James Snoddy, YEN Member Insights, April 2016

 

James Snoddy, YEN Member Insights, April 2016I’m originally from Rochester, NY. I am an alumnus of the University of Maryland, College Park, with a degree in English literature and of the Johns Hopkins University, with a Masters in writing.

I’m the inventor of the Jammock (it’s a hammock for your Jeep or truck), own, and run the company. Jammock does over $200,000 in sales each year worldwide.

I’m a former U.S. Army infantry officer, following seven years of enlisted service as a Military Policeman. I served as a Stryker Platoon Leader for 16-months in Iraq and led over 480 combat patrols and raids, finishing my tour with zero U.S. casualties under my command, which I regard as my greatest achievement. I’ve served the U.S. in every major theater of the Global War on Terror: as a military policeman guarding the Pentagon crash site following 9-11; as a prison guard at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; as an infantry officer in Mosul, Baghdad, and Hamam al-Alil, Iraq; and (very briefly) as a Cooperative Biological Engagement Program project manager in Kabul, Afghanistan.

 

I led a project reducing biological threats in Afghanistan for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. I’m a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. I’ve previously served in the Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, as a regional affairs officer for the Maghreb. I am a former Presidential Management Fellow. I also served as an intern at the White House and for the New York State Attorney General.

I am a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge among other decorations, and am an Eagle Scout. I am currently serving the United States overseas.

Who/what are your major influences?

COMFORT! I was influenced to create the Jammock because I like Jeeps, chilling, and reading. The Jammock allows me to do all three.  

My stepfather, Jerry Erban, was a salesman all his life. I’ve been in the Army, in government, I don’t have an MBA, I don’t have any sales experience except for selling Boy Scout Christmas wreaths. My stepdad was there as a consultant and confidant to help me focus my efforts and gain confidence. He’s old-school sales. He’d snailmail to 150 Jeep dealers in Florida old-school. He’s coffee mug with no lid on the dash of the Oldsmobile to make a sales call old-school. He taught me when to take a deal, leave a deal, make a deal. He gave me confidence in my product and ideas during the dark times. Between him and my wife, they’re the reason the company exists.

Jammock, what is it? How does it work?

It’s a hammock for your Jeep (or truck bed)! It’s a very simple invention that improves on another (as so many great inventions do). We took the 1,000 year old design of the hammock and engineered it to fit into the space over a Jeep and in a truck bed. Once installed, it does not have to be removed! It is six-products in one: Jammock, load-bearing soft-top, windjammer, lounge chair, overhead storage, and sling-seat off the vehicle. The Jammock will hold over 350 lbs and will not interfere with OEM tops.

What was the hardest part of bringing your product to market?

The color. Can you believe it? The color almost sunk me. When I first started, I ordered 100 Jammocks in “Sahara Tan” because that’s the color my Jeep was. No one—let me repeat that—no one—wanted to buy a tan Jammock. Everyone kept saying they’d buy one if it was black. I was more of the Henry Ford mold at that time “They can have any color Jammock they want as long as it’s tan!”  and I wasn’t willing to budge because I’d sunk a few thousand dollars into the Sahara Tan production run. Eventually, the market budged me, but the real push—and the saving grace of Jammock as a concept and as a company—was my genius wife, Nadia, suggesting that I do a pre-order round to finance the next production run of our newly created JammockBlack. When pre-orders opened, we sold a ton the first day and paid off the factory. Sales have increased substantially since then.  

On the eve of launch, after months of R&D followed by testing and evaluating the Jammock, I had a nightmare: will it fit in a JK (the current model of Jeep Wrangler)? I had the previous generation model (TJ) and that was where I’d conducted all the testing—including fitment. I went to a Jeep dealer and told him that I was interested in buying a new Jeep, but only if it would fit my awesome Jammock. We got the Jammock installed only to find that the TJ had a lot more room up top than the JK. I had to cut three inches off the width of the Jammock to make it a universal fit.

For the JammockTruck I had to build a replica of a truck bed in my basement to check size, fit, and installation since I don’t own a truck. We fit several people at once on the Jammock during human testing. I conducted further testing after I sold my house, but I still didn’t own a truck, so I had to rent a Zip Car (cars and trucks by the hour) near the Pentagon. The truck never left the parking spot, I was there conducting tests. It was a pain.  

Other than that, time. I have a day job. I have a wife. I have a kid. I have to run. I have other interests. There’s lots of demands on the time of the small businessman. But you chip away at it and get it done when you find time. You end up becoming very efficient in everything you do in order to finish everything. You have to be or you will not survive in this business.

How has social media and the internet changed how you get your product to the end consumer?

I hired Erica Taylor as the voice of Jammock. She runs the Twitter feed and handles all the press, blogs, ad infinitum. Erica has been with Jammock for almost a year and my sales have doubled since then.  

The internet hasn’t changed how I get Jammocks to Jeepers—because I never had a business model without it. The website is my main vehicle for sales, both retail and wholesale. There are some brick-and-mortars, but it’s mostly internet. I would not be in business without—too much overhead to lease a store. My fulfillment company is fully integrated into the website and they take care of filling orders. I’m at the point now where I can commit my time to thinking strategy. 

What is the marketing technique that you find most effective when reaching your audience?

Getting butts in Jammocks. It’s old fashioned, it’s labor intensive, but it is, pound for pound, the best way to make a sale. The Jammock does not look all that comfortable. It’s tough to see how heavy-duty it is, how well-built, how high quality all the components are. People that sit in it tend to love it forever.

What should we look for from Jammock in the future? Any new products you are working on?

The JammockTruck is still in the nascent stage. But it’s going to revolutionize the motel and taxi industry. What?! The JammockTruck, either in good weather or with a truck bed cap will enable you to sleep in your truck. Driving cross country and don’t want to spring for a motel? Sleep in your truck. At the bar and had one too many? Save $$ in legal fees and sleep in your truck. 

After building your own business, what advice would you give someone chasing a new idea?

Take advice but make your own decisions. You are in command and thus are responsible for everything your unit does or fails to do. You’re the one who will pay or profit based on the decisions you make, own them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but own them as well, learn from them, and move on. Model your business off of other successful businesses. There’s no need to re-invent anything. Tried and true are tried and true for a reason. Don’t be afraid to spend money—but don’t buy into the sunk cost fallacy either.  

Most of all is this: procrastinators and liars do not last long as entrepreneurs. You will live and die by good customer service. A lie may save you a few grand in the short run, but it’ll burn you in the long run. You have got to get off your butt and execute or your idea will remain just that.

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