By Aanika Patel, Class of 2020
Arjun Vellayappan (Booth ’20) is co-founder of Gumdrop, a lifestyle/wellness company with a myofascial massage tool that aims to help anyone manage muscular pain and stress on the go. The device is a tetrahedron with each point having a different sized radius to target various muscle groups. Arjun, however, isn’t an engineer or physical therapist and instead focuses on the financial operations of the business. The product design and inception can be traced to Phoebe Evans, Arjun’s co-founder and friend from undergrad at Northwestern. The two met through mutual friends in 2012 and stayed close even after graduating college.
Phoebe began developing the Gumdrop device as an Engineering and Design Innovation Project through her master’s thesis and received positive feedback from her advisors to commercialize the product. She was passionate about her project but wasn’t sure how to transition her product into a business. Arjun helped change that. On a trip to Thailand in 2017 with friends they decided to partner together and Gumdrop, the company, was formed. “I’ve always been interested in starting a business and understanding what it takes to make it successful. I hit a rut in consulting and wanted to put myself to the test in the entrepreneurship space,” Arjun described.
When they returned, Arjun and Phoebe hit the ground running. “We came in with low expectations and just cared about learning and hopefully breaking even,” Arjun says. They spent 2017 focused on the legal setup of their company, testing products, and materials, and beginning to build a small inventory for initial sales. They sold ~50 devices in 2017 and primarily focused on getting feedback on how to best improve the product and business.
Last year, they shifted towards scaling the business and finding a manufacturer for the product. Arjun and Phoebe ultimately settled on a small polyurethane manufacturer in Kalamazoo, MI that also provided product support and recommended switching to a more affordable material that would help drive down costs. With legal setup and manufacturing prepared, Gumdrop launched their first Kickstarter. The initial goal of the Kickstarter was $10,000 – the team hit that amount within a week and completed their Kickstarter with $15,000 in sales.
With the success of the Kickstarter, Arjun reached out to his Entrepreneurial Discovery professor Mike Tebbe for guidance on whether Gumdrop would be a viable option for New Venture Challenge (“NVC”). Professor Tebbe provided guidance and encouraged Arjun to enter the challenge and assuaged Arjun’s uncertainties about whether Gumdrop could benefit from NVC despite not being a technology-focused business. “Our plan is to use NVC to learn how to scale the business and to build a brand beyond one product,” Arjun indicated. With the addition of Saumit Sahi (Booth ’20), who was looking to translate the classroom knowledge from Professor Sanjay Dhar’s marketing strategy class to the real world, Arjun and the Gumdrop team are building out and flexing their current business strategy.
Arjun is especially excited about the advisory team with NVC. “We have some amazing advisors with female founders such as Andrea Sreshta from LuminAID and Erin Conroy from Phytchick,” says Arjun. The NVC alumni community have been instrumental in helping to expand Arjun and Phoebe’s vision for the company with Arjun citing the NVC community and advisor feedback from professors like Waverly Deutsch as highlights of the experience.
Gumdrop devices can be purchased for $26 plus shipping and handling from Gumdropmassage.com