We had Slickwraps CEO Jonathan Endicott on the Android Headlines Show last Thursday night. We partnered with Slickwraps and we're giving away an LG G3, G Watch, and 30 wraps for each device. The podcast is available to download now. We've had a ton of positive response to the show so I'd thought I'd transcribe the interview we did with Jonathan. He was absolutely awesome and gave us some great insight into Slickwraps and what they do. Enjoy!
Jeremiah: So Jonathan, what's the history behind Slickwraps? How did you get started?
Jonathan: Slickwraps started based on a couple of other companies that my partners and I had started. It was really kind of out of necessity. I say that because at the time, in 2010, there really weren't any accessories out there other than Otter Box and some cheap snap on cases. We were looking for some variety other than black, white, red, and blue. So we thought, "Let's make our own!"
Our very first product was the iGlow, which is a glow-in-the-dark side wrap to eliminate the Antenna Gate issue that the iPhone had. Gizmodo picked it, thank God for them. They really jump started the company because it was just an idea at that point. From there, we knew that we had something, when it came to wrapping. There was no other company that was doing anything other than printed at that time. We thought, "What the heck? Let's go ahead and get this thing going." We owned up a couple other companies at the time so we combined forces.
I had been in the mobile industry for several years. I started out of college at working for a telecommunications company. Mobile has always been in my blood. I never thought I would be working, doing accessories and doing manufacturing. I always thought I'd be working for the "evil" Sprint headquarters down the street us, something like that. But it kind of turned out to be something that I was passionate about. It just grew into something else. Slickwraps has exponentially grown, and it's been a long, fun ride.
Jeremiah: Yeah, I think we've all got that in our blood. Alex was working in IT for a little bit, I got my start in sales for AT&T and Verizon. Did that for a good while and then left the industry, but I couldn't really let go. I know what you're talking about.
Jonathan: Yeah, with mobile, we got started with Mobile Riot. That's a company that we had started previously. We were doing short codes. That was fun. It led to mobile accessories. Sales, marketing; I've been there, done that. Definitely a lot of fun.
Jeremiah: Now you find yourself on the other side with manufacturing. You make all your accessories right here in the U.S. That seems to be a point of pride, with Slickwraps.
We came to the conclusion that if we were going to do it right, we had to do it in-house and we had to do it in the United States
Jonathan: That's a huge trend. It's getting bigger and bigger, especially with accessory companies like Grovemade, I think they're out of Oregon, and a lot of handmade accessory companies that are out there. When we started, we had the intentions of taking it overseas because we had no manufacturing background. We came from sales and marketing. For us to design something, then buy a machine and try to figure that out, it seemed like a nightmare. I did come from a programming background, started a website when I was in middle school, but the whole manufacturing side of things was really daunting.
We had a focus on quality assurance and making sure that whatever we put our brand on represented who we were. Quality and dealing with customers directly. That was another thing that we thought, "Why don't we outsource customer service?" We had no idea how to do customer service. We didn't even know how to answer a phone properly. We had to Google that, "How to answer the phone in a proper business format." It took a lot of work and the help of Google searches to develop what we have now. We came to the conclusion that if we were going to do it right, we had to do it in-house and we had to do it in the United States.
I see that a lot more these days, and I'm hoping it's an uptrend that we continue to see.
Alex: I know Toast does there's, I think in Oregon as well. There are other companies that we work with out of San Francisco, lots of companies on the west coast that are doing handmade accessories.
Jonathan: Yeah, and even on Etsy. I mean, wow. There is some really good, creative stuff on there. We're always blown away when we get on there and check out what some people are doing. It's pretty awesome, and fascinating to see this whole uprising of handcrafted stuff made in the United States.
Jeremiah: Customer service, too. A lot of that is being brought back from overseas. For you to see that and understand that ahead of time, that's huge.
Jonathan: You know, the biggest thing for us, and some companies are starting to do this, is not setting up 24-hour call centers. Really sticking to a schedule and letting people know, "Hey, we're real people. We operate on real hours. We're going to take lunches."
We try to cater to people. We have live chat, we have phone, we have email, and of course social networks. We really do make it easy for people to contact us. We're finding that this is a big trend with companies, too. Bringing everything back, but maybe not operating a 24/7 call center. I hate to use this cause we're on an Android show, but kind of like Apple. Sometimes you call them and you just don't get anybody because they're closed. That's kind of how we operate as well.
Jeremiah: That's fair. I think people understand that when they see that the level of customer service is higher. We can definitely appreciate that.
You guys made a custom skin for Android Headlines, it looks great. What's that process like, creating new wraps as new devices come out? Walk us through that.
Jonathan: One of my business partners is a creative genius. He just comes up with some out-of-the-box stuff. He can walk down the street and come up with ten new ideas of how to revamp everything he sees. He made it really easy, and he's a really great learner. He's also a Corel Draw expert, which, I can't stand Corel Draw. Let's just make that a point. But he was the one who designed the very first slick wraps. From there, he's really helped us grow. He doesn't do it anymore, though.
As far as the design process on a new phone, a lot of times, we work directly with the manufacturer to get the specs of a device. We're blown away by how prepared some of these manufacturers are for accessory manufacturers. A good example of that would be Monster. We work exclusively with the Monster cable company. We've worked with them since the dawn of Beats headphones. Noel Lee is a good friend of mine and he's given us a lot of business since they (Beats) launched.
One thing that we've done with them, just recently on a brand new set of headphones, is they have all these schematics already done up for the design process of manufacturing their headphones. A lot of time they just send us the file, and then we go and revamp it based on our needs and what's going to work the best for wrapping that device. So that's a big benefit. The companies that don't provide anything, AKA Apple, they just kind of leave us in the dark to figure things out. With them it's a little bit trickier. We get the phone on release day, maybe a day before release day, and we spend the next few days doing nothing but revisions; hundreds and hundreds of revisions. We test out different ways to wrap it. We go through and do a whole bunch of stuff. There's a team of us who actually test out the revisions, including myself. Those revisions could be in how we design the wrap; do we create a one piece design? Do we make multiple pieces? How many pieces is it going to be? It comes down to, how easy is it to install for the customer? And also, how does it look? Those are the couple of factors that it comes down to.
In the last few months, we've been asking for public input. We've put together a beta program with top reviewers, everybody that we can think of that can participate. They sign up for the beta program, and then we send them a wrap 1-2 weeks prior to launch. They test it out. They let us know how it's working in real life and how easy it is to install. That feedback has become invaluable. We've been able to data mine, just from all the collective resources from these beta groups, to basically re-design all of our wraps. That's something that we could never have done on our own. We've been able to get groups to help us with that. Developing these beta programs and getting real life feedback has been amazing for us because when you're in a lab environment, a test environment, and you're putting these wraps on, it's not like when Alex is sitting in his room and installing them himself, or a 50 year old housewife trying to install them. Everyone is going to install them and wear the wraps differently.
From there, we go into straight up marketing. We get the design, we get feedback from the beta groups, and then we work with a PR firm that helps handle a lot of that stuff. We also work directly with the manufacturer on this as well. A lot of products that we produce, you don't even see on our website. These are products that are direct to manufacturers.
We've been able to partner up with some really cool companies recently. DreamWorks Animation, we do pretty much all their promotional stuff for mobile devices. That's a fun one. They call and say, "We want 10,000 wraps tomorrow." Those are some late night, all-nighters. (laughs) But it's going to an awesome company that we look up to immensely. We've worked with Apple, too. We've supplied their programming teams and sales teams with promotional items. Say, for instance, you're a good employee that week or that month, you get a Slickwraps, and a bunch of other stuff. It's been really fun.
I think that's what I enjoy the most, when developing new products. Seeing it on people's phones when they post it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever. That's the ultimate satisfaction, I think, that any manufacturer can have.
They call and say, "We want 10,000 wraps tomorrow." Those are some late nights
Jeremiah: That's cool that you can go in, like with DreamWorks, and customize something for a promotion, or like with Apple for employee recognition. That's got to be fun to make different kinds of custom items.
You guys work with different kinds of materials too, like wood and leather. How difficult or those materials to work with?
Jonathan: Really difficult. Leather, I think, has been the hardest material we've ever had to work with. I definitely appreciate leather smiths. It's amazing what those folks can do with leather. I have a huge appreciation for their work. When we started leather, we actually went to leather smithing companies. Mom and pops, and independents, and we asked them if we could monitor what they do on a daily basis and learn from them. We used them as a resource to develop this material. A lot of them opened their arms and were happy to help us out. Leather is an interesting thing because it comes from all over the world. It can be tanned differently; there are different thicknesses and different premium grades. We now exclusively sell Horween leather. They are the last tannery in the U.S., based in Chicago. They make one of the more premium leathers in the world. We have to get it really, really thin and we have to get a special adhesive because leather actually will eat most adhesives. What can happen is the adhesive with stay on your phone while the leather comes off. (laughs) We found that out through trial and error.
There are just a lot of challenges when working with natural materials. The other materials that we work with, like vinyl and 3M, that stuff is engineered to work with different types of substrates. When it comes to natural materials, they have to be molded and developed to work with our types of applications. It's a completely different thing, and that's why you don't see a lot of companies doing it. The companies who work with natural materials have mastered it. Companies like Toast, their stuff is amazing, and other companies like Grovemade, and they have some really cool stuff. Those that have done it have done a really good job. I don't even know if we can compare to Grovemade and the precision of some of their products. I'm a huge fan of theirs. But yeah, natural materials are a huge pain to deal with. They are also the most fun because they are the hardest to produce. They actually take someone sanding the wood down and working with the materials with their bare hands, not just putting it onto a machine. We are actually producing this, making this; some human is touching this and making it. I think that's the coolest thing, for me. We hand dye our own leather. We distress it ourselves. That's a lot of fun. Then cutting out an Android from it and shipping it around the world, it's a huge satisfaction for me.
Jeremiah: And now some manufacturers are getting in on the game. Motorola, with the Moto X, is making custom backs available for their phones. OnePlus is planning to release a bamboo back for the One. What has that competition done for Slickwraps?
Jonathan: It steps up the game, for sure. Now we're in competition with multi-billion dollar companies, companies with immense resources. I mean, OnePlus is located in China so it's even easier for them. The thing, for us is learning and understanding what manufacturers are doing. Manufacturers have been pretty open and honest with us about what their plans are. We actually were able to get some OnePlus Ones before they launched, even before the first betas. We were excited about it, but we don't have wraps for them yet. We're coming up with something even bigger.
Jeremiah: Good! I went on your website and couldn't find anything for the OPO.
Jonathan: There are a couple of problems with the OnePlus One. The sandstone black back is cashew nut with a laminate on top. You can't wrap it. It's actually impossible to wrap that back. Nothing will stick to it. But they have been really cool with us. They contacted us at the beginning. They told us about what they were doing and asked us to jump on with them. We're actually doing something that's not even related to wraps when we accessories for the OPO. We're just waiting to for the okay from them and once we get that from them and from another carrier, we're going to launch a product that's pretty revolutionary. It's never been done in the accessory world and it'll be very new for us. We're excited about the OPO. It's an awesome phone.
But getting back to the question, you know, OEMs making accessories is a relatively new thing. The best example of it is when Apple came out with their bumper. That was one of the first OEM accessories. From there, they came out with different types of cases. Now we're seeing a lot of other manufacturers like Motorola come out with a huge line up of accessories. They're doing manufacturing and assembly in the United States. I think that it poses a little risk, of course, for any accessory. At the same time it allows us to step up the game. It also weeds out the ones who are just resellers, and maybe are using cheaper materials to make cheaper products. It allows the more premium stuff to shine.
Jeremiah: That has to definitely keep you on top of your game. Even with devices like the OPO that can't be wrapped.
Jonathan: Yeah. OnePlus came out with stuff that I'd never seen before. The cashew nut back case, I mean, who would think of something like that? That's just amazing. I think that threw everyone for a loop. Cashew nut? And then you laminate on top of it? Am I going to have nut allergies or something? (laughs) But seriously, they are a really creative company that is really going somewhere. They have some creative minds. That spurs us on, makes us think about new possibilities; resources and materials that we can use now, too. It's pretty cool.
Jeremiah: What's your daily driver? What phone are you currently using? If it's an iPhone, that's ok too. (laughs)
Jonathan: Yeah, I am an Apple fanatic. You have to think that when we started the company, it was 2010. We have the HTC Incredible out, and then some phones that weren't that great. One of my first phones was a BlackBerry, and then I went to a phone from a company called Helio. They were a startup from Earthlink. They had some really cool phones brought in from South Korea. I was rocking those with some proprietary software. Then I got the first iPhone.
I currently have the iPhone 5s with a Gamuza suede on the back. It's really nice. It's an awesome material. I do have two devices, though. The second one is probably my favorite, and that's an HTC One M8. I have a custom wrap on it that is the blueprints for our new manufacturing facility we are building right now. We took the blueprint and designed this wrap. A bunch of us are rocking them on our phones. It's an awesome reminder of how far we've come. That is partly why this is my favorite phone. When I look at I'm just like, "Wow!" But yeah, the M8 is by far one of my favorite phones. I tend to use it more than I use my iPhone. The iPhone still has a lot of apps on it that I can't get away from, but that's the only reason I keep it around. I'm a huge Android fan.
We get almost every phone so I get to play with a lot of different ones and see what I like. I think the OPO is my next favorite. I love the design and interface. I think my third favorite is the LG G3. It's starting to grow on me, but I haven't had much time with it because everyone else has had dibs on it. We've been giving them away like crazy, when we do get them in. The only one I have right now is the Korean edition, which I can't get TV on. I'm pretty upset about that. (laughs)
Alex: That was fun with that antenna. That's the one I had at first, for about a month and a half.
Jonathan: Yeah, the antenna was crazy. I heard you can't really get reception with it. I haven't been able to get LTE with it. Ours can only get 3G.
Alex: There were two Korean versions. One that had LTE and one that didn't. The one I had didn't have it either. I was always roaming on that thing.
Jonathan: You know, I was hoping for TV more than anything. Over the air TV is cool. I think that's awesome.
Jeremiah: I do want to mention the contest again. This is so awesome. We're giving away an LG G3, a G Watch, 30 wraps for the G3, and 30 wraps for the G Watch. That's over $1580 in stuff. The contest is running until the 25th of August. (You can enter here.)
Jonathan: I need to point out, too, that you guys have exclusive G Watch wraps for this giveaway. We haven't launched that product yet.
Alex: Between changing the strap and then wrapping, the G Watch looks like a whole new watch.
Jeremiah: Thanks so much for talking to us, Jonathan.