A few weeks ago, we received an email from three young entrepreneurs in San Diego who claimed to have come up with a revolutionary beach towel – REALLY. As you read this, we know you’ll be thinking, “Ha! Cute story.” And while it IS a cute story, it’s so much more. It’s a story about how anyone, anywhere, can still do, well, anything. Can still come up with that amazing idea, hit it out of the park, change people’s lives, change the planet. It’s so easy to forget that in the daily grind, until you meet the young men of Sand Cloud.
Here’s the email (slightly edited):
We, of course, are always up for anything beach-related, so we took the bait, so to speak. And – did you catch it – did someone say “we’d love to send you out a towel?” We’re IN!
We arranged a phone interview with Bruno (the CEO). Yes, just “Bruno.” At some point in our correspondence, a last name was revealed, although that may have been inadvertent. These are clearly beach boys to the core. And, in case you’re wondering, we dispatched our very own personal San Diego contact to ensure that this was a real, well, THING, towels arriving in the mail notwithstanding.
Bruno was almost insufferably energetic for 8:00 am on Saturday, San Diego time (“Every day’s a Monday,” he said ruefully). He was also almost insufferably professional for what we imagined must be a stereotypical team of surfer boys. We quickly learned otherwise.
As Bruno tells it, awhile back, Steven and Brandon were on the beach, and each had taken a quick nap. They woke up simultaneously with sore necks, and both immediately started digging in the sand to create a more comfortable surface. This, as you may have guessed, was their “Eureka” moment. Why not, they thought, just put a pillow in a towel?
Ahhh, creativity. SO SMART. Why not, indeed? In early 2014, Bruno joined the team. His corporate experience served them well, and they embarked on a serious market research initiative at – yes – the beach. Really, this is work. By now, they had all moved in together, into an apartment right by the beach (this really is a true story, trust us, and we can already envision the movie version); currently, that apartment serves as Sand Cloud’s offices. “We’d just go up and talk to people,” Bruno recalls. “It’s a big tourist area so we got to talk to people from all over the world.” They armed themselves with different towels, in different colors, and different pillows, and simply…surveyed the beachgoers. After about a month of this arduous effort, they had learned a few things. The Sand Cloud needed to be:
1. Sand repellent
“We’re on it!” we imagine them saying. “We wanted to be sure we got exactly what we wanted, and that we got a high quality product.” The search for a manufacturer began. As it happens, the towels are made of 100% handwoven (HANDWOVEN!) Turkish cotton in – you guessed it – Turkey (we know, “Turkish towels” sounds like a cliché, but there’s a reason you’ve heard it before). The oceanside market research resulted in the four available colors:
Yummy! Can’t you just see the ocean, and the sunset, and the cotton-candy skies?
Now, for the pillow. “We found,” Brandon recalls, “that the most comfortable pillow is like a bed pillow – so ours is like that, made of poly fiber.”
For now, Sand Cloud is following a solely e-commerce model, in order to keep prices as low as possible. Retail, of course, adds significant logistical and other costs to an organization’s distribution chain. Sand Cloud is very social-media focused, and their Kickstarter campaign begins Monday July 21. They are looking to raise $10,000 to increase each production run. Producing small batches of anything is, of course, more expensive per piece than producing large batches, but there’s always the “working capital” chicken-and-egg conundrum: In order to produce, say, 1000 towels, you have to come up with X dollars. But you only have Y dollars, which gets you 200 towels, and each of those 200 towels costs WAY MORE than if you’d been able to pay for X towels to be made.
OK! Enough scary math. How, we asked, did three young men in their 20s (sharing an apartment is cheap, but you still have to eat) come up with the money to have ANY towels produced? The answer, of course begins with an F or two, as in Friends and Family. Of course! This proved to be the perfect solution to the question these young entrepreneurs asked themselves: “How the heck are we going to pay for this?” Hit up enough people, and you can get there, if you’re driven, and serious, and you’ve done your homework. And remember, it’s not just the towels. It’s the trademarks. And the licensing. And ….and….and…oh. Marketing.
Luckily, says Bruno, “San Diego is a big town – we’ve got three million people.” And word spread, and spread fast. Before long, one or another of the Sand Cloud founders would find himself walking down the street and getting…recognized. Recognized as “the Sand Cloud guy”. How awesome is that?
But these guys are not in it for the quick fame and (hopefully) fortune. Oh, no, they’ve got a much longer horizon than that. “We want to grow the brand, long-term, and we want to give back,” notes Bruno, adding that 10% of their net profits are donated to organizations working to preserve marine life.
This is all, of course, terrific. But at this point, we’re thinking “I MUST get my hands on that towel.” No worries! A few days later, it arrives (we tried to get Bruno to just send us whatever color they had the most of, but he wouldn’t hear of it, so we chose Island Green). It’s pretty. It feels well-made. And it’s got an ingenious design which incorporates that pillow. Yet more days later, we manage to get ourselves to the beach to give it a test run. At this point, of course, we’re emotionally invested, and really really really hoping that it’s as awesome as promised. And, having grown up near the beach, we’ve got pretty high expectations, having gone through probably 500 different towels in our lifetime.
First, the comfort. Oh, my. Why, oh why, did it take so long for someone to put a pillow in a towel? This, of course, is the hallmark of many brilliant inventions – the demand has always been there, you just didn’t know it.
Next, the towel itself. It is surprisingly comfortable to lay on, given that Turkish cotton doesn’t really resemble the terry-ish towels we’re all used to. So far, so good.
Time for some ocean frolicking! We realize that it had better dry us off too, because we’re sure not carrying a drying towel AND a laying towel to the beach. Oh, the things we do for this magazine! We frolic, and – of course – the Sand Cloud does a PERFECT job of drying us off.
Now, for the “sand repellent” test. We bet you’ve guessed. Also perfect.
Quick drying? Check.
There’s only one thing we noticed – we only have ONE! MUST get our hands on more Sand Clouds ASAP.
So… there you have it. Three really nice guys, on a mission. We just know they’re about to prove that nice guys DO finish first.
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And – we’ll let you know when their Kickstarter campaign goes live. Good luck, gentlemen!