of engineers and designers and manufacturers, and they were 100% men, and nothing against you know, that industry. But it was frustrating at times to have a conversation with these male engineers who didn't really understand this problem firsthand. And there were some that just kind of dismissed us. But the ones that actually saw this as as an issue and saw that we could create a solution, those ended up being the ones that we wanted to work with. And so I think being a female founded, company launched, operated, it's such a part of who we are. And it's the authenticity of the brand that I think allows us to connect with so many of our customers in such a genuine way like we've been there, we had the problem, you've been there. So we're creating this for you. And it started with the Heel Protector. But we've expanded the product line to include all kinds of other shoe and foot care solutions. And each one of those solutions has has had the same sort of ethos, which is we had this problem, whether it's blisters are stinky shoes, and we're creating a solution for you. So there's always been this level of authenticity that I think allows us to connect with our customers in a really meaningful way.

08:28
I mean, and that's it, I'll tell you real briefly that I mean, all of us have seen it. I'm going to I didn't print this out, but I'll draw all of us have seen like, a traditional Walker right for someone that's that's elderly or handicapped. And, and one thing that's that's interesting is well, we'll all see, like on the bottom, yes, a lot of times you'll see tennis tennis balls. Yeah. And this is because, you know, the designers are not, they're not elderly, they're not handicapped, right. So they don't, they basically constructive product on paper, come up with a prototype, and basically walk around their conference room, I'd imagine a couple of times, and voila, it's done. But the end user is the one that knows the negatives and you know, like 1200 steps a day and what that does to your joints and the aches and so when people are starting to put like tennis balls on the feet of their walkers, that's when the company realizes Hey, we can improve our product because they don't get input from the end user. And that's totally that's a huge, huge advantage. Of course that was for Sara Blakely. That's where I see a lot of similarities like she didn't set out cutting off the toes of pantyhose to launch a company she's she started that because she was selling fax machines, door to door in the Florida heat and the to make herself more comfortable. And if she found her product available, she would have bought it and that would have been the end of it.

09:58
Right and now is the same thing. I mean, I was always looking for a solution. And quite honestly, the the solution was to wear different shoes, which would be to wear flats or wedges, or you know, just something totally different. And to be honest, when you're going to a wedding or party or prom, you're dressed up, and especially for younger women, you want to wear high heels, it's part of the outfit. So we didn't accept the alternatives. And we decided to create a solution a better alternative.

10:24
Yep, exactly. And that might be and maybe that's because there were, you know, a huge shortage of women designers. So from a man Yeah. You know, what, we're going to solve this high yield problem by producing a shoe or, you know, that's not a real solution.

10:42
Right. Right. Right. So yeah, it's a big part of our company, our branding. We, you know, we've had a lot of famous females where the product, including Oprah, and Carrie Underwood, and Demi Lovato, and I think it all goes back to Yes, it serves a purpose. It's a very utilitarian product, but it's created by women. So I think people get excited about that. And it's funny, when we first started the company, we were very reluctant to really talk about us and share our story, we thought it was all about the product. And we couldn't have been more wrong, because really, a consumer gets excited about our brand, when they really know the background of the brand. And I myself too, if I learned why if founders created a product or company, it really, it's memorable. And oftentimes, it makes me want to buy that product or be more loyal to that brand. So I think for any founder out there any inventor that's maybe feeling a little bit of that reluctance, I would say embrace it, you know, it's all about you. And you're you see the need, and you're creating the solution. I think that's a really important point to really embrace.

11:46
Yeah, and the world has changed in that regard. Because there was a time when companies would try hard to not put a face behind their products. Right. But that's not it's in because I guess you would appear smaller, perhaps. But that's not the case anymore. I mean, look at Elon Musk, with, with his ideas. Look at Steve Jobs. I mean, these these days, the founders, I mean, Apple is not a small company by any stretch, but right under being associated with the company, especially if it's a new idea, that's basically changing an industry. People want to know what prompted it. And in hearing the backstory is inspiring for for anybody, but particularly our audience here, many of whom are inventors. And you're also your success is also intimidating to a lot of people because they, you know, because where you are now is not how it's always been. There's been setbacks along the way.

12:48
Oh, yeah. So I would say 51% of the time, you have to be positive and motivated. But the other 49%, chances are, there's going to be an obstacle or challenge to overcome. I mean, that's just sort of the reality of being an entrepreneur is that you're gonna have a lot of headwinds, and it's just the nature of the beast, but it's worth it, it's totally worth it. And one of the biggest catalysts to us creating this was I knew that if we didn't go for this, and actually try to create the products and one day, if I walked into a store and saw a high heel protector, I would have so much regret. And I just really remember going through that thought process and thinking I have to do this, you know, I have to give this a shot. And thankfully, my co founder was totally on board with that to that mentality. So I think you've got to you have to be practical. And we can, you know, talk about the practicalities of starting a business and trying to figure out if you can patent a product, but you also I think have to be have to be excited about your passion and, and be willing also to support yourself during those downtime, because there's always going to be rejections and people telling you, this is a bad idea. You shouldn't be doing this. I mean, we've had plenty of that. So but it's just a part of the ride. It's a part of the ride. And it's totally worth it. It's I was reading an article this morning about, I guess, the psychology of dealing with disappointment. And there was a Harvard psychologist who said, some people think they never want to feel pain. But if you think that way, you'll never try anything, you'll never take a risk and you will miss out on so much satisfaction and accomplishment and really exciting moments. So, you know, each person sort of has their own risk barometer, but it's the old cliche, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, yeah, it's part of that part of the deal. Yeah,

14:35
I don't remember who said it, but everything you want is on the other side of fear. Right? Yeah. So tell us about I mean, some of the fears have come to fruition a lot of times they're just fears that never come to fruition. Tell us about some of the setbacks or or downsides any that you that you care to share. I mean, sometimes they say you can you can retell a story But some people really have a story. So I've had in past interviews when inventors are talking about their setbacks and like tough time periods really hard it gets you get emotional sometimes because you go back to that, that time when we had one investor, this was a couple of weeks ago that I had interviewed, and she had put her idea aside for six months and not done anything with it. And very similar to you, it was this something nine Yetter saying, I don't want to see this on store shelves and know that I had it. And that's why she went back and pick it up. So yeah,

15:38
yeah, we've had a lot of setbacks. I mean, it really started at the beginning, I'll tell a funny story. So we, you know, when you're when in the early days of founding a company, before you even have sales, you're just working so hard to get to the starting gates where you can actually sell products and generate revenues. And so much goes into getting there, you've got to get products and production and build a website and set up payments and maybe raise money, you know, so many things go into it. And until you start doing it, you really don't have an appreciation for that process. So we had quit our jobs at Goldman, and we were pursuing soulmates full time. And so it was almost like we were on a clock every day that went by that we weren't selling products, we just felt this, you know, internal anxiety. So finally, about six months in, we were ready to launch our website. And we thought we had, you know, a great team, and we were ready to launch on a certain date. And I think we spent, like close to three days straight, like, up all night waiting for this website to launch because it was just like one thing after the next and we had tried to get publicity for the launch date. And of course, it had to be pushed back because the website was late getting launched. And at the time, it was devastating. Because we naively were thinking, we've told everybody we're launching this date, people are gonna be disappointed, they're gonna think we're a joke, we're gonna be done before we even start. And in retrospect, I mean, nobody cared. I mean, nobody was as anxious about it as we were. But I think that's also something to get comfortable with is that things, deadlines are missed, you know, when you're relying on on other partners and other people and other companies to help you build your company, chances are, they're going to be delays at times, or things aren't going to be perfect. And, and so you just have to embrace it. Another funny story from the early days is packaging packaging is so important. And I think, as a consumer, sometimes you take for granted how a product is packaged. But we in the early days, we had designed a little pouch for the product to sit in, and a little hang tag to go along with that pouch. And we printed however many, you know, 1000s of these little hang tags, and these were going to be our first products we were going to sell, we get the product, we get the hang tags, there's a spelling mistake on all 1000s of these hang tags. So again, this is like the early days is probably the you know, the first first week of sales. And we realized that not only was our website delayed, but now we're selling products that have a spelling mistake. And we just thought this is this is terrible this is people are not really going to think highly of us at all. And I mean, it was just part of the experience. And you learn from those things. And I think you also learn how to react when they happen. And there are ways to mitigate that. But there are certainly ways to respond when something doesn't go your way. And I think it's best to get out in front of that. And almost, you know, make light of it if you can, or just correct it as quickly as you can and, and connect with your customers. So I think going back to the authenticity, we're all human. And as much as you know, we companies like to kind of put a facade that they're this big, well oiled machine. At the end of the day, companies are people and people make mistakes. And so I think if you can be kind of honest and very humble with your customers at times, it actually makes your customers even more loyal thinking that, Oh, they're human too. You know, I make mistakes, they make mistakes. But those are just two of the funny I think they're funny now because obviously we've got we got through it. At the time I was I was you know, mortified. But you have to you know, you sort of just get used to those types of things and you prepare and you you figure out how to navigate through them.

19:06
Was there a period and Jenny if you can without volume, if you can play the video again, there's an aspect of the packaging I just love where were people can tell which size? Or you can hold it up actually.

19:18
Yeah. So there's a little size chart Yeah, is kind of like sizing your foot. So the idea is that you hold the heel and the video showed it nicely, you hold the heel up against the shapes, and the heel should cover the entire surface area of the gray shape. And that's how you know which size you need. So the narrower for instance, is this which is a smaller narrow opening, versus the classic which is a slightly wider which is our most common size at this one. And then the wide is for a slightly wider heel. Yeah.

19:53
Yeah, yeah, here we go That's great. You know, they say, problem agitate solution. So you start your video with the problem. And it's it just makes it so crystal clear. Yes. That's the sizing? Yep. Yep.

20:17
Oh, so is it available in black? Also?

20:19
Yes, it is Black looks great on a black heel, we also have it in silver and gold, we have the ability to make it in any color, which is a nice benefit. So, you know, we could always make a special color for a charity or for, you know, particular organization.

20:39
Oh, wow. So that's was the color something that you had envisioned from the beginning? Or has a product evolved over time?

20:47
Well, that's a really interesting question. So we knew that the first iteration, we wanted it to be clear for the reasons that we discussed about not interfering with the aesthetics. Now, I'll tell you, when we got into the manufacturing phase, we had to choose a material that would be strong enough to withstand the pressure, but also easy to use, you know, flexible enough. And getting it in what's called water clear, was a process. And not knowing anything about materials and injection molding, I really, it was an eye opener, because we wanted it to be water clear is the technical term for basically crystal clear, you can see all the way through it. And a lot of times, if you want something that clear, it's going to be too stiff. You know, think about acrylic, for instance, acrylic is very clear, but it's very stiff, it would snap if you put pressure on it in a certain way. And then you think about, you know, something really stretchy, like a rubber band, it's not clear, it's usually solid, opaque or color. So, so getting that transparency was really important to us. And that in and of itself was a whole process to identifying the right material that could give us those properties, but also be trans, you know, totally translucent. So, yes,

22:04
well, so the interesting thing is, I did take a quick look at the patent. And just like what a good what any good patent attorney will do is draft it broadly. So it covers much, much more than the actual product. And you leave off things like dimensions or colors or, or shapes. Did you have a so you had a patent search done? And because obviously, you want to find out if you're reinventing the wheel, or if your ideas actually original? So was that thinking process? The the Wait,

22:38
was it? Well, no, it was interesting. And I really credit our patent attorney for doing a really good job helping educate us around the process and understanding prior art, which is such a critical component to any patent submission, which basically, if you don't do that search and reference other things that have come before you that may have led to your development of your idea, then your patent can be denied. And so our attorney did a really good job. And we went through that search together and we would look up things and then you know, of course patent patents go back to the 1800s in this country. So it's interesting, the things that you start finding, but I think, you know, he did a great job. And even when we were ready to submit, we had the engineering designs and the and the drawings and all of those things. We had references the prior art. So I feel like we were we were we were putting our best foot forward. And you do wait, you wait it for us. We waited about two years, I think before we heard our approval. So during that time, it is a little nerve wracking because you're out there, you're selling products, and there's a chance that you know, you would be denied. Thankfully, that was not the case with us. But yeah, it is a little bit nerve wracking. But I think it really does benefit you to have a very knowledgeable and experienced patent attorney because it's such an important part of the process.

23:56
In that it prevents you from having to compete against because you're not, you know, Walmart, you're not going to be able to compete on price against some huge multinational corporation. So just having the intellectual property is a key.

24:11
And we did file for a provisional so I remember so it was actually in business school Monica and I both went to Columbia Business School. And that's when we first wrote the business plan for soulmates. And so when we were in school, somebody had said something about a provisional patent. And I always tell inventors or prospective inventors to look into doing that because then it gives you a one year period to file your your official utility or design patents. And I like that idea because not only do you put yourself first in line or give yourself priority in line, but you also have that timer going so it really is kind of that push to get you going to research whether or not you can actually move forward with officially patenting and the idea.

24:54
Right? Now what we're when you looked because you mostly Like they say necessity is the mother of invention, you looked for a solution yourself. But was that the closest things you found the most recommendations were were a different shoe is that the best

25:12
in practice, and like sort of the real world, that was the advice given, but in the patent world, I mean, there were other things that had been put forward and times they weren't all related to high heels. But just the idea of increasing a surface area. You know, that's, that's on like a wineglass. For instance, that concept of increasing the surface area to give something severe. So that certainly there are a lot of applications for that. But we did find some things that were kind of more shoe related. And it was fascinating, actually, because it makes you appreciate that. Ideas really are prevalent, and times change, but the brain is always searching for those kinds of solutions to things. So I think our earliest prior art was like from the early 1900s, something for a woman's shoe. So it was really fascinating to look at those, you know, previous patents. And, of course, the other thing, a lot of your listeners know this, but patents are only good if they're us. So somebody could have filed a patent in the 70s, but then let it lapse, because they never did anything about it. So that's also something to be aware of just because you find something, if it's not really being used, or if it's, you know, six months from dying, then there is there is sometimes an opportunity. So that's again goes back to having a really good attorney, I think.

26:27
And plus it might not be sometimes they're not commercialized, because in my field, they're called Paper patents. They're not practical. They're they're so complicated, so expensive. They may not work because the patent office is not evaluating your they believe the free market is going to evaluate whether your product works or not. They're looking at is it new? So that's, that's why sometimes you'll find a lot of references, but you don't find them on store shelves and why it's not enough to just go online and look at, you know, look on Amazon Plus, there's huge, we don't have time to cover that today. But there's huge risks of searching online for your idea, because you might give, give it away. We do have one one question. And they've been very patient. And I promise everyone a half hour for these interviews. And they want to know that time it took from, I guess your first crude prototype to when you got your first sale. So tell us about that. And the impact of that first sale?

27:30
Yeah, well, I'm glad this came up because I was thinking about it this morning. So there are two key time lines. The first is when I first I'd had this idea, but I told Monica about it while we were in business school, and we wrote a business plan. And so it was about from that moment, was about 18 months later that we were selling products. But during that 18 months, we also graduated from business school, we went back to Goldman Sachs, we did this on the side, and then we resigned. So from resigning to actually selling products was six months. And I that's a key. Those are key time tables, because most inventors are going to do this on the side until they realize whether it's viable or not. Right. So I think you have to be realistic that things. They don't happen overnight. And it's so important to go through that process of researching, can I make a business out of this? Can I monetize this? You know, what's the price point? What, how much capital do I need to actually get to that point. And so as much as I love that sort of overnight success stories, they're not really realistic. So for us, you know, the six months was was really when we were heads down, this is 100% what we're doing, and we're focusing on bringing this to market. So yeah, how was,

28:44
you know, when

28:45
I started my own practice, I resigned from fishing nev in New York, and it was I was looked at, I might as well have said, I'm going to you know, trying to swim across the ocean or something because it was nuts like nobody leaves this firm to go start their own practice. When you resigned like was that did you reveal what you were resigning to do?

29:08
We didn't disclose specifically. But we said we had an idea. And we started it in business in business school. And it was a project that quickly took on a life of its own. And we didn't know, we felt uncomfortable working on something that was outside of our jobs. We were very loyal to Goldman and we had worked there before business school. And so you know, we we had mentors. And so we we, we had those pretty honest conversations with our managers. And thankfully, everyone was very supportive. They said, Look, you should go do this. We always support entrepreneurs at Goldman. But it was definitely when we left. I mean, I think most people around us thought we were nuts. They said Wait, you're leaving a good job to start a high heel protector company what? And by the way, you just, you know racked up 100,000 hours in business school debt. Does that make sense? So there were definitely a lot Have naysayers but again, going back to what we talked about earlier, when you have that vision, you have that desire, I think you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot.

30:09
Get to avoid regret, right? Can you imagine still being at Goldman and seeing this on store shelves, and

30:18
it just, you know, you have to pursue it, I think and you have to be practical. And I always temper that, you know, I'm so supportive of entrepreneurship, but I think there is a huge element of practicality to it. And obviously, you know, you have to have money to live and all those things. So you have to think through all that. But yeah, it's a, it's just interesting how life works out. I mean, I never would have imagined this, I had a great experience at Goldman. And I never would have imagined that this is kind of that this would have developed. But that's, that's life. That's the fun of it.

30:48
Well, I can't,

30:50
it's such an honor Becca to have you here. And I want to thank you for taking your time to help inventors kind of learn a little bit about your journey, because it's one thing to see products, sometimes launched by most huge multinational corporations. And then it's easy to forget that corporations are made up of people and a lot of times the founders in their story, their journey, it's not always a walk in the park. And there's obstacles, there's things that are gonna go wrong, there's misspellings, and whatever that's been slipped through, is probably a dozen times when you may have wanted to give up and you'd moniker like, you know what, let's go get a job where we asked about our stability, like insurance, like all of these things, that that you know, structure. But I'm you know, I'm sure there's plenty of women out there that are really glad that you did choose to pursue your dream. Tell us about your website, where if somebody wanted to buy your product they could and Jenny, if you can put it into the chat box as well.

32:02
Yes. Thank you so much, John. Yes. So our website is does soulmates.com You can also Google soulmates and it's Sol e ma T S, and we're on Facebook, Instagram, at the soulmates and yeah, you can email us call us. We love hearing from people.

32:22
Terrific. Thank you, Becca. It's been an absolute pleasure.

32:24
Thank you. Thank you very much.

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