What would you like to promote?
Our first product line, TacLace. It is a boot lacing system I created in Afghanistan to help save the time it takes to get your boots on. Rather than finding your laces in the dark or intense situations, grab the TacLace and Pull, Cinch, and Wrap; the rest is up to you.
Is this your first business?
3rd business. My first was a breathalyzer company; we placed breathalyzer vending machines in bars to mitigate drunk driving. The 2nd was MilitaryDiscounters.com, a website and phone app designed to show military members the locations in their vicinity that offered military discounts.
What is the #1 reason for your company's success?
Work ethic. In the startup world, you wear many hats. Staying persistent in finding manufacturers, distribution channels, and strategic partners have been instrumental in our success. It’s hard for a reason, not everyone wants to do it. Staying motivated and dedicated to your business goes a long way.
When did it become a reality that you guys would be successful?
TheBlaze.com featured us in an article
inOctober 2013. The response rate from customers and support we received was truly overwhelming. From there we began to pick up additional resellers and made our way into the Navy and Marine Corps Exchanges, as well as the GSA schedule.
Were there any tough times financially in the beginning?
Not so much the beginning, but definitely after launching. We entered into a bad relationship with a distributor that forced us to eat a large chunk of cash. The short of it is, we were hard pressed to fill some demand that may not have actually been there. This obligates payment to the manufacturer and pretty much ended with us loaning the distributor the product with few strings attached (and even less payment). It’s an ongoing battle we hope to resolve soon.
What is working best for your marketing right now?
Videos! Some of our videos on YouTube have over 100,000 views. Pairing the videos with our Facebook efforts is the easiest and most effective way to show customers, our product and how it can benefit them. TacLace is sort of a consultative sell meaning we need a quick way to teach the customer how we solve a pain point they face day after day. Videos are the best way to make that happen.
What percentage of your clients find out about you guys this way?
About 80% of our eCommerce clients find us through video. The likes, comments, and shares go a long way in reaching additional customers.
What is your biggest differentiator?
In the realm of speed lacing, we differentiate in how we are agnostic to the boot. We are not side-zip boots, we are not the BOA system, but we do fit on any boot with laces and feel that if TacLace existed sooner, the others wouldn’t be needed.
What is the toughest decision you've had to make in the last few months?
Bringing on more staff. This is often a hard move to make in that their impact appears intangible at first. Once the step is made, though, you realize how well it benefits your time, focus, and the bottom line.
What is your morning routine?
It used to be EARLY! Those days are over, I get up around 7, grab a protein heavy breakfast accompanied by an enormous coffee and head to work. A couple days a week, I’ll squeeze my workout in before the day starts.
Where is the best place to eat in your city?
Here in Wilmington, NC; there are tons of delicious seafood places to choose from. I would go with Yosake. It’s a sushi place, but they have the best appetizer I’ve ever had called Firecracker shrimp. I also proposed to my wife there, that’s also kind of important (she said yes).
What are your hobbies when you're not busy?
Historically, I have enjoyed working out and offshore fishing. The pace of business is minimizing both, I hate to say, but they are priorities in my life so I can strike some sort of work/life balance.
What book do you recommend the most?
Four Hour Work Week. Take it with a grain of salt and focus on the tricks you can use to make your work work for you. This is important for entrepreneurs that need the assistance of technology and resources to ease their lives.
Favorite place to visit?
Key West, Florida.
What business would you love for someone else to start?
I would love to see someone start a lifestyle business here in Wilmington that focuses on the vibe of the city. There is a new outlook in the area that extends above and beyond the beach. A web-based business focused on the lifestyle of Wilmingtonians; young, old, beach, business, entrepreneurship, education, etc. It would be a nice refresher on the traditional publications that have been around for years.
What are your favorite startups in or near your city?
The first that comes to mind would be Next Glass. Next Glass is a truly innovative company by definition and has successfully paired the attributes of their product with the needs/wants of their customer base. Using a data approach, Next Glass pairs individual users with beers and wines based on their taste profiles. The value they create through the profiles of their users and demographics has enormous potential on the B2B side. Their credentials speak for themselves with appearances in publications such as Forbes and other national media outlets
Tepi-Tech is another I’m fond of. This is a new place on an old topic.
Tepi-Tech delivers early warning detection of pet health to their owners through monitoring their eating behavior and lifestyle habits. The model includes proximity-based bowls that are powered by Bluetooth and simultaneously solves the pet eating the other pet's food problem as well. This business poses yet another great B2B opportunity on top of the existing consumer sales that would be made B2C.
Do you have any
There are currently no co-founders. TacLace has a co-inventor, Pete Foster. Pete and I were deployed to Afghanistan together where we developed our first prototype. We found a local Afghan national who was able to sew our first set together for us made up of parts of our existing gear. Pete and I still communicate frequently and due to him still being in the Marine Corps has been unable to participate in the business thus far
We do have some place to take on investors and strategic partners soon.
What position did you hire first, was it the right decision?
My first hires were sales reps for the TacLace product. Definitely the right call as cash flow is king for startups and their efforts allowed me to focus on long-term growth. Following the sales reps, an operations director was hired. This position served as the “hub” for managing all the functional areas of the business and allowed us to start building teams around all our new projects at Elite Innovations.
How did you decide on the name for your business?
I envisioned our product lines as being truly elite solutions to problems people overlooked or ignored for years. Products like TacLace and a few others, we have in the pipeline are perfect examples. Rather than approaching problems with traditional processes, we have an innovative outlook and spin on that approach and solutions. When I pair the nature of our products with our approach, the products become true Elite Innovations. I view these solutions like the Spartan’s status in warfare. Warfare is as old as time, but none changed the game or adopted the lifestyle of an ancient problem like the Spartans.
What advice do you have for new founders, just beginning?
Nail your minimum viable product and move forward with it. Don’t be afraid to deliver value to the consumer, it’s what makes it a business. Focus on your cash flows and know that the P&L will come, but stay alive to prove the concept and decide to persevere, pivot, or perish. Be open to feedback and suggestions, but understand that every piece of advice you receive may not be relevant to your scenario. Also, find an attorney friend; we view business, they view the risks, you need them.