377 Missy Kelly: Getting Gription
When many people notice a problem, an irritation or challenge, they say, “someone should do something about that.” Is this you, or are you the type of person who figures out how to solve the problem … and solve it for millions of people?
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who decided to solve a problem we all have: That’s right, hanging onto our phones. You’ve dropped your iPhone or Android, right?
Well now you’re going to get a grip because Missy Kelly solved this problem.
Missy is the Co-founder and CEO of CatTongue Grips – an innovative adhesive non-slip grip that can easily be applied to your mobile device, laptop, tablet or case to provide a layer of what she calls “Gription” in your everyday life.
We’re going to talk about how she took the leap from stay-at-home mom to risk taking entrepreneur – and much more besides.
Missy and her husband are outdoor enthusiasts who grew up on the beaches of San Diego, California and in 2011 moved to Park City, Utah to explore life at 7,000 feet above sea level. Between the experiences of life in both towns, they realized a common (growing) problem that people have…mobile phones & devices have slippery back sides! They often slip out of hands (and off tables) and fall to the ground, ending up damaged. When the grip tape they added ended up scratching everything, they found the perfect anti-slip solution. It’s called CatTongue, and its super durable – even for extreme athletes. CatTongue Grips are recyclable, extremely durable and waterproof – and pretty too, with more than 50 cool customizable designs. Appropriately for Wings, I have the butterfly version.
Today with Missy we talk about what it's like to be an inventor, how to grow your business and much more.
So are you ready for Missy Kelly? I am. Let’s fly!
Melinda Wittstock: Missy, welcome to Wings.
Missy Kelly: Thank you so much, Melinda. I'm so happy to be here with you today.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, me too. And I'm curious about the origin of the story for CatTongue Grips. What was your inspiration?
Missy Kelly: Well, it's an interesting story actually. My husband, he walked into a Verizon store to upgrade his phone and he just noticed how slippery the back of the phone was. He made a comment to the salesperson and she of course tried to sell him insurance and tell him that would be $750 to replace a broken phone.
So not wanting another bill, the light bulb went off in his head and he actually drove to the nearby skateboard shop in town. We live in Park City, Utah. He cut out skateboard grip tape and slapped it on the back of his phone. Later that evening I noticed what was going on there and I asked him about it, and he said, “I love this thing. It's a foam grip and it doesn't slide around.” I looked at him and I said, “First off, this feels like a cat tongue and it's going to scratch every surface in my house. You can not have this on the back of your phone.” So he actually challenged me to find him something like it online.
This was in 2015 and I couldn't find anything like it. So we decided to make it. I said, “Let's make this. We'll make your product.” So we sourced out the largest manufacturer of anti-slip solutions in the world, and we got a meeting with him in their US location. It took about six months, and we talked about our idea. We wanted to contract with different artists and have cool designs. My husband loves bright colors, I like patterns and prints. He said he'd never seen anything like it and that he would get his scientists on it and make it for us.
So it actually took about eight prototypes because the product had to feel good in the hands. So it had to feel good first and foremost. It had to grip, which was important, and it couldn't pick up hair, lint or dirt, you know the weird sand stuff you find in the pockets of your purse or pockets.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Yes. Oh, gosh. Yeah. You could see the engineering challenges in all of that. Did you have a sense of that when you were starting out? Like how many prototypes or how many different versions you'd have to go through to get the exact right thing?
Missy Kelly: For us at this point it was challenging because, yes, it was finding all those three facets that we wanted in the product to marry together. It was challenging. There are times we think, is this really going to work? Can we find it? And then we do remember in February 2017 getting a sample. My husband and I looked at each other and we said, “Yes, this is it.” We were super excited about it.
Melinda Wittstock: That's fantastic. What a great story. There are so many people in the world who see a problem with something and react this way: they say, “Oh, well somebody else will fix that or somebody should do that.” But it takes something special for a person to say, “Oh, you know what? I'm going to fix that,” and actually spotting opportunities in solving other people's problems. So it sounds like you and your husband were very attuned in that way. Were you always both entrepreneurial thinkers?
Missy Kelly: I would say, definitely. He had, right out of college, started a recycling business, before communities and cities were actually picking up the recycling. He charged individual households. We were living in La Jolla, California, $30 a month to come by and pick up the recycling. He was a 22-year-old kid doing that. Then I met him and we grew that business by … I was 21 at the time, handing out flyers in different neighborhoods in the San Diego community, and getting a lot of interest and growing the business. Then he eventually sold that business. Actually about a year before, the City of San Diego decided to take on picking up the recycling itself. So it was very interesting how that all worked out.
Melinda Wittstock: Great timing.
Missy Kelly: Yeah, it was.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, I think there's an interesting lesson in that, that a lot of people hang onto their businesses too long, like really actually understanding the exit and what are the terms of your exit and what do you want? Because often you can sell a business, eliminate the risk, but still have an ownership stake, take some money out and then still ride up the valuation and go onto your next business if you're the type of person that has lots of ideas and whatnot. So it's an interesting way to think, and a lot of people miss that. They think that their businesses is them and they've got to stay in their same business for their whole lives.
Missy Kelly: It's true, and I think it's timing for when you're ready to move on, or if you're nothing. That was our only experience with that. Yeah, I think that we've already always sort of had the entrepreneurial bug. And Matt, my husband, has definitely always had ideas and none of them … I'd look at him and say, “No, that's not going to work.” But with CatTongue Grips, it was an idea that I saw as well the potential and was on board with from the get-go and now I'm running the business so it was all fortuitous.
Melinda Wittstock: That's fantastic. So once your prototype is made and you were off and running, like you had a great product, what were some of the challenges in terms of marketing and sales? Did you guys originally go the Amazon route or Shopify? How did all that piece work and what were some of the challenges?
Missy Kelly: We did Melinda. So we had that substrate, as I told you about in February of 2017, so that summer was really getting our artworks chosen, building the website. Then we launched our product that November of 2017 on Amazon Exclusives, which it's a branch of Amazon for newer products. That went well going into the holiday season.
For us it was great. We live in Park City, Utah and our kids ski race, so we're very familiar with the Alpine community. So just a month after we launched, we partnered with the US Ski and Snowboard to create a US Ski and Snowboard CatTongue Grip for the organization. And they then went on to include 300 of our US Ski and Snowboard CatTongue Grips in the 2018 Olympic athlete goody bags.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh.
Missy Kelly: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: What a great opportunity.
Missy Kelly: It was pretty amazing. It was incredible. And from there actually companies started reaching out wanting to brand a CatTongue Grip because the back of your phone is always in use. And this wasn't necessarily a sticker, it actually had a function. So that was pretty exciting and opened up another arm of our business, which is the promotional side of our business where we can brand the back of a person's phone with the CatTongue Grip for that company to expand their brand.
Melinda Wittstock: So it's like a white label type thing. So I could come to you for Wings of Inspired Business and everybody who listens to this podcast could have that on there. That's kind of cool. We should talk after.
Missy Kelly: Exactly. Yes. Yeah. So that actually opened up that other side of the business. So we had the Amazon going, we had our online retail going, we now had the promotional side of the business going and then we started knocking on the doors for retail.
Melinda Wittstock: Ah, cool. So are you sold in …? Which retail outlets are you sold in?
Missy Kelly: We are. We actually partnered with a distributor and we're in about 50 college bookstores across the country. We're in a few local mom and pops here in the Utah area. And I would say the majority of 2018 for us was just laying the groundwork, knocking on doors, and now a lot of those doors are starting to open. I'm not going to say the retailer yet that we will be entering 72 stores in the Pacific northwest here come Fall. And a lot of other great retailers are interested as well.
Melinda Wittstock: That's fantastic. And so where do you see it ultimately? Do you see this growing into a very large business? How big are you right now in revenue terms? Are you like eight figure, nine figure even?
Missy Kelly: No, no, no, no. We're still in startup mode for sure and growing steadily. However we feel we started with the phone grip, which has been incredible. And we then launched a new product in March, I believe, called the PhatCat, and that's for laptops and iPads so they don't slip around on the tray table of a plane, on your lap. That's been a great product for us.
And then we're super excited because in response to our phone grips and the gription we like to call it, we've trademarked that name, that word from the Urban Dictionary … From the response of our products, people have asked, “Can we use it on this, can we use it on that?” And so we're launching a roll tape mid-August. So it's our substrate. It's clear, it has an adhesive and it's rolled. It's about two inches wide, 10 feet long. And so people can actually customize anything to provide gription for themselves so things don't slip around.
Melinda Wittstock: That's fantastic. So where do you see it ultimately going? How big do you think of a company it's going to be? Where do you want it to be?
Missy Kelly: We see ourselves as the go-to for gription, CatTongue Grips. What do you need as an anti-slip? So internationally, growing in all four channels of our business and yeah, the vision is endless. It's open. It's awesome.
Melinda Wittstock: It sounds like a great business. It sounds between the lines, like you guys bootstrapped this.
Missy Kelly: Oh for sure. For sure. We have a team of 10 that's grown and for sure we're still … I'm still answering customer service questions and I love that. And we go to events. We actually recently partnered with Spartan. They do the-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, the Spartan Race. Yeah.
Missy Kelly: Yeah, yeah the Spartan race. So we have customized for Spartan, five different Spartan grips. And my husband right now is in Pennsylvania at the big event there this weekend, just training the team about the CatTongue Grips and interacting with the public and it's all going very well. That's our second Spartan Race we'll be at and CatTongue Grips will be sold at Spartan races across the country and the world.
Melinda Wittstock: So Missy, what's the secret of your success, do you think? If you look at what distinguishes you and your husband and your success with this from all the many, many people who have ideas like this and never quite make it, what do you think that secret is?
Missy Kelly: For us, really it's focus. Every day we are focused on this business. We are focused on communicating and really hearing what our customer has to say, which is the CatTongue utility roll tape is a huge example of that. And really not allowing, we're not … Truthfully, we're not dictating where this company is going. I really feel that our customer is, and we're listening. We actually launched … Our first product we launched with back in November, we didn't know anything about adhesive. We just knew that it wanted to stick to the surface it was adhering to.
The problem was it sticks so well that when you pull it back, it just left so much residue, something I wasn't comfortable with at all. And so we went back to the drawing board and researched adhesives and found one that works on the back of a glass iPhone as well as a case. We really heard our customer, that we want to be able to remove this without creating a mess.
So that was a huge pivot or a little pivot, I guess. It wasn't huge. It was just cleaning up our product from the original that we launched with, but then the laptops and tablets and now the roll tapes. Really we have this incredible material. It's an amazing anti-slip, and as I said, it doesn't pick up hair, lint or dirt and feels good and it grips and there's nothing like it in the marketplace.
It's been exciting to just see where this journey is going and as doors open, walk through them. And I think that that's extremely important as an entrepreneur, to be flexible and to just know that what you originally envisioned, it might not be that way. Being able to pivot and go with the flow I think is critical.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. My partner, who's also an entrepreneur, we joke that you can either be right or rich. Sometimes people get really attached to their own idea of what they think it has to be. And you mentioned something about really co-creating with your customers. It's so important to be flexible and actually listened to the market and be willing and focused and on your vision, but still adaptable, right? So you can make your product better. I think that's such a critical predictor of success, being able to do that.
Missy Kelly: I completely agree. For us, we are, Matt and I, are still the ones out there manning the booths at trade shows. We've been to many US Ski and Snowboard Alpine skiing events. Matt's at Spartan. It's true. We love to listen to our customer, interact with the customer, hear what needs to be improved, what we're doing right. I think it's just really important to not lose that connection even as we grow.
So Missy, when you think of those success ingredients in terms of your mindset say, how you think about things, are there any particular habits that help you to stay in that kind of focus?
Missy Kelly: Definitely. My meditation practice is extremely important to me. It's where I visualize, I see where we're going, where the company's going. I think it's very important to, as a leader, to really honor what you do right and acknowledge what you can do better. Every day I'm trying to be better in business. I did not come from a traditional business background at all. I always joke with people that I'm getting an MBA on a daily basis.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah.
Missy Kelly: That's okay to make mistakes, which we're going to. But the important thing is to learn from them and to move on and just to keep moving forward. I love to read, I listen to podcasts, I love the Wings podcast. I love How I Built This by Guy Raz. Just listening to the entrepreneurs before me and just seeing myself in their stories and also seeing where things that they haven't done right. There's no real right or wrong, but maybe listening to them so that my journey is a little less bumpy.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh. This is such good advice. The meditation piece and clearing those quiet times in the day where you get outside of your to-do list and more into … I do an intentions list.
Missy Kelly: Oh, that's fun.
Melinda Wittstock: I actually visualize-
Missy Kelly: I'm going to have to steal that one.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. So I don't do it to-do list anymore. I do an intentions list. I do a meditation in the morning. I literally ask for inspiration of which activities today are going to advance me more on mission and in alignment than any other? And I wait. Often, I'll get increasingly sort of a download of what I should be doing today. And of course there are deadlines and things that are not necessarily in your control, things you have to do, busy work you have to do that kind of thing.
But I will imagine or visualize the tasks complete. And so I will have an intention that this will be done. And then I'd try not to get too much in my own way with constraining the intention by imposing a how on it. There may be a better how than what my mind can come up with.
Missy Kelly: That's wonderful. I love that. I love the intention list because to-do sometimes can be daunting. And that goes back to what I was saying about, that we can always have an endless to do list and that's okay. Just focusing on the things that we can do today and-
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it can have a negative byproduct of making us feel that we're not enough or that we're not doing enough.
Missy Kelly: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: Especially if there's some sort of underlying belief that I think a lot of women have, where we just don't value ourselves enough. So the to-do is just some sort of endless task treadmill of proving our worth subconsciously of course. You can run faster and faster and faster in place. I've seen so many women add zeros to the business, grow eight figures, nine figures, all of that, but still be stuck there.
Missy Kelly: For me too, on that one is that I'm a Virgo, born in September and with being a Virgo generally comes with being a perfectionist. And that's something I've really worked hard on in my personal life to let go of because perfectionism to me masks a fear of failure. And for what I'm doing right now, I've had to eradicate that fear and know I'm on the right path. The universe has my back and everything along the way is not going to be perfect and it's not supposed to be perfect because if it's perfect, you're not going to learn from it.
Melinda Wittstock: So I love that you have this whole practice and there's no doubt in my mind there's a real link between personal growth and business growth. The two really come hand in hand and if you want therapy of course just become an entrepreneur because it'll make you grow. You'll either flame out or you'll-
Missy Kelly: You can't take yourself seriously.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. And if you want to succeed, you really do have to become more and more conscious. I've just arrived at that conclusion with the hundreds of women that I interview on this podcast, the hundreds of women that I work with. It's just such a predictor of success for everybody.
So in your mind, what do you think women are uniquely doing right that we should delve … Strengths that we have innately that we should double down on in business and where do we need to just, Oh my God, just let some stuff go that doesn't serve?
Missy Kelly: That's a loaded question, but it's a great question. I think we, as women, are doing one major thing right. It is uniting and helping one another through organizations such as WEBANC, the woman owned business network, which is a national organization that helps and educates and provides women opportunities to grow in their business. I think locally, I know in my own community, there's a lot of women centered business groups again to help and support one another. So I think as a community of female entrepreneurs leaning on each other, helping one another, is really, really important. I think that we're doing that right in setting ourselves apart as a community that's going to grow and have success. So I think that's really important.
My personal, what I have found with women entrepreneurs that we could do better, is risk-taking. I think as women we're brought up not to be risk-takers. That's really the men's role or to be able to not be perfectionists, right? To have that, to not be afraid of failing, that it's not going to damage our self worth if it's not perfect. If your didn't go as well as you thought it was and now it's a reflection on your value or whatever it is.
I think taking more risks and being afraid to fall and to fail so that you can pick yourself back up, because as I mentioned, you have a community of women that want you to succeed and are willing to be there when you do stumble.
Melinda Wittstock: I love it. So Missy, where can people find you and work with you?
Missy Kelly: We, our website, CatTongueGrips.com is a great place. You can always email me through the website if you're interested in promotional products for your company. We do have information on the website as well. And yeah, probably our website is the best. I'm also on Instagram. Our company CatTongue Grips is on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. We're out there, so we would love for you to find us and give our grip a try. We like to say trying is believing and it will. It will save many an accident and a cracked screen.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Well thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Missy Kelly: Thank you, Melinda. It's been a real pleasure. I really enjoyed talking with you.