Brian Goodell is the Founder of BibBoards and 4Ears. Brian brings expertise in eCommerce, athletics, promotional products, and PPE medical supplies. Brian specializes in communicating a vision of new ideas in the marketplace, while simultaneously building teams capable of executing his vision. Brian’s career path began with college sports, but quickly transitioned to real estate investment, inventorship and entrepreneurship. After a promising NCAA Division I career as a wide receiver at Idaho State University, Brian transitioned to Bay Area real estate, apprenticing under real estate mogul Frank Lembi. Goodell co-invented a patented smokeless tobacco accessory called DipTops, building a brand and national distribution network around it, leading to product placement in over 30,000 retail locations around the country. He is passionate about inventing new products, with the recent invention of 4Ears PPE for healthcare workers.
Where did the idea for BibBoards come from?
BibBoards started as a fun replacement for safety pins on racing bibs, like the tyvek numbers you pin on your shirt for an endurance event. We knew one of the strengths of the product was that it let people express themselves. It was like putting a “billboard” on your bib with sayings or pictures that told people about who you are. I thought, a billboard for a bib must be a BibBoard. And the rest is history.
Our USA and international trademark applications sailed through and we’re registered with that trademark in about a half dozen countries.
After the pandemic started, I watched our Shopify numbers go down to zero on our web site as the stay at home order came in. I told all of my employees not to come into work. Then, after I discovered a customer’s new use of the product for healthcare workers and seeing its potential, I quickly pivoted. Our company went from zero sales in one weekend all because I saw an opportunity and repurposed and rebranded fast. If I did not rebrand or offer a new product, we would be out of business.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Our business is located in San Ramon, California. We have two state-of-the-art surface printers there. On a typical day, I’ll check my email before 7am and see inbound inquiries and leads. I try to get timely responses out by 9am. At headquarters from 8am to 5pm, I work with my team to make sure each of our stock designs has enough printed and also manage the order fulfillment process, especially custom orders. If there are any priorities (like a custom order on deadline for a large client), I manage how those are done while keeping up with fulfilling the ecommerce customer base. Half my day is on the phone, either with sales or strategic planning for the company.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a social guy and I don’t think a single person has all the answers. I am all about collaboration. I like to run ideas by trusted friends, family and colleagues. I’ve learned over the years that the truth comes out when you bounce ideas off trusted sources. Sometimes things I thought were great ideas have to get thrown away because people showed me the angles I didn’t see. But the opposite happens a lot too. If I have an idea that my colleagues just don’t get, that makes me work harder to communicate how it works. If I can get over initial skepticism and get an “a-ha!” from someone, I know that I can sell the idea somewhere else and it’s a winner.
The other key way I bring ideas to life is by listening and looking to customers to see how we can adapt or change our business when necessary. Our sales quickly dried up during the pandemic because no one was running 5k’s. But then a customer showed how he created a new way to use our product on social media and we listened. This started the birth of 4Ears, a new way to use our product to prevent raw ears for medical professionals and frontline healthcare workers.
We saw the potential immediately and, in less than ten days changed our website and started making our product specifically for face mask wearing. This includes fun and unique designs and sayings that nurses and respiratory therapists love. Our social media has been organically growing with #SaveYourEars #4Ears #rawears #BibBoards. We’ve also been donating products to healthcare workers. We have supplied over 20 hospitals and in our first 10 days closed in on over 1000 orders.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Self-expression in consumer products. Customization is key. People need to feel good about the products they spend hard earned money on and the way they feel good is to buy a product that they can look at and say, “yes, that’s me.” This was one of the key growth drivers behind the launch of 4Ears. Our product (4Ears) is now being used to create customizable PPE for healthcare workers to prevent raw ears. Key Takeaway: the need for self-expression drives consumer demand.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My propensity for team building. Nothing ever gets done by one person. You have to approach entrepreneurship with humility in that way. Find people who are better than you at something, and delegate if you can. The other side of this is you must show your appreciation and respect for the other person. Every entrepreneur must keep a network of independent contractors. My network of freelancers and independent contracts helped me successfully execute the product pivot to 4Ears and enabled us to add a new landing page overnight. Key Takeaway: when you need to pivot, pivot fast
What advice would you give your younger self?
Slow down. Before you make a banana split, just stick with the simple scoops of vanilla ice-cream if it is working. Do not try to do everything at once. Once you find out what is working, duplicate that story and do it over and over again.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Inventing is not as hard as you think. If you talk with someone, almost 99% of the time they will say, “I invented that years ago.” They might have but they did not follow through as they thought it was “too hard.” It actually is not. You can get an idea up and running in 30 days with all the technology out there ie. 3D printers, engineered drawings and online Zoom meetings to discuss in real time. It is doable for anyone.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be open to criticism and have outside business advisors. There are a lot of smart people that have been where you want to go. If you don’t’ know something, just ask for help. People love to be “experts,” but are often not the best listeners. If you ask they will share and then take all the expert advice and put it into action. In today’s age with Shopify and access to products, you have to research your ideas all the way through. Most people don’t ask anyone else for advice. It feels good for them to help you. Be humble and ask, ‘what am I bad at?”
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Once you have a product or service that others are willing to pay for, figure out how to duplicate that story. Instead of adding more products or features, why not just sell one million of the first idea…the next idea will be much easier to start and sell since you just did it but with money behind you now.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I came up with an idea that was way too complicated at the time. I thought it was genius and hung on too long which prolonged the next idea from coming to fruition. I overcame this by simply letting go and being honest with myself saying “maybe this is not as good as I thought.” Move on. Most entrepreneurs first 3 ideas will fail.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Find ideas that were once good that never grew because there was someone who was not a good listener or executioner. Many good ideas die because they were under funded or because they did not understand how to market the product.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Motor cross training. I started to ride 3 years ago and have a passion for the sport. I want to get better so I paid an expert to point out all the things I need to get better on. I call it Throttle therapy as it helps keep me motivated and fit to come to work.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use pipe drive to help with sales and manage deals. Why? It is much easier than the robust tools that are for the big corporations. I like simplicity and the interface is built for entrepreneurs who have to do it all.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World.” It traces the history of global trade from Mesopotamia to today, and puts into context the debates about globalization. Those debates have existed since the beginning of trade.
What is your favorite quote?
Find a product where there is a demand and someone is willing to pay for it. Open up a Shopify store. Dabble in ads. Take your ten dollars and make $100.
Stop trying to make a banana split before you sell a scoop of ice cream.
• Always keep a robust supply chain including inventory, multiple raw material sources and customer delivery channels.
• Understanding consumer motivation is the key to a successful pivot. Why do people enjoy your product? It may not be the reason you think. Until you understand this reason, you will have a hard time relaunching.
• Being kind to your employees during this time is critical. I had to furlough my employees but was able to hire them back when business started to pick up again with the launch of 4Ears.
• Your target audience may be much larger than you think. I originally created BibBoards for marathon runners and athletes. I never thought it could be used for another application by doctors, dentists and respiratory therapists until I looked on social media and saw that my product was being used in a very different way than I ever intended. This turned into the birth of 4Ears.
• Follow the core tenants of eCommerce pillars of success. Supply chain, sales, marketing and professional service vendor selection are critical for digital marketing.
• Customers are your secret marketing weapon to figuring out how to pivot in the pandemic. The key is to listen to what they have to say and look at how they are using your product on social media.