When Ehsan Alipour designed his “SmartIron” for a class project at Stanford, the idea of “smart” products had yet to be popularized. Apple wouldn’t release the first iPhone for another two years and touch technology was just emerging. At first thought, an iron may seem like an unambitious choice for a project, but 11 years later, Alipour has built an entire company upon his school project and expanded his product line to over 2 dozen more “re-inventions.”
Building a physical product is different than an app or SaaS platform where you don’t hold physical inventory or have to worry about shipments and manufacturing. Still, there are things you can learn from Oliso that apply to any industry.
1. Big Successes Sometimes Come in Odd Packages
At a time when inventions like The Cloud and GPS were budding, Ehsan chose to reinvent an everyday appliance people have relied upon for the past 130 years. After a century of irons sitting upright, Ehsan laid his iron sideways and added touch-activated legs for a school project. This more stable design keeps the metal face of the iron towards the board and away from you. Says Ehsan, “I always thought there was a better way to do things (and if it's fun too, even better) and I am never satisfied with the status quo.” Once the iron was distributed, it gained a whirl of popularity, sold incredible amounts of units and made Oliso into a popular home product company.
2. Know What Motivates You
The SmartIron may have started as a fun design project, but it was how users engaged with his invention that captured Alipour. This is what other founders should really focus on. User experience and understanding how your customer behaves when engaging with your product should always be your motivation to continue building.
3. Focus on Your Community
After the success of the SmartIron, Ehsan did not stop creating. He says that Oliso is “people-focused and has an ongoing dialogue with various communities that use [their] products heavily. People and their needs drive the next invention or reinvention.” When Ehsan thought about his own kitchen, he was struck with a realization: “Our ancestors used to stoke a fire to bake bread in their oven before ovens had thermostats. And essentially that is what your stovetop still is today.”
Listening to the community is the difference between a success and failure for a brand - especially one that is so heavily used in daily life.
4. Build a Team You Can Rely On
Behind every successful founder is a great team. Oliso is no different. Ehsan’s wife, Shann, is his biggest supporter and partner. Balancing a business and marriage can be complicated. Ehsan and Shann consider themselves fortunate enough to have found a balance that motivates and inspires them. What advice do they have? “Don’t take yourself too seriously (‘I’m the CEO’ does not work with your wife),” Ehsan jokes. “A little comic relief is important to fit into everyday.”
Co- founders are not much different than a marriage either. When you are equally invested in a company's success, the importance of relationships gets stronger. Make sure your team is not only full of your biggest supporters but also people who can challenge you and provide differing opinions.