Rob Howell is a Marine Corps veteran, who is trying to make life easier for smokers while at the same time helping veterans. He is the founder of a product startup that first tried crowdfunding with fundable.
HelpingHandz is the thing smokers have been looking for, for years, that protects the flame of a disposable lighter from the wind. There have been so many times that I personally have struggled with a lighter because of the crosswind. HelpingHandz is a ligher hood that fits around any standard sized disposable lighter, providing the shield the flame needs to stay lit. As an added bonus, HelpingHandz is also a keychain and a bottle opener.
As for the veterans, as a retired Marine Corps veteran, Howell will be donating a “significant portion of profits to programs that help veterans heal both psychologically and spiritually from traumatic combat experiences.” he said in an interview with nibletz.com.
The HelpingHandz product is one of those things that’s so simple you wonder why it wasn’t done before. The fact that Howell is helping sufferers of PTSD is a tremendous added bonus. Check out our interview with Howell below.
What is your startup, what does it do?
HelpingHandz (HHz for short) produces and sells a versatile lighter accessory that protects the flame of a disposable lighter from being blown out by inclement weather: wind, rain, snow, etc. Our product also functions as a bottle opener and keychain, making it the ideal tool for outdoor activities like camping, boating, or a day at the beach.
HHz currently works only with standard Bic lighters. We hope to have future designs that are compatible with other lighter models.
HelpingHandz is driven by the objective of helping United States Armed Forces combat veterans. The CEO and founder, Rob Howell, is a veteran of the Marine Corps committed to donating a significant portion of profits to programs that help veterans heal both psychologically and spiritually from traumatic combat experiences.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
Rob Howell is the founder and CEO of HelpingHandz. After serving in the Marine Corps for four years, I moved to Wyoming to attended Central Wyoming Community College in the Environmental Science and Leadership Program. This is a program that works hand and hand with the National Outdoor Leadership School. While attending school, I worked for a local tree trimming company. My experience in Tree Care inspired me to start my first business, Continental Tree Care, a full service tree company that offered organic pest control and fertilization. Tree care required long, hard hours and a grueling amount of physical labor but it helped build a resiliency and determination within that served me well for my future inventions.
After six years with my first company, I began focusing on different invention ideas but came across a lot of issues getting the necessary patents. Finally, in January of 2012 I invented HelpingHandz and fell in love with the concept and mission of the product. I haven’t looked back since.
HelpingHandz is an internet based company operating out of San Clemente, CA.
What is the startup culture like where you are based?
Southern California is a fertile environment for young entrepreneurs. While we haven’t actively started looking for investors yet, the response from our local community has been extremely positive and supportive. I think if you have a good idea or a good product, this is the place to be. It is a great place to start a business.
What problem does your startup solve?
Anyone who has ever struggled to light a cigarette/cigar on a windy day knows how futile and frustrating of a task it can be. It’s equally difficult to start a campfire or fire up the grill using a lighter outdoors in inclement weather.
HelpingHandz provides a cheap, easy solution to this problem. All you need is our product and a disposable lighter.
What is one challenge that you’ve overcome in the startup process?
Overcoming a lack of experience in manufacturing and product sales has been the biggest challenge. While doing hours and hours of exhaustive research was helpful, the most beneficial learning tool for me was speaking with dozens of product and manufacturing professionals who had already established a disciplined, effective business process. While it’s taken longer than anticipated to bring this product to the market, I’ve always been confident my concept is a good one and after months of hard work and patience, we’re on track to launch in May 2013 with our first production run shipment!
What are some of the milestones your startup has achieved?
2012 brought us a number of fortunate milestones — we filed for two necessary patents (one which has already been approved). We’ve filed trademarks for our name and logo. We’ve finalized the design and prototype phase for our product. We’ve launched our marketing campaign by building our webpage, producing a video demonstrating how our product works, and promoting our company via social networks and blogs. Also – we’ve completed other business systems like packaging, warehousing and shipping protocols. Finally, we’ve received quotes from dozens of manufacturers, and we’ve begun negotiations with a few large distributers we think are good fit for us.
What are your next milestones?
Our next milestone is funding. We’re looking for the right investor to help reach our funding goals. We need enough orders of HelpingHandz from our manufacturers so that we can fulfill our distribution chain and have enough left over to take on new customers without running out.
Who are your mentors and role models?
I’ve had had too many to name them all but I would definitely start with my parents — they taught me how to work hard and the importance of always keeping commitments. These values were further instilled in me by the Marine Corps.
There are countless friends and teachers that I’ve learned so much from. I try to take a piece of the good from everyone I meet, regardless of their status. I have learned a great deal from my life experiences. I look up to people who focus their efforts on helping others and who make positive impacts in their communities. I could also say that I am fortunate to have met people who have shown me the negative side of society because I gain a better understanding of what I don’t want to be.
What’s next for your startup?
Next is laying out the distribution map. We’re in discussions with major convenience store distributers right now that can help us reach our goal of being in fifty-thousand stores by the end of the year. We would also like to start a video contest in the near future, where people make their own videos showing how they helped someone in need of an HHz. The winner will be voted on by the HelpingHandz community and the grand prize will be something really amazing like a trip to Hawaii.
Where can people find out more?
We are currently running a crowd funding campaign on the website Fundable. Here’s the link https://www.fundable.com/
helpinghandz. You can get more information about our product, watch a two-minute demonstration video, and pre-purchase a first run HHz (there’s also an option to purchase a limited edition gold-plated HHz). We also have a website, www.myhelpinghandz. com and we are on Facebook at HelpingHandz. My Twitter name, which I just signed up for, is Rob Howells @HelpingHandz1