Take a good look at your smartphone. What do you see?
Probably a phone case, a protector that is hiding the beauty and design that went into the device.
One San Diego company is taking the minimalist approach, but still providing military-grade protection for phones.
Utomic, formerly known as Bumpies, developed a cellphone protector called the Utomic Edge System that consists of four adhesive attachments on each corner of the phone called, naturally, corner protectors
“One of the things that we all hate is having a case on our phone,” said Victor Chung, 35, one of the company’s three founders and its chief human resources officer. “It just hides the beauty, it hides the aesthetics of the phone, the functionality of the phone, it adds bulk, it adds weight and none of us on the team enjoyed the experience no matter what case.”
The company currently sells online and through retailers and distributors in Europe, Canada and the Middle East. This year the company launches retail and distribution efforts in the U.S. and more aggressively promotes its online presence.
The protectors are designed for Apple iPhones (4/4S, 5/5S, 6S/6S Plus) and Samsung Galaxies (S5, S6). While the focus is on retail sales overseas and a push into U.S. retail, Utomic has seen an increase in its online business. Utomic fulfills 200-300 orders a day online, a vast difference from December, when it averaged 20 online sales a day. The company’s first-quarter goal is 1,000 online orders a day now that it’s branching into the U.S. market. The cost of a Utomic Edge System is $34.99.
Partnerships With Industry
Utomic, founded in February 2014, works out of the offices of San Diego-based nonprofit Partnerships with Industry in Mission Valley where Utomic employs a handful of people with developmental disabilities to package and assemble the product.
Utomics is planning to scale to 10 employees at each of Partnerships with Industry’s four locations (Mission Valley, Chula Vista, Santee and Oceanside), about 40 in total. Partnerships with Industry was planning to grow from packaging 1,000 units of Utomic protectors weekly to 4,000 or 5,000.
Utomic’s packaging is recyclable and printed with soy ink because soy ink requires fewer chemicals to break down than regular ink. The factory that makes its packaging is powered by wind energy and takes part in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a certification that promotes forest management through protection of water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and species at risk.
They also keep production local to reduce transportation waste. The product itself is manufactured, packaged and assembled in Southern California, both in Los Angeles and San Diego, with all of the vendors and partners also in the U.S.
“Many suppliers told us just to do everything overseas as it would be cheaper,” said CEO/co-founder Michael Chapp, 37, via email. “When we started our business, the unemployment rate was high and we wanted to do our part in creating local jobs. After many months, we found some great partners who share our value of ‘doing good while doing well.’ ”
Looking for Openings
The company is in discussion with major carriers such as Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile to put its inventory in local franchises by the end of February. The company is also partnering with a larger distributor who distributes product to other distributors and retailers. Once the team expands the product and its brand across the country and into big-box stores, it will begin to look beyond Utomic protectors to other mobile accessories. The company also has engineers who are testing qualities of cellular products to put the Utomic stamp of approval on and pass through online or sell on its website through a partnership.
Prior to Utomic, Chung worked as a human resources relationship manager for TD Ameritrade, an online broker for online stock trading, long-term investing and retirement planning. Chapp formerly was COO to Lupoli Cos., a commercial real estate firm in Merrimack Valley, restaurant franchising, investments and more; and a senior business strategy and development manager for Hewlett-Packard, a global information technology company.
Alexander Karp, 32, the inventor and chief technology officer, worked as the future products marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard.
Utomic is self-funded and cash-flow positive, Chung said. Most of the company’s revenue has been put back into the business to fund its growth.
The founders say it’s hard to quantify the costs of local production compared to offshoring because of the benefits of being involved in the process and increasing the speed to market, what they say is essential for a startup.
“At the end of the day, always going back to the customer, understanding what they need and kind of what value we can bring to them, that’s key,” Karp said. “So that’s one part where we’ve had quite a bit of benefits in being a small company.”