Will lightning strike again for Seth Berger and first for his young bud Joshua Harris with their newly launched Living Simple consumer tech accessories company? The venture kicked off with a clever, two-in-one iPhone case/wallet that they've dubbed the Bank.
Clearly, Berger didn't need to dive again into the entrepreneurial trenches, to hire product designers and 3-D printed prototype builders (Machineart Industrial Design in Frenchtown, N.J), then to negotiate and tweak production, going through multiple iterations with a Far East factory.
More recently in this two-year project, they have been developing packaging and jockeying for shelf space,- efforts that are still evolving. As for signing up celebrity pitch people? Ask again later.
"We're starting slow at retail, currently test marketing here at Springboard Media's two local outlets in center city and Exton," Berger said. "Online, we've had some early success selling through Amazon. And last week, we debuted on the Touch of Modern website which has more than 8 million subscribers."
The Bank carries a $39.99 list price at Amazon and competes for attention with a mere 1.6 million other iPhone 6 search results. The site www.TouchofModern.com had it briefly (and sold out) at a more sensible $34.99, and Living Simple now sells it for $29.99 at www.livingsimplecases.com.
Fresh out of Wharton grad school (Class of '93), Berger and a couple classroom/basketball court pals made a fortune with their Wynnewood-based sporting goods brand called AND1, best known for celebrity-endorsed basketball shoes and attire. AND1 rose to $250 million in annual sales before Berger cashed out in 2005 and pretty much retired from the business world.
"Since then I've done some consulting, part time," said the now 48-year-old Berger. "My longest gig was a year running Lightning Gaming Inc., a Boothwyn-based maker of slot machines and electronic poker tables founded by Brian Haveson" (former CEO of Nutrisystem) "which later went public."
Mostly Berger had been in the running for world's best dad, shepherding not only three flesh-and-blood kids, but also as guardian for four brothers from Nigeria (family name Yiljep) and as "kind of my second dad" for Josh Harris, said the just-turned 26-year-old.
Seth and his wife, Christelle, welcomed all those extra boys into their Malvern house as a "host family" for scholarship students boarding at the Westtown School in West Chester, where Seth's own brood also attend.
He's also "super busy" at the school with a job he "really loves" as its head basketball coach.
Berger and Harris bonded fast on and off the courts. "We both went to the same New York city elementary school, PS6," Harris said. And in his youth, as a basketball fanatic, Harris dressed in everything AND1, including those two-tone "Tai Chi" sneaks worn and popularized by Vince Carter in a still-talked about (and often YouTube-viewed) 2000 NBA Slam Dunk contest.
Harris became one of Berger's primo players at the Quaker prep school, later went on to play at Franklin & Marshall. "Josh is still no match for me on the court in a one-on-one," chided his mentor.
As an idea man and pitch person, though, Harris may be Berger's match. "He dragged me back into this game," Berger said with a laugh. "Really, I had no choice."
While train commuting post-college from Yonkers to New York City, Harris "couldn't help but notice all the women rummaging through their purses, to pull out their phone or wallet or both." And that got him thinking about his own overly-cluttered life and unfashionable look - "with a fat wallet bulging in one back pocket, my phone in another."
Thus was born the idea for the Bank, a protective polycarbonate case for a smartphone (starting with the iPhone 6 and 6S) that also has a push button- triggered, outwardly swiveling tray compartment on the back.
Inside, when revealed, is a spring-mounted stainless steel clip to secure several credit cards, drivers license, work ID, and folding money.
"It's half the thickness of just the wallet I used to carry, a third as thick as a wallet and a phone stuffed into the same pocket," Harris calculated.
The Bank - the company's only product at the moment - is hardly the first smartphone case with card-carrying capabilities. "Others have back slits to hold just two or three cards," said Berger. "Or they're a flip-open wallet, with cards on one side and the phone pocketed on the other side,- a pain to open and use. Most people have needs to carry between four and six cards and some money as well as their phone. The Bank is the first and only case that can handle all that, while keeping the phone screen readily accessible."