Conversation with Jessica Bell, Inventor & President, HaloVino®
How to Bootstrap an Invention
February 21, 2018
1. What is your business?
Four years ago I founded a company that creates products for the casual, leisure and outdoor wine drinking community. Our first product is HaloVino, the first shatter-proof, stackable, and dishwasher-safe plastic wine tumbler. Due to Halovino’s patented geometric design, HaloVino makes wine taste better than wine from a regular plastic cup. In addition, HaloVino tumblers are dishwasher-safe, recyclable, BPA free, made in the USA, and because they are stackable, the tumblers fit in a purse, picnic basket or backpack. HaloVino makes wine taste better because its design (taller size, narrow rim, and wide body) allow more aromas to be released, then traps and funnels them to your nose.
I love demonstrating the difference in taste between HaloVino and conventional plastic cups. I have a few exchanges on my Facebook page where I pour the same wine into a wide-rimmed plastic cup and then into a HaloVino tumbler. People’s reactions are hilarious – most people cannot believe the two different drinking vessels carry the same wine.
The HaloVino glasses hold 12 ounces of wine, and an 8-tumbler set sells for $11.99 online, on Amazon, and in retail locations mainly throughout the Midwest. We are just starting to work on national expansion with large and small retailers. Altadena in Los Angeles is our first West Coast retail location.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
I started out as an investment banker in New York City, but then a move to Spain changed my focus from finance to wine. Over the next ten years, I moved to Spain, got involved in the Spanish wine scene, returned to New York City to import Spanish wine, become a sommelier, and then opened a wine school in my native Midwest when I decided to move closer to home to be with my now husband and the rest of my family.
Pretty soon after I gave birth to my second child, I was asked to speak and guide a wine tasting at the Milwaukee convention center. Because the convention center had a no-glass policy, the organizers said that the wine would have to be served in plastic cups.
Wine in plastic cups is a problem for me. I knew that plastic cups make wine taste and feel cheap and that it would be a huge waste of time for my business and upsetting for me personally to spend my precious time away from my son at a failed wine tasting. Plus, if I wanted to bring in an alternative cup, that wasn’t a great solution either. At the time, shatterproof wine tumblers cost $3-5 a piece—just too expensive for a one-time as a solution. I kept thinking to myself, “There needs to an option that marries the cost and convenience of a plastic cup with the taste and experience of a wine glass.”
And so, HaloVino was born, not too long after my son. I want my customers to use the tumblers everywhere they love to drink wine – camping, boating, parties, concerts, and sporting events.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
Once I got the idea for HaloVino, I immediately started sketching and researching potential competitors. When I saw none, I reached out to local legal counsel and prototype firms. It was difficult to get people to take me seriously at first, and that was hard emotionally because I had a lot of confidence that there was a market for these tumblers. Since that point, I’ve been practically sprinting to bring HaloVino to market using Solidworks 3D CAD modeling, 3D printing such as SLS and SLA, and partnering with engineers at Sussex IM, a manufacturing plant, and prototype design firms Advanced Design Concepts in Pewaukee, WI.
4. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
Yes, I have those all the time. Probably the best one so far, though, is landing on the mantra, “Enjoy the chaos.” At one point I realized I spent too much time not experiencing life but rather wishing parts of it away thinking, “Oh when this is done, I’ll do this or that.” But recently I realized that yes, life crazy right now and that’s OK. I’m building a business, and I have kids. I am trying to be more present in the chaos and ride the wave, both the highs and the lows. There are so many parallels to having a kid and starting a business. With your first child, every little thing seems so stressful but by the second kid, if he doesn’t sleep one night, gets sick or doesn’t finish dinner, you become better at rolling with it.
5. Were your family and friends helpful or obstacles in launching your business? How so?
The number one thing about starting a business and having kids is support. I have an amazing husband, we’re 50/50 on the childcare, and he might even spend more time with our kids than I do. I also have a nanny, and both my mother and mother-in-law pitch in a lot. My kids get so much love and attention that it makes it easier for me to enjoy my work when I am away from them.
6. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?
I did a Kickstarter campaign, and I raised $27,000. I used this money to build a prototype mold to prove the concept to the market and to investors.
I would highly recommend Kickstarter to other entrepreneurs, as it helped me increase the value of my business without taking outside capital. That said, it is a lot of work and you need to take it seriously. I pre-sold HaloVino tumblers on Kickstarter, but I also sold experiences based on my expertise. I offered a wine tasting for 12 people for $2,000, my going rate. Three people signed up for the tastings. I also offered dinner for two people at my sister’s restaurant with wine pairings for $500 each.
Amazingly, some people just donated money and a bunch of friends helped publicize the fundraising. A few people donated $100 and $500 and didn’t want any reward. I was shocked and really grateful! My takeaway is that Americans really root for entrepreneurs, and people want to be a part of something they believe in.
7. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
Have confidence that everything will work out. I did my own thing, and it was scary and unsettling at times, but in my gut and heart, I knew it was right. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my head because I could have never predicted the adventures and opportunities I‘ve had.
I also have picked up a couple entrepreneur hacks. When I started HaloVino I wish I had known about is using free legal clinics. In Milwaukee, there is the University of Wisconsin Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic. My understanding is that these exist around the country. They are usually sponsored by a local university, and they’re staffed by law students supervised by law professors. At these clinics, the legal work is completed by law students and overseen and supervised by experienced attorneys. There is no cost for trademarks or patent filings. This would have quite literally saved me $50,000.
8. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
The best advice I ever got was from an investor in the Milwaukee angel funding community. I asked him about taking some venture capital I had been offered, and his advice was, “Money makes you stupid. Bootstrap it for as long as you can.” His thinking is that having cash in a bank account can lure entrepreneurs into making hasty decisions. I took his advice and held off on taking capital. His advice helped me retain equity in the business.
Interestingly, the worst piece of advice was from another potential investor. He told me that I needed to be quiet and listen more because he didn’t agree with what I was saying. This comment enraged me because I got to that table pitching to him BECAUSE I listen, to the engineers, manufacturers, marketers and then I do what’s right for my business. I think women are told directly, in my case, or more often implicitly to “listen and be quiet. ” Listening and confidently expressing opinions are not mutually exclusive.
9. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
Yes, I use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to talk about HaloVino. I use different channels for different messages and audiences. It may appear we are only marketing to consumers on our social media channels, but our Business to Business (“B2B”) buyers are buying for the consumers and themselves, so it is imperative that our social media channels address retail consumers’ needs. That said, we have developed ways of altering the message for our B2B customers by using different channels and also having separate landing pages for different types of buyers.
I am using Facebook and Instagram for my business to consumer (“B2C”) to focus on wine education, where and how to find HaloVino, and how HaloVino is used (camping, boating, parties, etc.). I want to create a community of wine drinkers that centers around a shared interest, rather than a product.
I use Twitter and Linkedin for B2B customers and educating them about how HaloVIno tumblers are part of a strategy for increasing wine sales. My B2B buyers want to know consumers like it, but more importantly, they want to know how Halovino will affect their bottom line. We have a ton of evidence that B2B customers like wine stores can increase wine sales by at least 20% when switching to Halovino.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
In the near term, I am looking to close a round of financing in the next few months so we can scale the company. We currently have over 30 retail locations in Wisconsin with major festivals, theaters and stadiums purchasing HaloVino, and we sell on Amazon with over 40 five-star reviews.
Longer term, I am working on a new product line (patent pending!), and I am optimistic we will prototype and test it in 2018. In five years’ time, between HaloVino and this new product line, I would like to see at least $2 million in annual revenue.
Date of conversation: July 7, 2017
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