crystal etienne

This Sneaky Hack Saved Me $7000 (and Helped Me Build a Million Dollar Business)

I started my first company when I was six years old, selling fallen apples to keep the streets clean. I have always seen problems and created a solution, despite all the odds. So when it came time to get my fashion-forward, hygiene-focused clothing line, PantyProp, off the ground, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like an un-filed patent get in my way. In fact, I used my lifelong tenacity to attack the problem, and it saved my company $7000 in startup fees.

Problem solving

My company, PantyProp, is a health-leisure brand that offers a line of hygiene fashion wearables featuring built-in technology for incontinence and feminine care. It boasts all-natural materials, organic cotton, and a patent-pending ability to match the shape of the body.

PantryProp sets out to solve a universal and yet unspoken problem.

Getting started

Founded for women (and yes, growing to include men), PantyProp would never have been more than a pretty great idea if not for some good old-fashioned grit and determination.

After giving birth to my daughter, I, like nearly 200 million others, noticed I had no control over life’s pesky leaks. At first I felt embarrassed, but I couldn’t find a solution on the market that wasn’t dangerous or riddled with chemicals. 

When I set out to launch my company, I had competitors, but I did not dwell on the possible downsides. I set out to build a health-leisure brand as strong as any woman, and diversified the line to cater to men, teens, and even swimwear.

Knowing that the odds were stacked against me (a woman, outside of the millennial demographic, a solo-founder, African American) did not hold me back. I knew I had a winning idea that catered consciously to an underserved community.

Related: 5 Hacks for Startup Marketing on a Budget

The big steps

After getting the Big Idea on paper, the next step was to protect my work.

In 2015, the time came to file the patents for my hygienic clothing. As a newcomer to this world, I called the United States Patent and Trademark Office relentlessly: over 30 times in one week!

My mission? Ask as many questions as absolutely necessary to learn the appropriate way to fill out a patent application. Thoroughness goes a long way!

Finally, after a few weeks of this, the patent representative threw out a suggestion: “Why don’t you just come here and get better assisted?” So, I moved from New York down to Virginia for 30 days at the invitation of the USPTO and was able to fill out my entire patent application side by side with a representative at no cost.

Even after the hotel fees, my perseverance saved me $7,000 in attorney fees alone.

The lesson? Never be afraid to ask for help, and always seize an opportunity to work smarter.

Standing apart from the competition

In growing my brand, I am not content to be just “one of the crowd” in what seems to be a new trend of hygiene fashion clothing. For one, I am customer-focused. Additionally, I embrace all the potential needs of my consumers, from women to teens to the special needs community, even to men, an under-served demographic in this arena.

It is worthy to note that men struggling with incontinence make up around 5 percent of PantyProp’s sales. For any would-be entrepreneurs, this advice is a vital hack: never ignore avenues for diversifying your brand, especially if there is a noticeable need and not many solutions.

PantyProp also offers products explicitly aimed to fulfill teens’ needs and wants. Drawing heavily on my inspiration from my teenage daughter, it was easy to see the parallels between my own struggles, so I decided to make my own solutions.

Success and future

To date, PantyProp has brought in over $1 million in annual revenue, and we are showing no sign of slowing down. In just 10 months, we’ve grown by 400 percent.

Part of my secret to pulling in such great numbers is to not waste money without necessity. I’ve kept the company running efficiently on a minimal budget, spending nothing on outside marketing. Even my manufacturing costs are tightly controlled.

We spend only precisely where it was needed, as far as where the dollars go. That’s another secret for success: spend your capital smartly instead of wildly. You may not need all that fancy marketing, or you may be able to do more in-house than you originally expected. If you know your target market, you should be able to adapt.

For 2018 and beyond, I am looking ahead with high hopes. With the launch of a wholesale arm, as well as a deal to distribute with Macy’s, in the next two years, we are projecting to reel in $25 million in sales. We remain unbothered by the competition, because we set ourselves apart so meticulously.

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Tips and tricks to success

PantyProp is blazing ahead, in part thanks to useful hacks I discovered along the way, such as that cool $7,000 I saved by asking for help with my patent and bypassing the need for crazy legal fees.

If you have an idea, here are three strategies to save money and go big:

  1. Ignore the odds and focus on opportunities. I did not take the time to focus on what might be different or difficult about my situation when presenting my business proposals. Instead, I focused on what I could control by never disregarding chances.
  2. Don’t be afraid to go out of your depths. I may have been seen as a statistical outlier and a “fish out of water” when I began my journey, especially in the world of investors and raising capital. But in the end, my differences and determination have propelled me forward to achievement.
  3. Identify a problem. Provide a unique solution where there is none. Fashion-forward hygiene-focused clothing was missing from the market, while there was a real demographic in need of it (as 600,000 Google searches a month on how to work around “pesky leaks”).

By providing a solution to a specific problem aimed at your target market, your startup will stand out from the competition.

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