|Combining entrepreneurship and philanthropy with new product|
|Written by Deborah Stone|
ShareTwo years ago, when Sean Agatep set out for Southeast Asia with five of his Gonzaga University buddies, it was to travel and experience a culturally rich region of the world.
The WHS alum (Class of ’06) never thought he’d end up living there, but after venturing around the area for several months, he and his friends decided to put down roots in Guangzhou, China, the third largest city in the country, located about 80 miles from Hong Kong.
“The opportunities and potential for growth were just too much to pass up,” says Agatep. “There’s so much opportunity here, it’s often hard to focus on only a few ventures. But, we are young and energetic and we definitely have the drive to make things happen out here.”
The group of men eventually established a company, F2E Ventures, and initially focused on sourcing iPad cases and running a U.S.-based e-commerce store.
They’ve since moved on to other projects such as importing American made wines, particularly from Washington and Oregon.
“Our vine venture, Royal American Wines, came to light after a friend we played pick-up basketball with started asking about American wine,” explains Agatep. “He was a local wine distributor here in Guangzhou. We brought some bottles back from the U.S. and hosted a couple tastings to get a feel for the palate. We then had a small shipment of wine sent over that included labels from Airfield Estates, Kestrel Vintners, Yamhill Valley Vineyards, Ardiri Winery and Torri Mor.” He adds, “There isn’t a strong presence of U.S. wine here, but the quality is definitely on par and above the Italian, French and Spanish wines available. The Chinese consumer is still new to wine and wine culture, so there are great opportunities for growth. Our quality-to-price ratio has definitely been in our favor with the high-end hotels and restaurants here. Those establishments definitely appreciate high quality wines.”
The company is looking to expand its import operation to include other products, especially U.S. consumer brands looking to enter the Chinese market.
Agatep notes that Chinese consumers have a great amount of admiration and respect for foreign-made items, especially Western brands and companies. Recently, the company developed its own designer iPhone case, which it has begun selling via its e-commerce store under the name of QT Case.
The cases are distinctive for their “bunny ears” style and currently come in three colors, which speak to different personality traits. There’s “Vixen” (red), a leader that’s always on the lookout for new cutting-edge ideas; “Summer” (yellow), energetic and spontaneous with a lighthearted spirit; and “Breezie” (blue), imaginative and creative.
“The bunny ear cases are tremendously popular over here,” comments Agatep, “and they served as our initial inspiration. Some friends we met over here were headed back to Eastern Europe and mentioned that all their friends loved the bunny-ear cases. I couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunity to start this trend in the States. I came to the conclusion that if we didn’t do it, someone else would and I’d regret it the rest of my life for not taking a chance on it.”
Agatep and his partners brainstormed ways to adapt the product to the U.S. market and did research, with the help of a Gonzaga U. marketing professor, to determine target market age range.
Then they made a sample batch of about 200 cases and brought them back to the U.S. last winter. The response, he says, was amazing, providing clear evidence that the product had potential in the States.
When they returned to China, the group worked on fine-tuning the cases. They received assistance from a friends’ company, Source-Find Asia, to determine the best factory in China for production.
“The first official QT Case line landed in the States the first week of May,” comments Agatep. “Our site went live shortly thereafter.” He adds, “We’ve seen a great amount of interest from group-buy sites like nomorerack.com and we’re solidifying the final details to be featured on at least four group-buy sites in the near future.”
Though the goal of the company is to be financially successful, it also aims to be philanthropic when it comes to worthy causes.
“We want to give back,” says Agatep. “With everything we are trying to start up out here, we have learned that a little goodwill goes a long way. Companies with integrity always seem to stand the test of time.”
To this objective, Agatep and his partners are donating 10 percent of all sales of their iPhone cases to the Susan G. Komen “For the Cure” Foundation.
They have set a donation mark of $10,000 by the time the Race for the Cure holds its Portland event on September 16. “We’re a little less than 10 percent to our goal, but we’ve only been official for about a month,” adds Agatep. “I have high hopes for July and August. Once we get the details finalized with the group-buy sites and other online retailers, we should see rapid growth towards our goal and will hopefully go above and beyond.”
Though Agatep and his partners had wanted to be involved in charitable giving at the get-go, their last e-commerce venture (iPad cases) had too low of a margin to be able to make the commitment. This time around, however, they understood the “sourcing game” — what to look for, what is worth spending money on, where to save money, etc. — so they were smarter with their costs and were able to build in a charitable donation within their pricing structure.
The bunny design case is only the first of many different designs the company plans to create and thus far, the response to the product, as well as the charitable cause involved, has been very positive.
As for challenges, Agatep comments that from a production side, getting the right product manufactured in China can be a difficult task.
He remarks, “Our experience from previous projects has definitely helped this time around. But, like everything else in China, the process takes much longer. The right balance of assertiveness and patience is a necessity.”
He adds, “I’d say our biggest challenge now is publicity and spreading the word — getting the cases to the masses.”
For Agatep and his partners, the sky’s the limit. He notes that South China, where he lives, is a major manufacturing hub, with many of the world’s products produced in this region.
He says, “The same factory making cases for the States is also making cases for Europe, Africa, South America, etc. It’s a melting pot of culture which creates a breeding ground for new ideas and products. Soon to come for us will be iPhone case designs of cats, dogs, bears, birds and of course we’re always open to suggestions!”
For more information about QT Case, visit www.QTCase.com.