Jon Sumroy is the founder & CEO of Mifold, the world’s top children’s grab-and-go booster seat which is currently available in the United States at Target, Nordstrom, Walmart and other large retailers. Jon has a history of developing, launching and growing businesses, categories and brands. He is also the former senior executive at large companies such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson.
JON, could you please tell us a bit about you and how you started/created “mifold”?
Sure, my name is Jon Sumroy, I am a father of 4 and the creator of Mifold. I started my career as a pharmaceutical chemist and then worked as a marketer, senior executive and CEO in several multi-national consumer goods companies on three continents. The inspiration for Mifold came from my own experiences. I was living on the East Coast, in New Jersey in 2000. At the time my kids, who were still little, were often in other people’s cars: carpooling with the neighbors, with their grandparents and often in taxis. Their booster seats were too big and bulky to always carry from car to car and often, we’d just cut corners and they would go unprotected. I wanted to have a car seat that was so small and portable that the kids could take it with them, in their school bags and always be safe, no matter whose car they were in. Unfortunately, nothing existed. Ten years later, I saw an article saying 50% of kids in the USA travel in carpools without the correct booster. I dusted off my idea and started working on it as a hobby. Two years later, I’d set up the company and we launched the Mifold grab-and-go booster seat.
In what way does your brand revolutionize the car seat industry?
Mifold is a safe and comfortable alternative to a traditional booster. It is so small that is always available to carry from car to car. Some people use mifold all the time, and it is primarily used on the 25% of child car journeys that a child takes unprotected as their regular, bulky booster seat is not available. In this way, by being the most advanced, compact and portable booster seat ever invented, mifold has disrupted the world of traditional car booster seats that are designed to stay in the car. Mifold is more than 10x smaller than a regular booster without compromising on safety. My vision was to have a car seat that was great for carpooling, grandparents, taxis, ride hailing, car sharing, rental, vacations and other times when a regular booster was not available. mifold can fit into a glove box, a child’s school bag, a hand bag, hand luggage, etc. Meaning the children can be protected in every car, on every journey, every time.
What were the main challenges you faced early on in your venture?
There have been a number of challenges that we have had to face, and the issues have changed as the business has grown. Initially, our biggest challenges were both technical and mechanical. We had a beautiful design for the mifold seat, however developing a load restraining mechanism, robust enough to withstand the forces in a crash test was an extremely difficult task. We eventually solved it by using aircraft grade aluminum and sophisticated super-tough plastic polymers; with outstanding results. As you would expect, car seats is a highly regulated industry and I had no experience of the different regulatory environments. Car seat regulations can be confusing, and are not the same in every country. I worked with some of the leading and most experienced child passenger safety experts and we developed different Mifold versions depending on regulations and labeling requirements in each country and Mifold is now regulated, and meets or exceeds the standards, in every country on earth that alows backless child restraints. Today, the challenges we face are more related to running a successful, ongoing business. We have sold nearly three-quarters of a million mifold seats in more than 150 countries. In the USA we supply weekly to Amazon.com, BuybuyBaby, Target, Walmart and many local and regional stores. In the rest of the world, we have distribution partners with a presence in fifty countries. To achieve this my team has to understand and overcome challenges in all these areas: design, engineering, manufacturing, quality compliance, regulatory affairs, supply chain, logistics, shipping, import, warehousing, marketing, sales, after sales service, customer service and a load of financial, HR and operational issues. And we have to manage this within our resources and cash flow.
“Surround yourself with talented people – you do not need to be an expert at everything, just ensure that you have the right people around you. ”
Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Do you believe people are “born” entrepreneurs?
I came to be an entrepreneur quite late in life, compared to the typical twenty-something start-up founder. I spent most of my career in the safety of large corporations with a regular salary and all the other perks. Mifold started as a hobby and I never saw myself as an inventor and entrepreneur: leading my own company was not part of my plan. So, I do not believe that it is necessarily in my blood. Many people have ideas, and it is the entrepreneurs who take those ideas and work on them. If you are not “born” with the natural entrepreneurial confidence, then I have shown that you can be “re-born” to give it a go. My approach was to understand the areas where I am not strong, and I built a team of advisors and employees to fill those gaps. The key to our success with Mifold is dogged determination, passion, single-minded focus on the goal, a supportive family and lots of luck!
Looking back, what did you learn and what would you have done differently?
When I started Mifold, I had no experience as an inventor or with design, engineering, manufacturing, quality compliance, regulatory affairs, supply chain, logistics, shipping, import, warehousing and more… So everything has been a learning curve for me. What I learned was to be bold and confident to ask for help, which helped me learn more quickly. I would not have done anything differently. My journey with Mifold was the correct one to get me from the seed of the idea to a multi-million-dollar global business. The many, many mistakes I made were a necessary part of this process. However, I make it a point to be conscious and to learn from the mistakes, so that I really try not to make the same mistakes more than once.
What can we expect to see mifold and the rest of your company doing in the future?
Already 2019 promises to be a very exciting year for the company. The original range of Mifold grab-and-go booster seats continues to grow. And in addition to Amazon, Target, BuybuyBaby and Nordstrom, Mifold is entering nearly 1,000 Walmart stores in the USA, and into many new countries around the world. We will also be launching a brand-new product in the summer, Hifold by Mifold, the highback grab-and-go booster. Hifold brings real innovation to the highback booster category: its innovative design folds down to fit in a convenient carry bag, making it ideal for moving from car to car, storage and taking on vacation. Finally, we spend a lot of time planning how children will travel safely in the future. We are living through a transportation revolution with a move from car ownership to car usage with the likes of Uber, Lyft and Grab becoming the main transportation choice for many families. In this new mobile, urban, asset-lite world, we need child restraints that stay with the child, not in the car. We will invent more ultra-compact, portable car seats that are safe, comfortable, quick and easy to use. You should expect to see more new and innovative products from us in the years to come. Our vision is for a child restraint for every child, in every car, on every journey, every time. How exciting is that?!