The situation: Doug Stienstra’s girlfriend wanted a cute flash drive for her birthday. The problem: Stienstra couldn’t find one. Everything at the mall or online was dull and overpriced. The solution: Stienstra took the DIY route and glued a finger puppet to a plain USB stick. The result: His girlfriend loved it, and so did her friends. That’s when Stienstra knew he was onto something.
With the resources at the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory at The University of Iowa, from which he graduated last spring, Stienstra launched his business of cute animal flash drives called FlashPals. He bootstrapped the startup, using cash awards from elevator pitch and business plan competitions to pay for UPC codes, trademarks, and web design. He also made each product himself in his living room, a process that, according to him, “took hours and hours” to put together by hand. Nonetheless, Stienstra persevered due to the evident demand.
Nearly all of the initial FlashPals inventory sold out late last year. After relocating to Austin, Texas, Stienstra looked for investors to assist him in expanding the business. He found the help he needed in Scott Goyette, an entrepreneur and management professor at Austin Community College. Goyette, who invested $5,000, says, “The creative, simple design had obvious marketing potential.”
Stienstra has since sourced his supplies from China, though manufacturing has remained in the US. He’s not just out to sell flash drives disguised as adorable animals, though. A portion of proceeds from each sale goes to wildlife charities; FlashPals currently supports the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, an organization that protects giraffe populations in the wild. “I think it’s great that I’m able to use my business to have an impact on something I’m passionate about,” says Stienstra.
FlashPals are available online and at local retailers, while contracts with national retailers are in the works.