Making Something From Nothing: Gabi Saper & Lorenzo Gonzalez Of CMY Cubes On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You may be certain that your product idea is the next best thing but make sure you only buy stock you can move. Yes, there are economies of scale, and yes, you’ll pay a higher unit price, but if you can move 100 units quickly you won’t sweat the extra costs you had in the beginning as you scale to 1,000 units. On the other hand if you are sitting on 10,000 units that it turns out people don’t want, you will be in a world of stress. Trust us, we’ve been there!

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabi & Lorenzo.

With many businesses under their belts, Gabi and Lorenzo found themselves going back to the drawing board during the pandemic, when the world was flipped on its head and previous business’ dried up.

Together, they created CMY Cubes- the most curious and utterly magnificent sensory toy you’ll ever get to handle. These seemingly magical colour-defying cubes, tetrahedrons, icosahedrons, and more are captivating the world, seeing 1200% growth in the first six months alone. The almost instant success came from a mixture of launching a first-of-its-kind product that is extremely visually appealing and good digital marketing, thanks to Saper’s experience in the industry. Shortly after launching, CMY Cubes went viral on TikTok & Reddit, which launched CMY into the market quickly. Lorenzo has a history in science and engineering and together, they both have always loved experimenting and making new things. This was the inspiration behind the idea for making CMY Cubes. What they didn’t realise is that it would be as big of a hit as it has become all over the world. They soon realised that they created something that people not only wanted but needed.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Lorenzo: I was born and raised in Hollywood Florida which is in South Florida between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. My father died when I was 18 months old so my mom raised my older sister and me on her own our whole lives. She was always working 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet and thankfully we never went without food or shelter. When I was 11 my sister left to go to college and so it was just my mom and me for all of my teenage years. At 18 I left home to attend the University of Florida for Aerospace Engineering but I soon discovered that, at that point in my life, university was not for me and so I left university and started backpacking and travelling the world. After travelling through North and South America I found myself backpacking through Europe which is where I met Gab when I was 21 in France. Her and I continued travelling together for several years through Europe and Asia and we settled in Sydney, Australia where Gab is originally from. In Sydney, I worked as a Carpenter for several years eventually starting and running a successful renovations company before returning to University for degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Physics.

Gabi: I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. My parents got a divorce when I was about 9 years old and so I lived with my mum majority of the time. She was a flight attendant and flew around the world every other week so I spent a lot of time on my own at home. This definitely taught me to be very independent, it’s the reason I got my first real job at 15, working in retail. I was very self driven. My dad was always self employed during my childhood, whether it was his carpentry services or his retail shop, he was always his own boss — this inspired me a lot and gave me motivation to want to do the same. I remember making my own bedazzled phone cases in grade 8 for the iphone and walking around school selling them to my peers, my aspiration for entrepreneurship started early, haha.

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” We have found that success is as much a function of persistence and perseverance as it is of talent or luck. So many things in life won’t always work out the first time but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying. We like to think of our failures as the paving stones on our path forward. Between us, we tried and had varying levels of success with 8 different businesses that produced some sort of revenue before CMY Cubes. While some of those did turn out to be successful, each one that did not could have been where we decided to cut ourselves short and stop trying. Thankfully we tried, tried, again!

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Lorenzo: Probably the most important book I ever read in my life was “The four-hour work week” by Tim Ferriss. During my time as a carpenter I was constantly listening to audiobooks so I could reclaim my time and the first time I read The Four Hour Work Week I was actually building an exhibition for the Museum of Applied Sciences in Sydney so I wasn’t able to follow any of the instructions provided in the text. The value of the book came through to me regardless because it showed me for the first time that it was possible to start a business or curate and construct your own life anywhere that you wanted in a way that was meaningful to you. Until I read a book, I thought that the barriers to entry for being your own boss or running your own business were just too high for me to surpass. It was a direct result of reading that book that I started my own carpentry business, and the subsequent businesses that Gabrielle and I have run together including CMY Cubes.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

It’s true that there are plenty of good ideas, the real issue is execution on those ideas and people‘s risk tolerance because having a good idea isn’t enough. You really have to be able to stomach spending (likely your own) money on your idea which means having confidence in yourself and/or your team. You have to be able to cope with failures which are so likely they are basically guaranteed. As far as the practical execution of a good idea goes, a lot of research has to be done, and you’ll come across what will seem like perpetual dead ends. The mindset you need is of going through a finite list, you need to find out all the places where you’re NOT going to be able to manufacture your product or provide your service, and cross them off the list. And if you can persist, if you can summon the resilience to go through that list, if you can find your way past all the deadends, eventually you WILL find the right place. And only then can the merit of your good idea stand.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

It may sound simple but Google is your best friend. It’s as easy as searching for the term of your product that you have the idea for and if it has been done before it will likely come up very quickly. There’s been plenty of times that we thought we had the greatest idea yet but shortly after googling we realised it had already been created and sold. If your product idea doesn’t show up on the first, second, or third page of google it’s likely that it’s not a very common product and it may be potentially worth executing. Another great place to look at is social media. A simple search on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or twitter will give you a good idea on whether the product is already trending and it’ll also give you an idea on whether people are asking for it.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

1. Researching the idea to find out how large (or small) the competition is. Is there a need or want for this product in the market? Can you make something that already exists even better? What would your positioning in the market be?

2. Start brainstorming, designing and writing a brief on what you want the product to look and feel like. Is it a particular colour? What size is it? What material is it made from?

3. If possible, try making a DIY sample of what you’re wanting to create, or get someone locally to help bring the idea to life in a sample. Fiverr is a great resource filled with professionals to help create 3D designs, drawings or highly detailed tech packs. This will really help when taking your idea to manufacturers.

4. Start researching the name of your product to find out if it’s available, this includes the business name, website domain name & social media handles. It’s a good idea to have all of those secured before your move to manufacturing.

5. In tandem to working on your product design and samples, work on your company logo and overall business look and feel. This will become necessary when working with manufacturing as you’ll either want it on the product, product packaging, or labels.

6. Set up your website by using a platform such as Shopify. There’s a lot of free ready to go templates that you just need to update with your branding and products. If budgets are low, you can easily do this yourself, alternatively you can pay somebody to design and create the website for you. You’ll want your website ready to go by the time your products have been manufactured.

7. Once you have your product brief, a sample in hand, or a design tech pack complete you can then start to research for manufacturers. If you’re looking for local makers, a few simple google searches looking for a local manufacturer of the type of material your product is made from will point you in the right direction. You can even email them, and they’ll likely point you in the right direction. If you’re looking for a product to be made further abroad, Alibaba is your best bet. Remember, if you’re using an overseas manufacturer, your brief will need to be clear, and a product tech pack will really help avoid miscommunication and translation error. Start off by getting samples from multiple manufacturers to compare quality and price. Don’t rush this step — it’s important to consider your best option. Never settle for second best.

8. Once you’ve got samples on the way and your website is almost ready, it’s time to start shooting content (photos, or videos) to get your social media accounts and advertising underway. Whether you use influencers, content creators, or just do it yourself, content is key. Showing off the product in engaging videos or writing blogs will help you create a need for what you’re selling. It’s important to start building your audience through a mailing list or social media following before you officially launch your product to start off with a bang and continue to go up from there. When customers become ambassadors, that’s when you’ll be set up for continued growth and success almost guaranteed.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Value your own time. When you are providing a service do not sell yourself short. If you have gotten to the point where you think you can have a business offering your services then you must be good at what you do and there must be a need for your skills, do not be afraid to price yourself appropriately. If you offer yourself for less than what you’re worth, you will make your clients happy at the expense of your own happiness and this is not the ideal situation. Close your eyes and imagine your business going extremely well, with lots of happy clients and enough remuneration to feel fulfilled. Whatever number makes you feel this way is what you should price yourself at. You will find out very quickly if this is realistic, and can adjust from there. When Enzo started his carpentry business he would work long hours for free because of a sense of obligation to the clients, and it took several projects before realising that the obligation works in both directions. Reasonable people are happy to pay for a quality service, provide that quality and charge that price.

2. Value your own opinion. There is a quote by Steve Jobs: “everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it-you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” When you finally realise the truth in this statement it will change your life forever. Whatever it is you want to accomplish there is a path to that fulfilment, and all that path requires to divulge itself is self belief. There is a time and place for expert opinion, but you should always start with what YOU think, and how YOU feel about it. Chances are you’ve got a pretty good head on your shoulders and can probably reason through 99% of what you’ll encounter. And don’t take advice from people who aren’t experienced in what you’re doing. When you are starting a business everyone’s got an opinion on it which is kind of funny considering none of them have ever done it! Meanwhile there are great resources (like this publication) full of free advice from people who actually HAVE accomplished something, start there.

3. Trust people to do their job. If you can’t do it yourself, and learning how to do it yourself will take more effort than it’s worth: outsourcing is key. Finding the right help from the right people is often cheaper and easier than taking the time to figure it out for yourself. People with the entrepreneurial spirit often feel like they can do anything and everything themselves, and true as that may be, there is only one of you. With few exceptions anything of significance that has ever been built has eventually been the result of teamwork. Find people who you connect with who you can trust, and then trust them. As good as you are, collaboration is so important and always leads to something even greater than what was possible on your own.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You may be certain that your product idea is the next best thing but make sure you only buy stock you can move. Yes, there are economies of scale, and yes, you’ll pay a higher unit price, but if you can move 100 units quickly you won’t sweat the extra costs you had in the beginning as you scale to 1,000 units. On the other hand if you are sitting on 10,000 units that it turns out people don’t want, you will be in a world of stress. Trust us, we’ve been there!

5. Working with manufacturers is hard. They tend to over promise and under deliver. Quality control is so important and do NOT believe it until you see it (in your hands). Never settle for less, remember — anything can be made.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Clearly define why this product needs to exist. Try to figure out why it doesn’t already exist, and if it does exist then find out what’s wrong with the current version. Then really think about whether you yourself would buy the product and how it would improve your life. Finally construct a prototype or have it made for you.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

We have never done that. Whether or not that’s beneficial to somebody I think must be judged by them. I feel the utility in a consultant might be in how to increase the manufacturability of their idea rather than the utility of their idea. As with any contractor, you should look at their track record. They should prove they are successful otherwise don’t waste your time.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

We have always been self-funded because we haven’t yet fallen in the need to raise capital. We think it’s important for each business to do as they feel is necessary but if you decide to bring on a venture capitalist, make sure it’s for the right reasons and not just for the cash. Do they have the connections you need? Can they mentor you to grow your skill set? Can they help you grow your company? Don’t forget there are always other options out there as well, such as business loans and crowdfunding websites either funded by customers believing in your product or micro loans from new investors.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

At every opportunity we share the lessons we’ve learned the hard way with those who are just starting out or struggling. We were fortunate enough to receive advice early on from successful business owners and we endeavour to pay it forward. We are constantly engaging with our customers to provide them with products they will cherish. We are also currently working towards collaborations with schools to promote science literacy and involvement with young people.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We strive to promote self belief, independence, and personal responsibility in people of all ages and backgrounds. Being your own boss brings a sense of fulfilment in your life and we would love for everyone to reap the benefits of their potential. We truly believe that the world would be a better place if more people were able to express themselves meaningfully through their work and provide their communities with role models for success and leadership.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Tim Ferriss has been so influential on our lives. His books opened our eyes to what is possible for everyone and his podcasts keep us constantly engaged with what success means to us personally, be that in business, personal development, or engagement with our community. Meeting him would be an honour.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Gabi Saper & Lorenzo Gonzalez Of CMY Cubes On How To Go From Idea To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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