Bacteria, bacteria, bacteria, it's something that we deal with everyday as humans. With coronavirus, the flu and everything in between dominating national headlines, it can be overwhelming to think about all of the ways to cut down and avoid contact with icky germs both inside or homes and out without overdoing it with strong chemicals and the like. So what can we do?
Cue Jason and Kelsey O'Callaghan, a Utah couple whose journey of bringing healthy, sustainable, and chic products to the home began when Jason, an innovative problem-solver with an extensive background in product design, discovered the properties of diatomaceous earth. Kelsey, a brand strategy expert passionate about easy-to-use, high-quality solutions, began researching this remarkable material and was blown away by its capabilities. Their devotion to a natural, stress-free lifestyle and love of this awesome material that cut down on germs and bacteria led to create Dorai Home. Read more about their journey here:
UMLF: Tell us about yourself and your background:
Kelsey: I along with my fiance Jason co-founded Dorai Home, an eco-chic startup with a mission to create well-designed housewares that help eliminate unwanted moisture and bacteria throughout the home. Dorai originated as a Kickstarter project in 2018, leveraging the combined expertise of my background in brand strategy and design, and Jason’s experience in product design and development. We have since launched 6 products with solutions for the bathroom and kitchen.
In addition to growing Dorai, I consult with businesses to develop their brand identity, positioning, and optimize their user experience design. I previously lead the strategy and UX capabilities at Super Top Secret, a design agency in SLC. Before returning to the Utah mountains, I lived in San Francisco honing my skills as a strategist and designer for Uber, Smart Design and Fjord.
Dorai is an exciting opportunity to experience end-to-end product development and to apply strategic branding and marketing practices first-hand. When not at the desk, I enjoy running marathons, cooking and listening to podcasts.
UMLF: What inspired you guys to start Dorai Home?
Kelsey: We're solution seekers, we're always talking about ways to improve products and enhance the user experience, we also aspire to get 'back to basics' in our home from the products we use to clean to the things we eat. Over the past few years, we've been working towards reducing our stress (with the product and materials we introduce in our home) and lowering our environmental impact. These two desires really came together in creating the Dorai Brand. Jason found the material Diatomaceous Earth and was amazed by it's drying properties, as a natural skeptic I started researching and realized how impressive DE (or fossilized algae) really is, and all the ways it can be used throughout the home to eliminate those 'damp areas'. We realized introducing this material to the places that are often 'moist' through thoughtfully designed products was a huge opportunity and we needed to create a compelling brand to help us with this mission.
UMLF: So, talk to science to us. Why should someone get a Dorai product over a regular ol’ bath mat or dish rack?
Kelsey: A standard bath mat or dish rack after constantly getting wet, that's their purpose to collect water. Unfortunately, the common materials used in these don't encourage rapid drying or evaporation, which can lead to mold, mildew, and bacteria (you know that musty smell from hand towels or rags that sit while damp? that's bacteria). Fabrics and plastics don't encourage drying, they trap moisture. Dorai products are made of compressed Diatomaceous Earth, a material that can hold up to 150% of its weight in moisture. Water rapidly dissipates through the porous material and it's exposed to a greater surface area which helps it dry almost instantly. You can think about it like when water drops onto a stone and evaporates much quicker than when it sits on a plastic surface. DE is less likely to grow mold than the alternative materials on the market, which is helpful for surfaces that are constantly getting saturated. Our kitchen line brings a completely innovative approach to how people actually use their dish racks and dish pads. We often use our dishwashers for everyday times (plates, utensils, cups), and the dish rack is for the larger hand wash items: pots, pans, knives, cutting boards, plastics, delicates, etc). We created a dish rack that really caters to the needs of the modern kitchen, versus one that's made for the dishes of the 1950s. We know about 50% of our research participants prefer to use hand towels to dry their spaces versus a dish rack, so we created a collapsible dish pad that can fold down and be stored in a drawer, with the same instant drying properties as the base of the dish rack.
UMLF: What next for you guys?
Kelsey: The dish rack has been so well received that we sold out! This is a great 'challenge' so we will be working on getting more of these in stock to meet customer demand. We've also heard feedback that customers want a larger bath mat (which could be used in many different areas of the home), so we're working on launching that in 2020. We'll likely run a pre-sale on both of these items in the months prior to their arrival. We also want to continue to build out a lifestyle brand that truly delivers value to people. We want to help people live healthier lives with better solutions that require less cleaning and fewer harsh chemicals. We want to share the message of 'back to basics' and do the best we can to creating lasting products that have a lower impact on the environments. This mission is embodied by the materials we use to make out products to the packaging choices we make. We see a change happening with conscientious consumers (ourselves being 2 of them) towards eco-chic solutions and we want to be the brand that fills that niche within the home good sector.
UMLF: Every business has its highs and lows. Tell us about a challenge you faced as a small business owner and how you overcame it?
Kelsey: This would likely differ for Jason and me because of our distinct personalities. As a business, inventory management is a tricky balance for a very small (and growing company), we've had to navigate how much to order at any one time while reserving funds for marketing once it arrives. It can be really hard to do both gracefully, hence why we have run out on one of our main sellers. You have to make choices around when to order and how to spend your cash on hand, based on the data you have at the time (not to mention the geo-political circumstances we're currently all experiencing). We're bringing on extra consulting help to work through some of these scaling decisions and using different tactics to be able to fund inventory without the need to do Kickstarters or seek outside investment. Social media advertising is getting more competitive every day, which drives up the cost to acquire customers, forcing you to not only be on top of the content game but constantly be focused on how to create value and stay relevant to consumers when everyone's attention is so scarce. We're combatting this by focusing on high-quality content and bringing on help to better develop our reach (both organically and with ads). It's challenging when you're used to be 'so scrappy' and 'figuring it out' (which inherently means you've put a lot of yourself into the brand), to draw that line between 'I can do this' and 'someone else can do it better, but we need to pay them more'. I'd say for me, learning to delegate has been the biggest personal challenge, but coming to the realization that someone else can not only help, but probably do something better than the way I'm currently doing it with my attention spread so thin has been the biggest learning. After finding partners who we trust, this has been easier and we're able to see how they will help us get to the next level.
UMLF: How do you believe the Utah Microloan Fund has helped you and your business?
Kelsey: The UMLF has been so great! We're really pleased we found a local group that is founder-friendly and have helped us get over that growth hurdle that is enabling us to scale without going back into fundraising mode. We've pitched to a lot of investors and some individuals understand the zeitgeist toward natural living, others don't see that opportunity. The UMLF not only saw our vision but that we have the skillset to make it happen and just needed a little help to get to the next level. With our loan, we were able to get the kitchen products into customers' hands (the customer feedback has been so positive), without having to give up equity and will continue to grow Dorai Home.
Thanks for sitting down with us Kelsey! We need to buy some of this stuff for our office immediately! To see all of their awesome product offerings, check out Dorai Home's profiles here:
Providing business training and funding to entrepreneurs in start-up & existing businesses that do not qualify for traditional funding sources.