The strongest trees in the forest aren’t those trees which are most protected. The strongest trees are the ones which must struggle against the elements and other trees and surmount them against the odds to survive.
Ever pass up a delicious buffalo wing or BBQ rib because you were worried about the mess (and smell) being left behind on your hands? A problem no more, thanks to Michael and Michelle Lefrancois, co-founders of Wingerz.
Wingerz are disposable finger covers (thumb, index and middle) made of 100% FDA approved material that help prevent sticky sauces, greases and messes from ruining expensive jerseys, smearing iPhones, mucking up manicures and much more. They are easy to use, can be used multiple times in one sitting, and help cut down on paper waste from excess napkin use.
Plus, co-founders Michael and Michelle hope Wingerz will be able to create awareness and capital towards finding a cure for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a genetic disease that claimed their son’s life. Michael and Michelle currently reside in Rhode Island with their son Luke (3 years) and daughter Rose (1.5 years).
Where did the idea for Wingerz come from?
On the drive home one night after eating Buffalo wings at a local restaurant, we were discussing how annoying it is that the sauce gets in our finger nails and the smell stays on your hands no matter how many times you wash your hands or use those wet naps that smell like fruit loops. So we sat at the kitchen table and starting brainstorming.
The most important aspect of this idea is that it was 100% inspired by our son, Michael, who passed away at 4 months old from a genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) which is the number one genetic cause of death for infants. Seeing what Michael endured during his fight with SMA taught us to really appreciate life and not to take anything for granted. We are all very fortunate to be able to breathe, sit up, eat and most importantly live.
When Michael passed, it gave us a huge perspective on life and how fragile it is. People come up with ideas all the time, but most ideas just come to mind, you talk about them with friends over a beer and you move on. Michael taught us to live and go after what we want in life. Don’t be afraid of life because life is certainly not afraid of you.
Without Michael changing our life, we wouldn’t have pursued Wingerz. It would of came and went; that is why his memory kept us pushing forward during the difficult times.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
After my alarm goes off at 6 am and before my kids wake up, I make coffee and sit in my office without any distractions (no TV, no computer, etc.). I grab my “little black book” and jot down everything I need to either start or finish that day. There is no specific order of importance and even simple tasks, such as “go to the gym” and “eat lunch,” wind up on the list. I find if I write everything down, I’m not stressed by having to recall what needs to be done. When I’m organized, I feel like space is freed up in my mind and I’m able to tackle the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Brick by brick, laser focus and persistence.
Wingerz started with designing a prototype at our kitchen table. The first prototypes we made were absolutely hysterical, but that’s how you learn to make the best possible product. We created, tweaked and had family members try them and tell us what was good and what was bad.
After we had a prototype and protected it (patent pending), we made a three-page ‘Wingerz Prototype book’ with photos, an explanation and vision, and started contacting manufacturers to see who can help us make them. I contacted roughly 100 manufacturers throughout the United States and China ranging from glove makers to envelope manufacturers and everything in between. No one thought we were crazy; it was that the design was so unique many didn’t have the machinery to make it. I heard a lot of No’s. As I thought more about our product, I decided our manufacturer had to be registered/affiliated with the FDA as our product would be food touching, which limited the manufacturing pool even more. I would work my day job and answer emails/calls late at night or during weekends.
When I kept hearing that our prototype was too complicated to make, I reached out to other inventors who had similar products to see if they could help. One answered my email and really helped me by suggesting our design was simply too complicated to be made by a machine. One day at the gym (you never stop thinking about a project you are passionate about) a new design concept came to me and we were finally able to land a manufacturer, which was a huge game changer.
Once we had our MVP prototype and we were getting closer to launch, I felt as if I needed validation that Wingerz was viable and people would use it. You can’t really depend on feedback from family, friends or even people who know you-because they will always say ‘that’s a great idea Mike’ even if it’s the worst idea ever.
After making a few phone calls, I eventually gave an hour long power point presentation to multiple entrepreneur/product development classes at Bryant University in Rhode Island and the feedback was fantastic. This by far was a huge turning point in our company, as I was asking myself at this point if I should keep investing/moving forward with Wingerz or if it was time to fold. After all, you need to know when it’s time to hold em’ or fold em’ and can’t always operate in La-La Land.
After that, it was just building the best possible product and investing time/money and building a team.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
People love eating chicken wings (including boneless!) and are concerned about clean hands.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Before diving into the day’s work, I always read over my quote sheet to find my focus. When I was first inventing Wingerz, there were so many moving parts that it was difficult at times to get everything done (and done right). As a way to stay sane, I would find quotes on the Internet that had to do with difficulty or struggle to help me push forward. It can be lonely being an entrepreneur, and sometimes pep talks have to come from yourself. One of my favorite ways to get excited for the day is to re-read a quote about “being the strongest tree in the forest” (below).
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was in corporate America and it was by far the worst job I have ever had. But, I did learn a lot from it. I learned the fundamentals of building a brand, wearing multiple hats, listening to customers and most importantly, how to treat people.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would try to relax a bit and not bring the stress home. Inventing something and being an entrepreneur is very stressful. That is why my wife is so special, she never wavered on our idea and always was the biggest advocate for what I was doing and never once doubted my vision. She was my rock for sure. If it wasn’t for her, Wingerz would have died a long time ago.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Having a To-Do list is critical and really helps to stay focused. I literally write everything down and keep checking it and crossing off items as I complete them- it is by far the most important thing I do each day and helps you stay a few steps ahead.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Staying focused. You have to have a solid game plan and you have to really see where you want to go. Nobody knows your product better than you and you will get a lot of unsolicited feedback (sometimes good; sometimes not). You have to be able to take it all in, digest it and move it in the right direction by following your gut instinct. For me, staying focused meant writing a business plan. That has helped me keep up with business trends and accomplish small milestones, which helps me keep the momentum going.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Failure’s a funny word, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship. In my opinion, a failure is more of an obstacle that you have to overcome – which there are plenty of. To combat these obstacles, I surrounded myself with smart people and listened to their suggestions.
I think the biggest obstacle was finding the right materials for our product. We had to make sure the product material was flexible enough that it wouldn’t take away from a user’s food-eating experience. While doing this, we had to make sure the material was at the right price point or else people wouldn’t be able to purchase Wingerz at a reasonable price. There were a lot of moving parts in designing Wingerz and I leaned heavily on our manufacturer for advice.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m all dried out.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Dinner with my family. I am very lucky that I have the family I have and can afford to spend $100.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I don’t like the web service I have now, so I’d rather not say.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I think people should read the Art of War by Sun Tzu. It’s pretty interesting how the book pertains to a lot of different scenarios in life including business.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I can’t think of certain individuals but I really value the content on Inc. and Entrepreneur Magazine.
Michael P Lefrancois, Jr., President of EMPIAL III, LLC (Wingerz) and Inventor of Wingerz
Education: Franklin Pierce University, Bachelor of Arts; Psychology 2005
Personal: Grew up/Resides in Rhode Island with his wife Michelle, son Luke (3 years) and daughter Rose (1.5 years).
Age: 34 Years
Where are you located? Lincoln, Rhode Island
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.