#SWAAYthenarrative

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

Business

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."

4 Min Read
Business

Today, Companies Need to Retain Veteran Employees in Order to Survive and Thrive

In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.

At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.

Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.

What makes veterans valuable employees

Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:

Leadership

It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.

Commitment

The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.

Strategy, planning, and improv

Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.

Service

With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.

Best practices in retention of veteran talent

Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.

Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.

The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.

Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.

The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.

Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.