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Innovating in a Time of Uncertainty – Car Seats and COVID-19

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Jon Sumroy Mifold

We talked to Jon Sumroy, CEO and founder of Mifold, about inventions in the vehicle accessories field and this is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Jon Sumroy: We are all well. My wife and four children have all managed to avoid contracting COVID-19. We all live in Israel, where the government has prioritized vaccinating the entire population. So as of this week, we have all had our second Pfizer inoculation. We are looking forward to finally moving on, leaving COVID-19 behind us, and returning to some form of our previous normal! 

I say ‘some form’ of our previous normal, despite all the difficulties of the previous year, there have also been many great things that COVID-19 forced upon us, which have significantly improved our quality of life. For example, I used to travel a huge amount for work, all over the world. This last year I managed to do everything without traveling, and although some traveling will be necessary moving forward, I look forward to doing a lot less. Also, I have enjoyed spending much more time at home with my family. Eating more meals together, working out together, playing together, and spending more quality time with each other. 

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Mifold.

Jon Sumroy: I came to be an entrepreneur quite late in life, compared to the typical twenty-something start-up founder. I spent most of my career in the safety of large corporations with a regular salary and all the other perks.

mifold started as a hobby when I wanted a car booster seat for my children that was so compact and portable, they could keep it with them all the time. That way, they would always be safe, no matter whose car they were in.

I never saw myself as an inventor and entrepreneur: leading my own company was not part of my plan. When I realized that my idea was viable and that it needs to be produced to help protect children, I established the company, raised funds from investors, and started this journey.

Many people have ideas, and it is the entrepreneurs who take those ideas and work on them. If like me, you are not “born” with the natural entrepreneurial confidence, then I believe I have shown that you can be “re-born” to give it a go.

How does Mifold innovate?

Jon Sumroy: All the innovation starts with a consumer need and an idea. The initial ideas for the mifold range of grab-and-go child car booster seats were mine. Now, these can come from anyone inside or even outside the company. 

We have a very disciplined innovation process called ‘mitime’. mitime is a New Product Development (NPD) process to ensure that we bring the right innovation for mifold to the consumer on time. 

The right innovation means that it is on strategy for the business and that everyone is aligned behind the innovation. It means that the ideas have to be consumer focussed and solve a real and common problem. All ideas must show that they can be profitable and that the company has the skills and resources to deliver the innovation.

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?

Jon Sumroy: The mifold range of grab-and-go booster seats and hifold fit-and-fold highback booster seats are the most compact, portable and adjustable child car booster seats in the world. They are comfortable and safe for every day and compact and portable enough for every adventure. 

One of the main triggers for purchase are vacations in general and travel in particular: in airplanes, taxis, rental cars, ride-hailing, and the like. All of this stopped in March 2020 and our sales took a significant hit. We expected to have significant sales growth in 2020, compared to 2019, and our cost structure was set up for this sized business.

When COVID hit we had to pivot our marketing strategy to meet the fast-changing needs of the consumer. We also had to rapidly reduce our costs to match the lower demand and to conserve cash. Since the hit of the initial two months, we saw consistent growth, for the rest of 2020. 2021, has started even better. We are still not back to the rates we expect, and we are looking forward to the world coming out of the COVID lockdowns.

We have managed well with COVID chaos and quickly transitioned to home working, with all meetings on Zoom.

We also managed to turn the COVID challenge into an opportunity. Shared booster seats can mean shared germs. mifold is small enough to fit in a child’s school bag so a child can have his/her booster and never need to share. The American Association of Pediatricians recommended that children should thoroughly clean their booster seats. We worked with our manufacturing partners to make sure the mifold seats could be cleaned using alcoholic gels, as well as with soap and water, thereby making mifold the best solution for hygiene conscious families. 

Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?

Jon Sumroy: There have been many difficult decisions. Everyone in the company took significant pay cuts for the first few months, and even today the senior managers are still on reduced salaries. This is painful but necessary. We furloughed three employees, who are on unpaid leave and it may be that some will not return. At the end of 2020, we shuttered our beloved offices, as the rent was too high, however, we quickly found a more reasonable alternative, and we are already comfortable and settled there.

Most difficult were the significant cuts needed in our marketing and R&D budgets. We decided to focus all our investment on sales conversion activities, which drive revenue. This meant that more long-term activities like NPD and awareness generating marketing had to be reduced. We also negotiated debt financing from our bank.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Jon Sumroy: We have all learned to work from home and connect with Zoom and other platforms. We have always used cloud-based applications like Google G-Suite and Dropbox. These have made the transition to remote working smooth. Even though we have been back to the office a couple of times in-between lockdowns and we are back in the office now, we have continued to work from home two days per week. Some employees need this while they wait for schools to reopen for their children. Some employees prefer this, to save on commuting time and everyone can be more flexible.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Jon Sumroy: We compete with all the other child restraint manufacturers. Some of the companies are well known, like Graco, Britax, and Chicco. Others have familiar brand names like Evenflo, Cybex, Maxi-Cosi, and Cosco. 

These competitors all make wonderful products, that improve the safety of children in cars. However, only Mifold has solved the challenge of a booster seat that is compact and portable enough to be available for every journey. 

Every product in the Mifold range of grab-and-go booster seats and the hifold fit-and-fold highback booster seats offer unique functional differentiation. If a parent wants an ultra-compact child restraint that can stay with the child, can easily be carried from car to car, and is quick and easy to use, then we are the only viable option. We plan to stay in the game, by continuing to lead the innovation and NPD of this ultra-compact category.

Your final thoughts?

Jon Sumroy: No one expected COVID-19, no one planned for it, and everyone found themselves deciding on the fly, with little information and no visibility. I am proud of my entire team, who all came together to support the company, each other, and our vision. 

Although this has been very difficult and challenging on every level and continues to be, we already see the light at the end of the tunnel, we will survive and we will be better, more focussed, more motivated, and more ambitious as a result.

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