Building a Successful Fidget Sticker Business – Michael Malkin of Calm Strips

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 46:28)

PODCAST AUDIO

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Intro

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips shares the story of building a new kind of fidget toy in the form of a sticker which can be used to calm nerves and increase focus

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: All Marketers Are Liars; Purple Cow

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Michael Malkin of Calm Strips

00:00Introduction
02:31The product and the problem it solves
08:38Business opportunity
11:34Price point
13:15Lesson from working at Apple
17:05B2C or B2B
18:46Investment
23:04Market Education
26:06Shark Tank Experience
29:46Shipping/Fulfillment
34:17Rapid fire round
43:34Failures and lessons learned

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips

  1. One book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs/business professionals in 2021 and why? (Response: All Marketers Are Liars; Purple Cow)
  2. An innovative product or idea and the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Lume Deodorant)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend (Response: Groove)
  4. A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Lucy, my business partner)
  5. Best business advice you ever received (Response: Just go for it)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Hey there entrepreneurs My name is Sasha and welcome to Trep talks. This is the show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executive and thought leader and ask them questions about their business story, and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today, I’m really excited to welcome Michael Malkin to the show. Michael is the founder of calm scripts, calm scripts are texted sensory adhesives that allow the user to regulate restless energy and increase focus. And today I’m going to ask Michael a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey, and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business. So thank you so much for joining me today. Trep talks, Michael.

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Absolutely. I mean, it’s anyone who calls me a successful entrepreneur outcome, I’ll be on their show anytime.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Do you Do you consider yourself successful entrepreneur?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

I consider time an ongoing journey. I mean, I think it’s, I think certainly, it’s beyond anything I would have imagined when I started this, like I, I’ve always kind of had an entrepreneurial spirit, like I’ve, I’ve always kind of wanted to kind of start my own business. And that’s always been something that was in the back of my mind. And I’ve done a few things in the past that failed, I guess, from a financial standpoint, but I feel like I learned after each thing, and now we’re deployment, you know, we have seven employees and over 100,000 Satisfied customers all over the world. So I would consider that a success. And and I think, yeah, I just kind of look at it as I’m still on that thing, where like, every day I’m like, okay, you know, What’s tomorrow gonna bring and, you know, kind of future where I’m kind of an anxious person, which is kind of one of the reasons I created comic strips. But I think for me, I view myself on a good day, I view myself as a successful entrepreneur.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Cool. So calm strips, very unique product. I mean, I when I talk to entrepreneurs, I do frequently come across like unique product. But again, this is very unique. Can you share a little bit about what the product is? And how it helps people?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, so before starting comm strips, and even during the first part of starting comm strips, I worked at an Apple retail store. Actually, I worked at Apple retail store for about 13 years, I was a store manager. And especially pre pandemic, if you’ve ever been in an Apple retail store, especially on the weekend, it gets really really busy in there and kind of shoulder to shoulder and, to me, as I said, like kind of I live with anxiety, like especially when we get busy and it’d be a lot of people around it would definitely kind of trigger that. And something I found is we used to keep like blue carpenters tape in our repair room. I used to five I took that and kind of had that as like kind of a sensory outlays of wrap it around my finger. I like those silly but that’s okay. I actually found that was helpful. And I had used other things like fidget cubes and things like that in the past. And I was like, yeah, maybe this is something because, you know, there’s a lot of sensory tools out there and there are a lot of them are very helpful. But the the issue is a lot of them are not very convenient, a lot of them are not something that you can take with you, kind of everywhere you go so calm ships is kind of designed to be like a texture sensor adhesive, you could stick it on your phone and put them on your laptop, I can show you my my laptop because if I close the screen, I’m gonna hang up on you, but like this is my phones, I’ve got a few ones on there. And it’s just something you can kind of keep with you if you need to kind of scratch pick or touch at the surface. And I think for me, it kind of came out of a personal need. And then I was like maybe this is something that could help other people as well. And that was kind of the journey of saying okay, so how do we do manufacturing and shipping and all that kind of stuff and it started on it seems like there’s a home based business, my wife and I like just packing and shipping a handful of orders each night out of our, you know, out of our living room. And then slowly as we grew Lucy who is my she was employee number one but is now my co owner. She kind of came on board to help with a lot of the operational pieces and she’s kind of also the heart and soul I like to think of of comic strips. And so I think from there we kind of structured it more like a traditional business but definitely just started as a home based thing and we’ve been lucky to be able to grow to where it is Today.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So basically the idea behind this is that people or many people have like, anxious energy or you know, extra energy. I mean, I remember like even I may have had had that like when I was in school, I definitely saw other students like playing with pencils and you know, fidgeting with other things. And of course, I know in the market, there’s a lot of items like, you know, fidget, what do you call it? Like fidget baller

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

cubes and spinner? Yeah, it’s like that. That’s ours.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And seems like there definitely will have some effect on coming the thing. And so basically, what you have done is really found like what what worked for you and basically brought that to market is that,

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, correct. And I think we’ve, we’ve luckily had the opportunity to work with some really great doctors and scientists in the time since we’ve kind of come to market. Dr. Jen Wilkin. He’s a he’s a neuro neurologist, neuropsychologist and Virginia Spielman who’s worked with sensory health. So we’ve had some opportunities to kind of, kind of learn more and more about this as as we’ve gone. And I think the interesting thing is, like the target market for this is not what I thought it was when I watched the product, like I was like, it is for people like me who need a sensory outlet. And you know, as like, 38 year old Apple Store employees, that’s my, that’s my, that’s my target market. So I’m looking to talk to you. And honestly, that was not honestly, I’m like, I’m sitting here using it right now. But yeah, I think we found that education is a huge market for us, he’s become really popular in schools, because, like you said, I think yeah, there’s a lot of kids out there who need something like this, and the teachers want to provide something, but they also don’t want something that’s going to distract the rest of the class or distract even the student themselves. And so we found this, yeah, we’re never we kind of, say conservatively, 3000 schools, but probably closer to five or 6000 schools. And then as well, we’ve been really popular in the BF RB community, which is a body focus, repetitive behavior. So like hair pulling, or skin picking, things like that, where this can be a good kind of outlet, again, for that kind of finger energy, or keep in that kind of anxious energy, nervous energy wrestles energy off of the body and kind of put it somewhere else. And plus, I mean, we work hard to make them to do like kind of really unique designs, we work with a lot of really cool artists. And so it’s something where if you didn’t know that these were calm strips, um, you just think I had some cool stickers on my phone? And that’s okay. Like, I think some people want it to be discrete. But some people, when you see them, they’ll go, Oh, what are those? And so I think that it’s kind of there’s some marketing kind of built into the product. But I definitely think that the market for it, the target demographic is definitely different than what I had imagined when we kind of first came to market.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So I mean, as a product seller, when I look at it, it’s definitely simple. I guess, no, it’s really just a script of material. What what material? Is it? How did you select that material? How did you initially start thinking about this, as you know, that, that it could be a business opportunity?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, I think, you know, it started out as actually tested, probably about 25 Different manufacturers, I tried pretty much any material that you could think of, I think one thing that was really important to me, was that, you know, we’ve had a couple of companies come out that have have knocked us off. And if you look at the stuff they have, a lot of times the feel of it is more like kind of rough side of like Velcro and some of that, like, to me I was like I wanted something that was would provide tactile feedback, but that would not be so rough that like someone could hurt themselves or scratch themselves with it. So we tested a lot of different things and we finally landed on it’s made of a high quality polypropylene, vinyl. And then we use a as well kind of a durable high quality, super clean adhesive. So one of the nice things about contracts and this was important like this is one of the things that when I was working it up was really important to me is that if people are gonna put this on their phone or their laptop, I know for me I’ve never been prior to this honestly I’ve never really been a sticker guy because I don’t like like residue and stuff being left on my products like I’m like very mutually like keep my stuff very pristine. But because of the The type of adhesive we use our knees, it actually leaves no residue. So if you want to like to peel this off, and put a different one on, or just take it off, it totally comes clean from there as well, we needed something like, again, like I’m kind of speaking to, I think the care that I like to think I took in kind of developing the product. If you look at a lot of other stuff that are out there, like the printing quality, like we’re able to use, we do like kind of a three layer process where there’s the adhesive, and then there’s we’re able to do like a full for color printing process. And we get really vibrant prints. And then we lay the texture on top of that. I think what you see in a lot of other types of like vinyl things like not even just concepts that other vinyl, is they’ll do the whole thing and then print on top of it. And that just creates really blurry kind of poor color quality. So it is a simple trust me it is a really simple at the at the end of the day in terms of what it what it appears to be. And I think that, but in terms of it being easy, I think I think we land on something that was a little bit more complicated than maybe someone else who’s doing it. But it was some of those things were really important to me, especially the reusability, the the printing quality was really important. And then the texture being right was really important. So being able to kind of tackle each of those elements independently, and now be able to kind of combine them into one product was something that was really important to me.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

What is the price point for this in the market?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, so it comes in, excuse me, it comes in a pack of five. So you got five calm strips in a pack. And then you also get a really nice custom printed envelope and a price that we have two different textures, we have soft sand, which is kind of a like kind of a subtle kind of grainy texture, those are 1099 for a pack of five. And then river rocks is our newer texture, which is kind of bumpier. And kind of more less than uniform and kind of more of a differentiating texture. And that is for a pack of five or 1299. And then we do that through our website, which is calm, strips.com. And then shipping anywhere in the US is free. So that’s included with any order. And then Canada, it’s 499. And then anywhere else 55 Other countries are just 999 we can ship kind of almost anywhere in the world.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

I guess one one interesting question that I would want to ask you in the US, you’re saying that you worked at Apple for 13 years? And of course is a, you know, I would say no best and you know, marketing design, you know, the presentation of the product, simplicity, and so forth. And have you What lessons have did you take from like, you know, just working at Apple and knowing how they do their, you know, their product and marketing and so forth? And how have you applied some of those things in in your own business?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, I think it’s like Apple honestly has had kind of an outsized impact on my life. Because even before I worked for Apple, I remember when I was a teenager, going over to my dad’s house, because my dad had g4 Tech TV, which was the only place you could watch like, now you can just go on and they, when they have a keynote, you can just watch it on live streaming on the internet. But at that time, they didn’t do that. If you want to watch it live, you had to go watch it on g4 tech TVs as like a huge fan. And then when I like ended up working for Apple, there’s just like, oh my gosh, this is you know, like, it was like my dream job when I when I first started there. And I think you know, the things that I learned I think are kind of they’re a little bit counterintuitive. I mean, I think that quality is is number one, like I think it’s you got to make sure like everything you’re doing. Steve Jobs used to talk about like when his father was a carpenter, and he used to build like a, like a wooden, like a, like a chest of drawers. And he said, you know, a kind of lesser carpenter might just like hammer a board on the back of it. But he used to say, No, you got to finish it all the way through the back. And you know, something you’ve been talking about too, is like whenever they announce a new product, like here’s a MacBook Pro, and here’s the back of it, and you’re never gonna see this because it’s gonna sit on your desk all the time. But like the back of our computer is nicer than the front of most other computers. And so just that that level, that care and concern about quality is something that I really took away. And then the other thing is customer service. I think it’s when I worked at Apple I interacted with customers directly almost all the time, like I was ad manager In a retail store, and just the the level of care, and then they have Apple Care, it’s kind of an unintentional pun. But they really went out of their way to make sure that the customer had an amazing experience. And I remember, my very first day when I started, I started actually the week the original iPhone came out, I started July 5 of 2007. And they gave us like a paper handbook. This was like the Apple Store handbook. And on the very first page, when you opened it up, it said, profit is our reward for delighting our customers. Apple philosophy. So it’s not in this room. But in the other room over here, our annex. I have a poster up that says profit is our reward for delighting our customers. It says calm strips philosophy. So I stole that, but but I think that’s something that’s really important as well, is that just a commitment to customer service? I think, you know, we want all of our customers to be happy. And I think that’s something where a lot of companies, especially when they’re starting out, rather than building for, like building customer service out as an like an integral part. It’s just kind of an afterthought. But yeah, we have, like I said, we have seven employees, four of them are in our customer service department. And that’s really because we want you email us, we want to get back to you, if you call our like, if you call our phone here in the office, like, as long as it’s during business hours, someone will answer it and thank you for calling Tom strips, or Hi, this is contrast this mic or wherever. And so like those kinds of things, I think, yeah, they go a long way. I think in the minds of customers that if they have a question or that or they need assistance, that we’re here to help out.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So do you consider your business? Is it like b2c or b2b? Because you were saying that a lot of your customers come through education systems schools? So are you selling directly to schools, like more of a b2b sense? Or do you find that most of your sales are coming to the website?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, I would say still, the lion’s share of our sales come through the website, like I would say, most months is probably 75 to 80%, or through our website. But our our kind of b2b kind of bulk. And we also do custom, we started getting into custom conscious of us, if you have an organization or a school or a charity, and you want to do comic strips with your, your company’s design on them, we’re able to do that. And I think recently, we have about 15 or 16 of those that are like currently in production. So that it’s a it’s a small but growing portion of our business where, you know, a year ago, there were only two years old as a as a business. We just had our two year business aversary on April 16. So last year, that number was zero, like our b2b, it was just everything was through the website. But I think we’re committed to both because it’s good business, but also because it’s something we’ve definitely heard from our customers that they want, that we’re kind of committed to growing, and having more offerings there as well.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Okay, make sense? When you started, did you invest a lot of your own personal money into, you know, building the product? Getting it off the ground? How did you can you share a little bit about, you know, what kind of investment went into this? I know, you went on Shark Tank also. So I’m going to ask about that next. But how do you how do you get started?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, you know, luckily, I’ve kind of always been like a jack of all trades, like I know how to do a lot of things. To do a reasonable manner. I’d say like, building the actual type infrastructure of the business in terms of like, working with the manufacturing and stuff like that, like that isn’t I was doing kind of in my part time as I was working at Apple full time. And then just building out the website. And like, that was tough, like, built it on kind of Shopify, which is a popular platform. So that was all kind of done in my part time. And it was literally just kind of Yeah, we started running social media ads, like once we had the product in hand, and we had everything ready to go. Our initial packaging was just in like regular kind of white paper envelopes, and just started running some Facebook ads, just like pictures of the product and descriptions of what it is and like literally started just spending $5 a day on on Facebook ads. And, you know, I saw a decent return and they were like, well, what if we spend 10 And like I remember the first day that I spent, like $100 on Facebook ads. It was like, oh my god, I can’t wait. I gotta hope we have a successful day today. And so Oh, I think that was kind of the upslope of like in terms of the business. And then once we kind of outgrew our capability, I think once we kind of hit about 75 to 100 orders a day, it kind of outgrew our capability of like me and my wife, like we have two kids as well, like, we have a nine year old and a five year old ad just became too much for us to be able to be able to do kind of in our part time, so I was able to bring in Lucy, who is my my business partner, she’s absolutely amazing, amazing person, amazing. business woman entrepreneur, she’s fantastic. And I, you know, I think she came in and she literally like was in this office, just packing orders and shipping them during the day just kind of helping out. And then just slowly but surely, we kind of grew it from there, we started our first day selling to customers was April 16, of 2020. July 5 2020, I was able to do was my last day at Apple and I was able to kind of dedicate myself to this full time, but it all like it started just like literally it was probably about 10 or $15,000 in my money to like bring the product to market. And that’s just like product development, you know, initial setup costs and all that kind of fun stuff. But we’re very much like I think people, you know, like you mentioned, like we were on Shark Tank. Recently, like that kind of was just I want to say it fell into our lap. But it was a lot of work. But it was not something that we kind of actively sought out. But we’re very much a bootstrapped startup. I mean, we haven’t even we haven’t raised $1 of outside funds, like everything is, you know, we use proceeds from our sales to kind of run the business so and then, and that’s something that I’m proud of. And I think it’s something that we kind of keeps our focus on running lean, and also being profitable, which are things I think, too many businesses don’t worry enough about, is are those things. And so I think that’s something that I’m a piece of it that I’m proud of as well.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Basically, it seems like you know, you put your product out there, and you started running some ads, and it worked. And it kind of grew from there. Yeah, I’m very curious, like, did you like what kind of messaging did you send out initially, like an on those ads? Have you? Did you think about that quite a bit? I mean, the ads have to connect with the customer. Because with something like this, that, you know that that’s not available in the market. That’s like sometimes you have to show people what it is and what positive use for and things like that. I’m very curious. How did you How do you create that messaging?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, I think I think that was another thing that I kind of, took away from from Apple is kind of like that, like you mentioned earlier, like marketing. And I think their product design and marketing isn’t just like, what it looks like, it’s what it does. And so we I kind of came up with this tagline at the very beginning, which was kind of also the headline for a lot of our ads, initially, and we still use it from time to time, which is like, take a little bit of calm with you everywhere. And it was, I think that resonated especially, you know, finding like we launched in April of 2020, which was kind of right at the beginning of the of the pandemic. And I think that message really resonated with people. And I think we were obviously we had no idea that that was something that was going to happen. And in fact, I remember talking to my wife about like, maybe we should like wait for you know, a better time to do this, because it seems kind of like the world’s going crazy right now. And she made the point like as terrible as it is the world’s always going to be crazy, like always be something going on that battle stop, you got everything ready to go, like, like, you should go for it. But I think the timing, and the message I felt like were both like kind of went hand in hand. And I think almost for the first few months, like we have a friend of mine who I worked with at Apple who is also a professional photographer, like that’s his kind of main gig. And he did some really great product shots of people holding the phone or using it on a laptop and I think we kind of wanted to feel kind of like hip and cool. And kind of talk to your customers who can use a product like this in a way that maybe they’re not used to was being communicated with, I guess, are being marketed to kind of more of that kind of Apple kind of spirit of it, I guess. And so I think that’s an that’s really helped us is that or resonated with people is that I think we view our customers and treat our customers with like the utmost respect. And like when we’re marketing and talking to them, we we, my goal is that that kind of comes through in every touchpoint, whether you’re buying something from our website, or you’re dealing with one of our or working with one of our customer service people, or you are seeing an ad from us on social media that it all feels like it’s like a cohesive part of like one whole company, I guess.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So you went to Shark Tank? Can you share a little bit about, you know, how you got the opportunity? What kind of preparation went into it? And I know, on the episode that shows that you close the deal, but did you actually end up? You know, taking the money and work?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, so that’s still kind of under wraps. We’re still kind of working through that. So I can’t really talk about that part of it. But I can talk about kind of the process of the show was I remember coming in to the office, I sat down on my computer to check my email, and we had email come in just through our customer care email. I was like, Hi, my name is Marina, I’m a producer for Shark Tank, I saw an ad for your company. Yeah, would you guys have any interest in like Lucy and I also do like a live every week where we like to interview different like people in the community, or like people with, like, we mentioned, BF RB community, or like sensory awareness on things like that. And we have fun doing that. So I think they might have seen that and been like, Oh, they’ve got kind of a good or good, wholesome vibe. So like, I remember thinking, like, I didn’t even wasn’t even sure we were gonna do it. Like, it seems like a no brainer. Now looking back on it, but at the beginning is like, I don’t know, if we’re even ready for this, like we’ve been in business like, not even a year, like when when we got the initial outreach, but I was like, You know what, same thing we talked about earlier with, like, when to start the business, it’s like, this might never come around again, they’re not gonna wait for us, like, they’re not gonna be like, well, you know, they don’t want to do right now. We’ll come back next year. So we just kind of went through. And it was this whole process of like, working on the pitch and working on, like, turning it like, tons of stuff to let them know about our business and all that kind of stuff. And I just remember, like Lucy and I talking and like always thinking that like, like, at some point, they’re going to like figure out that like, we’re just like calm strips in Newport News, Virginia, and they’re going to be like, they’re going to move on to somebody else and, or not have us out. And like, we just kind of kept going, like, we just kind of kept going and kept going. And then we went out to film it like that was back in July of last year. And it was a it was a great experience. But it was definitely a tremendous amount of work to prepare for it. Like making sure that because I think we have a product that is, like you said it’s very simple. On its surface. And so I think just making sure that we were ready for any kind of possible permutations of directions where things could go. And I thought, you know, kind of looking back at the episode. It’s funny, because like, we were probably out there for like almost an hour, like probably 50 or 55 minutes. And then I think our segments, like eight or nine minutes long, so there’s a lot more like denser business stuff in there. But yeah, it’s just incredibly proud of us for doing it’s like a once in a lifetime thing. I mean, how many people can say you’re on Shark Tank, we gotta do it. Like, like, it’s it’s like one of those things that it’s like, kind of it was never a bucket list thing for me. It was never something I like aspired to. But it was still a thrill. I mean, I’m not gonna lie and be like, Oh, it wasn’t that big a deal. I mean, it’s a big deal. It was it was super exciting. And hopefully, it’s something where in the future if we’re ultimately able to kind of move forward with with the deals and everything like that, that it can help our business kind of continue to grow.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

In terms of your fulfillment and shipping because it’s kind of a very light product. I’m assuming that it’s very easy to ship it’s really just an envelope, you can put an item and ship it out. So you don’t have to worry too much about negotiating rates or things like that. Can you share a little bit about you know, how, how your warehouse and who packages it how you ship it out?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, we do. We do all of our own packing and shipping out of our office here. Sushant Can I take you on I got a field trip to our, to our fulfillment.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Sure I think you got disconnected or

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

so we’re kind of in this little office park and we rent three rooms in this larger kind of complex is where the magic happens. So this is our annex. So you can see we have on ships kind of inventory here. And all the custom envelopes and exciting stuff and shipping mailers and things like that. And then we have three packing stations. So we have each kind of design and then we’ll just print a packing slip and then go from there. But yeah, that’s it. So and then we have a garage door here where we have postal service comes in does pickups, if it’s ups, they’ll either pick it up, or we’ll go drop it off. But yeah, we still do it in house. I mean, there’s been a lot of, especially since Shark Tank, we’ve had tons of like third party fulfillment places reach out to us and be like, Hey, you should move it. Let’s do it. Number one, I’d like to be able to employ people in the local community. So I like to kind of keep that in house here. But also it just, you know, the cheapest I’ve been able to find, which I don’t think would be at the same level of quality of what we’re doing here is still almost twice the cost of us doing it ourselves. So for right now we’re going to keep it keep it in house. But yeah, we do all of our, our packing and shipping right here from Newport News, Virginia, our biggest challenge, honestly, was has been international shipping. So like Canada, Canada, especially with super expensive, and then overseas. But we’re slowly but surely figuring that out. And we’ve been able to find some services that that are kind of catered towards business like ours. Because the thing is like a lot of international shipping is we found is predicated on a lot of them, like especially third party fulfillment, they get like a per shipment costs. So for us, we’re sending out a large number of small products, they’re not really built to support us in that way. Because there’s a lot it’s $3 Every time we ship something out on top of your regular shipping costs, it’s a couple of bucks every time. And so for us he was we’re kind of trying to sell in large quantities. That hasn’t worked for us. So I think for now we’re going to keep it in house. And I think you know, right now it feels like that’s something that we can do for the foreseeable future. Like you said, we’re lucky we have a small product, small in terms of footprint. It’s non perishable. So I mean, we can store them either here or we we do have a storage unit as well. I want to take you there because it’s like four miles down the road. But we have a storage unit as well. So we got to keep stuff in hand for when we need it. But yeah, we do all of that right here out of our offices.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Yeah, so it makes it almost makes it a perfect product, I think for E commerce. And yeah, it’s no wonder why someone like Shark Tank isn’t interested in this. Now we’re going to move on to our rapid fire segment. And in this segment, I’m going to ask you a few questions and you have to answer them in one word or two word or short short sentence. The first one is one book recommend recommendation for entrepreneurs or business professionals in 2020 to

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

a man I would recommend there’s a great book by Seth Godin called all marketers are liars which is an older one of his books. I think it’s his best one Purple Cow as well. I’m sorry you said one I just gave you two I’m a huge fan of his like he had been Steve Jobs are probably my two big like kind of business like people that I really look up to. But I think his whole conception of doing something exceptional that that all of the regular stuff is already taken like tide with bleach exists. You’re not going to invent tide with bleach like the products that are for everyone already exist. So you got to go and find your kind of your tribe and the people who are Gonna your products gonna resonate with. And that’s something I feel like is really going to become even more important I think because as we get more and more kind of segmented as a as a culture, being able to be really important to fewer people I think becomes even more and more important. So all marketers are liars Purple Cow by Safco

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

and innovative product or idea and the current ecommerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about.

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

I’m a huge like, I have I’ve become especially since starting this I’ve become like Mr. E commerce, like I order so much stuff from you from E commerce companies that I’m a huge like, I will say what a company that I really look up to is Lumi l u m e with a little swirl, they make deodorant, which is kind of sounds like it’s a commodity product. But if you look at their marketing, and kind of the way they built their brand, it kind of makes it makes it fun and engaging to buy deodorant, which is not something you would usually think. But I have a tremendous amount of respect for any company that takes something that seems like it’s a commodity product and makes it interesting again, like I’m literally like I’ve got on my these are. These are called kicks, which are shoes you could just slip on like that’s their big pitch like you just slip them on slipping off your hands free shoes. I was like I’m in so yeah, I think in ecommerce like anything like, like I said, like the stuff for everybody is already taken. So anyone who’s doing something interesting on the edges, where I look at and go, this seems cool. or somebody’s gonna do something interesting with something that’s not like that, that seems really boring, like deodorant that’s on me that I have a tremendous amount of respect for.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So let’s let’s continue. So a business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah. I’m a big fan of pro productivity tip. Mel Robbins, the five second rule, I’m a big fan of hers. And just that general methodology, which is kind of just like breaking through the resistance in the moment. I know, for me, I’m someone who traditionally like I always hit snooze on my alarm, and I have a hard time. But just like that 54321 and move. That’s something that has always been super helpful for me. productivity tools, and we use pretty much all except for like, we don’t do anything. Custom, like everything we use is kind of off the shelf. But I’m a big fan of, we use a tool for our customer service emails called groove. And it basically works on top of your existing like Gmail or email infrastructure. But it allows you to create tickets and track kind of purchase history and collaborate better. So if one person started something, they can see all the history before we were just managing it all with an email. So that’s one where it’s not so kind of it’s not so over the top, it’s like a like a CRM or something like that. But it’s a way more powerful than email. And for us kind of where we are as a business. It’s something that’s really been like, the sweet spot for us for customer communications.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

That’s really interesting. I’m going to get back.

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

I think it’s groov hq.com. Is the website

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

appear entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you?

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yeah, that’s a that’s a. That’s a really good question. I think like, you know, I mentioned her earlier, but like, my wife, she’s not like she’s, we did a business together before calm strips a few years ago called Mondal every month, which we had she baked this really tasty. It’s kind of like a Piscotty Mondal bread and we would ship it out like kind of like it was like a subscription box for Mundell bread. And it’s where I’ve learned a lot of the fulfillment stuff that we’ve improved here at comm strips. But I think her kind of spirit and energy and then just Lucy who’s my business partner, like she’s someone who is tremendous with people and I’ve always inspires me to stay kind of within my own sphere, outside of calm strips. World. Yeah, I mentioned earlier, kind of my history with Apple and so 13 years as an employee, probably 10 years as a fan before that, but yeah, I kind of always when I worked at Apple, and we talked about that Isn’t this like talking to business customers and things like that, I used to always say like, don’t forget that this company you work for now, which is the biggest company in the entire world, was started by a couple guys in a garage, right. And so I think, you know, when I, anyone who has the spirit to go out there and say, I’ve got an idea, like, let’s go out and do it, I have a tremendous amount of respect for. And so I think just more so than any individual person, just kind of that spirit that exists to say, I’ve got an idea, let’s go do it. I think it’s an it’s kind of quintessentially as it’s called, essentially American, but it’s quintessentially part of our DNA as as a culture inside something that I just have a tremendous amount of

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

respect for. Best business advice you have ever received, or you would give to other entrepreneurs.

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

I think that the, the biggest one that I would give to give to entrepreneurs is number one, like just go for it. There’s always gonna be stuff that isn’t going to work out are stuff that’s in your way, or stuff that seems like the wind is at your phone, and then start small. Like I see so many of these businesses, sometimes even on like Shark Tank, we mentioned it, where they’re on and they’re like, here, we got square bread. And they’re like, cool. Tell us about your sales and stuff in there. Like, we’d have $52,000 in sales, and we’re $2 million in debt. And I’m like, how how, how did this happen? So like, just start, like, do it within your means, like, like, don’t think you gotta go out there and be like, Yo, do do a round of financing and get a million dollars to start a business. You can start it in your, in your house, you can start it wherever I think there’s, you know, that’d be my biggest thing. Like just start and start small and then let your you know, your cash flow dictate where you go. Don’t I think there’s so many companies I see that their biggest way like questions I get asked all the time is like, how do I raise capital? How do I raise funds and I’m like, you haven’t done any sales yet. Like start start there and like build something and then the capital you’ll be able to get it once you once you have the cash flow. That’d be like everything just start and start small and and number three real quick customer service, build it in at the beginning and hire absolutely amazing customer service people I work with so many amazing people a lot, a lot of whom worked with me at Apple, not all of them but who followed me on this crazy contracts adventure, but like Lucy worked with me at Apple, Mike and now I’m Suzy who didn’t work with me at Apple, but is tremendous as well. So Liz, you just everyone or Josh who does fulfillment. But we have a really great team and I think surround yourself with really great people and put the customer at the center of everything that you’re you’re doing from the start don’t don’t let it be like an afterthought.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

That’s awesome. And you were able to bring a lot of colleagues from Apple that last question. I know, in every entrepreneurs journey, there’s always you know, challenges, failures, lessons learned. Can you share maybe your biggest failure? What was the lesson for you? What can other entrepreneurs learn from it? I think

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

you know, my biggest failure I think in terms of like calm strips itself, I think was like I mentioned earlier about starting small which I think that was really good. But I think what happened kind of initially was as we were kind of up ticking like as we were starting to ramp up I didn’t like fully believe that that this is what was happening and so I like there was a period for probably two or three months where we had little or no inventory of most things and we were just selling you know, a promise be like hey, we’ll ship it to you as soon as we get it and we were upfront with people about it but I think kind of that was a moment where that that was a really tough time where it was like we weren’t getting inventory and fast if you want to again we couldn’t pack it to ship it fast enough. So I would say like if you’re seeing growth don’t like all of a sudden go crazy and you know mortgage everything to make it happen. But kind of believe in it i That’s something that I still struggle with kind of day in and day out which is like we’ll have a day like like any business we have days where we have really good sales day and then we have days where it’s a little bit slower. And we’ll still have days where we have a slow day and I’ll go well that’s it I mean it’s been a good run guys let’s let’s close like because like it’s like just have that kind of faith. But I think the biggest mistakes I’ve made or failure So I’ve been where I haven’t believed either in myself and the team and the product. And I’ve kind of been too pessimistic. I think so I think for me, that’s something that I kind of work on on combat and on a regular basis, which is trying to stay more positive and make business decisions in a way that will be accurate, but also your views the future as a as a positive thing for, for the team and for the business.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Cool. Thank you so much for sharing that. Those were all the questions that I had. Anyone who has to buy, who wants to buy, comes through its work and go and buy.

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Yep. Tom ships.com is the exclusive online home of all of our comm strips. So go check it out. We have all the five packs we talked about. We have classroom packs, school packs, really cool aluminum carry tags, if you are carrying your conscience around with you. So do check it out. contracts.com You can learn more about them. And then also you can purchase them there

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

as well. Perfect. Thank you, Michael, for sharing your story, your startup story, you know how you grew your business, all the strategies and tactics and also for the failures that you went through in building this business. Very, very inspirational. So thank you again, for joining me today. Trep talks and sharing your story.

Michael Malkin of Calm Strips  

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Thank you

Also, get inspired to Create a Profitable Online Business with Lindsey McCoy – Building a Sustainable, Plastic Free Bath and Body Products Business


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