Q&A with Agent18 CEO Sargam Patel
Agent18 designs, produces and sells high-quality mobile device accessories. The company was founded in 2004 and is based in Los Angeles.
SUB: What is unique about your protective products? Why would a consumer choose Agent 18’s products over others in the market?
Patel: Agent18 operates in a marketplace that is now extremely saturated and commoditized – electronics accessories. It’s not enough to launch product that just looks great (which our cases do). From the beginning, we have introduced novel features that increase device functionality. Just a few examples are the iPhone 4 EcoShield+ with a built-in stand for hands-free use, the StandHear travel stand with an integrated headphone splitter for audio sharing and the implementation of a coin slot for easy case removal in our earlier shield lines.
We are also a company that demonstrates a real environmental consciousness. We recycle plastic bottles to produce our cases. The fact that we care about the environment and make products that are beautiful, functional and fun is one of the strong appeals about Agent18 to our customers.
SUB: How do you market your products (retail, direct, etc.)?
Patel: Since Agent 18 was one of the first third party case vendors to dive into the Smartphone market, we have been fortunate to have a long-standing relationship with Apple. Our products are distributed worldwide through Apple retail stores and at Apple online.
Agent18 cases are also carried in other big box retailers — electronics specific stores, and select online retailers.
In addition, we have our own direct to consumer e-commerce site at www.agent18.com.
SUB: Who are your primary targets/buyers?
Patel: Just as the Apple customer base is diversifying as ownership of their devices becomes more widespread and mainstream, so are our customers becoming more and more varied. The Agent18 customer is anyone from a 12-year-old girl who puts the FlowerVest on her iPod Touch to the business professional who wants the discrete, worry-free protection of the EcoShield for his or her iPhone 4.
The one thing all of our customers have in common is that they place value on both a stylish appearance of the accessory and that it allows their device to function seamlessly.
SUB: What is your business model?
Patel: Agent 18 has a standard manufacturing/distribution model. A team of highly talented industrial designers and engineers design all of our products in-house. We then turn to our manufacturing partners to produce final product and distribute through a carefully selected network of retail partners.
SUB: Who do you see as your primary competition?
Patel: This is a great question. Years ago competition was much more limited. The majors were Incase, Speck, and Contour and a few others. The focus was on innovation – which company could design and build the most interesting new products for the end consumer. Everyone in the industry was offering the customer premium options.
In today’s market literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of China factories have jumped into the space, creating entry-level products, which have diluted the market. This has brought prices down for the consumer, but it has also made it increasingly more difficult to offer innovation and increased functionality at the same price point as they can find basic covers.
Because of this change in the industry dynamic Agent18 has made a conscious decision to position itself as a manufacturer of high quality products that will appeal to a consumer seeking more than a basic protection solution. We use cutting edge materials, industrial design, and engineering techniques that ensure our customers are always receiving products that not only protect their device, but take the user experience to a level not possible without an Agent18 case, film, or stand.
SUB: How has the company been funded to this point? Have you raised outside funding? Do you plan to do so in the near future?
Patel: To date Agent18 has been completely self-funded. I started the company using every bootstrapping technique available to me. This meant everything from maxing out my credit cards to borrowing against my car and condo.
So far, we have managed to continue operating based on sales growth. As we look down the road, we may decide to change that. If we could find an investor who sees the potential we think we have, it would be worth a conversation.
SUB: What have some of the challenges been to establishing the company in the accessories market?
Patel: When Agent18 was first starting out we were actually creating a new segment in the industry (clear plastic cases for iPod). So as with anytime you are in “trailblazing mode,” one of the biggest challenges encountered was convincing the retail buyer that our product would sell. And, in this case, we were selling the idea that iPod and other device accessories were not a passing fad and definitely would be a valuable SKU for the long haul.
As time went on, the market has matured and become commoditized (as previously mentioned) a huge challenge is to establish our brand identity and the brand value of our products.
SUB: Where do you see Agent 18 in roughly a year from now?
Patel: We plan to continually develop new products and to lead our industry in creative accessories. We also plan to expand our product offerings into other areas of consumer electronics.
SUB: Finally, a question I always ask: as an entrepreneur who has weathered the down economy, what advice do you have for those just starting out — especially in an economy that remains less than dynamic?
Patel: I think the best thing you can do is keep a positive attitude and stay focused on delivering the best possible product or service out there; this is vital to weathering downturns.
Being a nimble and agile company when the economy is less than thriving also gives you an advantage to quickly evolve to meet the dynamic needs and demands of the consumer.
Agent18 – www.agent18.com