Often, the most innovative products are born in the process of solving a personal problem. Both Stop Creak and Lark Adventurewear came to fruition through this process. I recently interviewed the founders of each, who began both journeys merely as anxious parents.
Paul Lanzarotti is both a friend and colleague to me. I know him as a fiercely innovative, tenacious, hardworking, and generous man. Lanzarotti grew up in London and began his advertising and technology career without having much professional guidance in his younger years. After ten years in New York, he returned to Britain, where a problem soon transformed into the accidental business that he runs today.
After completing a near-total home renovation, Lanzarotti and his wife discovered that their new floors creaked incessantly. At the time, they had also just welcomed their newborn baby girl Sienna into the world. The creaky floors paired with Sienna’s fickle sleeping habits proved to be a nightmare combination. Lanzarotti recalls not even being able to tiptoe out of the room without her jolting back awake.
Lanzarotti became engulfed in a three-month mission that first involved him calling the flooring retailer and manufacturer to no avail. Then, against using harmful chemicals like WD-40 in the home where he, his wife, and his new baby daughter were living, he initiated his own research. “I was doing this just to solve a problem at home,” said Lanzarotti. “My entire goal was to get some sleep,” he jokingly admits.
He studied frictionless minerals and materials and worked with a manufacturer to produce a prototype that completely eliminated the creaking sounds in his home. With eight cans left of his makeshift lubricant, Lanzarotti slapped them up on eBay and watched them sell out immediately. Soon, Stop Creak was up on Amazon and he had launched a site and was receiving feedback and reviews from new customers. What began as a few five-star reviews, quickly shifted to a flurry of one-star grumblings.
As is the case with any new business, Lanzarotti confronted a whirlwind of issues. Aerosol cans are inherently off-limits by air transport which makes fulfillment a pain. Furthermore, many of Stop Creak’s customers were buying without reading the fine print and applying the product to the wrong type of flooring with little to no results.
Lanzarotti hunkered down. He worked to invent a water-based version that can be transported by air with the help of a motors engineer at Bentley, a contact he met through his research. Along the way, he started personally calling everyone who left a one-star review to identify the root of their problem and engage them to help test iterations of the product.
Today, what began as a solution to help Lanzarotti get more sleep, is now a nontoxic, sustainable product used by consumers and companies alike. “We’re now starting to get traction from companies all over the world because we solve a very binary problem,” says Lanzarotti. Stop Creak is the de facto creaking solution for laminate, wood, and floating system flooring. In addition, he and his team are currently developing new lubricants for all other types of flooring on the market.
I recently interviewed Pallavi Golla, the owner of Lark Adventurewear, who also discovered the origins of her business amidst a day-to-day parenting problem. Golla had once begun her career working at a hedge fund and then an investment bank, consulting with small businesses in the latter role.
It was her work with small businesses that spurred her desire to have one of her own. After moving to California to attend business school at UCLA Anderson, Golla became deeply fascinated with the wine industry. So she took a shot at launching her own wine subscription business called WineList.
The venture was short-lived, and Golla decided to close up shop after six months and join the team of one of her direct competitors, Winc. At Winc, she helped oversee the production lifestyle and branding of the company, two business skills that would continue to serve her years later.
Golla moved back to Pittsburgh with her husband and gave birth to her son. When Golla would take her son outside on adventures, she noticed him getting hot and sticky in ordinary children’s garments. Yet, at the same time, she enjoyed moving about freely in sweat-wicking fabrics from companies like Lululemon and Under Armour.
She recalls, “I just need some clothes that can keep him just as comfortable as I am, and we can stay outside for longer.” A quick Google search for “activewear for kids” led to few results. Golla quickly learned that while technology designed to assist parents like baby cams and monitors had rapidly developed, children’s wear was stuck in the past.
She began working with a manufacturer to create a technical fabric for babies and kids without the harmful finishes often used on adult clothing. The solution came in a prototype made of bamboo she eventually trademarked as SoftTek™. “It’s one of the most sustainable textiles that you can make. It has low water needs. It’s very eco-friendly,” says Golla.
Equipped with her newfound bamboo-based fabric and all her prior knowledge of business management, Golla launched a Kickstarter campaign with no outside funding and began testing the demand for kid’s activewear in the market. As a result, she garnered a following and now runs a successful eCommerce site that employs an all-female workforce, many of whom are stay-at-home moms.
Golla was adamant that she responded to the demands of the market and other parents just like herself. And as the number of happy parents and customers grew, many started requesting Lark AdventureWear produce a line of comfort wear for adults. As a result, the company is now planning a launch for its adult wear line, bringing the product full circle.
So perhaps, using Stop Creak and Lark AdventureWear as models, it may be time to think about a common problem you have that can turn into a business.