Vivian Weng (NH), an RC student, recently launched the Mittenberry, a modern spin on the mitten. Worn normally, it looks and feels like a classic mitten. But a quick flip of the thumb flap allows the wearer to type and text on her device du jour.
Lily-Hayes Kaufman (LHK): Would you say that Mittenberry is more about function or fashion?
Vivian Weng (VW): The Mittenberry was designed with a specific functional need in mind.ÿ However, what sets the Mittenberry apart from similar products is the emphasis on design. I think great consumer products combine style with functionality, and that’s what we tried to do with the Mittenberry: to make style an explicit part of the value proposition.
LHK: When did you begin Mittenberry and what was your vision, are you motivated by a passion for fashion or a desire to be an entrepreneur?
VW: I consider this project to be my first true entrepreneurial experience.ÿ The vision was to create a product to meet a very explicit consumer need, but to do so in a way that was “style-conscious”.ÿ I had read a Wall Street Journal article last January about winter hand wear that was designed to work with the iPhone, and was shocked to see that all products targeted men only!ÿ I wanted to bring to market a product designed for the tech-savvy, fashion-conscious woman.ÿ
LHK: You began Mittenberry with your brother (who will start at HBS in the 2+2 program. Was this your first venture together, and would you call Mittenberry a family business?
VW: My brother Edward will be entering HBS in Fall 2012 as part of the Class of 2014.ÿThis is our first venture together but hopefully not our last! Yes, I’d consider Mittenberry a family business.ÿ Edward has been involved in a few different start-up businesses in the past, but this was the first opportunity where our skill sets and interests really complemented each other – mine in consumer goods and apparel, his in technology.
LHK: How quickly have you taken Mittenberry from concept to product?
VW: I designed the product in mid-July, so it was definitely a very quick go-to-market process!ÿ It’s taken two and a half months from design to product launch.ÿ The key to getting the business running so quickly was having absolute trust between me and my business partner.ÿ Each of us took ownership of different parts of the process. For example, Edward programmed the e-commerce website, set up the order fulfillment process, and designed our labels and packaging.ÿ I took responsibility for the product design, finances, freight/customs, and PR/marketing.ÿ
LHK: Can you walk me through the process from the spec to production to delivering the final product to a pair of happy blackberry adept hands?
VW: The first step was to design the mitten. I made a very rough prototype and sketch of my design, and asked a friend to “spec” out the mitten (i.e., specify all the technical measurements). We then contacted suppliers, both domestically and overseas, for bids. After choosing a supplier, we received a “countersample,” the first sample you get back from a supplier to see how closely it matches your vision.ÿ We reviewed the countersample, made small changes, and then waited to receive a preproduction sample.ÿ
In the meantime, we reviewed lab dips to choose colors, and also designed the hang tags and care labels.ÿ After we received the preproduction sample, we gave final approval to begin production.ÿ Finally, our supplier sent the goods to our warehouse, which will take and fill orders going forward.
LHK: With a background in banking and consulting, what skills have you translated from your earlier careers to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
VW: Consulting really helped me understand the basic steps of bringing an idea to market.ÿ As a consultant, I gained valuable experience in the consumer goods space, and definitely applied it to this business.ÿ My experience in finance complemented my consulting experience nicely by giving me a solid understanding of corporate finance. I do think, however, that neither of those jobs can really prepare someone to be an entrepreneur.ÿ
In addition to my official work experience, I have also worked with Issy Salomon www.issysalomondesigns.com, a New York-based costume jewelry designer, for the last 4 years. This partnership has been as valuable as my full-time jobs, and has given me “real world” experience in working with magazines, setting up and styling photo shoots, and selling into retailers.
LHK: What plans do you have for Mittenberry’s growth?ÿ Will you expand the product line or do you have plans to develop additional businesses?
VW: We produced a relatively small batch this year to get a sense of consumer demand.ÿ We were unfortunately too late to sell into department stores and boutiques, as they typically finish their winter buys in the first months of the year.ÿ If we see high demand this season, we plan to talk to focus on wholesale orders for next winter.ÿ We’ve discussed expanding the product line (for example, to men’s hand wear or gloves) but we’re taking it one step at a time!
LHK: As a young entrepreneur building a new business, which HBS resources do you plan to take advantage of?
VW: I joined the Rock Center VC Program, which is a really great resource for HBS students who are starting their own businesses while at school.ÿ The program matches students with HBS alumni who have similar entrepreneurial experience. It also provides students with office space, video conferencing resources, etc. Additionally, I’m a member of the Entrepreneurship Club, and have already spoken to many people here about the businesses that they’re starting. I’m constantly amazed and humbled by my classmates’ own ventures and experiences.
LHK: How will HBS impact the success of your business?
VW: I’ve been surprised at how relevant all of our classes are to the business.ÿ Marketing, for example, has given me a new perspective on how important it is to align a company’s marketing strategy with the company culture and product.ÿ Additionally, my classmates have been a great support system; I’ve gotten advice on all aspects of the business.ÿ And, of course, I’m hoping that the campus will be a great market for the Mittenberry!
LHK: Can HBS Students get a pair?
VW: Yes! Order now at www.mittenberry.com.