Create a roadmap of funding and company structure before you launch. Why? Sometimes the idea that starts off care-free can be the idea that takes off, but you have to be prepared to harness the greatness and grow in order to ensure the idea remains successful.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Devon Fanfair.
Devon has B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rice University. He has over 10 years of experience in technology, startups, fundraising and business development. In addition to founding Just Wipes, Devon is the Co-Founder of DevlandTX, a venture studio supporting the “Underestimated” founders and startups, especially people of color. He is also a partner to a small VC that has invested in six minority-owned startups and businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am a first generation American from immigrant parents from Guyana in South America. My mom had a doctor’s note saying she was 7 months pregnant when she was 9 months and I was born in New York. This allowed for me to be a citizen in case they did not get their visa. Thankfully they did! We lived in Michigan for 2 years, but it was too cold. Then we moved to Houston and have lived here for the past 30. That being said, a large part of my life’s purpose is to show my parents the real reason why they sacrificed so much for my brother and I to be here. What I carry with me is the knowledge that there is nothing I can personally do to work as hard or harder than my parents did so I have no excuse not to change the world with the foundation they provided.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Energy is significantly more valuable that time”. Time is a lie. Doing the steps one needs to raise their energy level can create change in a way that time can’t keep up with. In 2019, the commitment I made to my family in this entrepreneur journey required me to get a contract job for more stability. This was a hard pill to swallow because it felt like I was failing and had to retreat in order to stay afloat financially, especially when the contract job would require between 7 and 10 good hours of my day. What I didn’t realize was that while the available hours for working on my dreams went from 9 hours to 3 hours a day, the energy I had for those 3 hours knowing I no longer had to worry about finances allowed for my creativity to sky rocket! This was when it hit me on how irrelevant time actually is.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Gimlet’s “StartUp” podcast is very therapeutic. When you are on a path to create something you have never seen or something you have seen in a way that no one has done before, it can be a lonely road! In order to keep your good energy up it is great to hear from other founders who have gone beyond where you are to know that you are NOT alone and to keep going!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic, I was (and am still) a Co-Founder in DevlandTX, a venture studio that focuses on helping “underestimated” founders to gain early traction and funding. I was also a partner to a micro Venture Capital company along with being VP of Operations for an app focused on music sharing and protection. Before then I leveraged my Mechanical Engineering degree from Rice University with my love for human connection and spent 10 years as an Executive Recruiter, HR Business Partner and Talent Manager.
Just before the pandemic, my partners and Devland came to the understanding that the most valuable companies have 3 major components:
- Social Impact
We realized that the hardware or cpg component is the cheapest way to prove your market before you go out and drop 6 figures on an app. At that moment in 2019, I took a flight from the Bay Area to Houston and my seat on the flight was very dirty. I called the flight attendant over to ask for help. They touched it with their hands and said it was fine so I sat forward in my seat away from the substance, and that’s when it hit me.
Pre-COVID, airlines were concerned with bodies in seats and time. Time being a top concern meant they were only concerned about macro-cleaning macros and not micro-cleaning. And then it hit me again, why not take our same design approach in tech to designing a sanitizing wipe “built for the end-user.” So I got home and began to obsess! Let’s create a sanitizing product that is built for your aesthetic and something that fits anywhere on your person to go with you wherever you go.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
The first product we created was called “Plane Wipes,” and our tagline was “Don’t get sick. Get there.” Then the pandemic hit and no one went anywhere. At that point we realized that our product and brand was more valuable than ever, but we had to change the name to allow for consumers to recognize that they can and should use it wherever you go! Our pivot allowed for the name change to “Just Wipes” and our tagline is now “live life clean”. Sometimes you have the right product but the wrong name and tagline. Pivots don’t have to always be a major earth-shifting change…thankfully!
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Realizing that this was not the time to promote plane wipes for the minuscule number of airline passengers, it hit me again: why not take our same design approach in designing a sanitizing wipe “built for the end-user” and expand it beyond just planes? So I got home and began to obsess again! Let’s create a sanitizing product that is built for your aesthetic and something that fits anywhere on your person, anywhere you are.
How are things going with this new initiative?
A good idea has become a really good idea. I have an amazing team and we were able to design a product that has been recently placed in over 130 HEB stores in Texas! We have a very promising year ahead with goals to expand to national retail stores, start our own manufacturing plant in Houston and release a new product that I am VERY excited about!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people I am forever filled with gratitude for — people who helped get me to where I am! My wife Danielle, my Venture Studio partners Miles and Saji, my COO of Just Wipes Phylicia, my business mentor Bilal, my parents Eileen and William, my initial investors Philip and Kelly. The primary catalyst, I would have to say is my daughter, Sage. I thought I dove into the tech and cpg space to make money. While that is true, when Sage was born, 5 years ago, it hit me that I am and will continue to do this for her. There are so many brilliant minority men and women who get overlooked, not because their idea isn’t ripe for investment, but because the person on the check writing side of the table doesn’t look like them. Everytime she walks in my “cloffice” aka “closet office” and asks, “are you in a meeting with your partners? Are you talking about Just Wipes? Is that my company too, dad,” this is my real reason.
Almost a year ago, when I was spending most of my time in my tiny closet office building Just Wipes, Sage walked in and said “Dad I want to start my own company. I want to get a website, sell toys, make money and buy more bigger toys with the money we make and I want you to be my partner!” That is the story that allows me to understand good ideas are only as good as your willingness to execute to achieve your desired and tangible outcome.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
My mentor always said “Getting the purchase order is worth celebrating but that’s the easy part. Nothing matters if you can’t fulfill it.” When we received our first purchase order, it was in the middle of a pandemic. The shipment would land in Long Beach, CA and due to severe delays, it would take too much time to wait until it reached Houston through traditional shipping. The only way to accomplish our goal was to rent a 26’ box truck we had no business driving and drive it from Houston to Long Beach and back. We drove a total of 4,000 miles with the help of my partner’s aunt who has 25 years in the trucking industry. 4,000 miles, 3 all nighters and a 36 hour work day and we were able to successfully pick up and arrange the 50,000 Just Wipes packs for HEB. I learned so many lessons in those 36 hours!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Create a roadmap of funding and company structure before you launch. Why? Sometimes the idea that starts off care-free can be the idea that takes off, but you have to be prepared to harness the greatness and grow in order to ensure the idea remains successful.
- No matter how simple or complex an agreement is with your friend or co-founder, sit down with legal experts to comb through it and make sure you understand why it does and why it does not make sense. I had to learn this the semi- hard way once the business started to make money and I am so grateful I did!
- Build a team around you of superheroes who have all the powers you do NOT have. When you are fleshing out your idea, it may not mean that the people you worked the idea out with are a fit for executive level roles. The founding team and the next round of hires can make or break the company.
- As soon as you believe you want to seriously pursue your idea, officially register your company as quickly as you can. The company started September 2019, but I did not register for it until March, 2020. Many of the benefits a small business can leverage due to COVID only help companies officially formed on or before February 15, 2020. Lesson learned.
- The strategic allocation of equity can be your hidden treasure. The chances of you or anyone starting a company fully funded is highly unlikely. The beautiful part about allocating equity with a vesting schedule is that it allows a real team effort to accomplish the goal while not overspending the capital you do have.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Energy is so important. In order to stay in the creative high energy space that allows us to manifest and have things that we have never seen before come to fruition, we must curate our intake of information and entertainment. Easier said than done, but my strategy revolves around watching no more than 30 minutes of news per day with the reporter I respect and admire the most.
I also listen to a 3 hour meditation that is designed to put you to sleep after 30 mins and speaks only positive, high vibration thoughts to you. I have a small circle of dreamers and doers that I connect with daily so we can continue to push past what we can physically see in order to create what we haven’t seen. I exercise daily, doing the type of workouts that make me happy! And I allow myself to play my retro Nintendo every now and then because it takes me back to a moment in my childhood when saving the Princess from Bowser was my greatest stressor.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Gratitude. My mission in life is to “over-care” for people. When you create a culture of “over-care,” it allows for humans to take that excess care and put it toward others while not feeling like you lost anything. We humans are very transactional, either naturally or through cultural transformation. If there’s a way to quantify care and then exceed that amount, we can create an infinite energy cycle of care in everything we do and everyone we connect with.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
LeBron James. While there is a great debate on who is the greatest, there is no doubt in my mind that he and his legacy changed and shaped the way basketball players and athletes leveraged their influence. Not only did he refuse to “shut-up and dribble,” he opened the path for athletes to be some of the greatest entrepreneurs we have never seen, until he did it.
How can our readers follow you online?
(Facebook) Devon fanfair
(IG business) @justwipes
(IG business) @devland.us
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!