Inventions, Patents & SharkTank with SubSafe Inventor and Co-Founder Desiree Haller
Today I’m joined by Desiree Haller, Founder and inventor of SubSafe.
SubSafe is what I like to call a simple stroke of genius - and it truly is so genius I just couldn’t believe it didn’t exist already. SubSafe is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the first product designed to protect a sub sandwich in a cooler, and they’ve since expanded into an entire line of products all intended for outdoor use.
In this conversation we’re talking through the patent and trademark process, how they sold their beloved boat to fund the business and how they got the word out there on a $0 marketing budget.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
My name is Desiree. I live in port Orange Florida and the business is SubSafe. Amazing. Do you want to elaborate a little bit on what sub safe is for anyone who might not know what your products are. Absolutely. So initially our products was the first water group and crushed group container for a sub sandwich. So there were lots of products out there for square sandwiches and different types of food and soup and pretty much everything else. But until us, nobody had created a container to transport a good old traditional sub sandwich. So that was it. We recognize that there was a need and you know, one thing we love to do is go boating and the outside and pack the cooler and we would always get some sandwiches and we could never find anything to put them in the resealable bags they leaked and it was just always an issue for us.
00:04:43Edit So once we realized that there was nothing on the market, we decided to do it ourselves. It's so crazy. It actually blows my mind because when you talk about it, I'm like, oh yeah, like I get it, I totally see the problem, but I also would 100% assume there was already something filling that need. Like it's, it's crazy. I know in likewise in the beginning, I'm sort of a realist, kind of a pessimist and my husband is an internal optimist. So I was like when we were doing the patent process was like, there's no way Rubbermaid or tupperware, one of these companies already has something, we just don't know about it or it's already patented. So when we figured out that there was truly nothing out there and we could protect it and filed the patent. I personally was blown away. I was, I just kept waiting for someone to come across it already. Yeah. Oh my gosh, I want to go back to that initial phase of coming up with the light bulb moment and having these kind of early discussions around what this could be and what the vision would be for the business.
00:05:48Edit Can you take us back to that time and what you guys were talking about and how it kind of unfolded absolutely. Um it was initially my husband's idea and my execution is what we always say, but he, you know, sometimes not to be sexist, but men can be a little bit creatures of habit. So he would always do the same thing that he would get the stuff every time we were going on the boat and every time he was going fishing. So, and it would always end up soggy and I can't fathom that there had to be another solution. It's like we're just standing over the cooler, like, oh well guess we're not eating today. Like, you know, soggy bread is just absolutely disgusting, but that's just how it started. And there was a lot of conversations, like I mentioned, I was kind of determined to find something for him. This seems like a lot of work to start it, but we made a lot of sacrifices and a lot of hard decisions in the beginning.
00:06:50Edit But ultimately through the entire process, my husband always said, even if I only get one for myself and this is a total flop, it will be worth it. This journey will be worth it to me. So, you know, he has a lot more than one of them now. But here we are. Amazing. I'm curious about when you were kind of having the realization moment to the point where you thought, oh, maybe we could start a business. How long was that? And when you had that moment of clarity, I guess you could say of we're actually going to do this, what happens next? Well, it was a longer process for us than it probably is for some people because we didn't have the capital and the means to move full speed ahead. Everything that we did had to be done in stages because we were using our savings and we were skipping family vacations and we even sold our boat to place our first order, which has kind of become our storyline with shark tank and everything. But you know, we were not able to just say like Oh here's $25,000 for the patents and here's $10,000 for the mold and the manufacturing and it just took us a lot longer.
00:08:00Edit We have to kind of move in a more humble way initially. Mm and is that how much it actually did cost in the beginning in terms of what you needed to invest. Was it 10,000 for the mold and 25,000 for the patent process? Um I kind of just threw out those numbers but I would say we definitely have at least 25,000 now into attorney's fees for the patents and trademarking and everything. And then I believe our mold with 7500, I believe that's what we paid for our first injection molds first set. And then you consider the, you know, they won't just make, we manufacture in china, they're not just going to make us 100 of them to see if it works. You know, I think our first order was 7000 units and that was as low as they were willing to. You know, that was the M. O. Q. That was the middle of mortar quantity. So then we had to pay for that. So that's actually when we sold the boat and we really took the plunge, right. And I have so many questions about this early phase, but I'm going to start with this one.
00:09:05Edit What was the people around you saying? Like what did your friends and family and you know, potential customers? Like what was everyone's reaction when you told them like, hey, we're going to start essentially a tupperware company for sub sandwiches. We have mixed reactions. I mean we both come from very supportive families. So there wasn't a lot of negativity directly from our family, but you know, some of the friends just didn't get it. And I'm just the type of person where, and I just learned this from other family members and people I admire. I like to get a lot of opinions before I make a decision. Doesn't mean I'm gonna take them, Doesn't mean I'm gonna take any of them. But I just like to really weigh in. So I was that person who was asking anybody and everybody, hey, would you buy this? How much would you pay for this? Do you see a need for this And especially living in florida where we're surrounded by water and lakes and rivers and everything. So many people said yes and said absolutely, it would be so easy and so nice to just get a sub sandwich and be on the boat all day and know that it's not going to get soggy and have something that I can trust.
00:10:13Edit And I would actually eat more sub sandwiches if that were they believe. So it was kind of in that moment where I started to gain some confidence in the whole concept and made those decisions of sacrifice easier, moving forward. Mm And I think it's a really important one to note because for anyone listening who might be experiencing some kind of pushback or some kind of reaction that isn't the dream, ideal reaction. It's important to keep going and keep talking to people who would be your potential customers, not just your friends and family and try and find people who would be, you know, in the pool of initial customers and get your confidence that way. I think it's a good point that you make about being able to build that confidence from those positive reactions. Yeah, absolutely. I always tell people what do you think this is a good idea? And I'm like, well, my opinion is only one opinion. Speak to strangers. Talk to strangers, ask complete strangers what they think and that's because everyone's going to tell you, I think it was Daymond john who said like everyone is going to tell you your baby's cute. Nobody's going to tell you you have an ugly baby that's kind of the same way as people who care about you in business, You know, everyone's going to tell you your products.
00:11:22Edit Amazing. So you have to seek out some unbiased opinions totally. That's so true. I'm wondering about the patent process and how you kind of got started. And was that before the manufacturing piece of the puzzle or like how did that work in terms of those two things coming together? Yes. I mean if you have a product, I mean granted, if you're just going to launch a cup line and you're a couple of, it's going to be a little different. That may not necessarily be a patentable product and you're not going to be infringing on anybody else's patent because you can't patent the cut. You can't patent a paper plate. There's a certain things that are to comment, but for something like something, it's so niche. And we only wanted to move forward if we could patent it. But also we wanted to make sure that we wouldn't be infringing on anybody else's pad. So even though tupperware for instance, may have never made a container for subs or Rubbermaid or any of those companies, they might have owned patents for it.
00:12:28Edit And it might be down the line that they have those plans. So we had to make sure that first and foremost we weren't infringing on anybody else. So that's why we made sure we took that time initially and made that investment and for you, like with your product. What is it about? The product that's patentable. Is that even a word patentable? You know what I mean? Yes, absolutely. So it is, it's the shape like I mentioned earlier, there are lots of containers on the market that are made for square sandwiches, but there is nothing that is just round on the end, long cylinder for a sub sandwich. Got it, got it, got it, got it. Okay. So you find out that you can patent the product, you've got an idea in your mind and then you've got to go out and find the manufacturer. What were the key learnings for you in finding a manufacturer and you know, choosing the partner that you were going to work with. That was probably the only easy part for us. I have a family members who have been manufacturing in China for a long time.
00:13:36Edit Not the same type of products, but numerous products. So they were able to, and I'm talking about like 20 years worth of a relationship. So they just kind of took me under their umbrella and it's extended the same Terms and conditions and pricing that they would to a 20 year long relationship and that made the entire process just really smooth. And I know that that's a very rare thing. So I don't, I don't even really love to share that because I also hear so many horror stories and it just breaks your heart of it not working out well. But in our specific situation, they had millions of dollars worth of sales for my family, my cousin on the line. So they weren't going to Send me a measly 7000 units that were faulty, you know. So we just had an incredible experience at the end of the day. You know, I would say to somebody who is just starting out, don't just happen to flight and go to china and try to source it yourself, partner with somebody who already has a good relationship.
00:14:41Edit Even if you have to give them a little kickback or something because you just want to be able to trust it's a big investment to get your first order of something product mm And you said that you ordered was at 7500 of your first, you know, batch or first inventory order. Had you had any retail placements or retail orders at that time or that was kind of like you're going to receive the stock and you're going to launch and go to market and see what happens. We had nothing figured out. So I remember standing there when the truck arrived. If we didn't even have a retail space or a warehouse or anything. So they're getting unloaded off of this truck. And I'm just looking at him like I don't think I realized how many, 7500 was until that moment. But I just remember thinking, what have I done? How am I going to sell all of these women? I couldn't even fathom it back then and to kind of jump right into marketing in the beginning as I'm sure you can imagine we didn't have a budget for that, so we had to just kind of do everything organically.
00:15:47Edit And one thing that I realized was I didn't have the funding to run social media ads and take out ads and magazines and run a commercial on tv. But I had product and in that moment that is all that I had to give. So I would reach out to anyone and everyone in the industry whether it was voters or fishermen or social media influencers and I would say, hey, you know, this doesn't exist yet, this is a brand new product, you've never seen it, I would love to send you one and I started doing that and slowly but surely people were re posting and they were just sort of sharing our products sometimes they can of course that social influencing is a business and I understand that and now we do pay social media influencers but at that time there were some people who are willing to do it, just sort of as an investment in us and say that I'll help you out panel but when you guys make it, you're gonna have to pay for me and and you know that's kind of how a lot of our relationship started, but we also ended up getting some features and some fishing and boating, magazines and tv shows and it just kind of started happening where money was coming back in and then we were able to start really advertising right And how long did it take for you to sell that 1st 70 500 units?
00:17:11Edit We received it the last day of february and we ordered our next container. I want to say October one we were sold out. We were ready a long time before then but we were still finalizing our shark tank deal. So we had to wait until the funding came through when the due diligence was done from the deal we made right? Got It. So maybe maybe four months it took us 5.5 to be seen and that was including you being on shark tank or that was like pre the shark tank recording. What year are we talking about just to paint the picture here. We aired on shark tank in 2019. We filmed in 2018. Got it, got it, got it. Okay and so you had sold out of the 7500 before the shark tank or that was including the filming? No so we sold out before we were on air. Right? Got it. Okay so you fully like proven the concept you were there you realize like the demand what was actually driving that growth you know if we actually break it down and think about like 7500 is a lot, right, what was actually driving those sales?
00:18:25Edit Well we did a lot of things, a lot of it was coming through our website. We also did get on amazon during that time. So we came to find out we weren't the only one searching for some tupperware and that was all very organic. So we saw a lot of sales, they're not even from any advertising, there was just actually people out there looking for this product. And another thing that I did was I reached out to fishing tournaments and I would say the k can I just send you some products to get to some of your captain's, get to some of your fishermen just because we're trying to get the word out. So what would happen was the fishermen would receive their sub safe for the tournament and then use it. And then we would see a big influx of sales in whatever area that was. And a lot of times it was, we would give out like charcoal or grey too, most of the ones who are predominantly male fishing tournaments. And then we would see a bunch of pink ones sold in the same area and I'm like, they're going home and they're showing their significant others this product and the wives and the girlfriends and whoever's are saying the daughters are going, I want one and I want, you know, I want a pink one.
00:19:33Edit So that was just another way where It was almost like give away one cell 3 type of situation and we realized that that was working for us with the margin. So everything was just reiterating that we weren't crazy to start this business. Yeah. Gosh, Absolutely. You touched on something there that I'm curious to dig more into and understand better. Especially for anyone listening who might be currently in the process of dealing with the manufacturer and setting their pricing. How did you approach the pricing model when it came to what you were paying per unit versus what people were happy to pay and kind of finding that happy balance. I again, I asked a lot of opinions. I wanted to make sure that we weren't priced in price out any demographic. And the way that we ultimately looked at it was we want our product to the equivalent of losing having to throw away to sub sandwiches. So the average price of a sub sandwich, a large sub sandwiches anywhere from $7-9 10 being the most thing I've ever seen.
00:20:42Edit And so we said, okay, if you have to throw away two sandwiches in your life because it was not protected, then that's the price of our products and that's just kind of willing, oh my God, I love that. That's so genius. There's also like part of your marketing language. That is so cool. I love that. Yeah. Two. Hey, it's doing here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the fsc show. You'll hear women who were just like you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business and I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now. You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned facebook and instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix from today onwards. I'm really excited to be able to offer our fsc small business owners and entrepreneurs and no strings attached.
00:21:51Edit Our long chat with leading performance marketing agency amplifier, who you might also remember from our D. I. Y. Course, Full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business. And what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness first hand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as $10,000 a month all the way to $300,000 a month. And in some cases upwards to seven figures. So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started, go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads. That's female startup club dot com forward slash A. D. S. And booking a call today. I want to switch to talk about the shark tank experience. How did it come about? And do you want to just talk a little bit about that? Yeah, absolutely.
00:22:57Edit So I mentioned that we got our first products the last day in february of 2018 and two weeks later we were at a just a little pop up thing where we set up a time we were selling products and everyone who came up was just like you guys need to go on shark tank, you guys need to go on shark tank. So like you know what, I'm just gonna apply, I'm just gonna send the email, I'm just gonna apply. And we did and we heard back almost right away. And in the beginning, you know, there are a lot of applicants on shark tank and they let you know that. So I knew that there were like 37,000 applicants that year or something and they only take 150 out to L. A. to shoot and film before the sharks. And then some were cut right then and there before they were able to film and then they only air somewhere around 100. So your chances. I mean the entire time back to me being a little bit of a pessimist.
00:24:00Edit I was like there's no way there's no way they're gonna take us, there's no way they're going to choose this. We just have this silly food products and that's it. And it was a long process. I don't ever want to make it seem like it was easy or you know, some quick decision. It was a lot of back and forth. A lot of interviews, a lot of submitting videos and contracts that were hundreds of pages long and signing nds and there's a lot to it. But ultimately, when we, when we were told that we were chosen to go to L. A. And film, it was the absolute most amazing day. I mean, I'm sure you can imagine it was, it was a lot of emotions but just humbled and grateful. We're at the top. We were so excited. Sounds super, super fun and super cool. You also came away with a really exciting deal with Two Sharks. How did it go? Like after you finished airing and what was the impact the next day or even that night kind of when the show went live, it was wild.
00:25:04Edit Um A lot of sharks are a lot of entrepreneurs that go on chart to handle the night of the airing very differently. Some of them decided to just stay home and stay on twitter and social media all night and be responding to people, but we wanted to have a party. So we had a party, we didn't, we didn't stay out too late and I think it was like six a.m. We got up the next morning and got to the warehouse to start filling orders and it took us an entire week with help with employees with all hands on deck to get all of the orders fulfilled that we received from the show. The exposure is just, there's no price that you can put on it, you're putting your product in front of millions of people. And you know, of course not every product is going to be for every person, but luckily for us, there were a lot of voters and beachgoers and campers and people who understood our lifestyle and just understood our product and it helps that we got the deal, you know, that that alone, Mark and Charles putting their name in their money behind us.
00:26:08Edit I mean that was just so significant. Oh my gosh, I bet. That's so cool. Are you able to share? Like how many units you actually sold in that? You know, say week after you ed um I honestly don't know the units, but I know that at one point I sent an email, I think it was within 24 hours to market Charles and said we've hit six figures. So for a $17 product. So because some people, you know, it was 2000, even back then tomorrow is a DVR recording your shows and watching them another night of the big things. So our episode aired at 10 PM and that's less late for a lot of people. So what happened was around like 6:00 The next day we saw another huge influx because people were sitting down and starting to watch the show that they missed the night before. So the entire week was very intense and the orders continue to come in and then, you know, sometimes people will go, I'm guilty of it all the time.
00:27:13Edit I add something to my cart and then I get distracted. And so that's where our abandoned car email campaign really came into play and reminded people like, hey, you still have something in your car. So things were steady for that entire week. Mm Gosh, how exciting. Something I've heard from other people who have been on shark tank is that things can obviously go wrong if you don't have your manufacturing set up and you aren't able to scale up when needed and if you didn't have the right amount of inventory that was kind of expected to sell through, I guess you could say was there any challenges that came, you know, those bittersweet kind of challenges that come with that crazy amount of exposure and those crazy pr opportunities. Absolutely! For an entire year after airing on shark tank. We have an inventory shortage nightmare. I mean in the best way possible because it is, it is such a blessing and a curse at the same time to not be able to keep up with the demand. But we were also in the process of rolling out to some major retailers and it was like, we could just never, we were constantly having to tell either be sold out on our website or be sold out on amazon or tell the retailer that we couldn't fill the P.
00:28:30Edit O. So it was a challenge for sure. I don't think anyone can properly forecast your inventory situation after something as significant as airing on shark tank or even just growing in those, those first couple of years because you just can't predict what's going to happen, what store is going to do really well with it, What store might not, might be a slower sell through what your website is going to do. So it was uh challenge to say the least after that kind of year of ironing out those kinks with the inventory kind of finding your new groove and that kind of thing. And the shark tank like Storm had kind of settled a little bit. What were the things you were doing to keep growing and keep that momentum going after that. At that point we were able to start advertising properly advertising and we of course had the capital to do. So. So we started social media campaigns, We did some advertising in magazines.
00:29:34Edit We continue to reach out to social media influencers. That was a big part of it, but the main thing that we did was we started going to trade shows, so not necessarily all true trade shows, but we went to, I call them cash shows, it's grabbing though, like customers can actually buy them. They're so folks shows and different things where you're selling your product right then and there and then traditional trade shows to where you're just talking to retail buyers and presenting your products there. Oh my gosh, amazing. And so when you think about the team and today, where is the business today? And what does say the next 12 months look like for you? Well, the businesses has grown um, quite a bit, but even more than that, we've continued to develop an entire product line. We started with a three piece set that was just sub safe. And now we have developed a six piece set where all the pieces are interchangeable and it makes little snack sizes and has been drinking lids and we also launched products called Wine State.
00:30:40Edit So that is for transporting your wine, either in your luggage or in your car, in the cooler. So we've rebranded a little bit and now we say we're a cooler lifestyle and the goal is just to continue building products and and creating little niche categories where people who are like us and live out of a cooler all weekend and want to be outside as much as possible, where we just make their lives easier, genius. I love that. So cool. It is a cooler lifestyle. What is your key piece of advice for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business? Well, I mean just go for it. I mean I didn't know anything about launching a product, bringing a product to market, patenting a product, manufacturing products. I had to learn everything. I even joke and say that I did everything the wrong way first so that now I know how to do it the right way because I just felt like there were so many hurdles and unforeseen circumstances but it's such a growing process and I am so much stronger and smarter at this point when it comes to business.
00:31:58Edit So I wouldn't trade any of those failures for anything. So just go for it. I mean you just don't, I can't tell you how many people I've met along the way who said, oh I have this idea and then it came out to the market or you know, they always say someone stole it, but they just didn't move fast enough. So get with an attorney, make some sacrifices and just do it totally. I love that when you say hurdles and the challenges, are there any that come to mind kind of the obvious ones that you can share for our listeners. I think it's great to hear all the success and the cool things that's going on and whether businesses are today. But it's also super important to acknowledge that it is really tough journey and there are hard times. And so I'd love to hear of any challenges in particular that come to mind definitely. Well, first and foremost is definitely the inventory. I mean that was significant and having to go back to a retailer buyer who had taken you and with your tail between your legs and say, uh, this isn't going to happen and you know, apologize for that.
00:33:08Edit But other than that, it's been a lot of little things. Nothing really other, biggest coming to mind at this moment. But I mean in the beginning we didn't know about a certain patent and figuring that out. We thought we were applying for one thing and really reapplied for another thing. So that cost us a lot of time and money. We had a trademark that faulty Attorney never filed. So our trademark wasn't even done. But now I know how to check on all those things. You know, I know how to get in the database and I could probably write a pattern at this point, you know, but in the beginning you just don't know, you don't know what you're doing wrong. So you just have to do it first. You just have to fall down and pick yourself back up because there's really no other way to keep moving forward. Oh my gosh! All of that sounds so crazy. The faulty trademark Attorney Holy moly What the devil! That's crazy. I know I'm going to do your research on people. That's for sure. Yeah.
00:34:11Edit Key learning key learning that at the end of every episode, I always ask a series of the same six quick questions to everyone I speak to and some of the questions we might have already covered, but I asked them all the same at the end. So question number one is, what's your, why? Why do you do what you do? My why is definitely my Children. I have two boys, not even so much to have something to pass on to them, but I want them to grow up knowing that women can do anything that men can do and I want them to respect any future woman that's in their life the way that they respect their mama. So that's my wife. That's incredible. I love that motion number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that made the business pop outside of shark tank Outside of Shark Tank. We had a little surf shop carrier products. I think they ordered like 24 units and they posted their own picture of the product with a sub in it and just was announcing to their customers.
00:35:20Edit I think they have like 1000 people who like their page customers who followed them and it went viral. It went absolutely crazy. We couldn't have paid for that to happen. It was completely organic and natural. And as a result they ended up ordering thousands and thousands and thousands of subsidies from us. It was every day they were calling for more. Their website couldn't keep up a minute was absolutely incredible. Oh my God. Yeah, this goes to show that sometimes you can't control what's going to happen. But the best things that that happened can be organic. Mm That's wild. Oh my goodness, love that for you. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading or listening to or subscribing to that others would benefit from knowing about. I listened to a lot of podcasts before Covid I attempted some business conferences, Rachel Hollis, her business conference was actually the last one that I went to. It's really easy when everyone is pulling on you and you have employees and you still have a family.
00:36:24Edit It's really easy for you to get burnt out. That's something that I definitely struggle with. So taking time, making sure that I am in the gym and I am eating properly and filling my mind and my body is very important for me to stay. Same 100% Question number four is how do you win the day? What are your am or PM rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated. Um, am is definitely different. Well I'm always in my emails, there's no way around that. That's how I started to end every day is just making sure that there are no emergencies or fires that I need to put out. But the exercise like I said is very, very important to me in the morning as well. And then PM is just making sure that I spent some time with my kids some good quality time because otherwise that mommy guilt comes on strong and you least expect awful and I try to avoid that. Like the blake good one question number five is if you were given $1000 no strings attached grant, where would you spend it?
00:37:36Edit I would And it's how is such a good question? Um, Oh donate it? We have a Children's organization that we give portion of our proceeds to and they feed local Children in need and I don't read it. So I would go to them. I love that. What's it called? The charity, it's called provisions packs and they put a bag of food every friday into the kids backpacks so that they are fed over the weekend when usually they would have, you know, food insecurity at home? Oh gosh, love that. Thanks for sharing. And last question question # six is how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset and approach when things don't go to plan? If I'm being honest, I take it hard initially. Um, it's, you know, I'm human at the end of the day. So I'm definitely somebody who will stay awake at night and and replay it. But what I always told myself is that any and every time a door has closed, a better one is opened.
00:38:43Edit So it's always part of the plan. And I have to name up a few times to myself and just remind myself remember when you wanted this and this game, better, this better opportunity came about. So yeah, just reminding yourself all the other times. Everything. Part of amazing everything will work out. Desiree, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show today and share your incredible story with Sub Safe. I love it. Thank you. Thank you for having me. This is a lot of fun.