Jon Sumroy is the founder and CEO of mifold (www.mifold.com), the world’s top grab-and-go children’s booster seat, and although he can technically no longer use his own product, it has helped save the lives of countless kids around the world who can!
With the mifold soon to be launched in more stores across New York and the rest of the United States beyond its current successful position in Target and buybuy Baby retailers, The Levity Ball sat down with Jon to find out how the product came to be, the reason safety is his top priority, and why every parent should own this incredible booster…
1. To start off: When did you first know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
My current career as an inventor and entrepreneur started relatively late (at the age of 46) and actually started as a hobby. I had worked most of my career in senior management roles at more established consumer goods companies including Unilever and Johnson & Johnson. My ‘hobby’ started when I realized no-one was solving the real challenges facing child car passenger safety that I noticed with my own children. I wanted to bring solutions that would enable the protection of every child, on every journey. It didn’t exist so I started working on it myself. From that insight, a few years later the mifold grab-and-go booster was born; and I found myself an entrepreneur and the CEO of a start-up.
2. How did your time working at large companies such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson help you in launching your own successful brand?
Large companies like Unilever and J&J are great schools to learn the skills, principles and disciplines of marketing and general management: consumer insight, a clear product proposition, benefit orientated communications and brand consistency. So, in terms of creating a successful global brand, it was invaluable experience. However, success in big companies does not prepare you very well for the challenges of a startup. These include raising venture capital, moving from concept to design, Crowdfunding and delivery, launching retail, building a global network for distributors and an international manufacturing, supply chain and distribution.
3. With mifold, you have created one of the safest, top-selling, and most talked about booster seats worldwide. How did you originally come up with the mifold concept and idea?
The inspiration for mifold came from my own experiences. I was living on the East Coast, in New Jersey at the time. My kids who were still little and were always carpooling with the neighbor. We often had children in our car, who didn’t have the right kind of booster seat and my kids were traveling in other people’s cars any appropriate child restraint. I wanted to have a car seat that was so small the kids could take it themselves in their school bags. The technical idea came to me one day while I was strapping a child in the car. Traditional booster seats are big and bulky because they work by lifting the child up, into the position of an adult. This ensures the seat belt fits correctly, with the belt on the bones. My idea was to do the exact opposite: instead of lifting the child up, could you hold the seat belt down?
4. Why the name “mifold”? I wanted a name that really encapsulated the compact, portability of the seat. Its unique folding design makes mifold the smallest booster seat ever invented. So ‘fold’ is the functional part of the name. ‘mi’ (a misspelling of ‘my’ which is easier to trademark) captures the personal ownership of mifold. Traditional car seats stay in the car, mifold is designed to stay with the child. The ‘mi’ allows children to be proud of taking responsibility for their own safety in cars. The name is sharp, easy to remember, and the URL was available!
5. What makes mifold different to other booster seats available in the marketplace? mifold is primarily aimed at those 25% of child car journeys that a child takes without suitable protection as a traditional bulky booster seat is not available. By being the most advanced, compact and portable booster seat ever invented, mifold has disrupted the world of traditional car booster seats. mifold is more than 10x smaller than a regular booster without compromising on safety. My vision was to have a car seat that was great for carpooling, grandparents, taxis, rental cars, vacations and other times when a regular booster was not available. mifold can fit into a glove box, a child’s school bag, a hand bag, hand luggage, etc. Meaning the children can be protected no matter whose car they are in.
6. You raised over $2 million via crowd funding for mifold when you first started… How important was the crowdfunding process and would you recommend it to other companies starting up? The crowdfunding experience for us was an unbelievable one. We chose to use crowdfunding as our go-to-market strategy and completely surpassed our initial expectations in a number of hours: in fact, mifold is still the most successful crowdfunding campaign ever for a juvenile product. This gave us significant credibility, initial awareness, a better understanding of the market potential and valuable interaction and feedback from or consumers. It also helped our negotiations with retailers like Amazon, Buybuy Baby, Target and Walmart, who saw the excitement and interest in the brand. Crowdfunding is definitely a go-to-market strategy that should be seriously considered for innovative consumer products.
7. What is your advice overall to others wanting to invent / innovate products? Firstly, it is never too late to start. If you have a great idea and a passion to realize your dream, then you should pursue it. Surround yourself with talented people – you do not need to be an expert at everything, just ensure that you have the right people around you. Find a mentor who can help guide you. A great mentor will peel away the enthusiasm, push back on the hype and the strip bare a story to make sure you are really addressing the truth. Merge life and work. Promise your partner and kids that you will always be there and ask them to understand when you need to answer a call, shoot off that mail, make a quick diversion. Lastly, sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in. There will be challenges ahead and things are not always easy, but if you are convinced by what you are doing, fight for it!
8. Where in the United States (including here in New York) can people buy your products? Today we are proud to say we are available in a number of channels. In addition to Amazon.com and mifold.com we are also stocked in 1,800 Target stores across the US and in all Buybuy Baby stores. I am also very excited to announce that starting this month mifold will be available in nearly 1,000 Walmart stores. We’ve also sold to customers in more than 150 countries worldwide.
9. What’s next for mifold in 2019? We hear there is a new product on the horizon for the company… 2019 promises to be a very exciting year for mifold. In addition to mifold entering Walmart stores we will be launching hifold by mifold, the highback grab-and-go booster. hifold will bring real innovation to the highback booster category. Thanks to its innovative design hifold folds down to fit in a convenient carry bag, making it ideal for moving from car to car, storage and taking on vacation.
10. And final question: What would you want yourself and mifold to be remembered for in years down the road when people look back? There is a famous quote in the Talmud (the code of Jewish Law), “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”. We are in the business of saving lives. We have a growing ‘Hall of Fame’ from customers who tell us mifold protected their children in a collision. This motivates the whole team to keep growing the business. This is the mark I want to leave on the world. In 2001, I had a vision to create a child car safety seat that was so compact and portable that my four children could keep one with them all the time and be safe, no matter whose car they were in. It took a few years, and now my children are too old for booster seats, so I am delighted that other parents and caregivers are benefitting from the invention.