Crushing it as a College Student – Interview with John Hatfield

Episode 26

On today’s episode David and Ken interview John Hatfield, a college student at Iowa State University that has successfully secured a utility patent and is about to launch his first product online.  John has entered his product into and won several entrepreneurial/elevator pitch style competitions.  This is an episode you will definitely not want to miss.

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John 0:00
I’ve entered into five elevator style pitch competitions now. And it’s given me $24,000 in capital to get my business started, which is more than enough to pay for the mold and some of the other startup costs that I’ve had.

David 0:15
If you make the decision that you want to be, you know, you want to work for yourself, you don’t want to work for the man, then starting the day you graduate, it’s not the way to go. You know, starting early, and everybody makes mistakes, and just get those mistakes out.

Intro 0:31
Welcome, everyone, to the firing the men podcast, a show for anyone who wants to be their own boss. If you sit in a cubicle every day and know you were capable of more than join us, this show will help you build a business and grow your passive income stream in just a few short hours per day. And now your host serial entrepreneurs David Schomer and Ken Wilson.

David 0:55
Ken we just got done with a really good interview with Jon Hatfield and a little background on this. JOHN is a college student. I was State University. He has a utility patent. He’s about to launch his first product online. He’s won a bunch of elevator pitch competitions. You mentioned that he has gotten startup capital of $25,000. And he is a sophomore in college. And that is awesome. I look back to when I was in college, and john certainly has his things in order a lot more than I did when I was a college student. And so, what do you think about that episode? JOHN is a super

Ken 1:33
sharp kid, you know, sophomore at Iowa State and, you know, has a product now he’s got a patent going on and he’s got he’s got a lot of stuff going and I think it’s really inspiring to see a youngster entrepreneur, right, just crushing it. Like you mentioned, you know, at 19 as a sophomore in college, you know, I was a shit show. I did not have my stuff together. I like I was was kind of flapping around not knowing what, what to do. And yeah, to see somebody that driven and focused on a young age is really inspiring.

David 2:07
Absolutely. And I would say to the listeners, even if you’re not a college student right now, there was a lot of really good nuggets of information in there. And it’s just, it’s really inspiring to see someone who’s young, and a go getter who’s taking action. You know, a lot of people talk about, boy, I’d like to have my own company boy, I’d like to invent something. And here’s an example of someone that started his junior year in high school, and is about to launch his first product. It’s just it’s a really inspirational story, one of my favorite interviews that we’ve done. Welcome to the show. JOHN. We’re excited to have you to get things started. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

John 2:47
Yeah. So thanks for having me on guys. I’m a sophomore at Iowa State. I’m an entrepreneurship major. And now I’m about I’d say two weeks away from launching my first product and yes, I Just been going through my first year of college and trying to start start a business at the same time.

David 3:06
That’s awesome, let’s back upand kind of start at the beginning of your story. When did you decide to launch this product? When did the idea come to you and tell us a little bit about that?

John 3:16
Yeah, so this all kind of started my junior year of high school, I took a entrepreneurship class. And we were given a lot of just like freedom in the class to do, basically, whatever we wanted, we could create pretty much anything. And it was a style class like that. And I was having this problem. I thought, Well, why don’t I just try and make something that’s gonna solve this problem. And I started maaking these products by hand and it was kind of a tedious, time consuming process. And the process was really messy is I’d heat up the plastic to make them and it smelled terrible and it was really smoky. But no I just started making these products. And I didn’t really enjoy the process. But once I started using them, I was like, wow, I might actually be onto something here. These are a lot better than what’s currently being offered. So I just kind of have been sticking with it since then.

David 4:16
Excellent. So you were in this entrepreneurship class in high school. And somewhere along the way, you’ve started a process for a patent. When did that start?

John 4:25
Yeah, so that started after I had developed the product and used it quite a bit and kind of when I came to the realization that I had actually figured something out, that could be sellable. And I had a teacher that had a little bit of experience with patent work. So he gave me some advice on what I should do. And I originally had written a patent by hand and I do not recommend doing that. But for anyone that’s thinking about getting a patent, go find a patent attorney because it ended up working in a waste of money, because I had to refile. So. Definitely try and find a patent attorney to do it for you.

David 5:06
Absolutely Lesson learned Ken. And if you listen to the podcast, Ken and I are to say, I feel like we’re just a giant book full of mistakes that we’ve made. But you know, we’ve learned from them and that’s, that’s how you get better. So that’s awesome. So you graduated high school, you had filed the patent. What’s next?

John 5:25
Um, so the patent is still pending right now. It usually takes about two years to really hear back for if it’s approved or not, but it does give you protection on your idea. So I started just trying to figure out what I want to do with the business. And meeting you David and having you mentor me Give me a lot more like direction on where I wanted to take the business because, at first I wasn’t really sure. Figured I’d just be making all these by hand but I was able to find a manufacturer and Someone can make the mold for these products for me and just kind of got the ball rolling on an actual business. Awesome, awesome. Now I want to get into the mold process, but just to kind of cap off the conversation about the patent. So some lessons learned in I’m thinking about myself as a listener. And actually, I am in the process of testing a couple different products that I think I’m going to be filing a patent in the next year. And so, you know, obviously you mentioned don’t handwrite it, but any other lessons learned or advice for people that that may be filing the first patent,

I would say start with a what’s called a provisional patent. It’s a cheaper fee. It gives you a year of protection, to kind of decide if you want to end up filing for the full patent. It lets you make your product and give you some time to test it out with protection on it. And then when you go to file your full Full patent, definitely, if you’re someone younger, or a college student, try and find someone that’s associated with maybe your university or something. That’s what I did. And I was able to get it for about 70% discount. So that was a huge help for me.

David 7:17
Now, you’d mentioned that you’ve got a mold produced. And I’d like to talk about that a little bit. I think a lot of times when people are manufacturing a unique product that doesn’t already exist, that is something that kind of seems scary and seems expensive. And they may not have an engineering background, they they may not know how to draw design in CAD. Walk us through that process. How is that going?

John 7:42
Yeah, at first, it was really like a daunting process and it was really hard to try and find someone that would be willing to manufacture a mold for me, because it is a different product. There’s not no one’s ever made a mold for it yet, but Luckily, I found someone in industry that was willing to work with me. And yeah, I just kind of had to explain what my product was and the few different tweaks I had to make differently. And it’s actually been a pretty smooth process after, after the first little bit.

David 8:16
Okay, where did you find somebody to make the mold for you?

John 8:20
I’ve just searched on Google different manufacturers, and I actually found a manufacturer for a product that was similar to mine, and contacted them to see where they got their mold from. And that’s how I found the company that I’m using for my mold.

David 8:36
Awesome. Ken, do you have any products that that require a mold?

Ken 8:40
Yeah, I do have a I think two or three of them that have a mold. Okay. And yeah, that’s a an interesting process. But yeah, once you find somebody that’s got experience in that, then it’s it’s not too bad. But But searching might take a little while, but it sounds like you found somebody that’s local or are they overseas.

John 9:01
They’re located in Alabama. So not super local, but they are in the United States. So that’s been nice. There hasn’t been a language barrier or anything.

Ken 9:10
Yeah, no, that’s great.

David 9:12
What are your goals for this business?

John 9:14
My goal for this business is to turn it into something that I can do full time. I don’t really envision myself going out and getting a job and working for someone else, I have a hard time seeing myself doing that. I really want to turn this into something that I can do in the future. And kind of like a short term goal after I launched my first product would be to roll out three or four other products this year, I have some ideas that are kind of just like spin off. So the one that I have right now, and I’m excited to start working on those two.

David 9:45
Very nice, very nice you know that the title is podcast is fire the man and the reason for that is people generally go out after college and get full time jobs and decide that they don’t like it and then they want to fire the man. It sounds like your strategy is is kind of Avoid the man in general. And I think that that’s, you know, when I look at a college student in the college student life, you do have some time there to set yourself up for success post graduation. And I think if you, if you make the decision that you want to be, you know, you want to work for yourself, you don’t want to work for the man, then starting the day you graduate is not the way to go, you know, starting early, and, you know, everybody makes mistakes, and just get those mistakes out of the way. And learn from them and get better and, you know, you started as a freshman, by the time you graduate, your companies can be four years old, and it’s going to be you know, it’s not gonna be pre revenue anymore. And hopefully, you’ll set yourself up for a nice gig after after college.

John 10:48
Yeah, that’s that’s the plan.

David 10:51
In your journey, up until this point, what’s been one of the biggest obstacles that you faced,

John 10:55
I think the biggest obstacle I faced is not having a lot of experience in business and knowing all the different possibilities that I could take my business in. When I was first making these, I was just making them by hand, using the microwave in my garage to help make them. And I kind of just had the vision that I was going to continue to make them by hand. And that was the only way until I hired more people to start making them by hand for me. And I didn’t really realize that there was all these opportunities where I could have different manufacturers making them and there’s a lot of different places you can sell products besides physical retail stores. And that’s just been kind of a eye opening experience for me.

David 11:39
Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s a some something to be said about not doing your own manufacturing. I know I’ve talked on previous podcast episodes, I had a cutting board business, and I really enjoyed making the cutting boards but I was the bottleneck in that business. And it ended up taking a hobby that I enjoyed, you know I get home from work And I knew I had to finish up a couple cutting boards to get them shipped out that that same day or the next day, and it kind of ruined it for me a little bit. And so I think there’s a lesson to be learned here from what John’s saying, in that if you have a product or an idea, just because you know how to make it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the best option. So what would you say in terms of, obviously, when people are making the decision that they want to do the manufacturing themselves? Their thought is, I’m going to save money. But you’ve went out and you’ve got, you know, you’ve seen both sides of it, you’ve manufactured and you’ve went out and found manufacturers for your product, do you think you would be saving money by by doing it yourself?

John 12:44
Initially, you would think that you would be saving money by yourself, but you end up kind of like working in your business instead of working on your business, I guess. And it really just takes up a lot of time that you could be using to expand your business in different ways. Because Cuz you’re focused on the manufacturing,

David 13:02
very nice. What advice would you give to other high school students or college students that have an idea that they would like to build a company around?

John 13:11
Yeah, my advice would definitely just be to go for it. There. I was kind of nervous about it going into my freshman year of college, and I didn’t really seek out all the opportunities right away. But once I got involved, it was definitely eye opening. It helped me grow the business really quickly. And if you just go out and look for different opportunities, that can help you grow your business, I guess just do that. Yeah, absolutely.

David 13:39
Yeah, that was something you know, Ken I’m interested in in your experience. But when I was coming out of high school and into college, I really liked the idea of working for myself. But what held me back was I didn’t know what I was doing. And it’s funny that that’s what held me back because, you know, fast forward a decade, I’ve been involved in business. I still don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing. Right, you’re always learning, you’re always getting better, you’re going to make mistakes. But that I think that holds a lot of people back is I don’t know what the next step is. But John’s a great example of finding the resources to go out and figure out how to do it. Right. I want you to expand on some of the opportunities that were available to you when you arrived at Iowa State. Can you talk a little bit about that?

John 14:23
Yeah, Iowa state has a lot of entrepreneurial resources available to the students. There’s a number of different programs they have, but one of the places I have is the Papa John’s Center at Iowa State. And there’s just a bunch of different faculty that have had experience in starting their own businesses. And once I reached out to them and set up a couple meetings with them, they were like, very excited to hear about my ideas, and they were really willing to help. And it just was kind of surprised me how much help they would be willing to give their students so try to reach out to someone in entrepreneurship programs at your college if you’re a college student, absolutely.

David 15:06
In previous discussions that you and I have had, I have joked that you may be better off just entering into elevator pitch style competitions or entrepreneurial competitions, and never even launch your product. And the reason I joke about that is you have been crushing it in these competitions. So talk about those what When did you do your first one? And what have been some of your more recent wins?

John 15:32
Yeah, those have been a huge benefit for me and they’ve provided a lot of capital to get my business started. I didn’t enter my first one until this February. So because I wasn’t putting myself out there. My first semester. I definitely missed out on a lot of opportunities there. But I’ve entered into five elevator style pitch competitions now. And I’ve won four of them and got second at the other one and it’s given me $24,000 in Capitol to get my business started, which is more than enough to pay for the mold and some of the other startup costs that I’ve had.

David 16:07
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Now are these through your university?

John 16:11
Yeah, they’ve all been somehow affiliated with Iowa State. Two of them have been exclusively through Iowa State students. And then three other ones have been opened, just IO students, and one was opened up Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska students. So, okay,

Ken 16:28
john, can you expand a little bit on on that for the listeners? Like, is it a competition? Are they like scholarships or programs are what does that elevator style pitch?

John 16:39
Yeah, so most of them have been about three minutes in length. They give you three minutes to pitch your idea, explain why you’re going to have a profitable business. And then they just move on to the next person. And after everyone’s done pitching the panel of judges comes back and pretty much decides who they think has the business and then they award just like grant money that you can use to start your own.

Ken 17:05
Yeah, that’s pretty cool. That’s awesome. Maybe that’s Yeah, when your superhero powers is given a three minute pitch.

John 17:12
Yeah, maybe.

David 17:14
I think to our listeners, if you’re listening, and you may be out of college, I would not overlook this point that John’s making. And I say that because there are plenty of elevator style pitch competitions, angel investing competitions. I know. So locally, in St. Louis, there’s the St. Louis arch grants. And it’s very similar. They have a group of angel investors that they give out. I mean, it’s north of like two or $3 million, but they’re $100,000 chunks, where people go in, they pitch their company, they talk about what problem they’re solving or why they’re going to be a profitable entity. And if a panel of judges and you know, one thing I think holds a lot of people back is startup capital, you know, placing that first order ordering your mold, or you name it at starting a company is kind of expensive. And so I think that that’s something that people should look into what’s available in terms of grants or competitions. And, you know, I would add to that, like if you have anything agricultural related like the USDA has a ton of grants. Right now I’m working on a beekeeping product. That’s when I mentioned that I’m working on a patent that’s for beekeeping. And as I talked about, seems like on every show, I’m a beekeeper. And and I’ve been looking into USDA grants and because, you know, bees help pollinate. There are a ton of opportunities out there. So I think that’s, oftentimes when we’re thinking about startup capital, we think about going to the bank, or, you know, borrowing money from a family member, but I think it’s it as illustrated by by John’s 24 K and startup capital. That’s, that’s awesome. What advice would you give to anybody who enters into one of these competitions.

John 19:03
Yeah, I would say just be confident going into it. Show the judges why you believe you have a profitable business. And that’s worked for me and practice your pitch.

David 19:15
What resources have you found most helpful in learning about building a company?

John 19:19
I think the most helpful thing has been mentorship. You’ve been mentoring me for a few months now. And that’s been a huge help to me, and just giving me some direction on where I can take my business. And then also through Iowa State, the staff there that’s helped mentor me and some of the programs and workshops that they’ve provided me, have given me a lot more confidence going into starting my own business. It’s made it seem like a much less daunting task, getting advice from someone that’s been in my situation before.

David 19:50
Absolutely. I think about myself as a professor. And actually that’s that’s kind of my endgame is to retire early. Move to Naples, Florida and drive a golf cart. to college and be a professor there. That’s like, that’s my end goal. But I think about you know, being a professor like giving out tests and homework is, it’s okay. Right? you’re educating. But I would imagine if you had a, you know, a student come in to your office who had an idea, they were excited about it, and you are an entrepreneurial professor, that would be way more exciting than holding standard office hours. And so how have you found when you approach a professor? Do they generally help you out?

John 20:31
Yeah, definitely. They’ve been super engaged in what I’m doing. And they’ll send me emails occasionally just like checking up on how it’s been going. They just like he said, they definitely seem more excited about someone with an actual idea than rather than just giving out homework or something like that.

Ken 20:49
The entrepreneurship programs at universities it’s great to, you know, to hear that you’re in one of those. Can you explain that a little bit? Is it a degree program or is it a four year program? grammar kind of explain what what you have going on there.

John 21:03
Yeah, so entrepreneurship is a fairly new major at Iowa State. They just added it within the last couple years. It is a four year program. And right now, it’s kind of been like a lot of the prerequisite classes like the math, econ English is, but next year, I’ll be able to start taking more in depth, entrepreneurship focus classes, so I’m excited for that.

Ken 21:29
Yeah, that sounds great. Very nice. Do you view being young as an advantage or a disadvantage and then as being an entrepreneur?

John 21:38
Overall, I think it’s been an advantage. I think a lot of people are really willing to work with someone that’s young and ambitious. A lot of people said that they like see a younger version of themselves. And me because they were in my situation years before, but it can also have some drawbacks because there have been a few centuries. Were like manufacturers haven’t taken me seriously because I was so young. And you can work through those things, though. If you are young, just keep being persistent, pester them with some more questions and show them that you’re, you’re a legitimate customer of theirs and that they should treat you like one.

David 22:17
Nice. Yeah, I like that. What do you think? Can you think? Do you think john is at an advantage or disadvantage of being young?

Ken 22:25
I think it’d be an advantage. You have usually more drive. And I just think that also, you can probably play different cards as well. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Like john said, I think it goes both ways. And you have a longevity as well. Right. Like, like, you can go through the learning process and get somewhere a lot quicker, right?

David 22:46
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I would agree with that answer as well. And I think in particular, being a college student, generally don’t have a mortgage, don’t have a spouse or children and I think some of those things tend to make people think about their safety net more. But you know, when you have, you know, your housing taken care of, and you have, you know, 15 hours of classes a week and studying, but you can fill the rest of your time with building a company. I think it’s an awesome time. And, you know, I look back at my time at college, I kind of kicked myself in the butt for not taking action in not that any of my IDs in college were that great, but I think if I could have got some of these mistakes out of the way early, it would have helped me later on down the line. So yeah, I, I would I think we’re all in agreement that, john, you’re on the right track, and you’re doing the right thing. We’re gonna move on to the fire round. And this is the same three questions that we ask all of our guests. What is your favorite book?

John 23:48
My favorite book of all time would be the hatchet by Gary Paulson. I’m a big outdoorsman. So I’ve always thought that book was really cool. Oh,

David 23:57
yeah, that is a good book. And we were Talking before this, you just started reading Ryan, Daniel Moran, zero to a million book. What are your initial takeaways on that?

John 24:08
Initially, I really like it. I’m, I think about two or three chapters into it and it seems like all the material in there. He knows exactly what he’s talking about. It seems like he’s a really knowledgeable person to learn something from. Absolutely,

David 24:24
absolutely. Ken and I are both pretty big Ryan, Daniel Moran fans, so that’s good to hear. What are your hobbies?

John 24:30
I’m a big fisherman. I try and fish just about every day. I like all sorts of outdoors activities. So and I’m also a big sports fan. I love football.

David 24:39
Very nice. And our last question, what do you think sets apart successful e commerce entrepreneurs from those that give up fail or never get started?

John 24:49
I think the thing that sets apart successful entrepreneurs is their ability to just put themselves out there and act on their ideas. I feel like I’ve had a lot of friends And just people I know say they’re gonna do something and they come up with this idea, but they never really take any action on it. And I think the thing that sets apart the successful ones is that they’re not afraid to take action on it and put themselves out there and just go for it.

David 25:15
Absolutely. That’s an awesome answer. Awesome answer. Well, john, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast and best of luck as you start to grow and scale your company.

John 25:25
Yeah. Thank you so much. It was great talking to you. Yes, absolutely.

David 25:30
Thank you everyone for tuning in to today’s podcast. If you like this episode, head on over to And check out our resource library for exclusive firing the man discounts on popular e commerce subscription services that is You can also find a comprehensive library of over 50 books that Ken and I have read in the last few years that have made a meaningful impact on our business, or that head on over to Lastly, check us out on social media at firing the man in on YouTube at for exclusive content. This is David Schomer and Ken Wilson. We’re out

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