A few months ago, Patrick Buckley’s company didn’t even exist. Now, he says it has already generated almost $1 million in revenue. His product is the DODOcase, a handmade iPad case that the New York Times says, “gives the iPad the look and feel of a luxury, hardcover notebook.”
Previously, Patrick co-founded the Y Combinator-funded WebMynd and co-authored “The Hungry Scientist Handbook.”
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Here’s your program.
Hey everyone, it’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of mixergy.com, home of
the ambitious upstart. You guys know the goal here, it’s to bring a
different entrepreneur every day, find out how he or she built their
business, learn about their experiences, learn about what worked, find out
what didn’t work and take all those ideas and hand them to you so you that
can go out there and build an incredible company yourself and come back
here and do what today’s guest is doing, teach others how you did it so
that they can go out and build their own companies.
Today’s guest is Patrick Buckley. He is the winning co-founder of the
Build a Business contest that Shopify put on with Tim Ferris [SP]. The
contest was open to new companies and gave $100,000 to the new store that
earned the most revenue.
Patrick is a tech entrepreneur who won this contest by creating something
that’s more low-tech than high-tech. His product is called the DoDo Case
and it’s an iPad case which is made by hand and it’s incredibly beautiful.
I can’t wait for him to show you. First of all, Patrick, welcome.
Patrick Buckley: Thanks for having me.
Andrew: We talked before this interview about whether you should give the
revenue or not. I said to you that I think you should give the revenue
because it will make an impression on people and let them see how strong
and how great a company you built here. So, how much have you made?
Patrick: So in our first three months, we’re almost at a million dollars in
Andrew: Wow. And this company is just about over three months old.
Andrew: When did you get the idea?
Patrick: We got the idea about halfway between when the iPad was initially
announced and when it was launched. I started prototyping maybe two and a
half weeks before the launch and had one product by the time the launch
came around. I threw it up on Shopify, didn’t really know how I was going
to make a lot of them but I figured if it was popular, I’d sort that out.
Andrew: And it did end up being popular and I want to find out about the
growth and I want to find out how you got there. But you’re a tech guy and
we’ll talk about your previous tech experience. You probably could have
built a whole site yourself, why’d you throw it up on Shopify?
Patrick: Well, I’m an engineer by training but I’m not a programmer and I
wanted to be able to focus on what I was good at and Shopify was great
because they let me do that, really. They took all of the high-tech out of
business and I was able to focus onthe, what you said, the low-tech part of
Andrew: [laughs] And the low-tech is, let’s show the iPad case, and then I
got to ask you about who put this thing together for you because it looks
stunning. Let’s show it to people.
Patrick: This is the back of it. The front, it’s got an elastic strap.
Open it up and there’s your iPad in there.
Patrick: I don’t know how well you can see that. And the tray is made out
of bamboo and we mill that and then hand-finish it here in San Francisco.
Actually, every piece of this product is made locally in San Francisco.
Andrew: And it’s a book binder who put that, is that leather on there?
Patrick: It’s a faux leather. It’s Morocco cloth. It feels like a leather
cover in your hand.
Andrew: You know what, it does feel like a leather cover because I looked
at reviews and many of them said it was a leather cover, so it really must
come off as leather. But it’s put on by a book binder?
Patrick: Yeah, we’re working with one of the last three book binders in San
Francisco, by my count. I looked high and low for book binders and this
guy was by far the best. He’s been doing it for 40 years and he’s a really
good guy and his business was really slowing down because not a lot of
people are making books anymore. And he’s recently hired 14 people to make
DoDo Case covers. So, we’re trying, part of our thing is we want to help
preserve the art of book binding and we’re making a small dent here in San
Andrew: And like I said, people are loving it. Kevin Rose made a video
about it that made me want it in the worst way. Engadget called it the
Rolls Royce of iPad cases. Crunchgear said, I think this was their
headline, the iPad DoDo Case wins our hearts and money. iPad case
designers, they said, you’re done. Pick up and go home, we don’t need you
anymore. Man, you must have loved that!
Patrick: Yeah. I can’t complain about reviews like that.
Andrew: How’d you get those guys, how’d you even get on their radar?
Patrick: Part of the whole idea about doing this as a business was we knew
that there was a really unique opportunity just in the way that Apple
launches its products. There’s a lot of buildup to this one-day event and
you have all of these customers basically handed to you on a plate, waiting
outside Apple stores, lined up. They’re the most fanatical customers and
they’re exactly the people you want to get.
So we actually kickstarted our marketing by creating, actually I’ve got one
right here, these little handouts. It’s basically a postcard; it looks
just like our product. It’s got a little coupon code on the inside. We
went on Craigslist and we found people in different cities to basically go
out to Apple stores and hand these out. We gave everyone a code so we
could track who sold what and we gave them a commission on whatever they
could sell. So, they only got paid on what orders they could generate so
there was very little risk for us. We were able to get college students
and people who were just enthusiastic and energetic about a new Apple
product. So they went out and they Evangelized our product before we even
had any product. We made basically two cases at that point. And that just
snowballed, really. That was kind of, I think we spent about $500 on
marketing and that’s it.
Andrew: Where did the $500 go?
Patrick: It went to paying the commissions to these street teams basically.
Andrew: Oh, those street teams only cost you 500 bucks?
Patrick: Yeah. What ended up happening was they didn’t generate a lot of
sales themselves, but one or two of them ended up giving out coupons to
people who were bloggers. One of the two unofficial Apple blog people got
our case using one of these coupon codes and then wrote a post that said,
‘I love the case. It’s great,’ and that alone generated like 1,500 sales
in one day, just that one post. So, I mean, the ripple effect from that
Andrew: How’d you find the college students? I always ask very tactical
questions which I’m sure frustrates people, but I’m curious. How’d you
Patrick: Just Craigslist postings, really. We went on Craigslist in
different cities, and I guess it’s slightly against the terms of service
for Craigslist, but we only did it in maybe 10 different cities. We said,
‘Hey, do you like Apple products? Do you want to be involved in the
excitement of the launch of the iPad? Here’s the deal. We’ll send you
this marketing material and you’ll get paid for every case you can sell.’
And we had a lot of people who were interested in it, so we just signed
Andrew: I’m writing notes, by the way, as you talk. I’m sure if people see
me they’re wondering why I’m looking away. I don’t know how interviewers
on TV can do it, how they can take in information you’re giving, plus think
about the questions that they have coming up, and make sure that they ask
And on top of that, I have to deal with all the Skype that’s coming in.
That was my wife calling, if people heard that on Skype. [laughs] This is
home of the ambitious upstart, and home of the still an upstart, ambitious
I mentioned earlier that you were a high-tech entrepreneur. What was the
company that you were involved with before?
Patrick: I was involved with Web Minds. They built a browser add-on for
Firefox that basically started as a TiVo for the web and then kind of
morphed into a personalize your Google search results page.
Andrew: Your initial funding came from Y Combinator, right?
Patrick: Yeah. We were a Y Combinator-backed company and that was kind of
really my first foray in being an entrepreneur was going through Y
Andrew: How do you compare the difference between building something that’s
software to building something that you have to actually make and touch and
ship and take orders on?
Patrick: Yeah, those products don’t scale as easily as software but
everyone still needs to use physical products every day. I actually really
think that you shouldn’t look at the world as software-hardware. If you
can figure out a way to build a business that utilizes the power of the
Internet as a communications tool to reach customers, and you have a really
awesome physical product that people want to buy, then you should use one
to leverage the other, in my opinion.
Andrew: You said, I guess we did an interview before and I didn’t like the
technology so you redid it. Thanks for that. For some reason we were
having a bad connection. But I have a note here from that conversation
where you said you were having a string of businesses after Web Mind. What
were you up to?
Patrick: Yeah. From Web Mind, I published this cookbook. It was called
‘The Hungry Scientist Handbook,’ which a collection of, kind of, tech world
meets foodie worlds, edible electronic birthday cakes, and cryogenic ice
cream. That was a real focus for me for a while, to promote that, and it
looked like it might get turned into a television show, like a MythBusters
of food kind of thing. But that ended up evaporating with the economic
crisis, because everybody stopped making television shows, or at least
signing new television shows.
I bounced from that into a photography business called Event Pod, which was
utilizing Eye-Fi cards as wireless SD memory cards. The basic concept was
to crowd source your wedding photography, so you’d hand these cards out to
your wedding guests, people would take photos, everyone’s photos would get
beamed instantly to one place and you’d have everybody’s photos.
I did that. I did a Facebook app for high school rowers called Rowster. I
was basically like the shotgun approach. I probably had three or four,
kind of, non-starters or things that I tried that never really gained
momentum. None of them died, they’re still kind of back burner, but DoDo
Case is definitely the most successful out of anything I’ve done in the
past two and a half years.
Andrew: Any of those previous companies make money?
Patrick: There was another one actually that is making money called
appsto.re. It’s appstore with a .re at the end. That’s an iPhone app URL
shortening service that lets people do analytics on where their traffic’s
coming from and how it’s converting once people land inside of iTunes. My
partner on that is still working on that and it’s going really well.
I guess I kind of had a projectory where things seem to get, each time I
gave it a new attempt, it got better and better. But nothing that was like
a living wage until DoDo Case. Now I’m able to pay my bills and do all the
stuff that regular people do.
Andrew: I know appstore. I’ve seen a lot about it in blogs and my friends
who have apps have used it as their URL shortener. I didn’t realize you
were the guy behind it.
Patrick: Yeah. Me and my buddy Ohad [SP].
Andrew: This is over how many years that you’ve built all these businesses?
In between Web Mind and now is how long?
Patrick: I started Web Mind right at the beginning of 2008, so it’s
basically been two and a half years.
Andrew: How can you, in two and a half years, launch so many businesses?
Patrick: I don’t know. I guess you have to be ADD or something. [laughs]
Andrew: But even to see it through, is it that you’re able to partner with
good people? I notice that every one of these ideas has a partner, has
somebody who’s in it with you.
Patrick: Yeah. I think that that’s really key. No one typically has every
skill they need to build a successful business. So I’ve always looked for
people who complement my set of skills and I guess you really need to know
what your weaknesses are in order to find a good partner. You have to be
really honest with yourself.
With DoDo Case, I’ve got Craig Dalton. He’s fantastic, co-founder, and we
now have an operations guy, Mark Manning, who’s also an awesome guy. So
combined, the three of us, it’s like a well-oiled machine. Everyone has
their part that they’re really good at.
Andrew: How do you find so many co-founders? I had Paul Graham, founder of
Y Combinator, here. It’s one of the questions I asked him. It’s one of
the things that he said you should spend as much time as you need to find a
co-founder and for many people, as much time as they need is a long, long
time. Here you are finding co-founder for this idea, for that idea. How
are you finding so many?
Patrick: That’s a good question. In some ways I guess I’m just really
lucky. In other ways, I make sure that I’m out there meeting people. A
lot of the people, a pattern that’s just for me, a lot of people that I’ve
founded companies with are people that I’ve been on sports teams with or
trained with. So actually for me, a lot of it comes out of being involved
with triathalons, and rowing, and sporty stuff. So I don’t know if that’s
cause and effect or what, but a lot of the people that I found companies
with happen to be people that I’ve struggled with on a team or done
something like that.
Andrew: And you’re just creating a business with them and if it works, it
works, if it doesn’t, you’ve learned something and you can move on to the
Patrick: Yeah. Every company that I’ve started, even if it hasn’t been a
great success, everyone’s still friends at the end of it. We’ve all
learned something and yeah, I think everyone that I’ve done business with
is going to have a success eventually. You just have to keep trying.
Andrew: And there are three partners total on this business, on DoDo Case?
Patrick: On DoDo Case, yeah. Craig was my initial co-founder and then
we’ve built the team up a little bit since then.
Andrew: How’d you find him? How’d you find Craig? Sorry?
Patrick: I’ve known Craig for about three or four years. We’ve trained for
Iron Man Triathalons together.
Andrew: Get out!
Andrew: Which ones have you done? I’m dying to do my first Iron Man.
Patrick: I did Iron Man Canada two years in a row. I haven’t done it in a
while so I’m way out of shape.
Andrew: How long did it take you?
Patrick: My first year I did it in about 11:15.
Andrew: Is the cutoff 17 hours or 24 hours for that, do you know?
Patrick: I think it’s 18 hours.
Patrick: I think it’s 18 hours.
Andrew: I don’t want to get sidetracked, but I’m dying to do it and I’ve
got a feeling that it’s going to take me until the cutoff time. Everyone
else will be racing each other, I’m racing the cutoff time. But it’s worth
Andrew: What does the DoDo Case cost? Not to make, but what do you charge
Patrick: Yeah, so the DoDo Case, it was $50. We recently raised our price
Andrew: I was going to say, at 50 bucks, were you making a profit on that
Patrick: Yeah. We don’t have cheap cost of goods. We pay really well-
trained craftspeople to build our product, so we’re not going to China and
trying to skimp on every cent. Our costs are higher than probably most
other cases makers. But we’re reinvesting in quality and then also the
ability to reach customers directly and not have to split up our revenue
and give some to distributors and retailers, so that helps a lot.
Andrew: You know what, it really is craftspeople. I saw this one guy,
sometimes online I just get sucked into a video, I was doing research for
you and I got sucked into a couple of videos. First of all, Kevin Rose,
there’s no better promoter for a product than Kevin Rose. He’s just
walking me through it, he’s showing me how I can put it up on a desk so I
can type on it. He’s just doing a review, but meanwhile, if he’s selling
it, I want to buy anything that he’s got to sell. And this was a great
product for him to show off because he got to show the craftsmanship, the
Anyway, the second video I saw is a book binder putting the faux leather
around the cover and binding it to the cover. I was sitting there going,
‘That must cost Patrick an arm and a leg.’ And how do you even scale up
something like that? In fact, how do you scale up a business that depends
Patrick: First is to find someone who’s flexible and willing to work with
you closely. Gabby, our book binder, is a tremendous guy. He’s been doing
book binding for 40 years and he basically started his business when there
were 60 employees and it went all the way down to where there was only five
or six employees and his boss was going to shut the shop down. And he
decided to buy the business and run it himself.
When we found him, he was working by himself basically doing custom binding
for photographers and yearbooks and things like that. But he had seen the
days when it was a real production line. So he was able to kind of take
our vision and make us the first thousand products. But then he understood
what production looked like. He was able to take that, and now he’s hired,
like I said, 14 people and he’s really got a fantastic operation. He’s got
his daughters in there and he’s teaching them how to do the business. Who
knows? Maybe one day it’ll be passed on to the next generation of book
binders in Gabby’s family.
Andrew: [laughs] Is he able to train people and get them up and running
quickly? How long does it take him to get a new person on?
Patrick: That was a little bit of a painful transition. We got this huge
spike at the beginning of May where we had like 2,000 orders in the course
of two days and at that point, it was basically me putting these things
together in my living room. Maybe I was lucky to be making 40 of them a
day. And then I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re never going to be able to
deliver all these.’ We gave ourselves this four to six week window, and
over that period, Gabby, he basically took the burden off of us in terms of
figuring out how to make the covers. And then we were able to focus on how
we were going to make all these wooden trays. And combined, just working
with good people is the secret. He did his part and he was really
trustworthy and did a high quality job and we were able to focus on the
Andrew: What kind of marketing do you do?
Patrick: Right now, we actually haven’t done any marketing besides the
intial launch. That’s basically because we can’t make these products fast
enough yet, so we’ve been really focused on scaling the production, the
manufacturing. We’re looking at how we’re going to make a more sustainable
marketing effort. We have some ideas but we’re waiting until our
production supply can meet any demand that we try and drum up.
Andrew: How do you grow from here?
Patrick: I think that there’s a number of things we can do. We have a
bunch of customization in the works and we’re planning on letting people
create different colors and different styles. Anything you can do with a
book, you can do with our product.
I think corporate is a big opportunity for us. People who want to put
their corporate emblem on it or universities who want to create custom
editions for their school. I think it’s going to be a big educational
market. They’re supposed to sell 17 million iPads in the first year, so I
wish I could make 17 million DoDo Cases. So I think there’s a lot of room
to just grow with the iPad.
Google’s going to have an iPad type of device soon and so will a lot of
other people. I think the whole category of digital slate is one that’s
here to stay.
Andrew: What about competitors? Can somebody watching this say, ‘Well, I’m
going to go out there and I’ll create my own version of this. You don’t
own the design.’?
Patrick: Yeah, sure. Business is about competition and we welcome people
and we’ll just do our best to compete with them. I think the real
differentiator for our product is that we really are about trying to
preserve this tradition of book binding. So if someone can appreciate
that, and I think consumers do appreciate that, they’ll hopefully choose
our case over just something that’s stamped out of a factory in China.
Andrew: Do you have many competitors who are doing this right now? Not
Patrick: Yeah. I don’t know of too many. Obviously a lot of people making
cases right now, so there’s no shortage of iPad cases. I don’t know if
anyone’s doing it in the same way we’re doing it or focusing on the quality
as much as we are. Like I said, because we can sell direct to the
customer, we are able to reinvest a lot of the profits into the quality of
the product. You wouldn’t be able to buy in a store the quality of product
that we can create because the guy who’s making that has to make it so
cheaply in order to get it into retail channels, that the quality
Andrew: Mm. Does that mean that you won’t be able to go into retail in the
Patrick: We’re not ruling it out. But we would have to, and we’re at the
beginning of the whole process, so I’m sure there will be ways in which we
can change our product and once we get to high enough quanitites, yeah it
will get cheaper. But the price will probably have to go up if it goes
into retail channels.
Andrew: You said earlier that you paid high school students or college
students based on how many they sold. Does Shopify allow you to do that?
They keep track of orders and coupons and all that?
Patrick: Yeah. Shopify’s got some great tools so you can create coupon
codes, basically 10% off or $5 off or whatever. These suppliers that we
made had a ‘Get the DoDo Case with 10% off’ and then when someone used that
coupon code, we know every marketer had a specific code, so we know if that
person used a code, it was associated with person who was working at Store
X in Chicago or whatever it was.
Andrew: Tell me a little bit more about Shopify as a platform. I’ve used
it and I’ve talked it up because they were sponsors of mine. But I want
other people to find out what it’s like.
Patrick: Yeah. Well it makes it really easy to get up and running. We
have a pretty simple e-commerce site. It’s one product. [laughs] But
Shopify, they can support lots of different SKUs, so if you want to build a
business selling a lot of different products, you can definitely do that on
Shopify. Like I said, we are just a one-product company right now.
Hopefully that’ll change, but initially that’s all we launched with.
I think the real power of Shopify is in the support and in the forums and
being able to get your questions answered quickly.
Andrew: What kind of support did you need?
Patrick: Well there’s always something that comes up, like we had some
problems with merchant processing, like PayPal and Google checkout were
holding a lot of our money. Because we’re a new company and we’re growing
quickly, they wanted to make sure we weren’t frauds or whatever. But being
able to ping the Shopify folks and say, ‘Hey, could you help us with this?’
or, ‘What would you do in this case?’ That kind of thing was great. But
also just functionality of the site, we’d say, ‘Hey, guys, we’d love to be
able to do this,’ and they were just like, ‘Hey, all right. We’ll make it
do that.’ [laughs] They were fantastic in that regard.
Andrew: You know, we talked about this in the pre-interview last week.
We’re both so surprised that somebody didn’t game this contest and what did
you think was going to happen? How did you think someone would win the
Patrick: I thought it was going to be some like monster ad words campaign
where somebody was basically selling stuff at a loss, maybe even just to
kind of feed the whole system and get lots of sales and basically build a
business that wasn’t profitable. It was just like gaming the rules of the
I didn’t have much hope when I started that I was going to win the contest.
I just figured this contest is a good focal point for building an e-
commerce business and I’ll just focus on what I think will be a good
business. I was totally surprised that there wasn’t some kind of crazy,
affiliate marketing pyramid scheme thing. [laughs]
Andrew: I thought it would be somebody selling mattresses maybe at a loss.
Mattresses have a high price point, this contest was based on revenue, I
figured they would just slam those things, get them out the door, end up
with the $100,000 and the publicity that comes from it and then take it and
go do something else.
Patrick: Yeah, I thought it would be a drop shipping thing. Somebody that
never even actually touches their product, they just buy it, and put it on
the trading block.
Andrew: I don’t know the contest rules specifically, but I would think that
that would be okay with them. They do enable drop shipping. And they work
with drop shippers.
Patrick: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: But I didn’t think it would be a guy who came out of nowhere with a
new idea and ended up selling about a million dollars worth of cases.
Andrew: It’s unreal.
Patrick: You’re as surprised as I am.
Andrew: Did you start because of the contest?
Patrick: I did actually, yeah.
Andrew: Wait. So the contest got you going? The contest said, ‘Well, what
can I sell’?
Patrick: It really did. Back in December I started thinking about, God
I’ve been doing all these software things and I can’t seem to make any
money doing software even though software scales and it’s so scalable, it
doesn’t scale when you’re not making any money.
So I decided maybe I’ll just get back to meat and potatoes of business and
try to do something where I actually have physical product. I read ‘The 4-
Hour Workweek’ a couple months prior and so I was kind of digesting it, I
guess. And I tossed around a couple ideas with friends. I live in this
house with like 10 people and a lot of them are entrepreneurs, so we’re
always tossing around ideas. And I bounced between thinking about making a
marketplace to sell coffee beans online because I was like, ‘Why can’t I
get my favorite coffee beans from Boston where I went to college without
having to actually be in the store? Be some way to get those online.’ But
then I realized nobody’s going to spend $5 to ship $10 or $15 worth of
coffee beans, so I tossed that idea.
It just kind of emerged and then the iPad came out and I think a good
strategy for a start up is to ride on the coattails of someone else’s
marketing. And I think that we were definitely a case of that. Apple’s
doing obviously all the heavy lifting.
Andrew: Tell me a little bit more about this mansion that you’re in and
hopefully before the interview is done, we’ll get to see you spin the
computer around and have a look.
Patrick: So, in true Y Combinator spirit, it started with Y Combinator, me
and a couple of the guys in my class all were living together, five or six
of us in this tiny little two-bedroom house. And then we upgraded to this
awesome mansions on the top of Pack Heights. It’s like a 6,000-squarefoot
mansion that has bay views. I’m sitting in the library right now. We have
an elevator in our house.
We found it on Craigslist and we’re like, ‘We got to make this happen.’
So, maybe this is another reason I’m good at finding co-founders. I just
opened up my Rolodex and was like, ‘Who wants to move into an awesome
mansion?’ and we got the coolest group of people, half of which I’ve known
since high school, a bunch of them I went to college with. My wife’s
actually the only woman in the house. So she’s like the queen of the
Andrew: I was going to ask you about that. So you’re a married guy who’s
got his wife in a house with all these dudes?
Andrew: And the guys bring home girls?
Patrick: [laughs] When we moved in, the rule was no girlfriends were
allowed to move into the house, so my wife was grandfathered in to the
Andrew: I see. I can’t believe she puts up with all this stuff. What’s it
like living around the house with all these guys?
Patrick: It’s awesome. It’s just really inspiring to see everybody working
on their individual projects. It’s such a diverse group of skill sets that
you can bounce ideas off of people. It’s also good to keep spirits high
because it’s not always happy times when you’re starting a business, so
it’s good to have other people to just kind of like cheer you up and get
you through the tough times.
Andrew: Do you guys talk business a lot?
Patrick: Yeah. I would say it’s a healthy mix. We’re always tossing
around ideas. It’s a fun environment.
Andrew: Who else is in the house that we might know?
Patrick: Justin Santa Barbara, who’s a Y Combinator guy in my batch from
FathomDB. He’s in the house. Jason Toy, who has been working on a variety
of things, he’s a ruby developer. And then we’ve got a VC in the house.
Andrew: Which VC is living in the house with you guys?
Patrick: I don’t know if he wants me to reveal his name.
Andrew: Really? Can you say which firm?
Patrick: No, I shouldn’t.
Andrew: Top-tier firm or. . .
Patrick: It’s a good firm.
Andrew: It’s a good firm? Interesting. Wow. How much are you guys
charging for rent?
Patrick: We got in trouble for releasing that. It got out on some blog
that we were living in this mansion in Pack Heights and our landlord got
upset, so I shouldn’t reveal too many details.
Andrew: Can you give us a rough estimate of what it costs to live in a
place like that? It sounds pretty expensive.
Patrick: I can tell you that I pay way less than a thousand dollars a
Andrew: Oh, okay. All right. And that’s for you and your wife?
Patrick: Yeah, yeah. Well, yeah.
Andrew: You guys have your own bathroom or does she have to deal with the
other guys peeing on the toilet seat?
Patrick: Yeah, no we have our own bathroom. She’s got her own closet.
It’s a pretty good setup.
Andrew: Wow. Wow.
Andrew: Unreal. You were talking about some of this. . . Sorry?
Patrick: I was just going to say we definitely gamed the San Francisco real
Andrew: [laughs] You were talking about some of the down periods. Can you
tell us a little bit more about that?
Patrick: Oh, God, well there’s lots of times you doubt what you’re doing,
like, ‘Is it going to work?’
Andrew: Give me an example, like maybe one specific time when you felt that
Patrick: Well for DoDo Case, it hasn’t really been the case because we’ve
only been around for three or four months and it’s all been good.
Andrew: What about before? You got business after business. You got to
have high hopes for these companies and when they don’t do as well as you
thought, how do you feel?
Patrick: Yeah, you feel dejected. You feel like, God, what am I doing?
It’s years of my life and I have nothing to show for it except for some
education I guess. I would say it was really bleak right after Y
Combinator for when I was involved with Web Minds. We were basically down
to the last $100 in the bank and we’d been working six months, three of us,
we lived off of basically $20,000, three people for six months in San
Francisco. You’re just exhausted at that point and you’re like, ‘Wow,
we’re going to have to shut this down,’ and luckily we were actually able
to close a round of Angel funding and it was great.
But there was a point there where we actually had to get more servers
booted up because we had this spike in demand and we couldn’t afford it.
We actually went to Firefox, who put us on their recommended add-ons list.
We sheepishly asked them to take us off their add-on list because we
couldn’t afford to be on there. [laughs] That ended up being a really
happy time because then you can go to investors and you have a great story
to tell them, ‘Oh, we just need money for more servers.’ All investors
like to hear that kind of thing.
Andrew: Yeah they do. Did you get married to your wife recently?
Patrick: Just under a year ago.
Andrew: Was there a period through that that she said, ‘What am I doing
marrying this guy? I should marry a guy who’s got a good job. Google’s
just in the neighborhood here.’
Patrick: Yeah. She never said that, but her father really drilled me when
I asked her the question.
Patrick: It was seeing him.
Andrew: How’s he feel now? Did you take the check to him from Shopify and
say, ‘Listen, are we good now?’
Patrick: Yeah. [laughs]
Andrew: ‘Can we have a whiskey here and just reminisce about the old bad
Patrick: Yeah. No, I’m going to do that once I get that check.
Andrew: [laughs] Is PayPal still holding on to your check?
Patrick: Oh, God, PayPal. I shouldn’t bash on PayPal too much because
they’ve really come around and they’re being really helpful now. But there
was a point where every product we were shipping was at a loss. Most
people think, ‘Oh you take preorders and you have this money and it
finances the whole thing.’ Well, cash flow has been a real headache for
us. PayPal, at the beginning, they were holding all of our money and
wouldn’t give us anything. And then they thought they were helping us by
only giving us 25% of our money, which that’s not really helping us because
we’re still in the hole shipping products. That was really tough.
Andrew: How’d you pay Gabby?
Patrick: I dug into my savings and I used what little money I had saved up
to kind of get over that hump. But now we’re fairly over it. PayPal and
Google checkout still owes us a bunch of money, but we’ll get it
Google checkout, I was really frustrated with them, because they had like
over $100,000 of ours and we’d had all these emails back and forth. At one
point, I was like, ‘Can please somebody just call me so we can resolve
this?’ This was like 20 emails back and forth. And their response was,
‘Oh I’m sorry we don’t have phone support.’ I was like, ‘You have over
$100,000 that belongs to our company and you guys won’t even call us?’
That one really pissed me off.
Andrew: That’s the frustation that I have with Google. I love that
everything’s in the cloud. I love that they can automate everything. But
you know what, that last mile, sometimes you need to have a human being at
the other end of the phone. Even if it’s just to say, ‘Hey, we’ll take
care of it for you. We understand.’
Patrick: Yeah. Yeah. We got over that too. These are all. . .
Andrew: I guess they’re not used to people growing as fast as you did.
Four months ago you weren’t in business, you weren’t selling anything.
Patrick: Yeah I understand both Google checkout and PayPal’s situation.
I’m sure people try and steal money from them everyday, and they’ve got to.
Patrick: . . .take fraud seriously. I mean, I understand that.
Andrew: When did you know that you made it with this? With DoDo? I want
to keep saying the name completely so people can go and research it. DoDo
Case. DoDoCase.com. We’ll get into what the name means in a moment. But
when did you know that it was going to work?
Patrick: Actually, when the Engadget review and the unofficial Apple blog,
those two reviews happened on back to back days. And we saw a spike in
sales, like I said, and it was tremendous. That was a really validating
moment right there. So that was one. I still, any entrepreneur, there’s
something that keeps you up at night, where you’re like, ‘Something could
happen. It could all end tomorrow.’ So I don’t think we’ve made it yet.
Another real validating moment for me was, Craig, my co-founder, and I were
sitting in a cafe just having a meeting and we had our DoDo Case out and
some complete stranger came up to us and said, ‘Hey, that’s a DoDo Case,
isn’t it? How do you guys like that thing?’ We were like, ‘Well, we’re
kind of biased, but it’s the best case ever.’
Andrew: That’s got to be awesome. That’s like if you’re a rock band and
you hear your music on the radio. Wait for the day when you go into a
conference and there are a bunch of people with DoDo Cases on their laps.
Patrick: Yeah, totally. That was kind of that moment for us.
Andrew: You know what? It seems like you never stop worrying as an
entrepreneur. I talked to Fred Wilson. I read his blog all the time. I
see a picture of him and his family walking down the beach so serenely. I
figure this guy has got great ideas, he’s later on in life, I see him
walking down the beach, he must have not a care in the world. He said,
‘You know what, Andrew? Earlier this morning,’ I think he said at 3 a.m.
he got up with worries. He said, ‘I just can’t get over it.’
Man, sometimes I think, I just talked to a guy yesterday or actually this
morning who worked at IBM and then turned it all in to go be an
entrepreneur. I wonder what his life would have been like at IBM.
Probably would’ve been a lot calmer.
Patrick: Yeah. A lot of those worries get taken away when you have a
Andrew: Yeah. On the other hand, we’re inventing the future. 10, 20 years
from now when people look back at how life changed and what influences
their lives, it’s going to be things like this. Things like this case that
somebody at home is sitting there right now saying, ‘It’s just a case.’
No, it’s not. It’s helping people reimagine what their interaction with
the computer is. It’s helping people introduce the iPad into places where
they never would have been able to introduce it before, where they would
have looked like freaks.
I got to tell you, when you walk in with an iPhone, you say, ‘I’m going to
take notes on my iPhone,’ or with an iPad, say, ‘I’m going to take notes on
an iPad,’ to a lot of people it’s really weird. And so it becomes
something you can’t bring into a meeting and can’t be as productive as you
want to. You bring the DoDo Case in there and now it looks like something
people are familiar with. Now you’re not just a freak who’s going to play
a video game, now you’re a guy who’s got a notebook, but a little bit more
advanced. And every business is doing that to some degree.
What about the name DoDo? Why would you name your company DoDo? Where did
that come from?
Patrick: It came, really, the idea was to play with the idea of the book
going extinct. Everybody’s talking about how the book’s dying and we
thought, well let’s make the emblem of our whole thing be the dodo because
it’s so fitting. You have Penguin books and you have all these publishers
that have avian mascots or whatever you want to call them. We figured
let’s have fun with it a little bit. Just because the iPad’s here and
people are going to be getting their information in pixel form instead of
on paper, it doesn’t mean that the art and the tradition of book binding
needs to go away. We can just reinterpret it and reapply it to the next
wave of technology.
I think that’s what really gets me amped up about this business is that it
really is helping preserve this tradition. It’s a real cultural shift
that’s going on in society now and it’s nice to be a business that can help
that transition happen a little bit more smoothly.
Andrew: How much investment did you put into this transition business?
Patrick: Oh, God. [laughs] With my own personal money, or. . .
Andrew: Total all you and your co-founder and anyone else.
Patrick: Well it was $500 in marketing to get started, with the prototyping
and everything. Most of the money went in just to deal with cash flow
issues, so you’re talking $50,000 to $100,000.
Andrew: Wow. You had $50,000 to $100,000 to invest?
Patrick: Well, invest is a tough word. You got credit cards and stuff.
Andrew: All right. And that’s because you can’t get access to your money
until you’ve built the product and sent it out and gotten it in the hands
of your customer, and PayPal releases it.
Patrick: Right. And PayPal holds it for 45 days, so I got to finance
building the product, shipping it at a loss, and then waiting a month and a
half to get money. And during that period of time, there’s definitely the
risk of hey, this is a new product, you send it to people they might not
like it, they might all return it, and then you’re really screwed, right?
You’re like, ‘Damn, I just racked up $50,000 on a credit card. I thought I
was going to get some money and now all I got are a bunch of cases back.’
Luckily that didn’t happen. We really focused on making quality product,
but there was that risk.
Andrew: Most people wouldn’t have this kind of situation because they
wouldn’t have this explosive growth. This is a good problem to have, a
high-class problem like they say, right?
Patrick: Yeah. I’m not complaining, but there was some fingernail biting
Andrew: I do talk to a lot of entrepreneurs here who try one company then
another, then another, then another, and then bam! They take off with one.
Do you have some advice for somebody who’s going in that direction?
Patrick: I guess that old Winston Churchill quote, ‘Never, never, never
give up,’ is kind of really fitting in that situation. I guess to
elaborate on that is just to make sure you’ve got a good support group
behind you, to keep your spirits high, and to keep you trying new things
because you’re going to fail, and you’re going to fall over. Make sure you
have people that love you around. My wife, I definitely could not have
done this without her support and her patience, and all of my friends here
in the house also, putting up with sawdust in the living room and glue
smells and fumes. For the first month we were making all the DoDo Cases
Andrew: [laughs] Awesome. Well, thank you for doing the interview. Thank
you Shopify for introducing me to Patrick. I’ve been wanting to figure out
who won the contest and they slipped me your name, made the introduction.
We agreed we would do this interview quietly. It’s not going to be a live
interview, I’m not going to reveal your name, I’m not going to reveal any
of the details until they’re ready for me to do it. I’m really grateful to
them for introducing me to you.
This is the kind of story, by the way, that my audience keeps wanting.
They say, ‘Give me a guy who’s got an idea that I can understand, that’s
basic, that doesn’t need outside funding, that I’m not looking at and
saying, “Ah, he’s a whiz kid, he’s an ex-Sergei [SP], no wonder the guy hit
it big. Give me a guy who’s like us, who’s willing to work hard and
willing to come up with an idea that feels accessible and can show us the
way that that’s done,”‘ and thanks for doing that.
Patrick: Yeah, thanks for having me. It was a real pleasure.
Andrew: Cool. And one more thing that’s great, that you’re a fan. You’ve
actually seen my interviews. I love now that I’m doing interviews to this
community. I’m getting to interview people that have been listening.
Patrick: It’s your rockstar moment, you know?
Andrew: Yeah. Right. It’s as close to the rockstar moment as I’ve gotten
so far. Maybe when I leave Buenos Aires and actually get back to
California, I can walk into a cafe and hear somebody say, ‘You know, I
heard on Mixergy this morning. This is what I. . .’
Andrew: For now, we got you a rockstar moment with the DoDo Case. Everyone
check out DoDoCase.com, see what we’ve been talking about, see the business
behind it. And Patrick, once again, thanks for doing the interview.
Patrick: Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew: Cool. Bye, bud.
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