David Barnett – Founder & CEO, PopSockets

In 2010, David Barnett was looking for a way to stop his earbud cord from getting tangled, and he achieved this by gluing two buttons to the back of his phone and wrapping the earbud cord around the buttons. As ugly as the buttons were, they worked. In the course of improving on the idea, he developed about 60 different prototypes, making the buttons expand and collapse via an accordion mechanism, so that they could function as both a stand and a grip.

In 2012, Barnett launched a KickStarter campaign for an iPhone case that would have two PopSockets grips integrated into the case. In addition to getting successfully funded, the KickStarter campaign enabled Barnett to show the world his dancing prowess. Two years later, in 2014, Barnett launched the business out of his garage in Boulder, Colorado, and has subsequently sold over 40 million PopSockets grips around the world.

How was the first year in business?
I launched the business out of my garage in Boulder in 2014.

What was your marketing strategy?
I had no money for advertising, so my strategy was to get as many PopSockets grips into people’s hands as possible, regardless of my profits, in order to create a critical mass of evangelists for my product. It worked.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In 2014 we sold roughly 30k grips, then 300k in 2015, 3M in 2016, and 35M in 2017. This year, we’ll sell around 50M. We’ve grown to 170 employees in offices in Boulder, San Francisco, Finland, and Singapore.

How do you define success?
By the amount of positive impact we make in the world.

What is the key to success?
Think outside the box. Question conventional wisdom. And hire great people.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Focusing is overrated. I prefer the shotgun approach to see what sticks. I would never have had the success I’ve had if I had focused on solid colors in year one, then graphics in year two, then customs in year three. The business would have failed. I started out of the gate with customs and plenty of graphics, and that’s what resonated, I learned.

What are some of your favorite books?
I’ve read few books in my life, none on business. Perhaps my favorite is Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
One summer day in 2014 when we had around $8,000 in the bank, I’d spent all my savings and all my investors’ money, and we received our third consecutive order of 100% defective product.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Some sort of illness/obsession, I suppose.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find the right level of confidence, enough to keep you going in the face of failure and skepticism, but not so much that you’re deaf to what the world has to say about your product and your business.

Who else should we interview? Nominate someone!

Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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