John Desautels was tired of doing the earbud tango.
He was spending as much energy untangling his earbuds as he was doing his workout at the gym.
A product designer of 30 years, Desautels, 66, conceptualized a solution: Budley, a palm-sized silicone case with thin, malleable flaps that keep the cord tangle-free. Lift the flaps, wrap the cord, close it — and you’re good to go.
Desautels and his domestic partner, Katherine Burks, 53, who live in the Bothell area, patented the product.
Burks, who spent most of her career as an air traffic controller, took over marketing and sales. She set up a Budley website and social media accounts, visited trade shows, then waited for orders to start rolling in … but they didn’t.
Still, Burks was hopeful about the universal appeal of the compact case, available in colors from fuchsia pink to jet black.
Burks had mild success at trade shows and on her website, but expanding exposure proved challenging.
She didn’t know how to approach online retailers and reach new clientele.
“It’s amazing the amount of work that goes into marketing such a small product,” Burks said. “That is just the eye-opener for anyone that heads down the path of taking their idea to market.”
Then Burks met with Lara Merriam-Smith, a program manager at The Northwest Innovation Resource Center. The Bellingham-based nonprofit helps entrepreneurs develop strategies for success. The center also connected her with marketing interns to help her develop business models.
“She really wanted to bring it to market herself. She did what a lot of inventors do,” Merriam-Smith said.
“You get to a point, and then you get stuck and you don’t know where to go. You don’t have help. We are focused on building the strategy and connecting inventors with resources.”
Mentorships with local business people and investors provide crucial networks and access to other marketplaces. The resource center introduced Burks to Bryan Brown, head of Slingshot NW, a marketing platform for products created by Northwest-based inventors.
“What they found is that a lot of the inventors were struggling with that step,” Brown said. “When I met her, she was just exhausted.”
Amazon is the prime spot for small products like Budley. But the same dynamism that has brought Amazon its success might frighten entrepreneurs.
“It’s a constantly changing marketplace,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of complexity around it.”
With Brown’s help, Budley quickly adapted. They decided on a business model with Amazon, settled on price-point, and altered the packaging to suit its shipping model. Since its introduction on Amazon, Burks described Budley’s sales growth as “exponential.”
The Budley case sells for $12.95. Earbuds are not included.
One online reviewer wrote: “The best idea for managing headphones ever. They never tangle, are in great shape and ready to go every time. … Budley is my best bud in my overcrowded purse and hectic life.”
Brown is now responsible for maintaining that growth and scouting opportunities for Budley.
Burks and Desautels are working on developing a new product.
For Brown, who co-founded a software company in Seattle in the early 2000s and worked in various tech startups, mentoring entrepreneurs is his way of giving back to others.
“I’ve been there. I understand the hard work, the hustle that it takes. A lot of dark days,” he said. “I come to the table with a strong appreciation for what these inventors are going through.”