Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Cynthia Blais is a native of the Washington DC area and a 2003 graduate of the University of Virginia. She is the founder of two e-commerce based companies, GlobalZFitness.com and FunktionalWearables.com. She also enjoys teaching Zumba dance fitness classes. She currently resides in San Diego with her two rescue dogs, Olivia and Margarita.
What is the idea behind your projects / products and how did you come up with it?
I work part time at a gym, teaching Zumba Fitness group classes, and I started seeing people there achieve great weight loss with their fitness trackers. So I decided to get one for myself to see what all the fuss was about. I bought a Fitbit and it also helped me improve my awareness of what I was eating, how much activity I was getting, how I was sleeping etc. I basically loved everything about it except for how it looked. Since I have always made jewellery as a hobby I started to experiment with ways to make my Fitbit look better, and that’s how Funktional Wearables was born.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
I started to get serious about the company after I posted my first few products on Etsy, back in June of 2014. I had about 5 employees working for me at the time for my other business, GlobalZFitness.com, a dance and fitness apparel site. So I started to change my employees duties to focus on Funktional Wearables as I saw greater potential there.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
I was lucky, I was one of the very first to come out with accessories for fitness trackers, and I had more demand than I could even keep up with at first, even though I nearly doubled my staff. Tory Burch Fitbit bracelets came out shortly after ours, and that was great for our business, as we were shown as being a comparable but much more affordable alternative to her line. So we got tons of great press, for free, including being shown on Good Morning America in 2015 as one of the 4 hottest tech savvy fitness wear companies for 2015. That feature was HUGE for us and sales went through the roof the next few days. In 2015, our first full year of business, we did more than 1.5 million in sales, surpassing even my goals.
What was the biggest obstacle?
I have personally really struggled with finding and keeping quality employees. And when you have a very small business especially it is vital that every single employee is competent, and someone you can trust and count on. When someone isn't performing or even worse just quits suddenly, it really wreaks havoc on work flow, and of course the owner is responsible for filling in all the gaps, which has meant lots of stress and lots of really long days.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
There are so many challenges to working in tech wearables as the industry introduces new products all the time, and you never know which ones will be successful or flops. Because of that, I have to be very careful of course with my inventory, for example, I don't want to buy too much for a tracker that came out years ago as that will probably be obsolete soon. Being a female, and particularly being a relatively young female, has certainly posed its challenges. When people try to take advantage of me, which happens more often than I'd like to admit, I frequently suspect it is because they have just written me off as a little blonde bimbo and so they think they can get away with it.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
When my picture and an article largely about me was on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Business section, I really felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I of course have that framed in my house now! I make it a point to celebrate achievements both big and small, such as rewarding my employees with surprise treats like gift certificates for a massage, or going on a company trip to Disneyland.
What are projects you are currently working on within your company?
We are focusing now on expanding our brand presence both online and in brick and mortar stores. We just finished getting set up on Overstock.com, and can also be found on Amazon, eBay, Jet, OpenSky, Stauer, Boscovs.com, Kohls.com and BedBathandBeyond.com, as well as small boutiques across the country. We have been working on a deal with Best Buy for the past 2 years so that will be a huge accomplishment when that is finally completed. It is mind-blowing the amount of paperwork and set up time involved in working with a retailer, particularly if they require you to use a distributor.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
In the past few years I have seen great improvements in the areas of battery life and bulk / size. I am sure these improvements will continue, as well as all trackers being waterproof soon. I also expect to see an increased focus on mental health tracking. The link between mental and physical health is so critical and I am excited to see if trackers will be able to truly help people improve their mindsets as well as their bodies. I have not been impressed with the meditation guides and stress tracking features currently seen on some trackers but I think it is at least a step in the right direction.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
I am by nature a sensitive person, a worrier and a people pleaser. It has not been easy but I have trained myself to not be those things anymore as they will hold you back, particularly if you are an entrepreneur. If you do everything in life from a place of honesty, goodness and love, then you shouldn't worry or feel bad about how things turn out. There is no bigger waste of time than worrying about what others think about you.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.