E27: From Idea to Product with Wale Forrester

For me, it wasn’t necessarily a matter of if I was going to be able to create this product, it was a matter of when because if there’s an answer out there, I’m going to get it.”

- Wale Forrester

Episode Summary:

While in college, Wale Forrester became aware of a gap in the hygiene market for athletes. The idea that he came up with to fill this gap evolved into a company called ShowerPill, which in turn evolved into Hustle Clean, the business that today, he runs with his long-time friend, Justin Forsett. The product they created is an antibacterial and antimicrobial wipe that kills 99.9% of germs on the body; say goodbye to staph infections, and say hello to the Nike Air Jordan’s of the post-exercise realm! 

In today’s episode, you’ll get an inside look into how Wale and his business partners (Wendell Hunter was a founding partner who is no longer involved in the business) turned an idea into a major brand with national scope, the challenges they have experienced along the way and how they have dealt with them, and the purpose which a big driver behind their mission. These men are the definition of “Hustle” and are determined to use their business and platform to help communities in need.

What You’ll Learn On This Episode:

  • [01:33] Where the idea for Wale’s company originated
  • [03:26] Wale explains how his idea evolved into a product
  • [06:10] One of the most important lessons Wale learned at UC Berkeley
  • [06:35] Advice for anyone interested in taking a product from concept to creation
  • [07:10] How long it took for Hustle Clean to transition from an idea to a product
  • [08:23] Why Wale and his business partners decided to start an LLC
  • [09:56] The importance of person-to-person dynamics within a business 
  • [13:15] From ShowerPill to Hustle Clean; why the brand name changed
  • [15:05] Challenges that Wale and his partners were confronted with when starting out
  • [16:30] Why you need to be the number one investor in your business
  • [17:55] Wale’s perspective on being an employee and an entrepreneur at the same time
  • [20:03] How Hustle Clean has changed its business model over the years
 

Resources Mentioned:

Connect With Us: 

Connect with Wale:

EPISODE 27

“For me, it wasn’t necessarily a matter of if I was going to be able to create this product, it was a matter of like when, right? How long will it take? Because if there’s an answer out there, I’m going to get it. I would tell anybody who wants to start a creative product from concept to creation, you have to be willing to research. You have to be willing to research, you have to be willing to look at ingredients and ask why. “Why do you use this as opposed to this? Why do you use that as opposed to that?” It’s just having that confidence that’s not a matter of if you’re going to create a product, it’s a matter of when.”

 

[INTRODUCTION]

 

[0:00:33.5] AW: You’re listening to the Transcend Podcast. I’m your host, Asha Wilkerson, an Attorney by training and an educator at heart. This podcast is all about empowering you to build a business and leave a legacy. Here’s the thing, the wealth gap in America is consistently increasing and while full-time entrepreneurship is not for everyone, even a side hustle could change your financial landscape if you’re intentional about using your business to build wealth. I’ve run my own law firm for over 10 years, and in that time, I’ve helped countless California businesses go from idea to six figures. On this podcast, we talk about what it truly takes to build a sustainable business and find financial freedom. Let’s dive in

 

[INTERVIEW]

 

[0:01:19.5] AW: All right Wale, thank you so much for joining Transcend the Podcast. I appreciate you being here. I’m so excited to talk about your products, Hustle Clean. Can you tell us how it got started? What is the origin story of Hustle Clean?

 

[0:01:32.9] WF: It originally started as a product called ShowerPill, a company called ShowerPill. What a ShowerPill was, it was a joke in a football locker room. It meant that a shower was optimal but it either was impossible or convenient that you would take a shower pill, this hypothetical shower. The funny part was the joke but what wasn’t a laughing matter was that, you know, people were catching staph infections, germs were being communicated for one player to another, I mean, I caught meningitis during college.

 

So we looked around and we saw, you know, they have something for everything, they had Gatorade for hydration and muscle milk for supplementation and Nike and Underarmour for performance but there was nothing for hygiene and there was nothing to supplement and promote good hygiene, you know? Nothing cool at least.

 

We said, you know, “Why don’t we create something?” And what we created was the ShowerPill body wipe. It’s an antibacterial towelette that kills 99.9% of germs on the body without drying the skin out. It was kind of like our gift to the athletic culture, right? That was our Nike Air Jordan to the culture.

 

[0:02:43.6] AW: Wow, they talk about meeting a need, right? I would say that ShowerPill definitely met a need. I mean, how did you even get started? Okay, we know that stuff’s being transmitted, like we got to do something better, running between, shout out to the CowBears football team by the way, that’s where they started, right?

 

How do you even, where do you start with creating this thing? You know that this is what you need, but were you a biology major, who was doing the testing and how did you get to the product?

 

[0:03:12.9] WF: First, I was [alpha 0:03:12.7] major. Heck yeah.

 

[0:03:14.7] AW: Hey.

 

[0:03:14.6] WF: Go bears. Well, the creation of the product, how did I know how to create the product? To make a long story short, the idea, or the need state, it was developed and identified in college. Right after I graduated from college, I joined the Oakland Fire Department. I saw that not only did I graduate from Cal but, you know, the problem graduated with me and my business partners, right?

 

We all still had these times where showering was optimal but it wasn’t possible and convenient. We still had the ShowerPill moments. I wanted to like trademark it so I looked to see if the name was available, it was available. I was like, “It’s an omen from God,” and I went ahead and bought the trademark, I trademarked the name and bought all the domain stuff.

 

At that time, me and a couple of my partners, we had these mastermind groups because we all wanted to do business and we all wanted to learn so we were reading different books, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, just different kind of things and kicking business ideas so I came to the meeting with this idea. I came to the meeting with this idea. Out of all the people who were in the group, two other people, my dear friends, were just like, “Yeah, I think we got something right there,” and that’s how we started it.

 

No, I wasn’t a biology major, but being a firefighter, I knew basic CDC stuff. We had to adhere to certain hygiene standards and I was an EMT so I understood some of the basic products that we use and with a little bit of research, starting with turning the packaging around, looking at the ingredients, to reverse engineer just some of the basic ingredients that would do what we needed a ShowerPill body wipe to do.

 

Then my good friend Google led me to different manufacturers and every time I talked to a manufacturer, I would get smarter, right? Because they would talk to me in these terms and I was like, “I don’t know what they’re talking about.” I would just take that to another manufacturer and just start kind of mimicking what the other one said and after a while, I just started to develop the basic language of comprehension of product development and I went from there. I don’t want to bore you but I went from there and we created the first iteration of the product.

 

[0:05:23.2] AW: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s really important, right? Because a lot of people have ideas about something like this or something similar that turns into a product but they don’t know how to actually get it there and they stop because they go, “Well, I don’t know how to create a wipe, I don’t know how to create a blanket, I don’t know how to create whatever that product is,” and stop.

 

I appreciate you just saying that you had an idea. You started by turning over the packages to see what the ingredients were that were being used, you used some of your knowledge from your career to put in there but it still, you knew what the ingredients needed to be but you still didn’t know how to make it so then you started calling manufacturers and learned from each call. Did you expect to get it right on the first try or did you know that you were going to have to call a few people and learn as you went?

 

[0:06:07.4] WF: I mean, I know for a fact that I was going to have to call people and learn as I went. I kind of give this shoutout to Cal on this one, my UC Berkeley education. I would say, Cal gave me the confidence, like the educational confidence, like, “Do I really truly believed in my heart that I could really solve any problem and figure anything out with research?” Right? For me, it wasn’t necessarily a matter of if I was going to be able to create this product, it was a matter of when, right? Because if there’s an answer out there, I’m going to get it.

 

I would tell anybody who wants to start a creative product from concept to creation, you have to be willing to research. You have to be willing to look at ingredients and ask why. “Why do you use this as opposed to this? Why do you use that as opposed to that?” It’s just having that confidence that it’s not a matter of if you’re going to create a product, it’s a matter of when. And if you’re really sort of committed to the research and development R&D, research, the research portion of that, you will figure it out. It’s not rocket science.

 

[0:07:01.9] AW: Yeah, how long did it take you, after you started calling manufacturers, to actually get your first mockup to see what this ShowerPill was going to look like?

 

[0:07:10.9] WF: It took me about six months on the day I was like, “Yo, whose with me? Let’s do this,” to having a first iteration in our hands because we had to do like various testing and you have to build in the failures, you know? It took a little time, I messed up on this and messed up on that, this fragrance goes against this. You didn’t get this testing, so about six months, not that long but it was about six months.

 

[0:07:36.7] AW: Yeah. I’m sure it probably felt like it was a little while in the process, we so may “overnight successes” and there is no such thing as an overnight success. You may have found out about them last night but they were working on something, training for something for the past five, six, 10 years. At least that’s what I tell people and that’s what I truly believe. When you brought this idea to the mastermind and your friends came aboard, did you already have a business entity, you got your trademark, did you get a business entity next or when did that come along?

 

[0:08:08.0] WF: My boy, Justin Forsett, he was playing in the NFL at the time. I was a professional firefighter and we had a third partner, Wendell, he was I think working in a hospital or something or ER tech or something like that, we came together and it was like, “Yo, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to formalize it.” So we started to research the appropriate entity that we want to go with and we wanted protection but we also wanted it to not be too cumbersome as it pertains to taxation, you know? We felt like the LLC was the most appropriate way for us to go so we started an LLC.

 

[0:08:39.0] AW: I’m assuming you talked to the experts, the CPA and the attorneys to help you make that decision?

 

[0:08:44.4] WF: Absolutely. Well, I’m not going to lie, I’m not going to cap, the legal expert was legal Zoom.

 

[0:08:49.0] AW: Okay. No, that’s not what we’re trying to tell people.

 

[0:08:54.2] WF: You know, as you get more sophisticated, you do better as you know better. At that time, formalization was better than a handshake and we did the best that we could do with the nods that we had at the time and I would say, sometimes you have to just start. That was our “just start” moment.

 

[0:09:11.2] AW: Yeah, I agree with that for sure. How did you work out who was going to play what role and what was going to happen? Because I hear stories all the time as a business attorney where people were saying, “Well, we were supposed to do this, we agreed to do that and this person’s not pulling their weight.”

 

My friend the other day was like, “This person keeps talking about his feelings, I don’t care about his feelings, we’re trying to open this business,” right? How did you deal with the very real people aspect and the skillset of bringing your business partners together? Because that’s important, it’s like a marriage.

 

[0:09:42.2] WF: I mean, I’m still dealing with it, right? If anyone tells you that they figured that part out, they’re lying. I mean, we couldn’t even keep the Temptations together, right? You know?

 

[0:09:51.9] AW: Okay.

 

[0:09:53.4] WF: New addition, you know that.

 

[0:09:55.2] AW: Right.

 

[0:09:56.9] WF: In all seriousness, we started with three founders, we only have two now, right? Nothing negative, it’s just people, I mean, the circle gets smaller, everybody can go, you know? I think that we fumbled with it early on because everybody kind of wanted to play the same positions because we kind of default to what we know and you doing it with your friends, you kind of share, you’re with your friends because you got commonalities.

 

[0:10:21.5] AW: Right.

 

[0:10:23.1] WF: In business, I don’t need commonalities. You need people to contrast you and be strong where you’re weak and vice versa but we stumbled through it for the first couple of years but then we wised up. We invested in team coaching, like Lencioni, Pat Lencioni. We utilized the Enneagram to see each other’s personality types and how we work with each other and then we all had to just have a dose of humility.

 

LIke, for this business, what position should we all play? Who was strong within this? Who was strongest in that? Then having really sobering conversations based off of KPI’s and performances. We would evaluate whether or not we are who we think we are so that’s how we did it. We fumbled through it, we found a solution, which was some coaching, some team coaching, you know we lost a teammate or two and then we reinvested in continually making this like a practice, right?

 

How do we optimize our work relationships because that is the most important part of the business, is me and my cofounder Justin’s relationship. That is the most important part of this business.

 

[0:11:26.4] AW: Yeah, I mean that deserves so much emphasis, right? Because it is not just the product. The product doesn’t go. It doesn’t move the business, it doesn’t move forward if you all are not on the same page or at least learning how to work through the conflicts that are there because it is, even though it is national, it’s in Target stores, I can order it on Amazon, it is still a business that is a reflection of the two of you and the relationship the two of you have.

 

That makes my like, I don’t even know, social emotional heart flutter. We talk about the Enneagram and like you know, just taking a look and seeing what the strengths and weaknesses are because it is so important. It’s like any other personal relationship that you have in your life, we don’t think about it that much in business because you are choosing a partner that you plan to work with for the rest of your business life together, right?

 

[0:12:12.7] WF: Listen, you made a jump earlier. You said that you were talking to somebody and they were like, “Yo, I don’t want to hear about my partner’s feelings.” What’s crazy is I would even suggest that you desire that your partner is able to self-actualize within your business. You want to self-actualize, you want to be the best you can be but you also should look at your partner and say, “What can I do to make sure that my partner self-actualizes?” Because, you know, I don’t just want my partners to work. I want him to whistle while they work.

 

I would always say the first person in all our employees and stuff that I think about, I think about my partner first. Okay, what is he going through? Where is he at right now? Is that task, is that killing him inside? I think that is important about the emotions. It is important, look, I am telling you if you are in-fighting, you are not making decisions. In my job, I am a professional decision maker, so if I can’t make decisions because I have in-fighting, I am not doing my job.

 

[0:13:09.8] AW: Yeah, absolutely 100% agree. How do we get from ShowerPill to Hustle Clean?

 

[0:13:15.6] WF: Yeah, so with ShowerPill, you know we put it on the market. We started with Amazon, it took off way faster than we thought it would. We were victims of our own success in a way, we kind of reached the cap. We wanted to go into mass retail, we wanted to have a brand extension and create some new products but we’re doing the research and having our groups, we have like these little groups where we throw ideas at.

 

It kept coming back, in these little focus groups, it kept coming back that people identifying ShowerPill as synonymous with Body Wipe. It’s like, “No, no, no, the ShowerPill is the ShowerPill but the product is the Body Wipe,” right? They were calling the ShowerPill the Body Wipe, so then we were like, in order to grow, in order to speak more authentically to this group of individuals who were hyper focusing on, to integrate what we say we’re always at the intersection of life, of activity and hygiene, like always on the go, custom in hygiene, let’s give the brand an upgrade and we came up with Hustle Clean.

 

[0:14:16.8] AW: Yeah, and so tell me a little bit more about being the victim of your own success, what did you mean by that? You grew too fast and weren’t ready for the growth, how did that play out?

 

[0:14:25.2] WF: I would say, we were starting to run so fast, we achieved pride market fit specifically though. We turned into a niche product for a niched demographic and they loved us how we were and they didn’t want to see us grow any further, “Just be that brand. I don’t want to see you guys do this, I don’t want to see you guys do that, this is a shower pill in my mind,” and we’re like, “No but we also have this,” so that’s what I mean. The product market fit was so specific.

 

[0:14:53.7] AW: Got it, okay. Was there ever a time when you felt like, you know, “This is taking too long or maybe this isn’t a good idea,” what were some of the struggles that you had to push through to keep going?

 

[0:15:05.7] WF: I mean the biggest thing was the resources and finance, right? When you get into this business, well you realize that nothing is fair, one, and then it is not a meritocracy, right? It is really relationships and it’s privilege. You have to be privileged enough to have a business. I’m not going to lie and say that my occupation didn’t assist me in having money to put down to start a business, that my partners with occupations didn’t allow the opportunity for us in order to put our money together, right?

 

We were privileged, so with business there’s levels to this privilege, right? A lot of the companies who we compete with, you know, a lot of them have unlimited amounts of resources, you know? It’s analogous to going to the arcade and having a hella quarters, right? And we don’t even have 50 cents, so here is our level of, “We’re going to win now,” you know? That would be the biggest, just having the resources and then having the time to fully go in on your business without having a quantifiable physical return on investment to show those who are supporting you. The hardest thing was always having the resources.

 

[0:16:11.8] AW: How did you all make decisions about how to raise more capital, whether you’re personally investing or finding outside investors? I guess, did you keep it with just the three of you at the time in terms of investments or did you reach out to outside investors?

 

[0:16:26.3] WF: No, I mean we all started – I mean, like I said, anybody like me, you got to be your number one investor that is why the game is messed up now, you know? Businesses are failing at an all-time high now because a lot of people just – they walk away when the money runs out, right? You have to be your number one investor if you believe in your dream. We were and are our number one investor. After we invested in ourselves, we did bring on some friends and family.

 

Nothing crazy, which is why the business bootstrapped. I think we only got our first institutional investor sometime last year, so that was a nice change of pace and gave us some additional resources. But ultimately I never want to be in a room and feel like I am working for somebody. You know, I don’t mind partnering with people so but – yeah, I don’t mind partnering with them but with that being said, we are the number one investor in our company.

 

[0:17:12.0] AW: Okay and then you mentioned that you’re still working for Oakland Fire Department and everybody else it sounds like has also had another job and I think that’s important to talk about too because sometimes we feel like if we’re going to go chase our dreams, we gotta go 100% and cut off everything else. Other folks feel like it’s important to have another source of income. Even for me, I teach full-time at a community college and also run my own practice.

 

I appreciate that there are different ways to do it and that you don’t have to – it doesn’t mean that you’re not all in if your only thing isn’t doing your entrepreneurship journey and it sounds like from what you’ve been saying, it has been immensely helpful to have another source of income so that you could build those business and get it to where you needed to go.

 

[0:17:55.2] WF: Yeah, first of all, my mom is my hero, right? I saw my mom would – my mom had it down, two jobs, you know, she would do whatever she had to do to make sure that we were successful, that we were going to be okay. When I hear this whole notion of like people telling you how we’re supposed to live, that comes from privilege. That comes from privilege. Anybody who doesn’t have the opportunity to just quit their job and go out and start something, it doesn’t mean you’re scared.

 

You need money in order to fund your dream, right? You gotta stay away from people who tell you, and then jump off the bridge and this and that, you know, no. There is no correlation, I haven’t seen the research. What I tell people is that, aspiring business people, is that, look at yourself as a business, right? As a corporation, and you’re just diversifying your portfolio, like you something from this and it pays you that.

 

Then once something else gives you more money for the time you’re investing in it then it makes business sense to move on. No one is telling Jay Z, “Just rap.” I mean, no one is telling Elon Musk to just do Tesla, you know? This whole notion of, “You can’t have a boss,” and this and that, “You can’t have a job,” that’s just not solid. Eventually you don’t want to have an employer because you want your time to make more money than your is paying you, so yeah.

 

[0:19:22.7] AW: Right, absolutely.

 

[0:19:24.2] WF: And some respect to all the hustlers out there holding it down like, I celebrate you even more. You’re more brave if you’re doing that.

 

[0:19:32.3] AW: Right, for sure. Hustle Clean is not a different company, or is it really a different company from when it started out ten years ago, right? 10 plus years ago. Is it running differently than it did in the beginning or is just a name change and it’s essentially the same thing that you were doing when we first met 10 plus years ago? Shout out to the Way Christian Center in Berkeley.

 

[0:19:55.7] WF: Way, yeah, so easy to love. It has the same bones, right? It’s the same essence. The business model has changed so we’re having more products, one, and then number two, we have the omni channel approach now, right? Back then we were strictly ecommerce and now we’re in mass retail, Walmart nationwide, Target nationwide, at Coles, we’re at Rider’s Sports, we’re in a lot of different brick-and-mortar locations and we have expanded our ecommerce.

 

We’re not just Amazon anymore, we have our own direct to consumer platform too as well. The business model has changed, it is more robust, bigger, just bigger business.

 

[0:20:36.7] AW: That’s awesome. I mean, it started out with an idea, right? One problem to solve, you know, wanting to take a shower, shower being optimal but not necessarily having the opportunity to do it and now it has grown because you put the time and the resources and the vision and stuck with it over the years. It’s quite impressive. Kudos to you. I have an old school version, the original, you know the classic throwback of the ShowerPill.

 

[0:21:02.2] WF: Yeah, there might be like a NFT or something now. I don’t know if they [inaudible 0:21:05.7] yeah, I might mint that thing, yeah.

 

[0:21:09.9] AW: Right, frame it or something you know? I mean, even I have used – I haven’t played sports in a long time but when I travel, go to hot places and sometimes you’re just like, that’s what I’d absolutely buy them for. Let me just get a little refresh when I am in some tropical climate and too hot, can’t stand it anymore.

 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 

[0:21:31.3] AW: If you want to learn more about how you could build a business and leave a legacy, check out our online community, where we dive deeper into these concepts and I literally pull back the curtain to show you how I help entrepreneurs just like you build a sustainable business that leads to financial freedom. You can find out more at the wiklersonlawoffice.com.

 

[END]

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