Lessons from a Woman on a Mission
You’re innovative, you’re bright, and you’re full of good ideas. If you have an idea that keeps swirling around your mind…maybe you should go for it. Read on if you want to learn about how to get started with your idea and gain some keys about female entrepreneurship. This is the story of how Alice Stone, founder of Sipify, turned her questions and ideas into a product that’s changing the coffee game.
Alice Stone took a visit to her dentist and asked what she could do to keep her teeth white and was told that as a coffee drinker, she should switch to iced coffee so that she could drink with a straw to avoid staining. She thought to herself, “I can’t wake up in the morning to the smell of iced coffee. So, inspired, she began to ask herself how she could acquire the perfect sip of hot coffee through a straw. However, before starting her business, she focused on having teens and working in documentary filmmaking. After becoming an empty-nester, she decided to take the leap and develop Sipify.
The beginning of Sipify
“I really started at my kitchen table, making little prototypes with plastic straws and trying to figure it out.” Stone shares she had an “epiphany,” realizing that she could sip hot coffee from a mug without getting burned but wanted to understand why she couldn’t put a straw in it and drink without getting burned. She realized that she was taking in air with a traditional sip and realized that that air must be replaced. “Sipify allows the user to avoid burns by mimicking the temperature of drinking from the cooler top of the mug instead of the blazing bottom.”
“Then I reached out to my network.” Stone shared that her husband had a connection to a mechanical engineer. That was her “first introduction” and that the mechanical engineer is the one who confirmed her theory with some corrections.
“I’m fortunate I did a quick little friends and family fundraiser”. Stone says that she wasn’t able to raise what she needed, raising $40,000, which wasn’t enough to cover her patent attorney, as she had a patent pending and took out a second mortgage on her home.
“I then cold emailed someone who is also based in Boston.” This someone was the VP of Keurig. “You changed the way we make coffee and I want to change the way we drink coffee,” Stone said. “And that was enough for him to write back.”
From there, they met and he helped Stone create a questionnaire to do focus group testing.Stone says that she went to independent coffee shops in Boston and asked the managers if she could ask their customers to try Sipify, if she bought some gift cards from the shop and gave them to the customers. They obliged, and she began bringing her prototypes with a “little dish pan of sudsy water” and a pan of clean water. And so, she’d go up to the customers and say “here’s a gift card for your next coffee on me — will you try this?” And she received incredibly positive feedback.
A valuable lesson
Stone says that the most valuable lesson she’s learned on her journey is “Listening to your customers.”
Stone says that Sipify has taken an exciting left turn that she never saw and she’s now refocusing. The original vision she had was “a clean beauty message.” She thought the vision was “you’ve got a beautiful smile, protect it!” and to encourage customers to avoid staining their teeth by using Sipify. She wanted to find a population that she could donate straws to in order to help them, and started sending Sipify’s to those with Parkinson’s. “Many or most people who live with Parkinson’s only drink with a straw. And so that means hot drinks are pretty much out.” She didn’t want them to have to sacrifice a good hot cup of coffee for a lukewarm one because of this. So she reached out to some Parkinson’s organizations and they thought it was an awesome idea. Fast forward, more positive feedback!
She shares “the patients reported back to me that they were using Sipify Due to the way the straw is designed, they can control how much liquid they get per sip much more precisely than with a regular straw. It has to do with its shape. It’s a flat straw, not a cylinder.: This shape made it harder to aspirate, an issue that is a notable concern for those with Parkinson’s that can be fatal. She says that she’s amazed that this idea ended up impacting a situation that hits close to home for her. Stone says her mother had Multiple Sclerosis and thus had swallowing difficulties for the last ten years of her life. Getting to launch Sipify, sell it and have it yield more benefits than she imagined …overwhelms her with joy.
Ease and challenges for the female founder
A lot of things that are worth having, don’t come that easy. Stone has encountered some things with ease, and others that were more of a challenge. “I think the easiest part of being a female founder is that there are so many networks now for women business owners. And since I was starting from nothing, I really needed a lot of advice.Women are just, I think, particularly open to helping you and giving you all sorts of advice and encouraging you.” Stone is used to collaboration in the filmmaking world. She says she finds “being an entrepreneur is just as creative as creating films.”
She shares that a lot of hats are worn as an entrepreneur and that a team is necessary. “You know, I’m not a cinematographer, I hire cinematographers. I’m not a composer, I hire a composer. So it’s the same thing as Sipify. I needed a mechanical engineer, I needed an industrial designer, I needed someone who could guide me through manufacturing and teach me how that works. So I have a team.”
Stone says that the hardest part of being a female founder is the funding. “Women get less than 3% of investment funds. I know that’s changing, but the wheels turn very slowly.”
The capstone statement for the upcoming female founder
Alice Stone’s “capstone word of wisdom” to the female founder is that, “everything can be figured out, it just can’t be figured out by everybody.” She believes that when you encounter a problem, you need to figure out “who is the best person that I can work with, to overcome this obstacle?” She says that “everything is “figureoutable,” just not by everyone. In other words, find your dream team!
I enjoyed listening to Alice’s journey with creating her brand, and my hope is that you learned something new and got inspired to try your hand at one of your many bright ideas.
If you want to get in touch with Alice, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org