Eric Griffin – Co-Founder, Mobile Outfitters

Eric Griffin co-founded Mobile Outfitters, an Inc. 5000 company, which is a U.S. manufacturer, innovator, and consumer brand of mobile accessories, with over 280 stores spanning 33 countries. Mobile Outfitter’s new innovative RapidCut system is an all-in-one solution for on-demand manufacturing of mobile screen protection and full body skins directly in retail stores, completely eliminating the need for inventory.

Eric is also a board member of the Philadelphia chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a non-profit network exclusively for entrepreneurs, co-founder of GSW Apartments, a real estate development and property management company, and co-founder of PAW5, a brand of puzzle feeders and enrichment products for dogs. In his spare time, he enjoys running, biking, gardening, woodworking, cooking, and coffee.

Tell me about your early career.
I was born in Lafayette Hill, PA and my career as an entrepreneur started in the sixth grade. I saved up all summer and bought a CD burner for $600, then offered custom mix CDs to students for $20. My fascination with computers led me to go to Villanova University for computer engineering, but I started my first “real” company sophomore year in college and my focus quickly shifted to running a company. After college (which I never completed – one class short from a diploma), I joined forces with my friend and current business partner, Dennis, and we hired our first employee for ImportGSM.

How did the concept for Mobile Outfitters come about?
Dennis and I had started a company before, called ImportGSM, where we’d import unlocked smartphones that you couldn’t get here in the U.S. This is before the iPhone, back when Germany, Hong Kong, and Finland all had the best phones in the world. That was taking off, and we wanted to add products and services that added to the sale of a phone. So we thought, “Hey, if we installed a screen protector on the customer’s phone before it shipped, then they’d have an amazing experience and have bubble-free protection.” We launched our “custom cut screen protector” and it was immediately a hit – 80% of people added the protector when they bought a phone. The problem was that we couldn’t keep screen protectors in stock for the hundreds of models we sold, so we decided to make the protection in house, on demand. This way, we’d never run out of stock. When the iPhone came out, ImportGSW tanked, and we started a company around the screen protector product, calling it Clear-Coat, and focused entirely on this clear protection product. We knew people liked it. We just had to figure out how to make a business around it.

How was the first year in business?
The first year was all “boots on the ground.” We were working 12 hour days, 7 days a week. Not only were we making our products ourselves and running the business, but we also opened a kiosk in a mall down the street to sell our Clear-Coat product to the end user. So, one of us would open the mall kiosk and work there while the other worked at the office answering emails, phone calls, making product, you name it. Then, at 3:00pm we’d switch, and the person at the office would go to the mall with the stock they produced and work the kiosk while the other wrapped up things at the office. We didn’t have any employees, just an intern doing some design work, so we were doing literally everything ourselves.

What was your marketing strategy?
What was our marketing strategy and what is our marketing strategy are two very different questions for us. At the time, our strategy was to be the “best quality at the best price.” We all know that doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as top quality, at cheap prices. Over the years, we’ve discovered that we’re really good at making the best product, so we also sell it for a premium and we’re laser-focused on selling our products in unsaturated sales channels (mall kiosks). Today, our sole focus is marketing to entrepreneurs around the world who want to open their own business.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We’ve never had a year where we didn’t grow. The first year we grew 500%, second year 300%, third year 100%, then about 30% every year after up until today. Of course, now the 30% growth is a lot more meaningful. It’s easy to grow 500% when you’re starting at zero.

How do you define success?
Creating a sustainable business that is larger than any one person or executive team. A sustainable business creates jobs, creates opportunity, and adds value to customers and community.

What is the key to success?
The single biggest key to success in the formative years, what I’d say are the first five to ten years, is focus. Don’t try to do everything, and don’t try to sell it everywhere to everyone. There’s three buckets you need to get laser-focused on: your customer, your product, and your sales channel. Figure out who your customer is, who exactly is it, what are they looking for, and what do they need. Figure out what your product is, what it’s going to offer, what it’s not going to offer, and what it does. Then, figure out the channel you’re going to sell it in where your customers exist. This last one is the key, and something more people ignore. The example Dennis and I give to show the power of a sales channel is turkey legs. Someone starting a business selling turkey legs may wrongfully assume that the key benefit is that it fills people up, and his customer is a hungry person, so he’ll open up everywhere where there’s lots of hungry people. The reality is, no one wants to eat a turkey leg in the mall, in an airport, or at a flea market. However, at a renaissance fair, or at Disney world, everyone wants a turkey leg. The sales channel defines the likelihood that your customer will buy your product. In the wrong sales channel, turkey legs sell for cheap and hardly sell at all. In the right sales channel, they sell for an insane price, hand over fist.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
For us, finding the sales channel to sell our products in, and rebranding our company around that sales channel and target customer, completely transformed our business and boosted our growth.

What are some of your favorite books?
Traction by Gino Wickman
Scaling Up by Verne Garnish
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Hyper Sales Growth by Jack Daly

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Leaders get the organizations they deserve” – Rand Stagen

“If you’re climbing a mountain, talk to the people on their way down to learn how to get up.”

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I fired my biggest customer, who was 50% of our business. It was scary, a gamble, and financially made no sense. We thought we’d have to lay off half our staff, or run out of money. It ended up being the best thing we ever did.

I learned that by the time you think “I’m not sure this customer, or employee, is right for me,” it’s already too late. You’ve known for a while it’s time to move on. The sad thing is that we let that thought simmer and stew for months or years before we do anything about it. We wait for a breaking point, a point of no return, or a black and white reason to end it.

Truth be told, as soon as you sense that feeling, it’s over and time to do something about it.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I look around and see other people succeeding at whatever it is I’m trying to do and think, “If they can do it, I can do it!” That’s always driven me, and proves that if you keep trying and learn from your mistakes, eventually you’ll move forward again.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Just start. Most people never get started. They overthink things, they ask their friends and family what they think (and of course, everyone is going to tear your idea down), and they think about all the hurdles of getting their company perfect before launching. The truth is that you don’t have a parade going down Times Square for your company. No one’s going to know if it’s not perfect. Every business starts out flawed. Just start, get out there and do things, and you’ll find your path if you keep your eyes and ears open to the feedback (not from your friends and family, but from the sales you’re doing or not doing)!

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.