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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Posture Keeper: Creating a Business to Solve My Back Pain

Shirley Tan
Shirley Tan
February 21, 2019
Category of startup
Country of startup
United States
Revenue of startups
No Data
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Posture Keeper: Creating a Business to Solve My Back Pain

Shirley Tan
Shirley Tan
February 21, 2019
Category of startup
Country of startup
United States
Cause of failure of the startup

After a long entrepreneurial story, Shirley began to realize she was suffering from back pains. One day, she came with a great solution after watching his North Face backpack on his bedroom. She decided to attach it to her chair. After two weeks, she felt much better. This was the beginning of PK, which is now launching on Kickstarter.



Hi Shirley! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

Hi, my name is Shirley Tan and I’m based in San Francisco, CA. I believe that I invented a product that is going to improve people lives in the workplace. The device I created is called Posture Keeper (PK).

Explain Posture Keeper at a high level. What is it?

PK is a lumbar support system that doubles as a posture corrector/trainer.

The big problem I am trying to solve is to help prevent people from leaning forward into their computer screen, as well as make them aware when they slouch so they can self-correct right away.

What's your title? What's your job duties right now in at Posture Keeper?

I am the inventor, but also the founder of my new company. It's a small startup. It's just me and my cousin, and help from 3rd party contractors and consultants, mostly friends in the business.

Between me and my cousin, we do everything. Everything has my fingerprint on it.

What's your business model?

We’re launching the product on Kickstarter to start out with. Once we fulfill our campaign promise, we intend to sell the product in our Shopify Store, as well as on Amazon. Currently, our model is direct to consumer, by which we can get direct feedback from the Posture Keeper community to help understand what is important to them and what we can do to continuously improve, not just the product, but also the customer experience.

PostureKeeper Kickstarter

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I grew up on a small island called Guam, the one that NK keeps threatening to blow up (before). I came to the US for college, I have a degree in International Business, but I started my first business while I was still in College selling artificial silk flowers.

So, my silk flower business evolved into a personalization business when my silk flower supplier moved 2 doors down from my storefront. We had to change our product offerings in a jiffy. I have always been lucky - I had a friend who helped me switch product offerings. Within months, I was able to find a new line to sell without struggling too much (well, it was still a lot of work, but it was also really exciting).

As that business changed, I started a mail order wedding catalog. I was even one of the first supplier to TheKnot, until they built their own fulfillment facility. Then I discovered the Yahoo eCommerce platform in 1997 and decided to open our first online storefront. It was definitely a learning curve. I am not technical so I can’t code to save my life (even to this day). That prodded along. Eventually, I sold my share of the retail storefront to my partner and purchased his share of the online store.

The day the ink dried on the contract, April 1st, the site got penalized by Google. So now I had the challenge of trying to get it back to page 1 on different keywords. It took us 6 months, but we did it. And this time we were ranking in a better spot – we crawled our way up to page 3 from page 11. I taught myself SEO, made lots of friends in the SEO community and eventually our site made it to page 1 for multiple search keywords. Then I built several websites, designed and imported a line of bags all to support our main business which was personalization.

After a few years, I sold the business to the world renown wedding platform called TheKnot. Since then, they have closed the site down. My baby has gone, but I am really proud of what I was able to learn and accomplish through that experience.

I worked for TheKnot for a year and then I left and took some time off. During the year 2010 was when all the back pain really went into full cray mode. I had been working a lot of long hours. That was part of the reason I left my job – I thought I just needed the rest.

So, I renovated the house, stayed home with my kids, started thinking about what I would do next. I love business, my business, other people’s business, and I thought that one way that I could continue to learn is to work with other business owners. I love trying to understand how people make decisions, why people do what they do – it has always fascinated me. So, I just started consulting.

I soon realized that, since I was relatively new to the consulting world, I needed something to get me in front of eCommerce business owners, who wanted to improve their business process, grow their revenue and build up their team. So, I decided that one way to let people know that I could help with that was to write a book. It also helped me in getting speaking gigs and interviews. Overall, I just wanted people to know what they were getting themselves into when they decided to go into eCommerce. It's not a build it and they will come, it's not a set it and forget it. It’s a lot of work and people needs to be prepared for that. Throughout this period, I was on my computer a lot and my back pain was getting worse.

I consulted for a while and then I went to work for Yahoo for a few months. When all was said and done, our team got laid off and so I had to decide what to do next. I decided that I really missed the retail business – It was my true passion. By then, the retail and eCommerce landscape had really changed – it was now Amazon’s world. So, I turned my energy into learning the ins and outs of Amazon. We’re selling a few products on Amazon, nothing tremendous that I can brag about – More struggles than winners, but it really taught us a lot.

Back in early 2017, a good friend encouraged me to speak about a product idea I had a few years back. That person was Kevin Harrington, one of the original Sharks on The Shark Tank programme. I drew the product for him and I sent him a video of my first prototype. He was pretty intrigued and he told me about another product that I actually never heard of. He also basically said to me that he thought my posture corrector/trainer was a great product and that I should pursue it. So, with his encouragement, I just started hunting down a factory that I could work with. I then kept working on the product design until I finalized on the new version that we have today.

Did you have any failed business or other small venture?

Well, let’s see, there are so many! I tried going into wholesale of personalized bags – We designed bags that were perfect for embroidery and monogramming. We did really well with the bags on the retail side, but it was a mess trying to wholesale it.

I bought a small company that sold novelty products, and it didn’t work out with the partner at that time, so I had to get rid of that business at a loss.

Also, there were consulting gigs that I tried that didn’t work out. Even in the early days of selling on eBay, Amazon and other platforms, I learned a lot about the different audience and the type of people who buy from those platforms. It’s pretty interesting.

Did any big life events lead to starting Posture Keeper?

The biggest driver that really makes me motivated about Posture Keeper is really my own personal health issues. I was on the brink of having to stop working completely, laying off the computer. I almost had to stop being in business whether it was my own or as a consultant. I can’t say officially that I was in deep depression, but I was really unhappy. I am the kind of person that needs to be constantly active, productive, making things happen. I can’t do that if I’m not plugged in.

How did the idea come to you?

One day, at the chiropractor's office, I was told that I had to stop being on the computer. And I said no, I can’t do that. He then told me to stop leaning forward. There wasn’t technically nothing wrong with me, except that I was sitting badly.

How has the original idea grown and changed over time?

Soon after that, my son was throwing out his backpack and then the light bulb turned on. I wondered what would happen if I had something that held me back on my chair and solved the leaning forward behavior. So, I tore a North Face backpack apart, attached the needed pieces and I tried it for 2 weeks. Over that period of time, the radiating sensation subsided and my chest walls were not tight anymore. I could even raise both my hands to the sky. I was blown away.

What were your motivations to build Posture Keeper?

It really was the encouragement of Kevin Harrington. But also, I saw on Amazon that there were many posture correctors out there and I didn’t believe they could prevent people from leaning forward. Some could keep your shoulders back, but most of them, because of the way they were designed, could only be wear for a couple of hours until your body would be screaming at you to take it off.

I believed that Posture Keeper would solve that leaning forward and slouching behavior that people do when they get tired. Posture keeper keeps people upright. If you can stay upright, then it’s about prevention.

How did you build Posture Keeper?

Wow, there is so much we had to do to get it to where we are today. First, I really prioritized on the design. I’m a worry wart. Because of that, I like to plan. I knew that nothing else mattered if I didn’t get the product design right. I am sure I drove my agent and the factory crazy. I wasn’t willing to even think about launching the product until I knew that the product design was right and that a prototype could be made in the quality I expected it to be and at the price that I thought consumers were willing to pay for.

How long did the process take?

This process took me nearly 10 months, I went to China 2x to threw out 2 earlier version. I knew we were on to something with the final version when I got friends and family to try it on. At first, they were like “what is this thing?”. But after I explained what was the problem I was trying to solve, they just nod in agreement.

Posture Keeper backpack

Who was involved?

My cousin Macy, my husband, my kids and our close friends. I think they are all tired of me now.

What resources/tools did you use?

I have a great factory agent that I work with and a big network of friends in the business. WarRoom group run by Ryan Deiss, Roland Frasier and Perry Belcher has been a tremendous strategy and networking resource.

How did the initial product look?

The initial prototype was horrible. Of course, I didn’t think that at that time, but after some feedback from friends, it was clear that I had to throw 5 months of work and start all over again.

What sorts of doubts did you have when starting?

Will people buy it? Will they use it?  Will they tell their friends about it?

The biggest doubt that I had was that some people would say that they didn’t want to be strapped into their chair. I get that, but I think once they see how easy it is to get in and out of the PK, and that lumbar support is so comfortable and really works in keeping them upright, they won’t really think of themselves as being strapped in.

Also, some posture correctors were actually pretty crazy. So, I have a pretty good chance there will be a segment of people in the marketplace that will understand the science behind how Posture Keeper works and give it a try.

Did you enjoy the process of getting started / building it?

I did enjoy the process. It’s like being pregnant. I have 3 kids so moms out there can appreciate the analogy. I’m on my eight month and I just want the baby to be born already.

How did you approach pricing your product?

I approach everything from the consumer perspective. I’ve compared PK to products out there that were trying to solve the same problem. While there was actually no product out there that was identical to mine, there were, what we call in retail, “law of substitution”. So, I look at all similar products and found out what would people switch to if they thought my product was priced too high.

Did you launch/publicize your product in any way? Did it go as expected?

We’re launching on Kickstarter. I hope it goes really well.

What were the biggest challenges you faced and obstacles you overcame?

Wow! Lots of obstacles. In the beginning, everything was going swimmingly. I felt the Universe was helping me, that was my destiny – I filed the patent and hired a marketing agency. This didn’t work out too well. They were super nice people but I think we were just not on the same page on what I expected the deliverables to be, so it was an uphill battle ever since. I’m basically the general contractor now and I have to find a lot of subs to help me cross the finish line. It was really bumpy for 3 weeks, but some of the consultants I’m working with really came thru for me like Declan Dunn, who is a veteran online marketer.

I’m super lucky that I have a supportive husband. Since I also manage our family money, I haven’t told him quite yet how much I am spending. I hope that I just get to show him a higher bank account balance than before I started this project. All kidding aside, I am super grateful to have a supportive family and friends. I will say that I knew that if I didn’t do this, it would be because I chickened out, and it wouldn’t have been for lack of resources but a lack of courage. Life is short and I don’t want to wish that I pursued this project when I didn’t. Don’t want to live in regrets.

Which are your greatest disadvantages?

I’m not technical. I wish I could code, use Photoshop and be a better copywriter. Another disadvantage is that we’re a small team, so we all wear many hats. I’m hoping to grow the team over time.

Regarding the disadvantages in the market of Posture Keeper, I’m not sure yet. Our product is very demonstrable, so when people see it or try it, they get it right away. We definitely need to stay on top of communicating the benefits that PK provides.

Lastly, as for our disadvantages in comparison with our competitors, probably the one thing is our product is bigger, so it’s going to cost me more to ship it and get it the hands of the customer. But we’ll figure that out. Right now, it’s more important to get it on the consumers hands, so, as long as we’re not upside down on each transaction, I’m good with that.

During the process of building & growing Posture Keeper, which were the worst mistakes you committed?

We’re still at the early stage. I hired a marketing agency that helps with Kickstarter launches. I super like the people who work there. But early on, I started getting the feeling that we’re not on the same page. There were several things that I was questioning, and long story short, I kept waiting and hoping that things would improve. I did attempt to clarify things, but after several times, I should have listened to my gut that it wasn’t going to work out.

If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?

I wish I had spent more time on in the beginning building an email list. When starting, I worry about everything.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I listened to a lot of podcast about Kickstarter. I took 2 online courses on Udemy about Kickstarter. Then I read some more on Kickstarter on Crowdcrux as well as YouTube. I was doing this while I was working on the product design. I wasn’t sure yet that I wanted to take on the responsibilities of a Kickstarter launch, so I did a ton of research, talk to friends who have done it, etc.

Apart from mistakes, what are other sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

  • Crowdcrux: Sal Briggman has a wide breath of resources on how to launch on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, how to properly do crowdfunding and how to reach out to media. I took his course and it really helped me understand what to expect. Even though, ultimately, I decided to hire an agency.
  • Udemy: Great resource for quick courses on how to do things. I took 2 Kickstarter courses there. Super cheap and it also helped me to understand the journey that I have decided to embark.
  • Podcasts: I used to listen to both Crowdcrux and CrowfundingUncut in all my spare time, in the car, working out or cleaning the house. I am so thankful to Sal Briggman and Khierstyn Ross who share their interviews with Kickstarter entrepreneurs.

Where can we go to learn more?

Make sure to check out my personal Twitter account, Facebook and Linkedin profile. You can also check PK Website and the Facebook page.


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