Say hello to Dr. Rob Yonover; scientist, inventor, and big-wave surfer. He invented SeeRescueStreamer — the military approved orange tail that locates people when they are lost at sea or on land. After building the streamers on his own patio, he faxed letters to everyone and anyone who would listen. This resulted in an article from the Miami Herald and the US Navy went on to test the product — both resulting in fantastic exposure for the brand.
With an average turnover of $20k/month, business is going really well for SeeRescueStreamer. But it’s not just about the money — this product has already saved 4 lives. Dr. Rob Yonover is incredibly proud of the product he invented, and rightly so. But what inspired him to build the technology? And what are his biggest learnings so far?
Who are you and what brand did you start?
I’m Dr. Rob Yonover, scientist, inventor, and big-wave surfer from Hawaii. I invented the military-approved and adopted SeeRescueStreamer for locating people when they are lost at sea or on land. Our target audience is anyone that ventures into the wilderness, – wet or dry – including members of the military worldwide.
The most incredible thing about my invention will always be how it helps save lives. So far the See Rescue Streamer has saved at least 4 lives, and I was able to meet one of the people which was incredible as they thanked me personally. Forget all the money, that thank you was worth all the blood, sweat, and tears!
Aside from our primary goal of saving lives, most recently, a big achievement was that the SpaceX launch carrying astronauts for the first time in 2020 will also be carrying our See Rescue Streamer's.
Even though I can't fulfill my dream of personally going into outer space to complement my inner space travel (2 miles deep in the ocean off Galapagos, I am jacked up to have my low-tech survival gear coupled with the ultimate in high-tech!), this was a very exciting collaboration for myself and the brand.
SpaceX and NASA was targeted May 27 however was postponed due to bad weather. The launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first two NASA astronauts to fly on-board the Dragon spacecraft as part of the Demo-2 mission to and from the International Space Station, which will return human spaceflight to the United States since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.
So a big day for space exploration, and a big step for See Rescue Streamer.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for See Rescue Streamer?
I was flying in a small plane to get to work on a volcano in Hawaii, when the plane started to sputter. I looked down at all the blue water below and realized that no one would ever SEE us if we went down. We would be tiny specks in a sea of blue.
A week later, I flew to Miami and saw the artist Christo’s pink plastic art project, where he surrounded islands in Miami. It was so visible! That’s when the idea crystallized to create and use a long (Coast Guard International Orange color) tail so rescuers could see me – instead of using smoke signals, flares, and sea dye which all fade out quickly. My brother was in advertising and PR, and he helped me finalize my brand; SEE/RESCUE – “You Have to Be Seen to Be Rescued”. The idea being to sell the benefit of the technology.
Describe the process of launching See Rescue Streamer?
I built the first streamers on my patio with my wife yelling at me to “stop playing with that piece of plastic and get a real job”! She later regretted those words.
Once I had a prototype and the patents filed, I started a media/military/government blitz and faxed letters to everyone and anyone who would listen. I got the Miami Herald to write an article about See Rescue and the US Navy to test it, both resulting in fantastic exposure that would help drive all subsequent PR and marketing efforts.
You have to put ‘100 lines in the water to get that one bite’, and I was willing to put in the time and effort (and disappointment) because I knew it was the right solution and that it would one day save lives.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
The customer is always right. So whatever iteration the military or other customer wants, we deliver. Once the technology was fine tuned, we now make sure that it is manufactured to the highest quality as it is a lifesaving device. We also have always maintained the MADE IN USA philosophy, which helps with military and consumer confidence.
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
By leveraging all the military approvals, we were able to get a foothold in the International military survival world where we saw slow but steady growth. You have to be able to weather slow periods, especially in the military/government sector.
On the consumer side, continually using the media to garner validation from a 3rd party perspective has been instrumental, including the latest media coups: ABC Shark Tank appearance and a piece on CBS Innovation Nation. The Shark Tank segment airs repeatedly on CNBC and our sales kick up after each airing.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
The business is going steady today, with our flagship Self-Deploying InfraRed Streamer (SDIRS) providing a high-level auto-deploy streamer for fighter pilots that eject out and need the signal to activate on its own due to their own injuries. Having an extremely high-tech version of a low-tech device has gone a long way to convincing customers of all types to adopt our lifesaving technology — whether they are fighter pilots, everyday boaters, or weekend hikers.
We have spun out other lifesaving technologies, including the LIFE/FLOAT inflatable rescue board, the pocket desalinator, pocket floatation device, and the upcoming water bike powered by fin propulsion. We are constantly approached by investors, however we are remaining self-funded and perhaps could be persuaded into a buyout in the future if an investor wanted to really expand the brand.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
Don’t quit your day job so you can quit your day job! Developing and launching any business takes twice as much time and money as you think, so it’s best to not quit your cash-producing day job until you can. Be true to your vision, but always listen to your customers and make sure that there is actually a market for what you are selling. We all fall in love with our creations but we are not selling to ourselves.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
1) Have your legal ducks in a row (patents/trademarks/incorporation).
2) The customer is always right. Listen to them and pivot your product as necessary.
3) Don’t quit your day job and don’t over-expand your operation – your struggle will likely be analogous to the “tortoise and the hare”. Be the tortoise and keep slowly but surely making progress in a stealthy low overhead manner!
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run See Rescue Streamer?
Social media is powerful, but it also can be a time-suck. Make sure you try them all and focus on the ones that work for your customers. Also, don’t forget about the tried and true marketing technique of getting in front of actual people. I love and hate trade shows, but they are the best ways to meet a lot of critical people on a quasi-even playing field. You both are dressed up and wearing a badge – it is a lot easier to meet them at a trade show then getting through their layers of privacy in their own offices.
*Find full list of tools/platforms at the bottom of the page.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
I try to read everything I can, especially from people that have been in the trenches. I like what Guy Kawasaki (original Apple guy) has to say, any of his books are great. I also wrote a book called “Hardcore Inventing” if you want to hear some of my rants and insights from the trenches.'Don’t forget about the tried and true marketing technique of getting in front of actual people to promote your product. 'Click To Tweet
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
My legal team over the years have always covered my ass when it comes to patents, trademarks, and agreements. It’s always good to have sound legal advice to enable you to sleep better at night. In the overall survival world, Louie Zamperini of “Unbroken” fame was a huge inspiration to me in life and even business as he survived the worst possible scenarios and was able to take things in stride and come out the other side.
For those who don’t know, Louis was a USA Olympian and army officer, who survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber crash-landed in the ocean during the Second World War, before being captured by the Japanese and being sent to a series of prisoner of war camps.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
We are always looking to bolster our outside commission-based sales people. We are not looking for investors, but are always willing to listen to someone that has a buyout plan.