Startup Sitdowns: Zootility Tools
With MassChallenge winners being announced soon, we thought it would be the perfect time to talk to former Mass Challenge winners and current Workbar Cambridge members Zootility. We talked with Chris Bent, Global Marketing Manager/Business Development Manager/Global Sales Operations Facilitator/Chief Monkey Mover for this Boston startup.
What's the story of Zootility?
Chris: The PocketMonkey came into existence after mechanical engineer Nate Barr locked himself out of his house one too many times. Nate would always remember his cellphone and wallet because they were necessary for the day ahead, and this got Nate thinking.
He designed a door latch slip that could let him into his locked interior door that was thin enough to fit right in his wallet so it would always be on him. This tool had a lot of unused space, so he added a bottle opener first, then wrenches, screw drivers and other useful tools. Nate gave it some personality with a monkey face and launched it on Kickstarter. Over 1900 other people thought this was a great idea to Nate’s excitement and horror- he now had tons of orders to fill while working a full time job in product development. Nate’s sister Jenna volunteered to quit her job and help out, and the two of them worked until every order was fulfilled.
Why do you think your company was accepted into MassChallenge? What stands out about it?
I believe we got into MassChallenge for three reasons. First, we had great traction at the time of applying. We had sold over 100,000 units and were already cash flow positive. Second, our product was truly unique and quite different from many of the other startups in the program. Many conversations at networking events begin with “So tell me about your business” and the usual response is “Well we offer a freemium fully integrated platform for data visualization… think Uber meets Post-it Notes” I can just reach into my wallet and put a PocketMonkey in their hand. I think it was refreshing to have a manufacturing startup whose product benefits could be clearly seen and felt. Lastly, I think we successfully conveyed just how kickass our company is. We make all our products ourselves in Portland, Maine, using super strength lasers and have a great team consisting of entrepreneurial-minded individuals and a robot named Baxter.
What was your experience with MassChallenge? What resources did you find most valuable?
The workshops and networking opportunities were extremely valuable. They had lots of different speakers coming in to talk about both general stories of success and more specialized and actionable information. The networking was the best (and most fun) because MassChallenge attracts a great crowd of connected individuals all willing and eager to hear your ideas and help how they can.
What did 4 months in an accelerator do for your growth and expansion?
We were able to focus our business with the help of our mentor, who gave us advice that has echoed with me ever since: “If you are not saying NO to things every day, you’re doing something wrong.” Deciding specifically what we weren’t going to do helped us focus resources on things that were already working and continue to grow them even more.
What kinds of relationships were you able to build with other startups in the accelrator, and how were you able to leverage those relationships?
Being in MassChallenge definitely helped facilitate working with other startups. We were able to shoot a product video in fellow startup and totally bitchin’ coworking space Artisan's Asylum. I received my first Bitcoin wallet with LibertyX and shared a booth with SunSprite at an American Made products show.
What kind of challenges have you faced as a startup?
Scaling has been a challenge really since the beginning. We have always found that demand for our products has been there, especially with all of the trade shows we attend to meet retailers, but developing new products while keeping up production of our flagship PocketMonkey has been a challenge. We committed to manufacturing everything in the USA from day one. This means that production is much more complicated than emailing a design file overseas and waiting for our container to arrive. We haven’t received or needed outside investment since day one, and while organic growth with company profits is a much more challenging method of growth, it’s one that leaves us fully in control of our own destiny.
What has being at a coworking space since leaving MassChallenge done for you?
Just as a drug addict goes to a methadone clinic to come down easy, Workbar has been great for giving me my coworking and socializing fix while allowing me to get more work done than I did at MassChallenge. At MassChallenge there was so much programming, events, speakers and interesting people to talk to that it was fantastic for personal development and growth, but hard to get focused and crank out some work. Workbar provides a happy medium between working at MassChallenge and working on my couch with my cat competing for attention; it has a great work atmosphere but also a social one when you want it.
(Want to try out Workbar? Click here for a free day! )
What’s it like being a manufacturing company in a tech-heavy boston startup scene?
It’s awesome! It can be hard to relate to some of my self proclaimed “technologist” friends when they complain about servers crashing, bugs and battery life. The PocketMonkey doesn’t need servers, eats bugs and has unlimited battery life. It can survive an EMP blast and will likely emerge as the leading currency in post-apocalyptic society, so what was the question again?
What is it like being a US based company? Has this brought any special roadblocks or successes along with it?
Being a US based is company is easy, but manufacturing in the US is hard. It has allowed us the ability to rapidly prototype, have complete control over the quality of our product and generally have more fun. We employ a full 0.01% of the population of Portland, Maine and would never have been able to achieve this benchmark had we outsourced all manufacturing operations. Retailers that carry our products love the fact that we are made in America, and some only carry us because of this, so it has definitely helped sales.
What are some of Zootility’s major successes in the last year?
We moved from a 900 sq. ft to 4,000 sq. ft space which was needed to house all of the new equipment we've purchased for production purposes. We have successfully launched another product called the Hedgehog through Kickstarter and are in the midst of another campaign which has already exceeded its funding goal. We are also starting to break into some larger retailers whose names we cannot disclose.
What is your favorite/weirdest use for the Pocket Monkey that has earned someone a golden Monkey?
Favorite use was probably a guy who used it to open a bottle of wine. He cut the foil of the wine with the orange peeler, found a screw and screwed it into the cork with the Phillips head screwdriver, then slid the top of the screw down to the smallest hex wrench and pried out the cork. He then enjoyed a fine 2009 Chianti. You can also use the PocketMonkey to get into your bag of wine, we don’t discriminate on packaging.
Good luck to everyone who applied to MassChallenge this year! Winners are announced May 20, and we can't wait to hear who made the cut.