Christie Barany, Co-Founder: A firm believer in user-centered, needs-based innovation, Christie Barany's professional background is varied but quite successful: executive management in medical devices, an associate on Wall Street, marketing and business consulting in Australian broadcasting, and Neuroscience graduate school. After losing her mom suddenly to ovarian cancer in 2010, the unexpected tragedy served as a catalyst to pursue her ultimate dream: entrepreneurism, and Monkey Mat quickly became a reality. A wife and mom of two, Christie lives in Austin, TX and is passionate about community, fun with fitness and travel adventures.
Courtney Turich, Co-Founder: An enthusiastic and passionate businesswoman, Courtney’s multifaceted career began after receiving a Masters in Information and Communication Sciences. As she rose in the ranks in the medical and biomedical fields, winning numerous awards in sales and marketing, Courtney realized her entrepreneurial spirit was just waiting to be unleashed and she joined forces with Christie. Soon, Monkey Mat was born. A vivacious personality and compassion for others makes Courtney a thriving leader in business, community and her personal life. A mentor to many, she lives in Austin, TX with her husband and son, plus enjoys relaxing through fitness, family and friends.
How did you get into the Retail industry?
We had the idea for the product, but it was really an unexpected tragedy that served as the catalyst for us to actually pursue it. Christie’s mom passed away very suddenly to ovarian cancer in 2010, and though we were both in financially rewarding jobs in the medical device industry at the time, we weren’t truly fulfilled. We decided it was time to take action on the idea we had - stop dreaming and start doing! Though our backgrounds in product development and innovation were definitely relevant, switching over to consumer goods/retail sales - manufacturing, regulatory, sales cycle nuances, retail lingo, etc - was a HUGE transition for us. We just had to put egos aside, ask endless questions to learn, and continue to plow forward to turn our idea into a reality.
Tell us about Monkey Mat. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Monkey Mat is your portable floor - a large, clean surface you can take everywhere in its attached ultra-compact pouch. It’s great for both indoor and outdoor use - picnics, beach, sports, travel. The original inspiration was a long unexpected layover at the airport watching kids crawl all over those disgustingly dirty floors. And also generally active lifestyles - outdoor concerts and festivals, bike rides, camping and hiking. We were looking for a clean, portable surface to replace bulky blankets, and since nothing existed in the market we decided to create it! Our mission is to provide simple solutions to everyday problems. We’re all about innovation inspired by life, and Monkey Mat is the first product in our growing portfolio.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Monkey Mat's success?
Shark Tank was a huge boost for us - not only getting the Monkey Mat name into many households through the show, but also in the partnership with Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner. It was an incredible experience that we are forever grateful for. Additionally relentless pursuit of new retail partners to expand brand recognition and adoption, while simultaneously focusing on innovation (new products coming later this year…!), has been critical to our growth.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
We’re constantly looking out for color trends, and soliciting feedback from customers on their desired product extensions. Additionally, recognizing that the on-the-go mentality only continues to grow in the Baby/Juvenile, Outdoor/Recreational, Gift and Travel retail sectors we’re focused on, our goal is to continue to bring to market products that provide the ultimate in portability and versatility to make active lifestyles a little easier.
Stop Dreaming, Start DOING!
Monkey Mat's Motto?
We’re all about innovations inspired by life and providing simple solutions to everyday problems.
Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of Monkey Mat? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
One of our greatest successes came with Shark Tank airing and partnerships. We had established early on as one of our goals to be on the show, and six months later we were filming! We still pinch ourselves that through that journey we became business partners with Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner. To be interacting regularly with such successful entrepreneurs is such a blessing. Additionally, watching the retail footprint of our product expand so rapidly since the show is beyond exciting. To walk into a boutique, Toys ‘R Us, Staples or buybuy Baby (and adding more every day!) and see Monkey Mat on the shelves is still surreal - and, even better, to come across a Monkey Mat in use when out and about!
Ironically, one of the most challenging times for the business was immediately following our Shark Tank airing. We don’t believe there’s any way a small company can prepare for the “Shark Tank effect”. We only received a week’s notice of airing, so couldn’t ramp up on inventory as we’d have wanted. It was a brutal few months post-airing of managing a huge backorder situation and trying to do so with the best of customer service. Additionally, our local fulfillment center bailed on us just a few days post-airing, so we had to take all inventory to our garages and pack and ship thousands upon thousands of units ourselves. It was a most intense period of time, but we learned that even in the most trying of times you just have to keep moving forward! Inventory projections continue to be challenging given new opportunities in the mix with unknown potential upside, but we’re implementing new tools for better forecasting to stay ahead on the manufacturing front. Additionally, we’ve learned - often the hard way - the potential pitfalls with a new vendor or retail partner, and so have become increasingly smarter about asking the right questions up front. Every day we learn something new, and make sure to translate our mistakes into learning experiences that only make us stronger!
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Just take action! Start prototyping and talk to everyone and anyone (not just people who feel obligated to give you positive responses!), and don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions, and you never know what opportunity might present itself.
Describe the ideal experience using Monkey Mat.
It’s the ideal product to have with you at all times - no more bulky blankets to haul along! It’s truly a product for all ages, all places, all year long. We want Monkey Mat to be a household name and a go-to for concerts, beach, travel, sporting events, picnics, and more!
How do you motivate your employees?
We want our employees to feel a part of the team and share our vision for Monkey Mat. It’s important for us to hire individuals who are self-starters and not afraid to make things happen. We point them in the right direction and provide all the encouragement (including constructive criticism when needed) to be successful and grow professionally.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Pizza and bubbles ~ also our treat of choice when on the road!
What literature is on your bed stand?
Forbes, and then mindless reading to calm the mind. As entrepreneurs our mind is always the last thing to shut off in the evening...and kicks right back into action as soon as we wake up (including middle of the night!). In fact, not sure it ever shuts down completely!
Role model - business and personal?
Business: Richard Branson: His innovative nature along with keeping life adventurous and his family close is extremely important..
Personal: Family: Many family members have touched our lives in many different ways throughout our professional careers. They have provided encouragement, support, advice (both good and bad), and love. But most importantly our parents have been the most inspiring of role models by showing determination, perseverance, and a tremendous work ethic throughout our lives.
Innovation - coming up with new ideas and bringing them to life.
Favorite travel destination?
So many places to choose from and still many unexplored areas, but we both lived in Australia for awhile and has a special place in our hearts.
What's next for Monkey Mat?
Increasing our product line portfolio by Q4 of this year, which will include different variations on the Monkey Mat. We believe innovation is key to our overall business long-term success. We have lots of exciting developments underway! We’re also focusing on expanding our presence in the Outdoor/Recreational market, as well as international markets. We can’t wait for Monkey Mat to be known and loved around the world!