Interview with Alex French and Andrew Healy, founders of Lifty

We had a chance to talk to Alex French and Andrew Healy the two co-founders of Lifty, an innovative solution for snowboarders. Take a look at our Q&A session below.

The two co-founders, Alex and Andrew.

What is your startup about?

Lifty is a company that manufactures snowboarding accessories that solve problems that all snowboarders deal with every time they go snowboarding. Lifty was invented as a way to balance the negative effects your snowboard has on your knees and ankles and also your equipment while riding the chairlift. As a snowboarder you unstrap your back foot while on the lift, leaving your board dangle from your front foot which leads to an uncomfortable experience while riding chairlifts. Snowboarding is something that is supposed to be enjoyable but with constant strain on our knees (and gear) while riding, the experience is hindered.

How did you come up with the whole idea?

 I have been snowboarding my whole life and this is something that has always bothered me. So we started Lifty to solve a personal need that I had. Andrew and I were in the gym one day discussing ideas to start a company, and we thought this is something we could do part time while we still held our full-time jobs. We had recently read the four hour week, and we pretty much had all the requirements for a new business, and that is how we got started in this specific startup.

So this is a part-time venture?

Yes, that’s correct. It’s a part time job at the moment, and we both have full-time careers.

How long have you been working on your startup Lifty?

Lifty was founded in May 2012. This is our one year anniversary, and we are pretty excited we’ve made it this long. It’s been quite a journey.

Where are you located?

We are located in Minneapolis Minnesota in the United States.

 Would you mind telling us your backgrounds?

Andrew -I studied engineering and I have always been passionate about starting my own ideas and side projects and really taking my creative energy to create new realities. So this is kind of a natural fit for me.

Alex- I went to business school and studied finance. I used to work in an investment bank that dealt a lot with entrepreneurs, and seeing how it used to be financially beneficial, and how it helped the society, I knew I wanted to start my own business. So it was a perfect fit for Andrew and I to be able to create a product that we could use down here. With a lot of my market research and business skills, we were able to get everything together.

How did you two meet?

We went to middle school together and we’ve known each other since we were for thirteen years old.

Do you have people working with you, or it’s just the two of you right now?

Apart from the two of us we have a minority founder who owns part of the company. We also have a part-time intern who helps with other projects.

Do you have any mentors?

Not at the moment. We kind of started off on our own. We’ve met some specific people that have helped in specific ways. But for the most part we’ve sort of been doing everything on our own.

What about funding, do you have any investors?

We initially funded ourselves while doing the prototypes. But in order to do our initial manufacturing we had to raise funds. So, we went through the normal route. Put together a business plan, got our financial deductions and marketing plan and brought together our friends and families and gave them the speech and raised our funds that way.

So you’ve not engaged in any crowd funding activity outside your network?

Initially due to time constraint we went to friends and family, but now we are exploring other channels. We are currently running a campaign on a crowd funding platform IndieGoGo to generate revenues during off season. Right now for snowboard developers it’s off season since its summer here. This campaign is a way for us to kind of get through the summer, scale our manufacturing in preparation to approach retailers so as to get our product on the shelves of retailers. So that is the goal for the campaign. IndieGoGo kind of forms an analogy with the brand; it allows us to get in touch with people who would normally not use the product. You can see the campaign here.

What kind of investors are you looking for? Silent investors or people who will be more engaged in your startup?

If we were going to expand on our investor network we would definitely love connections. Money is good, but I think we can get that from a lot of places, if we are to give up acuity to investors, it’s important that they have a network of individuals who will be able to help us to grow our business.

Who are your main competitors?

There are a few competitors but no one who has broken into the large scale market yet. There are people trying to solve the problem we are solving but in a different manner. So in that regard, I like to think that there are no competitors but we are also trying in terms of market portion, we haven’t figured it all out yet.

You mentioned that you’ve been in the market for almost a year. How is the reception so far?

We launched the product in November 2012, so that is our first snow season. It was definitely a learning experience to launch the new product and educate our customer. That was our biggest challenge, we didn’t expect that, but once we got to engage the people and educate them they were very receptive of the product and loved the way we had solved the problem.

Who are your main customers, retailers or consumers?

Right now, we deal directly with the consumers.

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How do you market your products?

We’ve been using a lot of social media, and press releases. We’ve made a lot of videos that we’ve spread throughout the industry. So we’ve used social media as well as blogging and videos to spread word of the product.

What social media channels have you mainly used?

We’ve primarily stuck to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We manage those social media channels with Hoot suite.

Of the three, which one is most effective?

I would say Facebook is where we get the most interaction.

How do you get your customer feedback?

I would say we mainly get our customer feedback through email, but we’ve also received some through Facebook and Twitter.

What are some of your major accomplishments?

One of our major accomplishments was being able to bring the product into the market.  Also being able to get to our first year anniversary, to just look back on the year and see we have managed to do what we set out to do. And we also were featured on Transworld business, which is a big action sports and board sports publication, so that was good exposure and generally getting good contacts in the business.

What is your five year plan going forward.

Our five year plan is to continue developing our product and growing our brand. We have a lot of positive feedback on branding of the company and design, and I feel that it can become a large consumer brand for skateboarding. So our major focus is to build our brand equity in the market as well as develop our product and create new ones along the way.

Any major challenges you have faced so far?

This was our first venture and we had no experience going in. So when we first started a major challenge to get the prototype and get into manufacture once our design was finalized since we had never done any of that before. The other challenge was getting the product out there and making sure we were protected legally doing that. So that was a lot work making sure the company was set up.

What are some of the lessons learns so far?

I would say have a vision and make sure you execute it properly. As an entrepreneurs, we normally get a lot of ideas and it’s easy to lose focus.. Get a plan and stick to it. If you stay focused you can do anything you put your mind on.

We wish Alex and Andrew all the best in their startup. Take a look at their on-going campaign here, and help support their cause. you can also watch this brief video to see how Lifty works.

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