Startup Diaries: Less Than a Year from Idea to Macy's Shelves

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As a working mother of two from San Diego, I am constantly striving to maintain a happy and healthy home while balancing my career and professional goals.

With my family’s busy schedule, some of our most precious time involves cooking and eating together. Since so much of our time together revolves around the kitchen, it has become the center of our home. I have always had an eye for interior and product design and love accessorizing my home with the latest house ware items to help it function and look its best; however I often come across products that do not appeal to women’s tastes or needs. 

Last year, after realizing how much my husband Sean spent at coffee shops every month, I decided to invest in a Keurig single-serve coffee maker. I soon starting looking for K-Cup storage options but was unhappy with the available holders on the market. On Mother’s Day, Sean surprised me with a holder, but I told him as nicely as I could to take it back because its wire frame made it look like it should hold a computer monitor, not a coffeemaker. The next holder he bought me took up too much counter space and clashed with the decor of my newly remodeled kitchen. I explained to my husband that I envisioned something design-centric with a high-end aesthetic, but he couldn't find a product which met my needs.

I went back with my husband to the kitchenware section at the retail department store where he bought the last holder but still didn’t see anything I liked. Frustrated with the lack of options, we had a light bulb moment. We thought, I can’t be the only woman who isn’t satisfied with these products, so why not design our own?

As much as I wanted to take matters into my own hands, I almost laughed at myself for thinking it was even a possibility.

At the time, I was working full time as an office manager, had zero industrial design background, no idea about manufacturing products, and last but not least no investment money. Sean had a background in product creation but at the time he was looking for a more secure position as we were feeling the effects of the poor economy. He was searching for a job and I was working at a job which was not allowing me to live up to my potential.

I knew that the odds were against us, but that night I told him I thought we should give it a chance. I had been telling him we needed to focus on finding a steady income, but I decided to give him my blessing to put that entrepreneur hat back on one more time. Surprised by my support, his eyes lit up and I could already see him forming a plan. He reminded me that some of the most successful people in the world started with next to nothing, and assured me that where there is a will there is a way. Although I was still skeptical, the idea kept bouncing around in my head and I thought this could be what it takes to get my family out of debt and back on track.

After reading about so many inspiring and dynamic women in The NextWomen Business Magazine, I decided to do whatever it took to help turn this vision into a reality.

Developing a product with our finances in disarray was not going to be easy, but I knew if we teamed up we could be successful. Even though I lacked practical experience, I began to learn what it takes to make a product from start to finish, and supported Sean by taking care of the loose ends this venture needed.  

Our vision was to create a K-Cup Holder that would act as a stand for the Keurig machine to rest atop; with a pullout drawer that would store the K-cups in a concealed turning carousel. We wanted the holder to create a cohesive look with the Keurig machine, unlike the wire pod holder my husband had bought me for Mother’s Day. We started sketching ideas, and my daughters even helped us play around with the drawings. As the design became more concrete, we decided to call the sleek and innovative K-cup holder Coffique

I never doubted Sean for a second and was constantly pushing him to go further.

Together we spent countless nights doing research, talking with engineers, and learning about injection molding and manufacturing.

After months of hard work, our product design skills were actually shaping up. My husband, the computer whiz, was taking online tutorials and teaching himself computer engineering design basics. However, we knew we were going to need more help than that. Sean contacted an old colleague who worked as an engineer and had a license of solid works. After a many meetings, he agreed to take the our sketches, designs, and instructions and produce basic engineering renderings 

We felt like our determination was beginning to pay off and were ecstatic to start the process of creating a prototype for Coffique, but I’m not sure we realized at the time how long and tumultuous the road ahead of us would be.

During the day Sean would commute to manage the design process, and at night I would give him my input on what needed to change to make Coffique more appealing from a woman’s perspective.

The engineer we were working with was constantly trying to make changes that would cut manufacturing costs, but I was so passionate about our design and struggled to protect its aesthetic and quality; and finally convinced him that women are better at designing products for women. Over the months it took to develop the prototype, I faced more sleepless nights and drawn out fights with Sean than I could count, but it was beyond worth it to maintain my vision and see our dreams finally turning into a reality. 

In the next Blog we will explain how in less than a year, we turned our idea for Coffique into a reality and got it into such Retail giants as Target , Macys, Bed Bath and Beyond, Costco, JC Penny and others without even having investors. We will also discuss our opportunity to go on Shark tank and why we decided it was not a good option.

We will show what it is like be a true Entrepreneur and ride the wave of keeping your day job while moonlighting on a side project, all while being a mom of two daughters.

Natalie Rones left her office job to pursue a career in entrepreneurship and product design. In just six months, she created Coffique, which is now being sold in stores and online at Target, Macy's, Bonton, Kohl’s, Costco, JC Penny, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Amazon. Natalie finally feels like she has found her niche and looks forward to seeing where her career takes her. 

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