Neptali Figueroa of Duel Drinkware

I met Neptali through the Chicago music scene; he managed bands who were good friends of ours, including Scotland Yard Gospel Choir and Brighton MA. As he mentioned during our conversation, his unique experiences as a designer, band manager, and talent buyer are the perfect for an entrepreneurial life.

Tell me a little bit about the drinkware. What it is you make?
Duel Drinkware is a design company to make Drinkware.  My background is in architecture and design, but my work history has been the music industry.  It has been hard for me to get a job in the traditional design sense because I haven’t done structured/traditional design in such a long time, work-wise. The work I have done is in poster and web design — things that don’t really showcase “design” capabilities for architecture or product design.  So my work history comes from being a music buyer, manager, and booking agent.  I now am a buyer for hard goods for a Fortune 500/publicly traded company.

Through my work in buying, I realized I could afford to design glassware. It doesn’t cost much to get a mold for glass like it would for other materials, it makes the sampling process a bit easier. The cost is in the hundreds, not in the thousands, which allowed me to put in an investment of $600 and get my own designs produced.DD204 - Chicago Glass

It’s also a much cheaper way to catch mistakes. Only after I had my first set of samples did I realize my design had a flaw. So I paid for the mold, created the samples, and then found out about the flaw. Thankfully it was very low risk to find this error. It’s one of those things where you end up learning from your own experiences as an entrepreneur. In every business there are checks and balances to prevent future mistakes, they come from constant learning and going through each of your own cycles.

In addition to glass, I have a contact from India who works with this beautiful mango wood and showed me a goblet that they had designed. Everything they create is handcrafted, so I was able to design and create a very unique item that we call a Whiskey Goblet.  We sent off our design, had it produced and now we have a goblet, a stemless version, and shot wood cup.

How far along are you with the business? I think you tried Kickstarter?
The first thing I did was to legally get registered as an entity through the federal government, which cost very little. Now, what costs money is to go through the state, to get your retailer’s license.

Quickly after we did that, we had our first purchase order from a Chicago bar called Galway Bay that wanted 300 glasses for promotional use. After that, I started designing a little bit more. I then realized “You know what? I’m sitting on these designs (the Whiskey Goblet) and I haven’t released them to the world.” That’s when I decided to do a Kickstarter campaign. It went great. We were funded in seven days.

Wow funded in a week? That’s awesome!
It has absolutely kick-started the company, which is just what it is supposed to do. That money has helped me not only pay for the product we promoted, but it also allowed me to establish a relationship with UPS. Now I’m able to ship all samples/items through UPS.

All the things that are necessary for me to grow as a bigger company, that’s what I’ve been lining up. We also lined up a partnership for freight.  Freight is the most important thing in my business because it allows us to get all my goods in from China, India, wherever it is that I’m ordering from. Now that I have freight worked out, I just lined up a packaging company to get my boxes. The next step is to get these designs packaged properly to pitch them to stores. I am putting in place the infrastructure to deliver all these orders.

Did you know how to do any of this stuff? Did you know how to ship freight and get a retailer’s license?
I learned a lot through the company I work for, and how to get stuff done. But while the work I do helps, at the same time it’s all logical. How are you going to get an item from India to Chicago? Well, it’s going to have to come on a boat. If the vendor can’t do it, if they can’t deliver it, then you have to go and source the company that is willing to work with you on such a small scale to get your product in.

Did you only sell only one item on Kickstarter?
Yes. Right now we’ve only done the goblet, but we’re designing a new line. (I keep saying “we,” but it’s just me.) There are two glassware items in production right now. One is called Dr. Nick’s Witches Cure Drink Set which is a full, round glass that balances so it doesn’t tip over.  The second one is the Nothing But The Best Drink Set. It’s our complete glass line: decanter, wine glass, champagne glass, martini glass and a coupe glass.  Still in development, but it looks great.Side-glass

We’re also working on a bamboo version of the goblet. The wooden goblet is such a special thing. It’s handcrafted. It’s made out mango wood.  But it can get pricey for a massive account like a Jim Beam or somebody like that. We’re trying to source it out of China in bamboo. If we can drive the cost down, we can produce 100,000 units for somebody like Jim Beam.

Did you do the website yourself too?
Yeah, but I’m looking to outsource it. The other thing I’ve learned, which is the hardest thing to learn, is that you can’t do it all yourself. You need to start outsourcing things. So as an entrepreneur you need to figure out What can I do? and What can be outsourced?  You need to save your time. Although you have a lot of time, because you’re the one in charge, it’s better for you to outsource some things that will take over your day.  Things like illustrations or web design, these are things that are needed, but outsourcing is probably your best bet to get it done right.

But for now, I did it myself; it’s hard to justify allocating money on a website when I need to spend it on product development.

How do you find people to help? Let’s say you want a logo design or somebody to do a website design?
That’s the beauty of my experience as a band manager, you meet so many different people. I know everybody that does anything.  My advice would be to go and talk to people.  Chances are, someone you know is friends with someone that can help.

You can pre-order the whiskey goblet at www.dueldrinkware.com!

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