You know you’re onto a great product when frontline healthcare workers contact you out of the blue to say ‘thanks’. That’s what happened to Ramin Schultz and his company Keebos, which makes it easy to carry your phone hands-free, something that is incredibly useful to nurses, doctors, and others in healthcare. During the insurgence of COVID-19, this became even more critical to the work they do.
Meet Ramin Schultz, Founder at Keebos, a Crossbody Phone Case for iPhone & Samsung
To Ramin, this was a gratifying moment and the result of years of hard work. Since then, the stylish Keebos phone case has been seen on celebrities such as Eva Longoria, Maria Menounos, and Tori Spelling to name a few – and garnered praise from travelers, young professionals, and new parents with their hands full. There were bumps and challenges along the way of course, but this success validated his approach: start small, then iterate, iterate, iterate. With a corporate background working at places like Nike, he understood the importance of building a lifestyle brand, but most importantly he learned the importance of just taking that first step. Or, in the words of all those famous campaigns, “Just Do It.”
We caught up with Ramin to talk about his journey and what lessons he has learned along the way.
LAS: You worked at Nike. Tell me about your transition from your day job into launching a startup.
Ramin Schultz (RS): I worked at Nike in product and marketing for four years, and it was amazing. I love the brand. I love the company and what they stand for. I learned a lot about marketing.
I recommend everyone read Shoe Dog, about the start of Nike. It’s so good because it’s not just a business book, but also tells a great story. Phil Knight discusses his struggles in the beginning; everything from not being able to get bank loans, to coming up with the name. His path wasn’t easy. And that was really inspiring for me because running a business, you have so many challenges all the time.
After my time at Nike, I moved to LA and really got into the startup scene. I started working with Swoop, the group transportation company. That’s when I learned that there’s so much more out there to learn about running a company and how startups work. I realized I actually didn’t know as much as I thought I knew.
So I really had to start all over again. But I knew being an entrepreneur was what I wanted to do.
LAS: What is it about the startup community that you like?
RS: I really like that it’s a long-term play. So maybe in the short term working for a corporation, you can make more money and have a more comfortable life. But when I look at other entrepreneurs, and I talk to successful entrepreneurs, they all had to think long-term. There’s no such thing as quick happiness. You need to work for it. And in the end, this can be more financially rewarding. But most importantly, it’s more personally rewarding to work on something you really believe in. That’s what counts.
I love the idea of creating something yourself. You can really move fast. That’s what I always appreciated working with startups and that was a big change for me, coming from a huge company like Nike. There, to change even one word of copy on a marketing piece, you’d have to send the proposed change to global. Then global might not approve it and send the proposed change to Europe HQ for consideration, where someone else has a different opinion. All this back and forth to edit a single word. By contrast, at a startup, you have the freedom to create 10 ads and release them to everyone the same day and get instant feedback. You can test an idea and let the customer decide. I was like, “Wow, okay. You don’t have to approve everything. Not everything has to be picture perfect.” I then adopted that fast-moving mentality and just started to create.
Nike was a startup once too, right? We forget that.
LAS: So tell me about the inspiration behind Keebos?
RS: I was looking for something cool and that represented a lifestyle brand, again going back to my days at Nike. That’s something that was inspiring to me. And then I recognized a problem: if you always have your phone with you, you also risk dropping your phone all the time. I often misplace my phone. People crack their screens. Smartphones are getting more expensive to replace.
And then I was also talking to my sister, who often wears yoga pants. She didn’t know where to put her phone. So I started thinking, “Why isn’t there a cool solution to carrying your phone and maybe some ID and credit cards in a different way?” So for a woman, you don’t have to carry a purse, or for guys, another bag or even a wallet. And that’s how I got the inspiration; I identified that problem and provided a solution.
LAS: Obviously you had an idea in your mind, but how did you land on the prototype?
RS: At the beginning, when you have an idea, you’re always super happy, inspired. Like, “This is going to be it. Easy.” So I ordered different parts, played around with different designs, and put some stuff together myself. I soon realized, “Okay, maybe it’s a little bit harder.” I also realized that there are 15 different iPhones that all need a different case. It’s not just one phone. But really, just putting pieces together, asking friends and family for their feedback, what colors they like, what kind of protection they prefer around the phone, the wallet on the back, all that.
And then once I got to the product I thought would work, I tested it with people. Then tested it again. In the beginning, we just had three different colors for a few iPhones. So I started lean.
LAS: Was it really that simple?
RS: No. Keebos has a wallet in the back, where you can store credit cards and ID. In our first prototype, you had to put the cards into the wallet pocket from the top. So if people were hanging their phones upside down, the cards would fall out because of the orientation of the wallet’s closure. Initially, I didn’t do a good job of explaining how the closure worked. Customers found it difficult to use, lost track of cards, and I received complaints.
Now we have a wallet where you slide the cards in from the side and seal the wallet’s flap so nothing falls out. Never assume you know how the customer will use your product. That was a learning curve.
My first run was 200 units. I was reading The Lean Startup and I knew that I wanted to start lean. So I only ordered 200 or 300, thinking that “It’s all going to sell out next week.” But the business was slow at first. I started a Shopify store, created an Instagram, Facebook, to see how the market would respond. The brand grew organically, one sale at a time.
LAS: What was the main takeaway from ‘The Lean Startup’. Tell us a little about how that book influenced your decision-making.
RS: It really, really influenced me. The book explains that you should start with an MVP, or Minimal Viable Product, and have customers give you feedback on that. Don’t worry about perfecting something for three years, and then release it only to find out that people don’t like your product design for some unexpected reason. Make stuff fast, promptly seek feedback, and see what happens.
LAS: When did you first learn that frontline workers were utilizing your product, and how did that make you feel?
RS: So a nurse reached out to our Instagram and said that she really loved the product. She explained how it helped her every day, keeping her hands free–something that really helps busy nurses and doctors around the office. This makes sense, but I hadn’t previously thought about this use case for Keebos. I thanked her for her feedback, and we discussed working together to get more Keebos in the hands of frontline workers. So we donated Keebos to their whole staff, and they all took pictures and posted them on social media. Things took off from there.
I felt really gratified. It made me feel like things were working.
LAS: Any advice for people looking for VC money?
RS: I think it depends on your business. I would tell most entrepreneurs to start small and bootstrap it. Get the idea out there and test it. See if there’s even traction. Maybe create a landing page and see if people are interested in your product, collect that email list, start building your first product or service version, try that out, and get some customers. Prove you have a business. Then VC money might be a good next step.
LAS: Any other good books you recommend?
RS: Another great book is Traction. Traction explains that in marketing there are many different traction channels. You should see what works for you and then really double down on that particular traction channel. Because again, as a startup, you have limited resources, and you can’t go into every marketing channel. You kind of have to test that channel, and if it works, put all your energy into that.
LAS: What are the big challenges you’re facing today?
RS: Growth, right? If you’re a startup, you have high expectations for yourself and your company. So you want to set really high growth goals, and that’s a huge challenge. We’ve been growing very well. But to get that exponential curve, you have to start scaling. Scaling requires you to change operations and hire more people. So that’s what I’m focused on right now.
One quote I really love is: “It’s not about 10,000 hours, but 10,000 iterations.”
LAS: How did you come up with this idea of planting a tree for every sale? How did that partnership come into being?
RS: When I first started Keebos, I liked the product and idea, but I was like, “I want to do more, something for the environment that feels organic to what I actually believe in.”
And so I had a lot of different ideas about that. Then one day, I found out about One Tree Planted, our official partner, and contacted them. They were excited. I was super excited. It worked out.
It feels good if you have a product that actually helps people. Now for each sale, I’m also growing a tree. That adds to our mission.
LAS: Any last words of wisdom for someone who’s thinking about jumping into the startup game?
RS: Start earlier than you think you would. We always wait for that perfect moment and that perfect time. Just start now. And you will learn so much more than if you over-strategize. Once you’ve started, keep going, keep going, keep going. In the long term, your efforts will compound, and you’ll see the results and be happy you didn’t quit.