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Anna chats with Academy student Jenn Alker about her journey from idea to a finished product ready for launch

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  • Prototype development
  • Sourcing factories overseas
  • Using a middle man
  • Managing quality control
  • Minimum order numbers
  • Lead times / turnaround times
  • Why you need grit and persistence



Jenn is an ocean swimmer, a pool swimmer, a beach lover, a mum and creator of The Friday People. Tired of lugging multiple bags to the beach and finding chairs at swimming lessons always taken up with non-waterproof bags, Jenn started The Friday People. She was desperate to simplify and have one bag that served as a beach bag, a picnic bag and, a pool bag. She needed that one bag that ticked all the boxes. So Jenn set out to create one that was big enough to carry multiples towels (and everything else!), waterproof, lightweight, easy to carry and with lots of pockets for valuables and wet things.





Facebook:  @thefridaypeoplebags
Instagram: @the.friday.people



Anna Jonak [00:01:20] Welcome to Episode 56 of the Raising Her Game Podcast. Anna's here today and I'm talking to the lovely Jenn Alker from The Friday People. Now, I think you're going to be just as excited as me about the product that this amazing human has developed. It is new. It's innovative. It's waterproof. And, it's a multi-purpose beach bag. And, I am going to let you give it the sell and the spiel that it probably deserves because you have thought this out and we'll definitely get into that. But look, I wanted to bring Jen on because she is one of those crazy people that has not only like conceptualised something. She's gone on and created it. She has created her own product from scratch based on something she saw was missing in the market and I know that this is no mean feat when it comes to developing something. So, I thought it would be a cracking episode to bring Jenn on to take her through... We'll take you guys through the journey she's been on today especially with the fact that as we launch this episode, she's going to be launching her product to the market. So, it couldn't come at a better time. And, I just want to hear all about your journey today, the lessons you've learned, the process and I think that anything that we can share along the way to help someone else be inspired to go and do what you're doing would be amazing. So, welcome.

Jenn Alker [00:02:26] Thank you, it’s great to be here.

Anna Jonak [00:02:28] I'm very excited to have you in here. Seriously, I just think you're like a legend. I was literally just on a phone call to someone else prior to you about product development and they were like just don't know where to start and I'm like well neither do I but I know a girl who does. [Jenn laughs] So, talk to me about... OK, first of all, the actual concept which is amazing. Let's talk about that and where the ideas came from and what it is that you actually created.






Jenn Alker [00:02:53] OK, So, I guess the idea started... So, I'm a mum of two. I'm also a swimmer. I love swimming at the beach, in the pool and I just felt so frustrated because I would be at the pool with my kids and I couldn't find a seat anywhere because everyone had their bags taking up all the chairs because their bags weren't waterproof. So, that was one pain point. Then, we would go to the beach carrying multiple bags as you do with all the towels and the snacks and the drinks and I just thought there has to be a better way. I'd look around and people would have Woolworths bags or Aldi bags. This is crazy. Why can't I find a really big waterproof bag that looks nice and fits everything that our family needs? And so, I had no intent of making it. I just thought this must be around, right? So, I searched in Australia. And of course, there are beach bags available but what I kind of found was that there are lots of really beautiful bags that weren't necessarily functional that didn't tick all the boxes that I needed or they were functional bags but I found them a little bit ugly or they were plastic or they weren't really the kind of thing that you would, you know go to the beach and then drop into the cafe afterwards. So, I just wanted one bag that looked good and ticked all the functional boxes as well. That is how the idea started. I did a global search, couldn't find it. So that was when I knew I had to make it.

Anna Jonak [00:04:18] So really, so that was it. You just suddenly one day went this is it, I'm going to do this.

Jenn Alker [00:04:22] Well, I think it was over time like I'd talk to other mums and everyone’s "Great. Yeah. I need that bag too." So, I think it was a bit of a buildup and then I thought I need it so I'm gonna make it.

Anna Jonak [00:04:34] And you did.

Jenn Alker [00:04:36] And I have.

Anna Jonak [00:04:38] So, tell me from concept to going right I'm going to do this, what was your first next step?



Jenn Alker [00:04:42] So, my first step to be honest was actually ordering lots of bags from around the world so I was really confident that there was a gap in the market. I wanted to test out what was available. So, I actually ordered so many bags. [Anna laughs] My husband was like "there's another delivery." [laughs] And, I guess that helped confirm my belief that what I wanted wasn't available but from all the different bags I kind of picked the things that I liked and didn't like. So, that was a good starting point to develop our prototype. I had no idea where to start with the prototype. I'm not a sewer. So, I couldn't just whip up something myself but I did find actually in Sydney a guy who specialises in bag design. So, I went to him, we worked on a prototype and I actually, from some of the bags that I sourced from around the world, I found some fabrics that I thought would be really great. So, it was a bit of a mix of looking out to see what was around and my own ideas came up with the prototype. And honestly, at that time, I thought the hard work was done. I thought I'll just send this off to a manufacturer and off we go. Nothing could have been further from the truth actually. Designing the product was actually the easy part. 



Anna Jonak [00:05:53] Oh really, that's interesting to know and I've got to say I think a lot of people get stuck on that first point of actually getting from idea to concept like where did they go. Did you just google search and find this guy? Was it recommended?

Jenn Alker [00:06:05] I did Google search. I have no idea how people got anything done before Google. I Googled everything. Google has been my business directory.

Anna Jonak [00:06:14] Why not? Well, if their business is doing well, you're going to find them, right? So, you know that they are the right person. And, I love the due diligence with all the you know what you did with ordering all those bags. Aside from like spending loads of money and I'm sure like giving your husband like the shivers was you did lots of some really good market research because what you did was you were looking at each of the products and looking at quality looking at refining on a number of different points to see how you could make your product different. And you know obviously, we talk a lot about points of difference in how you can make things stand out. And, you've obviously went in with a massive view on what you wanted. But within that really looked at kind of developing something unique which is really exciting. OK. So, there you go, you've got your prototype. You love it. And then what's next?



Jenn Alker [00:06:56] Yes. So, what's next? So, I think that pretty quickly that manufacturing in Australia wasn't going to be an option for me as much as I would have loved to have taken that path. It's obviously very expensive and I think it can be done but I don't want to go into that sort of really high price point. I want my price point to be sort of mid-level. So honestly, the manufacturing industry in Australia is so small so it really wasn't going to be an option for me. So, I started looking offshore. And I think there's definitely some up and coming countries that seem more appealing to manufacture in. Bali, Vietnam, I feel like they have the ethics around the work and the sustainability that they're offering is potentially more appealing than China. But it turned out that for my product, those markets weren't the right place to go because I just didn't have access to the fabrics that I needed. So, I decided that China was the place to go. And so then, I just thought Alibaba, this is amazing, you know online marketplace. I'll find my manufacturer there. It looked really easy but that wasn't the case. So, I did track down a couple of manufacturers, sent my prototype over. And by the way, I only have one prototype.

Anna Jonak [00:08:15] I was just gonna say, how did you do that? Do they have to send it back to you each time, like what is the go?

Jenn Alker [00:08:20] So, I think in hind sight, that's probably one of the key learnings. So, just to save money, I just got the one made, sent it off to a manufacturer. Then, they would send me a sample and if I'm not happy with it then I have to then send it off to someone else. So, you're losing a lot of time in this process. [Anna agrees] So, I think if I had my time again, I probably would have paid to get several. I mean I’d just send them all off to China and see what came back. So, I would have to say it was a lot of disappointment in this journey. So, I would send my product off. The factory would assure me that they could absolutely match it. They could deliver. And then what I would get back would be [Anna says "not so good"] not good at all. Not good at all. Like so far.

Anna Jonak [00:09:06] In terms of design quality or material or everything. [laughs]

Jenn Alker [00:09:10] Just everything really. They couldn't match the fabrics that I wanted and that was the big point of difference for me. So, my fabrics I feel like they feel luxe but they're also waterproof. They just couldn't match the quality of the stitching, just the quality of the printing, just everything was bad. I feel like if I kind of got an 80 percent of the product then you could work with the factory. It didn't feel like that. So, it was very disappointing and at that point I just realised this isn't going to work. The only way I'm going to get this done is if I hop on a plane and go to China. And even then, there's no guarantee I'm going to find the right manufacturer. So, I made the decision to go through an Australian middle person who I also found on Google and that decision like I'm so happy with that decision I must say. So then when I contacted her, that's when things really started moving. So, I sent her the prototype. She sent me back a really, really good sample and knew that I'd found who I was going to work with.

Anna Jonak [00:10:13] Can I ask you on that note? Obviously, with a middle person, how does it work with regards to like a cut or margins? How does that whole thing work with? Is it by product sold or? 



Jenn Alker [00:10:24] So basically, she provides a per unit cost and obviously it is more expensive than going directly to the factory. I'm going to put it at about 50 percent more so that's a really big consideration and I thought a lot about it but I just knew that I was going to spend a lot of time and money trying to get it right working directly with the factory. And even then, there was no guarantee that the factory was gonna get it right and the quality was going to be assured because that's some of the benefits of going through a middle person is. Communication is much easier. [Anna agrees] Super huge challenge with factories. They check the quality and I think the ongoing quality is assured as well. So, you don't get your samples and then your actual production run. I think that's quite common that it drops when you go direct to the factory.

Anna Jonak [00:11:13] Yeah. I've heard a lot about that from different people as well. [Jenn agrees] But interestingly enough, I guess you're in a position and I'm just thinking strategically here is that you're still in early development stage. At the end of the day, you still you know, you've got your testing your product once it's launched right to see how it goes and you're still in a position when once you've done your first round and it's amazing, that over time you could go and find the right place for yourself right and go and do it that way. You're just kind of like what you're doing is you're getting some runs on the board. You're getting the assurance that your product has got the demand that you trust it does and then there's all sorts of work you can do on the other side. So, it's not like you're stuck forever doing this, right? It's just a starting place.

Jenn Alker [00:11:52] Exactly right. Exactly right. So, I'll reassess that down the track. But for now, I'm pretty confident with the choice that I've made.

Anna Jonak [00:11:59] Awesome. I mean I think it makes sense from my perspective it totally makes sense to kind of like if you want to help rather than... from a time perspective from time getting it done right, getting out rather than sat there trying to perfect it and notice it not necessarily working. So, I feel you. [laughs]

Jenn Alker [00:12:16] Absolutely. I mean one point I'd make is that obviously going through a middle person, I think this is what puts a lot of people off. The minimum order quantities are much higher. [Anna asks "when you're going through someone?"] They may only want to work with you if you're sort of committing. [Anna says "if you're all in"] If you're all in. So, I've done a much bigger production run than I'd planned to and you know I'm yet to launch. So, yeah, my products are yet to be proven. But what that commitment has forced me to do is actually just commit so much harder.

Anna Jonak [00:12:52] You could have friggin' do it. Yeah. You can't like pussyfoot around now. Yes, you said you're all in. You're all in all the whole way.

Jenn Alker [00:12:56] I'm all in. Yeah.

Anna Jonak [00:12:57] Like I think Jo said that same thing on the podcast for Amazon that when they first ordered, they did a relatively big number run as well. And, whilst it might take them X amount of time to get through, it was the right decision for them at the time. And, I think that I've got no doubt in my mind anyway that these things are going to fly off the shelf like hotcakes. So, you'll be like cursing that you didn't double the order or something. You'll be like get them into production. And I mean yeah, we'll get into production and turnaround times in a minute but yeah continue with your story. So, you went through the middle person it was all good.

Jenn Alker [00:13:29] It was all good. I mean I think one thing that it wasn't though was quick. So, I thought that would be a quicker option and hasn't been and that's been a combination of things. I personally have my product changes along the way which happens I think with any product that you're developing. That adds time, four weeks, six weeks, twelve weeks depending on what you change. Then Chinese New Year happened. You know, the factories shut for a month. So, when I started the process, I was thinking 12 weeks but it's been a year. It has been a year so patience and persistence have been required. But at the same time, there's been some positives to that. You know, I feel like I'm really confident with my website. I have a marketing plan. I feel like had I gone live nine months ago, it wouldn't have been the right thing. So, I'm okay. I'm good with the delay.

Anna Jonak [00:14:21] You're like I'm okay with it now.

Jenn Alker [00:14:22] I'm okay with it now.

Anna Jonak [00:14:23] Well, look. You've certainly, I mean you felt like the survey that we did with you when you started with us, I think that helped you make some decisions around what you wanted to do with regards to changes to the bag.

Jenn Alker [00:14:32] Absolutely. I mean I'm so happy that I did that survey so one of the things that came back from the survey was that people really wanted a top zipper closure on their bag and because that wasn't important to me. I hadn't included it in the product but I heard loud and clear that was really important. So, I made that decision to be delayed further to make the products right and I'm really so glad that I did because I think I'm so confident that was the right thing to do.

Anna Jonak [00:14:56] Definitely and you've got an extraordinary number of surveys, didn't you? You got like in terms of responses and getting people on waitlist and stuff. It was pretty quick and quite furious. I think.

Jenn Alker [00:15:08] It was a good result. Yes.

Anna Jonak [00:15:09] I just remember there's some people when we do surveys and they're like struggling to get numbers and then there's others that come through and they're like, yeah, I just smashed through four hundred overnight and it's like what? It's always like really interesting how people respond to certain things. It kind of always gets me but yeah you had a cracking results on your survey so I'm really pleased with that and you are ready to launch now. You are going to launch, in fact today, and this episode is going out on the 12th of July. [Jenn agrees] So, the website is up. Tell people about the website. 



Jenn Alker [00:15:39] So, the website is launching into the dead of winter. [both laugh] Interestingly. But that’s how it landed.So yeah, as you mentioned, I've got a whole bunch of people on my email list which I’m excited to get the message out to. And then yeah, I'm planning to build up the marketing up into summer and yeah fingers crossed, see how it goes.

Anna Jonak [00:16:01] Well, it's a soft launch. You're announcing it. The product's ready. You're good to go. You're letting the people know that've been interested in what's happening. And then as we were talking about Facebook ads, I mean this, all of these things when it comes to execution of your marketing plan, I mean it takes time anyway, right? To actually master Facebook ads, to get your ads ready, to thinking about retargeting strategy, the email sequences that we run alongside it amongst other things, I have no doubt you'll be reaching out to influencers doing all sorts of fun stuff.

Jenn Alker [00:16:29] That is what I plan to do.

Anna Jonak [00:16:30] And I was going to say there's gonna be like you need that time. So, I think that whilst you're kind of, it might be wintery now, you're kind of you're building that brand presence. The people that are already all over you like me and Flori when you put the prototypes to Academy Live and we're like can we buy one. And you're like no not yet. We're like come on. [both laugh] But you're already making it. You already said you're making so when you go out and talk to people.

Jenn Alker [00:16:55] Yes, you're absolutely right. I mean I'm so glad that I am launching in winter to give me that opportunity to just build up because originally I was thinking yeah I'll launch in November, ready for summer but that was just so naive of me because I think I do want to be able to soft launch and build up the plan, try the Facebook ads, see what works with influencers and what have you. So, I mean I'm so excited for the next step. I know the work starts now.




Anna Jonak [00:17:19] Oh my God. The work does start now. And, you'll find that it's gonna be one of those things where you're gonna be always on, trying things on. I was talking to another client the other day she is getting disheartened because things aren't working and I was like, you know what things don't always work and we have worn that many times over and it literally becomes about pivoting like OK this isn't working what are we trying next? What do we try next? You know you kind of go to find your thing and also the market moves so much and new products come in and all this kind of stuff. So, it's a constant dance but at this point it's an exciting one. You know what I mean? When you know you've got everything down pat and people are loving what you're putting down when you get in front of the right people then that's what it's all about. So, I cannot wait to see your product out the market. And, I'm like have you got plans in the pipeline for new product development afterwards? Like is your mind whirring already?

Jenn Alker [00:18:05] So much. So, so much. So yes, that's part of why I want to sell the ones I've got so that I can develop the next line. The other thing I really want to do is I feel like my bags are just so perfect, the beach bags but one of my best girlfriends is using her bag for work. But the designs are kind of more beachy. So, I think this bag is also perfect for a weekend away or fitting your laptop or those things. So, my next step is to develop some more sort of neutral plain bags and I want one of those as well for my day job.

Anna Jonak [00:18:42] Well, you won't need a day job soon. I'm pretty sure about that. You'll be like Oh my God there's so much happening in The Friday People.

Jenn Alker [00:18:53] Well that’s plan.[laughs] that's the plan but don't tell my employer.

Anna Jonak [00:18:55] Oh yeah, we'll scratch that bit. One thing you do say though, I think... Was it that you took some time off, didn't you? To kind of make some of this happen.

Jenn Alker [00:19:01] I did take some time off. I took some time off because I was unhappy in my job and so I did take six months off work and that helped me progress things so much faster because as you know it is really hard doing this on the side. I mean I started this as a side hustle. I started it so naive about how much work was involved just thinking I could you know like work for a couple of hours and then in the evenings. But, as you know, it's just so much bigger than that. So, in that time that I had off I progressed things a lot. Unfortunately, I didn't launch but I have done a lot of the background work I think to make my launch as successful as it can be. I am sadly back at work now on a contract. So, we'll see. So, hopefully, I don't have to renew the contract but ssshhh.

Anna Jonak [00:19:50] Yeah ssshhh. We won't say anything to that. Well, watch this space everyone. Now is there any other little tidbits that you want to share in terms of thinking about I guess some kind of key thoughts that we want to get across? 



Jenn Alker [00:19:59] Well I think one thing that I'd like to share with anyone who is manufacturing a product is that I mean I think the barriers to entry are quite low in that you don't need a lot of money. You don't need a lot of expertise but I think what you do need is patience and persistence. And that I think is what differentiates the products that go live and make it versus just all the dreams. Because it's not that hard, but it's frustrating.

Anna Jonak [00:20:31] Yeah, it's grit to see it through. And, I think that that's probably why when it comes to your marketing side of stuff, you'll be so used to being like pivot, do the next thing because you had to do it with the product development and I think that's it. You have to be all in and you have to want this. And that's the driver that will make you be persistent and keep going and keep fighting and finding way. And, what a great way to end. So, it's all about grit, people. If you want this for your business, it's all about grit. All righty. Wow. I think that's a wrap. I trust that you've inspired people who have been sitting on the fence and potentially thinking about developing something for themselves to frigging just go out there and like start talking to people and have conversations and get a prototype done because wow like, I tell you what, if I was to kind of go, we've obviously got this business, but if I was going to go into something, I would love to go on the journey of developing my own product. It just sounds like the most phenomenal journey to like you find something, making it yours and then like mass distribution. Yes. Anyway, look out Flori.

Jenn Alker [00:21:29] It has been so fun. It has been fun. [both laugh]

Anna Jonak [00:21:32] All right lovely. OK. Well, everyone out there listening, get going and remember to elevate your business game.



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