We recently chatted with Grace Chang of Dallas about her experience taking her product, Soarigami, from idea to market. Read on for the Q&A below, check out the website, and follow the startup on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep tabs on the growth of Soarigami.
Q&A with Grace Chang, co-founder, Soarigami
Tell us about your business and what makes it stand apart from the competition.
Soarigami is a portable armrest extender that ends all elbow wars. It’s a patent-pending consumer travel product that solves the problem of fighting for armrests anywhere there is row seating. This is a friendly product; we want to bring peace to the world, one armrest at a time.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Being stuck on an uncomfortable 17-hour flight from Dallas to Hong Kong back in 2014 was the straw that broke my back, but the idea had been brewing in the back of our minds since college.
Because I am a petite person, people think I don’t need the armrest — but the lack of arm support causes a sore back and stiff neck. My husband [Arthur Chang] is a larger fellow, and being crammed together with other larger fellows on a plane leads to a very sweaty and hairy situation! There was a lot of uncomfortable jabbing and accidental grazing.
The idea that became Soarigami started off as a joke; it was almost a dare. Then it became something we did as a hobby. Then we got serious: we quit our jobs, sold our house, and moved in with our parents. At one point, we lived with Arthur’s 80-year-old grandmother. Now we’ve turned our tiny one-bedroom into an office and sleep in a wall-bed next to the kitchen.
I’ve only ever flown economy class, so I wanted to provide a product that gives coach an upgraded experience at an affordable price.
Our first prototype was made out of scrap wood. And for the second edition we went to a plastic fabricator and really quickly modeled it out of acrylic. And it was terrible. It looked like a toilet seat.
The second iteration was so ugly and clunky. As a designer, I cringed, thinking, “No one will carry this. There must be a better way.” I got so fed up I whipped out my sketchpad and started playing with a new design. Accusing me of showing off, my husband gave me a lot of grief. And we bickered, you know, as a couple would.
I became quite annoyed with him, so I folded my sketch into a paper airplane and launched it at his forehead. When it missed and landed upside down, that was my eureka moment. I grabbed my husband, shook him hard, screamed into his ear, and said, “Holy moly. This is it.”
We originally called it ARMORester, but it sounded so dated — not fun or appealing. When you’re trying to launch a brand or new idea into the market, to me, it’s important to have a dot com — something that people would trust, and I was determined to get a name where I’d own all the social media handles across the board. We locked ourselves out of the house until we came up with a name that was available as a dot com.
I was on GoDaddy for hours going through every combination possible like, does this work? Does this work? No, no, no. Relentlessly, for hours we just sat outside on the park bench, in the dark, going through every single word possible. And when it became apparent that all the English words were taken, we jumped to, “Hey, since this is origami-inspired, let’s look at Japanese words.” Then I just started mashing words together — and that’s how Soarigami was born.
When Soarigami was available, it was like we struck gold. We immediately snatched soarigami.com and all the misspellings of soarigami, too. In Japanese, ‘sora’ means sky, and ‘gami’ means grace. The word Soarigami means to soar the skies with grace. The stars couldn’t have aligned any better. We even have our own Collins Dictionary entry.
What are you doing right now to market your product to get it out there?
I think I need help in that area. We have all the social handles, but we can use help with SEO. People like dedicate their lives to it. I’m sure there’s like some specialist at GoDaddy who does that?
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What obstacles did you face as a startup, and how did you overcome them?
I’m sure they were the same obstacles as anyone bringing an invention to market: people not taking you seriously.
There were many logistical issues, especially with timing. We launched Soarigami as a sketch and an animated video that I created. We didn’t even have a physical product. We thought it would take six months to a year for anyone to notice us — but it exploded overnight.
It was apparent that the armrest war was a heated topic, and Soarigami became a universal language. It’s challenging to work backwards to deliver product when there is such strong demand for it. We’re rushing to get product out.
Editor’s note: Grace says the rewards of working day in and day out with her spouse to launch Soarigami far outweighed the challenges.
We had a lot of fun working on it, and I think we took marriage to the next level. I think that’s what makes our partnership really great — we work well together. When your partner is your spouse, you have to be careful not to mix business with pleasure, but at the same time it’s nice we don’t have to beat around the bush if an idea isn’t going to fly. It’s efficient.
What strengths do you bring to the table as an entrepreneur?
I’m creative and resourceful, and my husband is strategic and charismatic. We balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses perfectly. At the end of the day, we are both relentless in our desire to see Soarigami take off. I mean, who quits their job, moves in with their parents — with their husband — to create a portable armrest? That’s just looney.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since starting the business?
No new action is no new future, so just do it. For something to happen, you have to get out of your comfort zone. Learn from failure, believe in yourself, and keep going. And be gracious to other people, whether they believe in your product or not. Don’t lose sight of who you are.
Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your startup, Grace, and best of luck as you bring Soarigami to the masses!