How This Accidental Entrepreneur Launched One of Chicago’s Most Successful Kickstarter Campaigns


If you have ever worked a desk job then you know how exhausting it can feel to be sitting down for hours at a time. You get up every now and then and walk to the water cooler just for the opportunity to stretch your legs, but ultimately this daily routine begins to have noticeable effects on your health, often making you feel more lethargic. For Shivani Jain, a then college student at the University of Chicago, interning at a corporate office meant sacrificing the healthy and active routine she once knew. During her junior year of college, it was then that she and two of her peers, Arnav Dalmia and Ryota Sekine, noticed how sedentary their lives had become and collectively thought to create a product that would bring movement to you.

Today, the trio are co-founders of Cubii, a company that has fulfilled their desire of bringing a quiet workout to their customers through their under-the-desk ellipticals. The company that has successfully grown almost 300% every year over the last 3 years, even making its way to popular shopping networks like QVC, did not come to be through perfect planning and execution, but simply by accident. While the college friends had a vision for their ellipticals, they had no intention of pursuing their idea just yet. As two economics majors and one biology major, the friends were well aware of their lack of professional and educational experience in running a business, much less tapping into the health and wellness industry that they were also unfamiliar with. It wasn't until Booth School of Business held a New Venture Challenge at their University that Jain, Dalmia and Sekine took their idea to the competition as a way to learn more about entrepreneurship. After taking the leap and bringing their concept to the challenge, the trio won second place and received the opportunity to build a prototype of their elliptical.

Although Jain's journey to entrepreneurship was accidental, that did not hinder her from preparing herself and her co-founders for the challenge of building a business they were not expecting to have established. However, as recent graduates short on money, they looked towards crowdfunding as a way to not only raise the necessary funds, but to validate the market. In July 2016, Cubii co-founders launched their 6-week Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $80,000 that was quickly surpassed as they ended up raising $300k— 3.5 times their goal. "It was actually one of Chicago's most successful campaigns that year and it really helped us get started, but one of the things we realized is that crowdfunding funds is unlike traditional investor or angel investments because you actually have to deliver products to these people in return for them putting down funds," said Jain. However, manufacturing required far more investments than their Kickstarter funds could supply. To overcome this obstacle, Jain, alongside her co-founders, held a small friends and family angel round that raised them an additional $100k which then allowed them to manufacture their very first production run of 3,000 units. For the past two years, their company has been profitable enough that no additional investor money was needed.

While Jain's Kickstarter campaign helped get her business off the ground, it also contributed towards her residency status within the U.S. As an immigrant born and raised in New Delhi, India, Jain was left with the challenging feat of navigating the world of entrepreneurship in America all the while going through the process of obtaining a valid visa. Fortunately, Jain was able to receive an O-1 visa which is given to applicants who demonstrate extraordinary ability in their particular field of work. "The O-1 visa was great because it wasn't lottery based. I could show the performance of the company and show what work we've been doing, before being vetted to see if I'm of value here," she explained. With Cubii receiving a great deal of press, the Kickstarter campaign becoming one of the most successful campaigns in that year and having exponential success in all her endeavors combined, Jain surmises that her achievements, among other things, fulfilled the qualifications needed in order for her visa to be granted.

There is no denying the success and achievements Jain has accrued over the course of her career, however alongside her accomplishments were a variety of challenges she would later overcome. As a young immigrant right out of college with no experience in business or the health and fitness space, the cards were stacked against the co-founder when it came to earning the trust of her peers within the industry, while proving her ability to successfully run a company. "There were a lot of people who doubted us because we didn't have any prior experience and, for them, there was no reason why we would succeed," said Jain. In order to account for her lack of experience, she focused on establishing a strong network of advisors and attending consumer brand get togethers in order to learn from the best. Looking back, she finds these hurdles to have been more helpful than discouraging because it helped her look at the process from a fresh perspective rather than succumb to the way everyone runs their businesses.

As a successful, self-made business woman, Jain offers up her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those of whom are still in college. For her, two of the most important lessons she has learned over the last couple years is firstly, to never let the lack of experience or academic background stop you from pursuing something you believe in. "Just trust your gut and go for it. In our case we didn't know better, we just took it a step at a time. I think oblivion was bliss," said Jain. Secondly, she advises future entrepreneurs to be cautious when taking advice from those around you, regardless of how well intentioned they may be. "We have a great network, but sometimes the things we hear might be conflicting with each other. Ultimately, it is your company, you're in it day to day. There will always be something that you know that others can't know or feel."

As for the future of Cubii, Jain shares her excitement for the company's expansion. While Cubii was intended to bring movement to people stuck at their desks, Jain discovered that half of their users have not used their ellipticals for its intended purpose, but to serve as an idle workout while sitting on the couch and as a form of rehabilitation for injuries. She expressed, "We're refining our brand and company by bringing fitness and making it accessible for all ages, abilities and lifestyles, and that's truly what we stand for."

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Unraveling Trauma to Write a Personal Narrative

Quilt host. Alicia , shares how addressing personal trauma can lead to a more embodied sense of self—a crucial key to finding success and content. Sign up for her workshops here!

We all have a story. These are the stories that we present to the world, those that inform how we respond to those around us, and the stories that we internalize, that become part of our psyche. For Quilt host and trauma-informed class facilitator, Alicia Magaña, the latter are what inform our personal narratives — or deepest truths about who we are. Developing a healthy personal narrative is crucial to realizing our fullest potential. But what does that mean, and how do we do it?

Over the course of an average life, we all experience things that complicate or even harm our subconscious perception of self. When left unaddressed, this negativity can snowball and have serious and damaging effects. Thankfully, we all have the power to create a cohesive and embodied personal narrative. It just takes a bit of work.

Defining Trauma

So what does that mean, "complications"? It's no secret that life is tough. No one gets through it without a few hurdles. "In the psychological sense," says Alicia, "trauma is anything from the past that is intruding in the present moment. Sometimes we're aware of it, but most of the time, we're not."

Trauma is a big word. There's Trauma with a capital T, that affects entire groups of people in one fell swoop — the legacy of slavery and its systematic effect on black Americans is one such example. To be very clear: These kinds of Traumas are more difficult to address and require cooperation from institutions as well as individuals.

Then there's trauma, something that unfortunately most people experience in their lives, whether knowingly or not. These can be relationships with our parents, deaths of loved ones, or the collective wounds of mass shootings or sex trafficking. Alicia believes that the majority of personal traumas occur in childhood when we are entirely dependent upon others for our survival. If, for example, we grow up in an unsafe home, we are required to be dependent upon caretakers who don't feel safe.

This was Alicia's experience growing up, and she has seen it manifest with her 4-year-old son. Just recently, she had an epiphany when her son didn't want to eat his vegetables. She took the time to embrace him and come to an agreement with him, but at the same time, felt an anger swelling in her.

"It's like this 9-year-old angry me was so pissed off," she says. Her subconscious was jealous that her son had a parent who cares about and is curious about his feelings and his needs. Being able to recognize and address those feelings allowed her to begin to unravel and heal them.

Why Would I Want to Dig Deep?

"The benefit is that you can put it in the past," says Alicia, "you can take it from implicit to explicit." The work may be painful, but it allows you to change the course of your own history. By digging deep and investigating past hurt, you're then able "to connect to yourself, knowing how to identify and name the feelings and needs behind it," she says.

Trauma is anything from the past that is intruding in the present moment.

Here's where the narrative part comes in. By going through the process and naming those feelings, you're able to build a coherent narrative then and define what triggers you.

"The key is to clearly define the beginning, middle, and end," says Alicia. That way, when something takes you out of your "resiliency zone" — say, being stuck in traffic, or when life throws you a challenging curveball — you're able to take a step back and understand why you're feeling that way. You can then react in a way that's healthier and more in line with the person you're choosing to be.

"It's knowing the signs so that you can identify it and then be able to say to yourself, 'Oh, I'm in that space again,'" says Alicia. "It's like ongoing maintenance. Because we're all humans. And we all need daily maintenance."

The Importance of Collective Sharing

This is deep work that can certainly be done on your own or one-on-one with a trusted friend or therapist. But, like most things in life, coming together to address and unravel personal traumas can help accelerate breakthroughs and jog memories. Alicia hosts classes through Quilt in Los Angeles, and the journey has been significant for participants.

"Being in a group setting allows you to listen about other people's experiences," says Alicia. While everyone's experience may be different shades, they're at least all in the rainbow. "It starts to look a bit the same in everyone's home," she says. "That's one of the biggest benefits I've noticed in our particular group."

It's like ongoing maintenance. Because we're all humans. And we all need daily maintenance.

Alicia keeps her classes a safe space for all by offering strict agreements — no interrupting, no cross-talking, etc. — and participants are more than welcome to pass on questions if they'd like. "You can absolutely just show up and be an observer," she says.

Observer or participant, we all know the power of what can happen when women come together. Imagine what would happen if we all rewrote our personal narratives — together.

If you're in LA, don't miss Alicia's remaining classes in the series! Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Quilt is a mobile app that offers a deeper sense of connection in the modern world by making it easier for women to come together for real conversations online and offline. Download the app and join us for a chat, gathering, or house party!