In this episode, we speak with Mike Watts, Founder, and President of LoveHandle.com about consumer products that add value. How previous success lead to the initial failure and how he overcame that failure to bring success to Love Handle.
Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA business podcast, a form for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of Brillmedia.co, an Inc 500 company delivering the power of hyperlocal advertising. Robert writes for Forbes, Inc and Ad Trade publications.
Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship, and management.
Robert Brill: [00:00:38] Hey, everyone, before we get started with this episode of the LA Business Podcast, we have a little bit of a change of venue. We recorded, these episodes live at the Social Media Marketing World Conference in San Diego, California.
I met some really interesting people and I record these episodes live because I wanted to hear their stories and I want to bring them to you. So, I hope you enjoy the podcast and hope you know the episode and, I hope you can forgive the sound quality that you might hear the background noise.
All right, here we go. Welcome to another episode of the LA business podcast. Today our guest is Mike Watts, Founder and CEO of Love Handle, and Mike has a fantastic product. It’s a, it’s a handle for your mobile device, and I’ve been using it over the last few days here at Social Media Marketing World, and I love it, Mike, thanks for being on the show,
Mike Watts: [00:01:38] My honor Robert, thanks for having me.
Robert Brill: [00:01:39] So Mike, tell us about love handle. how did you come up with inspiration for this product? Tell us a little bit about your business.
Mike Watts: [00:01:46] Well, I’ve, I’ve become a serial entrepreneur as it were, and we’ve got three consecutive multimillion-dollar startups. I’m all based around consumer products, and I’ve always been on the hunt for products that can deliver massive amounts of value because they address a problem that’s across the largest part of humanity.
And the smartphone has become the most common piece of, our daily lives. And they didn’t really think about how to interact the phone, a thin piece of fragile glass with our human hand, and any way for ergonomics. And when we discovered the love handle, um. I knew that that was it. I knew that this was a product that would solve a problem for an innumerable number of people.
And so we partnered with the original inventor and licenses patents. So that’s been my, my sort of model. I’ve licensed three patents over the, over the span of the last 12 years, and brought them all to become multimillion-dollar companies and brands.
Robert Brill: [00:02:43] So this is not your first rodeo.
Mike Watts: [00:02:45] Not my first rodeo.
Robert Brill: [00:02:46] Okay. So, when we talked to you, you’ve been experiencing some substantial growth in your business, how do you measure success over your business and give us whatever metrics that you think are important for us to know about how you measure growth.
Mike Watts: [00:03:05] So we’re looking at first and foremost, we always look at our customer satisfaction and our reorder rate.
Our reorder rate is the most important statistic that we care about, because it means that not only was the product good, but the interaction with our company was good. A big part of our businesses is B2B. So, companies will place their brand. On the phone grip and then give it out at a trade show or to their key clients.
And then, you know, the product is seen. And, but the key is that we’ve treated their logo with care, that they treated their expectations with care and delivered a product that’s helping them to multiply their value, they’re going to invest a few dollars into this product. We want to make sure that they’re getting 10 X back out of it, and so it’s a win win between the two companies.
Robert Brill: [00:03:56] Amazing. This podcast is really about growth and scaling the business, right? Like I’m on the mission to find all the intricacies of growing and scaling the business. It’s a selfish ask because I also am growing and scaling my business. Let’s start with this.
What are the learnings that you had over from your other businesses that you brought into this? Like is there anything that you did exponentially fast and this business because of alerting you have from a prior business.
Mike Watts: [00:04:27] I think that yes, there were, there were some things that we did fast but didn’t actually help me because some of the ways, right?
I had been very successful with infomercial marketing, putting my products on TV late night, couldn’t sleep at night. You’re probably gonna see one of my products out there. And when I launched Love Handle, I was full of ego. I had just sold a company for $6 million and was pretty sure I could take any great product plugging into my system, my proven formula, and it would work.
I would go make it in China. I would put it on television, produced an infomercial, orders would come flooding in, and so I got a little ahead of myself. I ordered a half a million-dollar product from China. I spent $300,000 on a television advertising campaign. Shot a great commercial, without ever testing it.
Robert Brill: [00:05:16] For Love Handles.
Mike Watts: [00:05:17] For love handles. This was six years ago.
Robert Brill: [00:05:19] Six years. Okay. So 2013
Mike Watts: [00:05:23] And the problem was that it didn’t translate on TV. It was too inexpensive and didn’t work. Plus, the Chinese cut some corners and caused me to have to destroy all the product that they had sent me. So, I literally pushed a half a million dollars of product and then down, lost all my money on TV.
And then we got slapped with a lawsuit because somebody thought our logo looked too close to theirs.
Robert Brill: [00:05:49] No.
Mike Watts: [00:05:50] That was my experience right out of the gates with Love Handle and where most people would have maybe given up at that point. And I think that my experience in my previous businesses helped me to have the resolve that I would need to push through that and to believe that the product is good.
And yes, bad things happen, but they happen for a reason. And so it encouraged me in, sort of forced me into finding a way to make our products in America.
Robert Brill: [00:06:19] So looking back on it, you’d go a little slower?
Mike Watts: [00:06:23] Go a little slower.
Robert Brill: [00:06:23] Test the product from China. What do maybe test multiple suppliers?
Mike Watts: [00:06:28] Yeah. So, yeah, from a on a supply side, definitely have more specific, tangible measurements around the performance of the product. some very specifics around, the components that are going to be used in it. And then additionally to look at, you know, is this gonna sell on TV, or is the demand going to ramp up as quickly as I think instead of me just thinking that I should have tested it and then I would have known, I could’ve saved myself a whole lot of pain and heartache
Robert Brill: [00:06:59] And heartache, and challenges to your mindset, I imagine was, part of that or I guess that’s encapsulated in the heartache part of it. so, okay, so, how did you recover? So, you did this in what, like 2013.
Mike Watts: [00:07:18] Yeah. 2014,
Robert Brill: [00:07:20] and
Mike Watts: [00:07:21] 2015, was kind of this timeframe when all this happened.
Around 2016 we decided to regroup and start to work on finding a piece of the business that was working well and do more of that while we figured out what our next move would be. And so what we did is we focused on promotional products. The companies that had bought the product from us with their logo on it, were elated with it.
One of the reorders wanted to reorder more, and that was a very consistent theme. I said, okay, well how about we just decided to be the best at that for now, and we can take on retail later. We can take on TV or what would become Instagram marketing later, but right now, let’s be the best at providing, marketers, a physical tool to promote their brand width.
Robert Brill: [00:08:08] So, okay. So, would you describe that act of finding the right fit? Would you call that product market fit? Cause like you have something you’re like, okay, did I see them? I have the imagination, I see the vision for this, but the way I was going to market with it wasn’t working.
And then you found that business to business marketing for you is the right way to go, so, okay. I love that. I think that’s fascinating. I think a big challenge, you know, because we’re responsible for making businesses work, scale grow, like with our advertising campaigns. And I think sometimes some of our smaller clients, they did take a step back and asked like, is a thing that we have interesting for the people where we think it is interesting too, right?
I think you, you went through that with a, with a big number and a lot of heartache. Okay, so you identified your market, you know who loves it, and then how did you grow this thing.
Mike Watts: [00:09:14] So from that point, we figured out that we needed to be, you know, in our own blue ocean, if you will. And we started investing in automation.
So we developed our own automation equipment to be able to manufacture this product at scale, to compete against the low labor costs overseas, be able to do it with American employees and American components. And so, we had to struggle around to try to find the textiles, which are very few in America left.
That could produce our elastic that we need and then build the internal structure to be able to build this at scale. And it was really cool. Cause then you know, we basically have created partnerships within inventors. So, inventors typically are a certain personality type. They’re tinkerers. They like to just be in the shop.
They want to make stuff better and fix it. They don’t mess necessarily want to be at a trade show or answering customer service phone calls or deciding the best version of the packaging. That’s what I love. And so, by partnering together, the inventor can then go back and be. Their best self in the workshop.
And so that’s exactly what happened. Our inventor, we leaned on him and said, Hey, you think you could build this equipment that we needed? And I said, absolutely, I can build it. And so he invented the automation equipment that we use today built it out of 80, 20 rods and Arduino circuits and stuff that’s way over my head.
But it allowed us to produce now where we can produce over 50,000 units every day, completely custom. And we have 32 full time employees. And, the ability to react quickly to the market and have, with our retail program, we can have, things that are on trend. So like right now, one of the most popular prints we have is for Koby Bryant, you know, right.
Robert Brill: [00:10:54] But the licensing, I mean that’s, that’s challenging. I was, I’m a big Dodgers fan, so like, do you have a Dodgers like thing?
Mike Watts: [00:11:02] We have some licenses. We don’t have all the licenses. Right. We’d like to have, some of them are very expensive. We will eventually, so we kind of pick and choose them as we go.
We want to make sure there’s a demand for it. But. There’s plenty of other examples that you can, you know, just be on trend with what’s hot now. And when you’re sourcing products from China, you have to, you know, plan six months or a year in advance. And sometimes you don’t know what’s going to be popular and you, if you do know, you don’t know how many you’re going to need.
So you’re throwing, it’s like throwing a lawn dart six months out, you know, where’s it going to land? And versus now we literally build our product as we go, and it’s a very strong business model. I can do a batch of five or I can do a batch of 500,000. And very quickly.
Robert Brill: [00:11:47] So I imagine there’s a lot of application. I mean, we’re at Social Media Marketing World. I have one on my thing on my phone that says hashtag SME chat, because I participated in that meta. So very custom. I imagine for the influencers, for the tick tockers are you on tick tock by any chance?
Mike Watts: [00:12:06] Yes, we are. The Love Handle.
Robert Brill: [00:12:08] so, there’s this one video, one Tick Tock of Margo, the little lizard or is tall lizard with chameleon or something. This young girl, my name is Margo, not something.
Mike Watts: [00:12:23] Oh yeah.
Robert Brill: [00:12:24] I love that, I think. And that woman, she’s a, she’s a young woman. She’s totally having a moment. She’s totally got the personality for it.
I think her name is Riley Hawk because I somehow like she showed her name on it. This woman is totally having a moment. She’s got like 2 million followers and she’s totally like riding it. And now what I noticed is she has a store. On is that she is something about a store. She’s, she’s selling branded products.
Right? I’m like, wow, this would be a fantastic, like you could totally react to that if you can fit it on the size of this, what would you call this? A band?
Mike Watts: [00:13:00] Yup. Yup. Yeah. The elastic band.
Robert Brill: [00:13:02] Like there’s no end in sight to the types of places this could go and it’s so niche, it’s amazing.
Mike Watts: [00:13:09] And then my bigger dream here is to create Love Handle into, so that it’s not a product, though. We do have some amazing sort of iterations coming out later, but really, I want it to be more of a platform.
Robert Brill: [00:13:23] How does that, what does that, that’s interesting. We work, you could argue as a social network.
Mike Watts: [00:13:28] Right? Yeah, exactly.
Robert Brill: [00:13:30] So tell me, how does that look?
Mike Watts: [00:13:31] So what I’d like it to do, I see that the, this product, if you’re custom printing anything, right? A tee shirt or whatever, it’s a, it’s an expression of yourself. Right? And so if I can create a platform where artists or nonprofits or people with a cause or a mission or whatever can use my product to raise money or to raise awareness or to further their cause, then that will be a greater value than being able to not drop your phone would be.
And so what we’re doing is we’re seeking collaborations with influencers, particularly influencers that are doing good in the world. So, like we partnered recently with The National Arthritis Foundation, and we then find influencers that are afflicted with arthritis and that are telling their story.
And then we let them use our product as a vehicle to spread the word.
Robert Brill: [00:14:27] Right.
So like an icebreaker?
Mike Watts: [00:14:29] Right? Yeah.
Robert Brill: [00:14:30] So the point is that it’s, the communication in the current state, which still come with this would still be facilitated as this elastic bands and strapped and whatnot. But do you, is that it?
Mike Watts: [00:14:45] Right, if it’s a platform, right. So, it’s a place that, yes, that’s, maybe the thing that brings the people there. But it’s a place where they can go on and tell their story about what life is like with arthritis.
Robert Brill: [00:14:57] Got it.
Mike Watts: [00:14:57] Right. And explained to the world like how they’re living through it.
And yes, this product is great functionally for it, but it’s a place where they get to share their story. And the more that it can be that for me, the more successful I think we’re going to become.
Robert Brill: [00:15:15] Got it. That’s amazing. So that’s, I like that creating community around specific topics. So, tell us, some of the tactics or strategies you’ve been deploying that have like, have been a direct result in inner growth.
I mean, you’re at this trade show, you’re exhibiting, you mentioned Instagram, like what’s, what’s working for you to grow your business?
Mike Watts: [00:15:42] One thing, one unique thing that we do that I’ve never seen anyone else do as specifically here this is a Social Media Marketing Conference. This is not a swag conference, right?
It’s not what it’s about. But we make this promotional product. but for us, what we do is we show up here and we have these custom preprinted for every other exhibitor and sponsor here. They don’t know we’re coming with them, but they’re our customer too. So, A Gore Pulses inside. Last year, the show, I had A Gore Pulse, love handles that I showed up with, met the owner, gave him to him.
He fell in love with it. A week later, I get an order on my website. Now. Since then, they’ve ordered reordered lots of times, and so it’s that thoughtfulness of somebody showing up with a gift with your logo on it. That breaks down any barrier they might have of somebody walking up to them trying to sell them something.
Right. The gift is going to overcome that, and that’s sort of the nature of the product too, but it’s a, it’s a guerrilla marketing is saying, okay, I’m going to be at this trade show, but how can I maximize everything about the every minute that I’m here in preparing for the big investment that it is to be here and convert that back into value for the company?
Robert Brill: [00:16:57] Are you familiar with Robert Cialdini? He’s an author. He wrote two books, one about influence, it’s called, I think it’s just called Influence. And the other one’s called Pre-Suasion.
Mike Watts: [00:17:10] Oh, no, I haven’t heard that.
Robert Brill: [00:17:11] Yeah. And, and you’re 100% deploying that tactic. Like you give somebody something and they more or less are indebted to you, in the best possible way. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But you’ve already created goodwill with zero expectation, right? You, you just want to give them something. And I think that’s, an interesting ethos that I think further, gets personified in the larger aspirations you have for your business, the community building, the communications is great.
Mike Watts: [00:17:50] You need, you definitely need to be of a giving mindset, I think, to find true success. If you come in there saying, how can I make a lot of money. Well, that’s going to be a hindrance to you, is going to be a limiting factor and it’s also going to keep you from being able to get up out of bed in the morning at some point.
Even if you get a lot of money, it’s not, there is no value to yourself and your soul.
Robert Brill: [00:18:09] Yeah. You’ve got to find, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting I started this business because I knew that I wanted an opportunity to do things my way and to build a business. And my, in one, in one particular conversation, my wife and I had, you know, or I heard, I don’t know where it came from.
I was like, look, if you’re going to be 80 on your death bed, will you, you will regret not scratching that itch. Like trying to figure it out. Yeah. And, now over that journey I’ve had, I knew I want you to do this for selfish reasons. I want the experience. I wanted to build a business. They are all these things.
But what I found over these years, which I had been paying attention to, is why am I actually, who am I serving? It’s a service mindset. And it’s, you know, for us, it’s, it’s, primarily small and midsize businesses giving them the ability to compete directly to even the playing field, to democratize access to the best tools and data.
Mike Watts: [00:19:10] Right.
Robert Brill: [00:19:11] But, but yeah, it’s finding that mission is incredibly important. And without it, if your goal is to make money. It’s, you’ve got to be passionate about what you do. Right? And, and it’s clear that you’ve, you’ve found it and you’re a serial entrepreneur. you mentioned Instagram. Are you selling, I presume, and correct me if I’m wrong, you’re selling to business owners on Instagram.
Mike Watts: [00:19:34] Yeah. Both at business grant, we have a very strong B2B and also B2C market. We do more B2C on Instagram. We do more B2B on LinkedIn.
Robert Brill: [00:19:46] Interesting. And so, what is like 2020, and 21 look like for your business? What are your, what are your goals?
Mike Watts: [00:19:56] We have some big goals, both, in community, but really around getting our product available as many places as possible. So, 2020 this year is really themed around retail. So just yesterday we launched our product into Walmart, which was a big achievement for us to be able to get our product and the largest brick and mortar retailer in the country.
Robert Brill: [00:20:21] And in Walmart. What are you selling? Like, I know you’re selling these, but like, what’s the imagery on it?
Mike Watts: [00:20:25] So it’s just a variety. There’s like a leopard print, and there’s. Just a plain black, and then the camouflage and the American flag so people can kind of pick whatever style they have.
We have hundreds and hundreds of styles that I love at lovehandle.com, in stores to little boutiques or ACE hardware just started stocking it. We’re doing a test to CVS this week. We’re talking to Best Buy. It gets it starting to happen because it’s just that useful of a product, you know, like over 5,000 5-star reviews on Amazon now.
And it takes time. So, anybody out there who’s starting a company, and it can’t be impatient, you have to be patient and it’s going to take, make sure that whatever it is you’re developing and working towards, but there’s going to be a market for it in five years because it’s going to take you about that time to sort of reach critical scale.
So you don’t want to build for today and find yourself in five years where the market’s completely changed. Past you by. So, we feel like now is our moment in time. There’s been some other products that have come out on the market that sort of validated the idea that you would stick something on your phone at all.
But, we feel like our product is superior and the market’s telling us that’s true. And so as retailers sort of take it on and make it pervasive everywhere. And we can become a household brand like, like a fellow Texas company, Yeti, right.
Robert Brill: [00:21:42] I love Yeti. That was my, yes, I love Yeti. I love those cup does my promotional gift, right? This holiday season.
Mike Watts: [00:21:51] And they started with ice chests that’s bear proof. That’s where they began. It was a bear proof ice chest. And then they expanded cups. And then now they have Yeti on everything, right? So, they sort of broke through their wall with their one grade item and then, and then went from there.
So, I hope that we can sort of follow that same model, like our one product breakthrough, make it, you know, loved. And then the world will say, what else can you bring us? And then now look, we can bring all these really useful gadgets to you and impact humans in a way that’s just day in and day out, no matter where they’re at, they’re probably touching one of our products for using one of our products.
And they’re doing it by choice because it makes their life better.
Robert Brill: [00:22:35] So, so my challenge, one of the challenges that I see is that no one knows that this can all listen to this podcast and you’re not this conference. They don’t know that this is a Love Handle product. So I presume it has to be a little bit of word of mouth.
To kind of bridge the gap between this is cool and where do I get it?
Mike Watts: [00:22:53] Right?
Robert Brill: [00:22:54] Or do you, are you going to rely on retail? I meet someone, how do we bridge that gap? How do they know where to find these things? Do we, do you brand love handles aggressively or are your ads primarily sales?
Like how does that.
There’s a challenge there. Right?
Mike Watts: [00:23:12] Yeah. And I think that’s probably maybe my next chapter is to figure that out, right? as an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to go into a dark room that you’re not sure how it’s going to shake out. And I still feel that way, especially around social.
but I think everybody else does too. So there’s some comfort there. But for us, it’s five years ago when we started the reassuring process, we figured out, we said, okay, what’s the one thing that works in marketing for us? And it was putting product on people’s phones. If I could give this to somebody and put it on their phone, they’re going to tell everyone around them and everyone around them is going to ask about it.
What is it? So as long as I gave it to that person, they knew the brand name that it would do its job. It would that the few dollars it cost me to get that on their phone was going to be the most effective deployment of my resources. Versus any sort of advertising or collaborations or anything we can do.
And so we’ve given away over 2 million of these grips since day one. And that has continued to be the most successful way for us to brand is to put them out there. And yeah, our brand name is, you know, under the, under the oil so everybody that pays me to put their logo on here is also advertising for me.
Robert Brill: [00:24:30] Yeah. I love that. okay, so two final questions. I’m a massive foodie. And my question to you is, you’re in Texas, right? Okay. And I clearly see you travel all over the place. Where do you like to eat? What’s if I’m in town? What city in Texas are you in?
Mike Watts: [00:24:49] I’m in Houston, Texas.
Robert Brill: [00:24:50] Very cool. Great state. I love the Stiggins. Yeah. Okay, so what do you like, what should I, if I go to Houston or anywhere else, like what should I be eating.
Mike Watts: [00:24:57] So you should go down to Paraland to Killens barbeque. K. I. L. L. E. N. S. barbecue.
Robert Brill: [00:25:03] Okay.
Mike Watts: [00:25:03] And, the chef there was trained at Cordon Bleu. He gets the best beef from the best heard out there.
So he sourced and great product and God knows where he even chooses the wood, the trees, and the wood very, very carefully about how he smokes the meats and he does a beef rib there that will just make you want to cry. It’s so good. So highly recommend there. Of course, last night we ate at Nobu here in San Diego.
Always a treat. Very different from that, but if you’re in Houston, you definitely need to go to Killens barbecues worth the effort.
Hmm. I love it. how can people find you and Love Handles?
So, I am on all social platforms on Instagram. I’m most active @MikeWatts. And on LinkedIn just look up Mike Watts.
I’m trying to create more content on there for Love Handle, just visit lovehandle.com or @lovehandle on Instagram.
Robert Brill: [00:26:05] I’ve been pronouncing it as s. Love Handle in the singular.
Mike Watts: [00:26:08] In the
Robert Brill: [00:26:08] singular.
Mike Watts: [00:26:09] That’s right. You know, early on when I was choosing the brand name, and I think that branding is so important and you need to choose your brand name wisely because it needs to be something that’s memorable, right? So, Love Handle, obviously memorable. I had to buy the domain from the guy that owned it at the time. He wanted $60,000. I ended up getting it for three. we were able to get our ad on Instagram because we had filed the trademarks and got our trademarks issued and then sent that submitted that to Instagram and they gave it to us. And so it’s once you can establish yourself in a, in a brand like that, you need to try to get in every new social platform that comes out. We’re out there trying to get the @ for it. And it’s really very important because that consistent recognition of your brand on all platforms really translates over time to be people being able to remember when the right moment comes up. They’ll remember your brand.
Robert Brill: [00:27:08] Okay. Love handle on all social and you can transact through Instagram and the website, I presume. Great product. I love this, Mike. Thank you so much.
Mike Watts: [00:27:21] Thank you.
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