By Dave Mattera
Prospect Park resident Wes Goulbourne, a 32-year-old entrepreneur, has invented his own armored USB cable, the “Snakable,” which uses a ball joint assembly at its connectors allowing for more flexibility, preventing the cable from breaking after daily use.
Goulbourne, a former graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, started his company in 2014. Since then, he has sold around 7,000 Snakables.
Goulbournes’ innovative technology has landed him a patent for his product as well as an MFi certification from Apple, which gives Goulbourne the license to manufacture products using Apple’s lightning connectors.
Snakable is available in five colors and made for Apple and Android products. It retails for $29.99 and comes with a three-year warranty.
Snakable can be purchased online through the company’s website, Snakable. com, and its online retail partners, Amazon, Wal-Mart, and The Grommet. Locally, Snakable is sold at the University of Pennsylvania’s Computer Connection store, located in Center City, Philadelphia.
Last week, I met Goulbourne over coffee at Starbucks, where we talked about his invention, the struggles and perks of running a business, and what motivated him to become his own boss.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Snakable?
A: Being a gadget lover and tech enthusiast, I am in constant need to charge a device. Whether it be my mobile, tablet, or speaker, a battery is dead somewhere.
Over the years I have gone through many USB cables, either needing fixing or replacement. One night, my fiancée came to me with her broken cable. As I was in the process of fixing it, this thought entered my mind: With all the advancement in technology, why hasn’t anyone done the same for the life blood of the USB cable? There had to be an innovative product on the market that takes care of this issue.
What I found that night, was that not only were there no similar products like that available, I found many articles, comments, posts, and reviews, of customers just like me, sick of having to replace or fix their cables every few months or even more frequently.
Noticing that this was a problem that most users face, I put pad to paper, or rather, stylus to iPad and sketched the initial design for Snakable. See, USB cables break at the point right below the connectors on each end. This is due to over-bending the cable, folding in on itself and eventually breaking the internal wires leaving them exposed. The movement would need to be restricted so that the cable would not be able to flex past an approved bend-radius. Snakes make some pretty incredible moves, obviously without destroying themselves.
Thinking about snakes brought back an early childhood memory of those plastic toy snakes, commonly given as prizes at carnivals. Those toys mimic the slithering of a snake, without allowing the use to fold the toy in on itself. We had a winner, a snake-like cable… Snakable.
Q: How did you get start-up funding?
A: I received start-up capital through the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. On here I displayed the idea for Snakable and a detailed plan for making it happen. Folks who backed the project received a Snakable at a lower cost than the estimated manufacturers’ suggested retail price (MSRP).
The project was on Kickstarter for 30 days. At the end, 1,335 backers from around the world pledged their hard earned money on my idea. It was an exciting and humbling experience. I am not sure how I would have found the money otherwise, as banks these days are not lending money for the next big thing anymore. Well, not unless you have substantial assets to put up as collateral.
Q: What makes your product so unique compared to your competitors?
A: Since Snakables’ debut, other products have come to market claiming durability with designs that incorporate some sort of protection at the connectors. Other products use static [non-moving parts] that seems to work against the product by eliminating all movement at the connector.
The production design for Snakable incorporates a patented ball-joint assembly on each end of the cable that prevents the cord from breaking when it’s being bent. These joints are assembled atop the cable and are molded onto the connectors, restricting and protecting the cable.
Q: Who is your target market for selling your product?
A: The market for Snakable is fairly wide. Consumers who use their mobile devices frequently end up charging those devices often, resulting in eventually broken cables. Historically, our target market has been consumers 18 to 34, specifically college students. We are always looking out for opportunities to place Snakable in the hands of college students. Who uses mobile devices more than students!?
Q: How do you market and promote your product/brand?
A: I have found success with social media marketing. You have to talk to your customers where they live: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. If you search USB cables on Amazon, you will get literally thousands of results for cables priced from under a dollar to over 50. Strategic marketing is extremely important to not get lost in the sea of similar or even subpar products. So I am always looking for new and innovative ways to get Snakable to stand out to our audience. I also connect directly with customers through email marketing, and I regularly attend or exhibit Snakable at industry trade shows to promote the wholesale side of the business.
Q: Why did you want to work for yourself?
A: Growing up my father worked for himself, so the entrepreneurial spirit has been engrained in me since I was young. When I got older and began working, though, I learned the typical patterns of inequality in the workplace, such as low pay, lack of benefits, and rules that seem to be in place more to control than support the workforce.
I take issue with needing to plead for time off to visit a sick relative, go to the doctor, or having your job threatened for being three minutes late. I have always thought of working as providing a service to the company while they pay you for it; a simple professional exchange. But what I have witnessed and typically experienced, is anything but professional.
I always felt that the employee should be treated as an asset and since I never received that warm and fuzzy feeling at work, I decided that working for myself was the way to go.
Q: What are the perks and struggles that come with running your own business?
A: Being an entrepreneur has given me a great deal of understanding and respect for business. Engineering, packaging design, licensing, marketing, financing, advertising, logistics and distribution, legal, and many more aspects go into bringing a product from inception to delivery.
Every day most people go to the stores and purchase items. It could be soda, sneakers, or toilet paper; all of these products, every product, must go through those motions, each of which can be a tremendous undertaking. Those are the struggles. You have a great idea for a product that will solve an issue consumers face. Believe it or not, that is your one and only easy part.
Being in business for myself has been an educational experience for sure. The past two years have been a whirlwind of learning experiences, reality checks, and more learning. Knowledge learned by actually doing real business first hand will teach you so much more than any professor or textbook. Of course, to excel in business, book and classroom learning is important as well.
My biggest struggle was separating my personal life from business. When you work for a company, at the end of your shift you are ready to fly out of the door, zip home and not think about the job until the next day. When running your own business, however, I have found it increasingly difficult to turn work mode off.
As an owner, you are so involved in every aspect of the business that it seriously will consume your thoughts. The business is your baby and the mindset becomes that of a concerned parent, always needing to check in. That isn’t a healthy way of being, especially in terms of personal relationships.
Q: What advice can you give to up and coming entrepreneurs?
A: If you have an idea for a product or service that you have researched and found to fill a void in the marketplace, be ready for the ride and fight of your life.
Being an entrepreneur is likely going to be the hardest and most fulfilling work you’ll ever do. One of the sharks on “Shark Tank” said it best: entrepreneurs are the only people who are willing to work 80 hours a week, to avoid working 40 hours a week. These are the truest words ever spoken. If you want the luxury of making your own hours, just know that they will be much more than that of a typical job.
Another important thing to note is perseverance and determination. Not everyone is going to love, support, or buy your idea. Some folks will even dismiss you completely. I spoke with a lawyer once looking for patent advice. He took one look at the paperwork and swore that the product was not patentable and that I was foolish for trying to tell him otherwise. I had close friends tell me that it is “just a cable” and that no one will buy it.
Fast forward, Snakable is a patented product enjoyed by thousands of users in over 97 countries. Business is not easy, but nothing worth it usually is easy. Do your homework to ensure that you have a viable idea, before dumping any kind of significant funding at it.
Most importantly, though, listen to yourself, trust your instincts and work your [expletive] off, even when the going gets tough and there seems like there is no hope, keep going and eventually you will find yourself where you want to be. Sounds cliché, but trust me there is a positive reason why.
Q: How can customers connect with your brand?
A: More information about Snakable can be found on the company website: Snakable. com. Snakable has monitored social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Customers can also reach out directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-844-SNAKABLE.
Contact Dave Mattera at email@example.com