In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed the co-founder of Yowel, Steve Krengel.​ ​Yowel is a set of eco-friendly, machine-washable towels that can replace paper towels, save time and money. It was​ co-founded by ​Krengel and his father, Ken Krengel. Their product is an easy way to reduce your dependence on paper towels and be sustainable​ in day-to-day activities.​ Learn how Krengel’s personal experience led him and his father to solve a problem many others experience too.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • Everyday life inspired an innovative product idea.
  • How Krengel’s involvement in the design process decreased the overall prototyping process
  • The expected effects of Yowel’s sustainability efforts
  • How branding played a role in creating the company’s original name
  • Entrepreneurial advice for those looking to launch their innovation

Links

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Sponsors

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript

Roy Morejon:
Welcome entrepreneurs and startups to Art of the Kickstart, the podcast that every entrepreneur needs to listen to before you launch. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president and founder of Enventys Partners, the world’s only turnkey product launch company that has helped over 2,000 innovations successfully raise over $400 million in capital since 2010. Each week, I interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level. This show would not be possible without our main sponsor, ProductHype, a 300,000 member crowdfunding media site and newsletter that’s generated millions of dollars in sales for over 1,000 top-tier projects since 2017. Check out producthype.co to subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Now, let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today we are talking with Steve Krengel, co-founder of Yowel. And Steve, I know we had some technical difficulties, so we’re sorry that your father, Ken, couldn’t make it on this, but either way I’m really excited to talk to you today and have you on the show.

Steve Krengel:
You too. Glad to be here, Roy. Thanks for inviting us.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So, Yowel. This is like a super fun, easy solution, obviously, to make actually a massive dent, I think, in the future. So if you would, give our audience a little bit of background in terms of, what is Yowel?

Steve Krengel:
Okay. Yowel is basically a way to easily replace paper towels with reusable towels. It’s essentially a system that includes a dispenser, towels and a mesh bag. And to allow you to move through the process really easily of just… essentially, you could take your paper towel roll off your roll now, put a Yowel on and you’re really ready to start using reusable towels.

Roy Morejon:
So, I know a lot of us have kids, especially a lot of the listeners out there, and we’re always trying to figure out these hacks to optimize our kids’ lives or our home lives. And something like this, I think really is going to be beneficial to the planet, which is why I’m really excited about it. As I mentioned before the show, I just got back from a entrepreneurship trip to Greenland. I was really devastated just seeing what’s happening to our planet and the melting of all of those things. And I think the beauty of this product really is just something that’s so simple that is easy to replace in our lives from the typical paper towel dispenser that we’re going through a roll every other day or something like this. So I’m really interested, Steve, to hear, what led you to deciding to tackle this particular issue?

Steve Krengel:
Well, it was interesting. I had a really bad paper towel habit myself. And so, I was going through one every two days myself, just me. And so I was like, “Well, how would I solve this problem?” And I figured out my own solution and it was very similar to what the Yowel is now. It worked great. And then I was like, “Well, how do you help other people adopt this lifestyle as well, and as easy of a way as possible?” And part of that was to… that was why the Yowel kind of looks like a paper towel roll. I mean, we have two versions. We have a countertop version and then we have an under cabinet version. The under cabinet version looks almost exactly like a paper towel roll.

Steve Krengel:
And there was a kind of a theory that we were working off of, which is by Raymond Loewy, an old school industrial designer, and it’s called MAYA; Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable. So, what we were trying to do is create something that was very similar to how people that were using paper towels already work. The unit has 40 towels that come with it, so it’s almost the same amount as a paper towel roll. And the towels are very similar to… they’re nice and thin and about the same size as paper towels too, so it’s a very easy adoption step.

Roy Morejon:
So, how did you guys come up with the name for the product?

Steve Krengel:
Well, so I was reading a branding book at the time, and branding is something that’s always kind of fascinated me. And I was also spending a lot of time with a friend who, when he was just messing around or possibly drinking, would always say, “Yow!” and so, I somehow combined “towel” with “yow” and came up with Yowel. And sometimes you just, you start and you’re like, “Well, okay, this is going to be my working brand.” And it was just funny, everyone liked it and everyone remembered it. And I was like, “Well, this is our brand.”

Roy Morejon:
I love it. Innovation from drinking. This is always interesting what comes out of late night thoughts, right?

Steve Krengel:
Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Roy Morejon:
So, I love the stats. I was just looking through the page, and just the fact that you guys brought up, if every household used just one less 70-sheet roll of paper towels, it would save over half a million trees each year. And it’s ridiculous to think that the paper towel industry is a $6 billion industry. And just the fact that we are just churning through these paper towels every day, I think-

Steve Krengel:
That’s the US, by the way.

Roy Morejon:
Which is even more startling, I think.

Steve Krengel:
Yeah, it’s incredible. And not only that, and not only are we cutting down all those trees and going through the process and creating carbon from the manufacturing and delivery over and over and over again, when you throw those paper towels away, they’re just creating methane while they’re decomposing.

Roy Morejon:
Pretty incredible. Well, Steve, tell me a little bit about your background. What led you to being an entrepreneur?

Steve Krengel:
Basically, growing up with entrepreneurs. My dad, his father, they were always thinking of something new to do. Gosh, there was a bunch of products that I remember him creating when we were young. He created the first CAD software for kitchen and bath designers, in 1980 something. And my dad’s always kind of been on the forefront and always thinking about new ways to do something. And so, I think I just got it from him. I don’t really have any fear around coming out with a new idea or a new product and seeing if something works. And together, it was fun to work with my dad on this as well. I think we complement each other really nicely, and it’s always fun to do a project with him.

Roy Morejon:
So, when you guys were designing Yowel, talk a little bit about that process. How did you go about deciding what features, colors, in the initial designs? And maybe some of those challenges that you’ve encountered along the way.

Steve Krengel:
Yeah. I think with certain products, some products are, you kind of have to force them together. And other products, they just kind of come together almost naturally. I think the realization that we wanted to make this obvious for consumers and make it look like a paper towel roll; we wanted to keep everything white, we wanted to keep it clean, and we just wanted something like an accent color. So, that’s what we went with, the silver. So, that sort of, we kind of already knew the general makeup of what it’s going to be. And so. I created a prototype. I used the wrong software at first. I used Blender, and then I brought in some 3D printers. And by the way, 3D printing is not as easy as you think it is. But anyway, so those came together and I was able to create the first prototype with that. And then we got an industrial designer involved that we had worked with before, and he really kind of tweaked it and refined it, and came up with the countertop model. So, which we weren’t going to do initially but I think it turned out really nice.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. No, I agree. So, let’s jump into the crowdfunding side of things. How did you guys first become aware of crowdfunding, and why do you think that crowdfunding is the best way to launch this innovation with?

Steve Krengel:
I think in some ways it looked, or it seemed like the perfect product for crowdfunding. A lot of people were like, “You should get this on Shark Tank,” or, “put it on Kickstarter.” It was almost just something that everyone just pushed us towards. And we’d heard of it ourselves as well. I think as we did a little bit more research though, on Kickstarter, we realized that we’re going to probably need some help. And so, did a little bit of research on Google, came across Enventys. And at that point, it kind of all came together. We saw what your capabilities were, we reached out to you as well, and everything kind of just felt obvious at that point.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I mean, you’ve been working with us now for quite a while at Enventys Partners. What were some of those considerations when choosing an agency to partner with?

Steve Krengel:
I think it’s like working with anyone. When you start to talk to somebody right out of the gate and you get a professional person on the phone, you get feedback, people follow up. We noticed that right away with your team. And so, it was talking to Enventys versus a few of the other people that we looked at. There was just a difference in quality and follow up and professionalism.

Roy Morejon:
Well, we love to hear that. I know before the show, we were talking about some of the prep work leading up to the Kickstarter campaign and how much more work it actually is. You mind diving into that a little bit?

Steve Krengel:
Yeah. It’s funny because you think that, “Well, you just create a product, put it on Kickstarter and it just, it launches.” And the truth is, is Kickstarter is really just, it’s almost just a brand. You have to push… it’s like creating your own website. You still have to push everyone to it. And that was actually a surprise that we didn’t realize. We didn’t know there was more to it. And once we found that out, that’s when we started reaching out to companies like yours, because it was almost a disappointment, actually. But it was nice to again, come across you guys because then it brought everything together and kind of got us excited again.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Well, speaking of bringing everything together, let’s talk a little bit about the manufacturing side of things. How did you guys find someone to help with the assembling and the manufacturing, and now the product development elements of the Yowel?

Steve Krengel:
We actually talked to quite a few companies. We wanted to keep it in the US to start out with, just because we had done some research and realized there’s certain complications and time factors that really make going overseas a little bit more complicated. So, our goal was to try to work with companies that had multiple talents. And like Enventys, you have the industrial design side as well as the Kickstarter side, et cetera. And so, we found a company that had a lot of stuff on site. They would do their own molds, they would do their manufacturing, and they could actually do the logistics for us. And once we found them, we couldn’t find another company that really matched up to them.

Roy Morejon:
Speaking of the logistics side, let’s talk shipping because I know there’s a lot of companies that we’re working with, and direct to consumer e-commerce clients that we’re working with, and Amazon clients that we’re working with, that are having shipping nightmares. How has that potentially changed any of the forecast that you guys have currently put together of when you’re finally ready to ship and deliver the product to your backers?

Steve Krengel:
Yeah. I mean, one of the things for us is we actually did talk to a logistics consultant about working in Europe and working with China, et cetera, and there’s so many issues with that right now that it was almost a non-starter. Because we’re manufacturing domestically, we’re not as concerned in terms of product development and getting it to where it’s supposed to be, or product manufacturing, get it to where it’s supposed to be. But one of the things I will say in terms of shipping, when you’re developing a product, the size of it does factor in. So, Yowel is a little bit larger product, and if you can create a smaller product, you’re going to save a lot of money in shipping and logistics and even how you would want to source it. It gives you a lot more flexibility.

Roy Morejon:
Right. So, reflection time. If anything that you could do differently of bringing this product to market or working on a launch or anything like that, is there anything that you would recommend to our listeners make sure that they pay attention to as they’re going down this path?

Steve Krengel:
I almost think, almost everyone I’ve listened to on your podcasts or other podcasts related to this type of topic, everyone talks about how the time just stretches out. Things take so much longer than you think they’re going to. And what happens with that, and what I’ve seen is, it’s the iteration process. Sometimes you’ll go, “Okay, well, I just want to tweak… I don’t know. I just want to add feet to this product,” and all of a sudden, that’s two to three weeks that you didn’t realize… you’re like, “Oh, I thought that was just a simple change.” Well, or your industrial designer may be delayed by a week because he’s working on something else that he’s trying to finish up. Or when they get the design back to you, you’re like, “Well, I don’t really like that design,” and so then you have to go back.

Steve Krengel:
And I’ve found that honestly, by actually being involved in the design process… I’m not sure if everyone would really want to do this, but I became the industrial designer’s apprentice, essentially. I learned his software, I had my own 3D printers at my house, and so when I wanted to try to change a design element, I could just do it. And I think, increasing the speed of that iteration saved us a lot of time.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Well, Steve, this is going to get us into our launch round now, where I’m going to rapid-fire a handful of questions at you. You ready to go?

Steve Krengel:
I think so.

Roy Morejon:
Let’s do This. So, what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Steve Krengel:
I mean, that’s easy. That’s my dad. I don’t think there was really any inspiration, necessarily. I think it was just a natural state of being in our house. It’s just how you were. It’s just the way you thought. So yeah, there was never a moment in time. It was just growing up with that.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So, if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would it be?

Steve Krengel:
I almost think this is probably… I’m sure a lot of people would answer it the same way, but I’m just a big fan of Elon Musk.

Roy Morejon:
Musk is a common theme on our show. So, what would be your first question for him?

Steve Krengel:
One of the things that I find interesting, because I’m into sustainability, et cetera, and I would like to see a list of things that we need to do as a planet or as a society. What’s our to-do list? I know there’s electric cars and batteries, et cetera, but what’s really next on that list? How do you maybe combat forest fires and get them shut down earlier? Or something along those lines, but what’s our to-do list?

Roy Morejon:
Well, I think Yowel’s on the to-do list now, right?

Steve Krengel:
I guess. It’s on my to-do list.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Any book that you would recommend to our listeners?

Steve Krengel:
I would say my favorite product development book is called Inside Steve’s Brain. It’s essentially how Steve Jobs created his products, and I found it really enlightening.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Well, in speaking of enlightenment, what advice would you give to a new inventor, entrepreneur that’s looking to launch their innovation?

Steve Krengel:
I would probably go back to one of the things I said earlier about being in part… or being a part of the process, getting involved to… not just leave it in other people’s hands. I mean, work with them, but you want to also be involved in the process. If you can speed up your iterations by doing your own CAD work or even some of the marketing work; I mean, whatever you can do to move that process along, that’s what I would recommend.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. Steve, what do you think are the top three skills that every entrepreneur needs to be successful?

Steve Krengel:
Well, I would say that’s probably different depending on what industry you’re in. I think branding’s really important, understanding brand and brand marketing. I would say, I think nowadays, having a comfort level with technology is important. And I think if you’re working in teams, knowing maybe the Agile process. I think that’s important as well.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So Steve, I know the campaign hasn’t launched yet. We’ve got a launch date of October 5th, so this podcast should be live once the campaign goes live, but still interested to hear your take on, what does the future of crowdfunding look like to you?

Steve Krengel:
That’s a tough question. I’m not 100% sure but I’ll tell you what, I do like what you guys are doing over at Enventys. I think, I would like to see something change. I think there’s an opening to move beyond Kickstarter, but as long as we’re still going the Kickstarter route, I would definitely say work with a company like yours.

Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well, Steve, this has been amazing. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where people should go, and why they should check out Yowel.

Steve Krengel:
Well, I really appreciate it, Roy. Thanks for making my first podcast easy.

Roy Morejon:
Well, it’s been my pleasure. Really excited to see this product launch. Audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign and everything else we talked about today. And of course, I got to thank our crowdfunding podcast sponsors at the Gadget Flow and ProductHype. Steve, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Steve Krengel:
Thank you, Roy.

Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another amazing episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a better business, world and life with crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, show us some love by giving us a great rating on your favorite listening station. And of course, make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for all the previous episodes. And if you need some help, that’s what we’re here for. Make sure to send me an email to info@artofthekickstart.com. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll see you on the next episode.