Fingaz Bowl CEO Julien Debelle Duplan shared his entrepreneurial experience with Innovation Destination Hartford. His patent-pending product is the first custom bowl designed specifically for the drinking game Fingers.
IDH: You went to school for International Business. Did you study entrepreneurship?
JULIEN DEBELLE DUPLAN: No, I never took an entrepreneurship course. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset though. I discovered that drive my sophomore year while moving into an off-campus house with some of my friends. The father of one of my roommate’s said to us, “Guys, people think of some of their best ideas while in college. While you all live here together, you should try to think of business ideas.” After he said that, I began to think with the mindset of a true entrepreneur or inventor. It really worked.
IDH: How are you marketing?
JULIEN: All our marketing efforts have been through organic social media growth. Our target demographic is very active on social media outlets, which is where we primarily focus our time. We plan to implement a brand ambassador program to universities across the country to grow our awareness.
IDH: Will you sell your product online or in retail stores?
JULIEN: We’ll begin selling retail and see where it takes us.
IDH: You’ve partnered with a Chicago-based company with a similar product. How did you make that connection?
JULIEN: A colleague of mine had mentioned Bierstick, and how quickly the company had grown. About a year later, I found myself reaching out in hopes of a positive partnership. I felt confident that with a strategic partnership I’d be able to learn more about the industry and manufacturing process quicker. Having a strong partnership with Bierstick will allow my company to scale quickly and deliver a great product.
IDH: Have you connected with any Connecticut business resources in your startup process?
JULIEN: I haven’t connected with any Connecticut business resources thus far. However, I had the privilege of returning to my alma mater, Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. The university had just started its second year of an engineering program. I thought it would be a good opportunity for the students to work with a product that will soon be on the market—and a product that began as an idea a few years prior while I was attending the same university. I was fortunate to be able to prototype my Fingaz Bowl there and use the prototypes to test the market.
IDH: You’ll be manufacturing your product in New Milford. How did you make that connection?
JULIEN: Over the past two years, I met with manufacturers in several states. I even sourced quotes from overseas in China. Through networking, I met with a facility here in Milford. After meeting with them, they were able to refer me to a facility in New Milford that would take the job. Making the product in the United States was always a priority for me and I couldn’t be happier to manufacture it in the same state where I’ve lived my whole life. The Fingaz Bowl will be mass-produced by plastic injection molding. The bowl will be FDA approved and dishwasher safe.
IDH: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a startup?
JULIEN: The biggest challenge has been starting this company while working full-time in corporate America. Fingaz Bowl has been my second full-time job. However, I always knew people would love the product and that’s what kept me pushing forward.
IDH: Why Connecticut, why keep the company headquarters and production here?
JULIEN: I decided to headquarter my business and manufacturer my product in Connecticut for a multitude of reasons. The first being that I want to support the local economy and show that manufacturing domestically in the states is actually quite feasible. Second, I knew using a local manufacturer will allow me to be super hands-on with my business and product and greatly improve our quality assurance process for our product.
IDH: What’s next?
JULIEN: Our next step is launching our Kickstarter campaign to raise capital beginning on June 17, 2019. We will be delivering the product in mid-July and couldn’t be more excited. We truly feel this is a one-of-a-kind game and product.
My partners and I also plan to create additional products in the future. We’d love to stay in the plastic manufacturing industry. Often, good ideas are just solutions to problems.