This is the second in a series of posts about the winners of SCORE DC’s 2020 Perfect Product Pitch-Mastering the Art of Persuasion competition with Dara Trujillo, CMO of SLC Group Holdings, a company focused on investing, mentoring, and helping entrepreneurs to grow their business.
Connie Inukai loved to dine out with her friends, but, at age 68, she had trouble reading the small print on menus and bills in dimly lit restaurants. She was not alone in this challenge; people over 55 experience a decline in vision making reading in darker settings difficult. There had to be a better solution, she thought, than passing reading glasses around the table or fumbling with the flashlight app on her smart phone. The idea for Tip ‘n Split was born, and, with no prior experience, Connie got to work in 2013. “[A]fter 40 years as a University instructor, I put away my teaching materials and launched my own product.”
Tip ‘n Split combines a 2.5x magnifying glass, a light, a tip calculator and bill splitter in one small, discreet handheld device the size of a credit card. S elf-funding, Connie worked with an engineer (her ex-husband) to design the device, arranged for its manufacture in China, applied for patents, and started promoting her product. As a result of a first-place finish for “Best New Gadget” at an annual expo for inventors, QVC discovered and featured her product on its channel, selling 800 units in 5 minutes. Connie’s passion for her product and enthusiasm for the second chapter in her life lead to more publicity for Connie and Tip ‘n Split and speaking engagements.
Despite this initial success, Connie ran into significant problems with her manufacturer -- the cost of production was high, and the quality poor. Frustrated with these issues, running out of cash and on the verge of giving up, Connie approached SCORE DC for assistance and was paired with mentor Ed Coleman who has an extensive background in wholesale/retail merchandising businesses including Sears, National Geographic Catalog and Retail stores, National Wildlife Federation and Honey Baked Ham. Ed worked with Connie to lower the cost of production, increase her sales channels, and elevate her marketing efforts. It was Ed who suggested that Connie participate in SCORE’s Perfect Pitch and helped her prepare for the event. “Connie clearly has the passion, energy and creativity for her business,” Ed said. “The challenge and my goal in working with Connie was to help her understand the numbers in her business and to focus on the product’s benefits in her presentations. Her commitment drives her to learn, adapt and succeed.”
“Passion” would become a commonly repeated word to describe Connie’s enthusiasm for Tip ‘n Split and it was on full display at the Perfect Pitch event in February 2020. “It was how she communicated, with her heart, her passion and her commitment,” recalled event judge and SLC Group Holdings CMO Dara Trujillo. “[Tip ‘n Split] solves a problem in Connie’s life and firmly believes that it will solve problems in her friends’ lives. This type of passion cannot be taught.” Connie successfully set aside judges’ concerns of competition from smartphone apps by differentiating her target demographic’s behavior as it pertained to smartphone and app usage. “Tip ‘n Split was definitely one of those products that the person herself – her passion -- was vitally important in SLC’s decision to move forward with the product,” Dara explained of Connie’s win at the Pitch event.
Since the event, Dara has reached out to TV network shopping channels to expand sales channels and feature Connie. It usually takes 3 to 6 months to get a product on the air, but, because of COVID, the process is significantly longer; same with retail. This gives Connie and SLC Group Holdings the time needed to make improvements to the sell sheet, demonstration video and product packaging. And when Connie gets the call to pitch on QVC or another home shopping network, it will be her passion for Tip ‘n Split that the audience hears and buys.