Interview: Julia Jacobsen, Founder, Sunsnapz

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Learn how Julia Jacobsen, Founder, Sunsnapz  manufactures her versatile baby blankets in the U.S., divides co-founder responsibilities, uses social media all while juggling life with a baby and full time job.  This interview is great for anyone looking to bring a product to market. Be Inspired!

About Sunsnapz

Our Sunsnapz products are a new, unique, and innovative way to protect your children from the harmful effects of the sun and so much more. All of our UPF50+ sunsnapz fabrics are laboratory tested and made in America. What makes sunsnapz so unique is that all of our products combine lightweight, ultra-soft, machine washable cotton with UPF50+ excellent sun protection.

READ the Transcript

Rachel: Hi, I’m Rachel Olsen, founder of Best Mom Products where mompreneurs share their adventures in business. Today I’m talking with Julia Jacobsen, the founder of Sunsnapz. [inaudible 00:09] daughter was born, Julia knew she needed something more to protect her baby’s skin while on walks or at the beach than what was already available in the market place.
Julia will share with us how she took an idea and turned it into reality. From manufacturing to social media, learn how this mompreneur manages it all, working full time with a young daughter, and what she hopes the future holds.

Welcome Julia, it’s nice to have you.

Julia: Very nice to be here, thank you.

Rachel: Great, so how did you come up with your business idea for Sunsnapz? What year was this, and can you tell us a little bit about how you got started?

Julia: Of course, I have a 13-month-old daughter now, and last year I had her in the summer up in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s a very sunny place. And I just had a very difficult time to protect her from the sun, and it was very, very dear to my heart to make sure she’s protected because skin cancer is very common. I’ve been personally affected by it, so I wanted to make sure I make sure she’s protected, and I also wanted to be outside. I’m a young, active mom.
So I just started to do a lot of research, and I just couldn’t find anything that was practical, easy to use, and affordable. And that’s pretty much when the idea Sunsnapz was born, and I took a long time, but a year later we’re here, and it’s going very well.

Rachel: That’s great. So, you know it’s funny you say a year later, I feel like businesses take so long to get off the ground, you just officially launched a few months ago.

Julia: Yes.

Rachel: So tell us a little bit, you know, I want to get into the business of how you created your blanket and go through that process with manufacturing and all of that fun stuff. But first, I’m always interested in your background because you’re working full time. You’re doing sales for a lab equipment manufacturing company, is that correct?

Julia: That’s correct, yes.

Rachel: Okay. So you’re travelling a lot and you have this strong sales skills set. How did that play into-how did that benefit you or not benefit you? How did that impact what you do now?

Julia: Well, I think, in general, I’m a very driven person, and I always had the passion to have eventually my own business at one point. But you need to have a very good idea, and you need the support, and a lot of financial resources etc. You need to be in a good time in your life, and it’s just all played together.
And I think it helped me, and it’s still helping me because I network a lot. I’m out a lot. I see a lot of places. So in general it has been very beneficial.
My background is sales and marketing. I came to the States seven years ago. I’m originally from Germany, and I married an American, and that’s why I ended up here in the United States.

Rachel: You mentioned you’re from Germany, so I want to learn about how you created your first prototype. But also, this is a product that’s being manufactured in the U.S. or in Europe? Tell us a little bit about that.

Julia: It’s manufactured here in the U.S. This was a very important thing to us. We wanted to have a product that was manufactured locally. Even all of our materials, our SPF fabric is made here in the U.S. It’s tested here in the US, so we know really where our product is coming from.
Well, I did a lot of research, I mean, once you come up with the idea you will be amazed how many days, hours, weeks, months you spend just researching online. And so I learned a lot about the fabric market, and these days it’s not very easy to work with a local manufacturer because, as many people know, everything is moving overseas.
But that was not an option for us, so we worked harder, we looked harder, and we finally found somebody and we been working with them since day one. It’s been great. They’re local. They’re actually based out here out of North Carolina, and their manufacturing side is in the northeast. So it’s been working very well. They created our prototype and they helped us with resourcing materials and so we been working all together and everybody is here in the US.

Rachel: I think we were talking before, so they helped you with your prototype. I think when we talked you had said the initial, initial, which I think a lot of people even forget about because they go through so many interims of a prototype or product, that you actually just hired somebody-because you said you didn’t sew- off of Craigslist.

Julia: Yes.

Rachel: So I’m always interested because, you know, as you go through it. It’s been a year so it’s like, “Oh, well, we found this great manufacturer.” Tell me a little bit about that because for the entrepreneur that’s listening who maybe doesn’t even know where to begin, and they don’t necessarily want to go to a manufacturer because they don’t know if their product is really viable yet. Can you talk about, you know, what kind of ad did you write? How did you know what you were looking for?

Julia: You know, what I really did was, once I had my fabric, and I knew what I wanted to do with it-I asked my mother in law because she can sew, but she was like, “I don’t think I can do this, and I’m not comfortable.” So I literally went on Craigslist and just looked for people who sew, and I found this very nice lady. It’s a little bit of a hobby, but she basically makes very beautiful purses and she sells them on Etsy and some local shows or at, like, a farmer’s market.
And I met up with her and she actually explained a lot to me when it came to sewing. She’s like, “You cannot do this because of that.” It was all so new to me. And at the end of the day, we found out that she would not be the best person to work with just because she didn’t have the machines we needed. My product has snaps integrated so she didn’t have that capability. She was very nice, and she put me again in touch with other people she worked with in the past, and that’s kind of like where the ball started rolling, and how we ended up with the manufacturer we currently have.

Rachel: When you went to the manufacturer that you currently have, what did you go with? What was your first meeting or your first phone call like?

Julia: Oh, goodness. I called and told them this is what I would like to do, and I was very skeptical. I wasn’t sure if I could tell him what my idea is because we already knew we wanted to patent it. I was very vague, and he was like, ‘Well lady, you need to tell me what you want because if you don’t tell me I cannot tell you if we can do it.”
So eventually we met up and it was a very nice meeting. I gave him some drawings, I showed him the material. I had him actually sign a non-disclosure agreement. And he said, “Yeah, this is what we can do.” And he made a prototype, and we made changes, and then went into manufacturing.

Rachel: Okay. So what was your first run? How many units did you have to run?

Julia: My first run was about 700 to 800 units.

Rachel: Okay. And were you happy with the quality? I know that there’s always a percentage that’s defective no matter what manufacturer you’re working with.

Julia: Yes, uh-huh.

Rachel: What happens? Do you know that going into it? Are they very up front about that?

Julia: Yes, they were very up front about it, and to the day, we haven’t sold all of them. So we’re still going through them, and we find some errors and they’re very open. They look at them. They make changes, and we’re just improving our quality, and we’re on our second run now, and our quality is already much better.

Rachel: Okay. But do they apply a discount or anything towards the future run because of that?

Julia: What we agreed on is they either fix the ones which have errors, which are fixable. And the ones which aren’t, which are fortunately not a lot, we get credit for it.

Rachel: I know that you and your husband are financing this yourselves, correct?

Julia: That’s correct. Mm-hmm.

Rachel: So was the price of everything so far what you had estimated it would be? Did you do an official business plan when you started?

Julia: Yes.

Rachel: OK.

Julia: My husband actually finished his MBA program last year when I was still pregnant with our first daughter. And so that’s the task that I gave him, I said, “You need to figure out how [inaudible 08:44]” He’s on top of it. He’s in charge of all the financial aspects of the company. He founded the business, etc. So I’m really more the creative networking, marketing, sales part of the business.

Rachel: How does that work-I’m going to ask you on a personal level-as being married, being a new mom, and having a business?

Julia: It’s a lot. You know, if you love something and you’re passionate about something, I mean I never really experience it as work. I absolutely love product development. I found my passion while I was doing this. I didn’t know that I’m going to be so passionate about it.
So everything coming to my baby and Sunsnapz is jus, I love it, I really do. I mean there are hard days. You get frustrated sometimes. You get frustrated with your partner. But we’re all doing this because I have this bigger vision, and I have this goal and this dream. And therefore, I’m just doing it.

Rachel: Yeah.

Julia: Everyday is exciting. When you start something from ground up your so proud of it. Once you hold the full product in your hand for the first time, you will never forget it. I love it. It’s very exciting.

Rachel: Very interesting to me that you say you found your passion while doing this because you had an idea, and you didn’t realize you were going to be so passionate about a certain aspect of it. I feel like that’s one thing that’s amazing about being an entrepreneur. You have the opportunity to try on so many hats, and for you, you knew right away the financials, the business, I have somebody I can give that to who’s going to be great at it, and I can focus and try out all of these other things. And I don’t think you ever get that from a traditional corporate-type environment.

Julia: No.

Rachel: Tell me how you use Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. How do you use them to engage customers?

Julia: We had some bloggers writing about us and then we usually have, like, a giveaway if they like us on Facebook or they tweet us, so that gave us some exposure. And Twitter was one of the best choices to join because it has been very, very successful so far. I mean, we met out of Twitter.

Rachel: Right, right. Julia: It’s just a very, very great, for new businesses I can highly recommend it. I was a little bit hesitant of joining because it’s almost like another full time job if you really want to do a good job. But it’s been great, the response we’re getting. We have repeat customers. They buy one for themselves, and they love it so much they buy one for their friends who is pregnant or a colleague who just had a baby. So it’s been very good and positive.

Rachel: That’s great. And so I think you told me a little bit about who you followed. How you got noticed. I thought that’s a really good tip for people listening who don’t know a good way to get recognized on Twitter because right? You just get your Twitter ID, and then it’s like, “Well, what do I now?”

Julia: Yes, I think for me, there are some people that have millions of followers. I did not even know what it all means. What I really started doing is I followed number one, my competitors. I followed anybody in the baby industry, bloggers, these mommy bloggers that have an amazing audience. I started following boutiques, baby boutiques.

Of course we are very, very big with an association with the Skin Cancer Association of America, all these groups who are out there who fighting skin cancer who want to spread awareness. We started talking to them. So everybody in our field, dermatologists, pediatricians, we started following, and then they started following us back, and we started talking to them. Get good response, feedback, ideas, do you want to work with us, do you want to maybe a co-advertising, or whatever it was. It was very, very positive.

Rachel: How do you manage dealing with the competition? I feel like for your product there’s a lot of brand awareness. You have to explain how your blanket is different than what’s out there.

Julia: I have to say that was one maybe one of the more challenging parts of our product because it is a little bit more than just a blanket. It is a little bit more than just a sun protection blanket.
Our blanket can be used in so many different ways and this is why we also opened in our Facebook where we invited our customers to post pictures how their using their Sunsnapz, and we’re getting the most amazing muses. We had one mom, just recently, she brought a little baby gym to the beach, and she snapped it over the baby gym. She put her newborn underneath. The baby could play and look at the little toys. And she was sure that her baby was protected.

Rachel: Where do you see this in the future? Do you want big box retailers? What’s your big goal for this?

Julia: My big goal is to really make sure that parents are educated when it comes to skin cancer in association with sun protection. I want to make sure that Sunsnapz become the must have baby item. I want to be in every little, great baby boutique. I want to make sure that I’m at every dermatologist office, and it’s just people know that there is a great product out there. It’s not just a cute little thing. It is important to do this, we have to do this. Our kids are not going to ask us to protect them, we have to do this.
And I want to make sure that I’m doing my part in helping this disease not get out of control as it already is. And that’s going to be my goal. Do I want to be in every big store in the world? Sure, why not? I think at this point the sky is the limit, and I will always do what’s best for my family and what’s best for myself of course, and see where it goes.

Rachel: What are some traits that you feel are most important and what would you have done differently having gone through the process that you’ve gone through over the past year?

Julia: I don’t know if I would’ve a lot differently. I mean, you have to make sure that you’re willing to work hard, and that you’re really, really passionate about it. If you’re doing it because you want to become rich, I think that’s not the right approach because you’re not going to become rich overnight, and you have to put so much work into it.
And something has to give, I mean, you cannot have it all and sometimes you have to make compromises. But if you really believe in something, and you really want this, go for it. I mean, what can you lose?
Have a good business plan, set yourself maybe a money limit say, “I’m going to invest this much money, and if I’m going to lose it that’s as far as I go.”
But just be honest with people, get asked honest questions, make sure they give you an honest response. You know, if people would’ve told me this is a stupid product, this is s stupid idea; you have to listen to what’s happening, be realistic, and just go for your dreams.
I’m all for this, I wish that a lot of moms out there, they have great ideas. I have friends that are moms and they have amazing ideas. And they just don’t, maybe the drive, or the time, or maybe not even the will to pursue it. But still they have great ideas.
So with that I have a whole other business idea that I want to eventually help these moms who have great ideas, but maybe don’t have the financial needs or the time that I’ll take over, and do that whole product development part for them and help them bring their dreams onto the shelves, and into the stores, and into the hands of mothers.

Rachel: Okay. Well, I want to say thank you for coming and sharing your story. Very inspirational. We’ll have a link up so everyone can go to your website.
If you’re interested in hearing more interviews like these, they can be found at best mom products, www.bestmomproducts.com, or on YouTube under Best Mom Products1, or audio podcasts are now available on iTunes under Best Mom Products. So thank you.

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