In early 2020, AquaVault was a small, travel-related business looking forward to its most promising year yet. The company was primarily known for selling FlexSafe, a small portable “safe” for people on the go.
Made from a cut-resistant, water-resistant, lightweight yet sturdy fabric, the innovative product was a case designed to protect valuables – at the beach, at the pool, on a cruise or in a water park – by locking it down. to a fixed object (such as a beach chair, table or railing).
The company’s three co-founders, Jonathan Kinas, Rob Peck and Avin Samtani, landed an appearance on the ABC reality show Shark aquarium, obtain funding from Shark investor Daymond John. The show generated invaluable publicity and increased awareness of the Aquavault brand, helping it to grow exponentially.
Then the pandemic struck. “All of a sudden the world is struck by a situation that we have never seen in recent history,” says Kinas.
AquaVault was just one of many travel agencies, large and small, forced to rethink their services and products. This has led to a succession of seismic changes in the industry, affecting air travel, accommodation, cruises, tours and more – an existential crisis for AquaVault. If they wanted to survive, they had to adapt.
“After spending years building relationships with our customers (hotels, theme parks, water parks and cruise ships) we have been shocked,” says Kinas. The three partners understood that they had to pivot.
Necessity as the mother of invention
After meeting in college, the trio remained friends thereafter, but with no idea that they would ever end up in business together. What prompted them to get involved in a travel related business? “We stumbled upon it,” Kinas explains.
Previously, Kinas was a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch; Peck had started a commercial flooring business; and Samtani led a team at a private mortgage bank in Manhattan.
About ten years ago, the three met for the weekend at the wedding of mutual friends in South Beach. On their first day at the resort, Kinas decided to go swimming in the pool, tucking her valuables into her shoe and tucking them under her lounge chair. When he returned, they were gone. Within hours, he learned that he was not the only victim that day.
“Immediately a light went out,” says Kinas. “We knew we had an idea that had great potential. They sketched a design on a napkin. “Our first call was a patent attorney and our journey has begun,” he says.
In 2015, they left their respective jobs to found the company. Over time, they built a $ 26.5 million business, landing sought after accounts with major retailers like Disney World, Bed Bath and Beyond, Bass Pro Shops, and others. They’ve also expanded their product line to include other travel-related products, including the PhoneVault, a biometric lock, and a waterproof phone pouch.
The birth of the ChargeCard: adapting to the pandemic
Kinas admits they made a lot of mistakes along the way. “But we’ve learned to cut losses when needed,” he says.
When managers saw their strongest first quarter take a dramatic slowdown in 2020, they sat down to assess the overall landscape and determine next steps. They began to conjure up ideas, going back to those about cell phones, devices that have become so ubiquitous in people’s lives that they travel, commute to work, shop for groceries, walk or cycle in their neighborhood. .
For their next more pandemic-proof invention, they came up with the idea of an ultra-thin, credit card-sized cell phone charger and named it aptly. Credit card. “We’ve all been in situations where we’re on the go and our phone is moments away from death,” says Kinas.
Housed in a stainless steel case, the charger comes with built-in cables for iPhones and Android devices (USB-C, Lightning, and Micro USB). The size is quite small (3.4 “X 2.4” X 0.25 “) and quite light (3.5 ounces), which makes it easy and convenient to slip into a wallet, pocket or purse. hand.
The product is travel related but is equally convenient for use closer to home. Drawing on the same financial and marketing skills, and the production and B2B contacts that propelled them to success initially, they have made deals with hotels that are considering selling the charger to customers who forgot their cables. charge at home or need extra charge when away from an electrical outlet. Some upscale properties plan to keep a stash of ChargeCards for guests to loan out as beach or pool gear. AquaVault also sells them directly to consumers online.
Kinas explains that even when you have a good product, competition is inevitable. In a global economy, someone can always make it faster and cheaper. “In a world where sixth gear is the standard beat,” he says, “you have to take the time to step away from the perpetual grind and ‘recharge’ your own batteries.
“When times get tough, as they no doubt will be, make sure you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and deal with volatility, because storms are inevitable,” he adds. “Entrepreneurship is the furthest thing from a smooth ride or a predictable trip. “
Overcoming a pandemic also takes a bit of moxia.