How I used Vulnerability (and a Shoestring Budget) to Patent Covermade and Build a Brand

 

Right out of of college, I did cold-call sales for 4 years. First in advertising sales, and then in medical device sales. For both jobs, all day I would walk into accounts, uninvited, asking for their time and business.

I was definitely was no stranger to being flat out ignored, being told ‘I’m not interested’, and even being asked to leave. I didn’t know it then, but that prepared me for all the pitching and cold calling I would later do for Covermade.

What did four years of cold calling teach me?

It taught me that vulnerability is the key to progress. I also learned that being vulnerable does not mean you aren’t confident. Vulnerability and confidence are not mutually exclusive.They can coexist. And when they do, it can be a fierce combination…

The Willingness to be Vulnerable

Years ago when I first approached manufacturers, I felt (and really was) extremely vulnerable because:

  • I was approaching huge companies with vast resources and their own R&D departments
  • My idea was a clear deviation from an industry’s standard way of doing things
  • Those I approached were mostly resistant to such a deviation
  • I didn’t know who to trust

 

So how do you overcome that vulnerability?

Either you scrap your idea, telling yourself:

“People won’t get it”

“I’ll be laughed at”

“I don’t know who to ask, or what to do next”

“What if someone steals my idea?”

OR

You overcome vulnerability…one way.

By being it.

 

The Magic of the Willingness to be Vulnerable

When I had the idea for Covermade, I didn’t have any outside funding, or any partners. It was just me. My only choice was to push forward by myself, and most of all I had to be willing to speak out and be vulnerable.

I couldn’t afford an expensive prototyping company to build and test samples. So I took basic sewing lessons, and made my own prototypes. My prototypes worked enough for testing, but I really needed samples sewn professionally if I was going to pitch them.

So I went in and out of local dry cleaners’, asking if they had a seamstress I could talk to about making prototypes. Most of them just looked at me funny, or said, “we don’t do that kind of thing”… Eventually, I found a seamstress willing to build the samples I needed.

Had I been worried about what people thought when I asked for help, or the weird looks I got when I presented my prototype (which I had so amateurly sewn myself), I never would have gotten to this next part…

 

Pitching a manufacturer

Years ago, the initial cold call I had with my first manufacturing partner did not go well at all. I got a VP on the phone, and asked him to sign an NDA and send it back to me. Then, once I started explaining my idea. He began questioning me:

“ Just how do you think you will market this?”

“What do you know about the textile business?”

The truth is, at the time, I had no answers for him. I just knew, 1000%, I had a prototype that did something special. Eventually I got in touch with someone else at the same company, and tried again. Finally, they agreed for me to meet and present my sample. Long story short, I got my first manufacturer and first production run.

What if I had been too afraid to call? Or what if I hadn’t kept trying with them, and quit after that first call?!

 

Using email cold calls to pitch buyers

How I got Brookstone (and most other Covermade partners) was by putting myself out there with cold email pitches and voicemails.

A lot of them!

Sure, I have these accounts now, but no one knows what I did to get them…

How many unreturned phone calls I made.

How many emails I sent to which no one even responded.

Or how many comforter samples and pitch letters I mailed out with no response.

To find buyers, I would search online to find out who the home textiles buyer was. Then knowing a first and last name, I would send an email pitch to every possible email address that could be the buyer’s.

For example:

‘******@brookstone.com’

(with a variation of their first and last name/initial)…

A few months after I began emailing a buyer at Brookstone, her assistant emailed me saying they were interested. I asked for a meeting. A few weeks later, I flew to their headquarters to present Covermade and got the deal.

Getting “Market Research”

My degree is in marketing, and I would have loved some formal, organized market research studies!

…Didn’t have the funds for that.

The only thing I could do was get that information myself.

You know, I had to put myself out there and be well, vulnerable.

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So, I would set up at Home & Garden trade shows, and even a booth at the mall, demoing Covermade and talking to the public to get feedback. I got some weird looks, some snarky comments, and a “what-the-heck-is she-talking-about” vibe from a few…

But, I started selling comforters.

Actually, more people loved the idea Covermade than not. They got it.

I would ask those who purchased if I could contact them later and get their feedback.It wasn’t a perfect study, but I got feedback from a few hundred people. I got the information I needed to move forward.

The moral of the story?

Had I not been willing to be vulnerable…

Covermade would never have been manufactured.

It definitely would not be available today through Bed Bath and Beyond, Brookstone, Houzz, or Wayfair…

And, Covermade never would have gone on to be featured in Good Housekeeping, Readers Digest, and gifted at the Golden Globes.

There would be no customers emailing us today saying how much easier it is to make the bed and that they love their new comforter…

The way I see it, the willingness to be vulnerable was the foundation of it all!

So what can I do to be vulnerable today, and maybe inspire someone else?

…I can continue to share the realest parts of my story with you 🙂

If you made it this far… thanks for reading!

xo,

Natalie