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If and when you decide to take the entrepreneurial leap, you will need passion, lots of energy and a depth of market insight to make the business a success. STAND DESK’s CEO Steven Yu has all those characteristics and that is partially why his new product and company have been so successful. That along with determination and the willingness to take on a lot of risk. The reward: an affordable adjustable standing desk. In our latest “People Who Rock the Web” series interview, we had the chance to ask Steven about his journey and experience. Find out what sparked the idea, what benefits there are to standing desks, tips on how to adjust to using them and general business advice he’s learned through the development of STAND DESK.
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1. Who introduced you to the idea of a standing desk?
Before my motorcycle accident, I knew little to nothing about standing desks. In fact, the only time I ever used a fixed position standing desk was to check my email on one of the free computers at my gym. Ironically, I remember hating the experience because mentally I was so used to sitting while using the computer.
That all changed while I was doing my MBA in Beijing, China. One of my best friends and roommate at the time, Ryan O’Donnell, introduced me to standings desk by creating a makeshift desk himself (actual picture below). He used it for a month and lost 10 lbs. This sparked an obsession in me, and ever since that day, I was hot on the trail of understanding how something as simple as standing more could help someone become healthier, without making other major lifestyle changes.
I still remember that day clearly. I came home and saw Ryan’s makeshift standing desk next to my normal sitting desk, and I starting thinking to myself, “what a strange person… why would you want to stand all day? It just didn’t seem normal or comfortable.” Later on that night, I asked Ryan if he was feeling sane and why he used my whiteboard and fan box as spare parts for his creation. Ryan told me, he read somewhere how sitting is the new smoking and that standing is better for you. It made sense, but it still didn’t seem practical to stand all day long. I thought nothing of it until a month later, I noticed drastic changes in Ryan’s health, happiness and productivity. He was raving how about much better he was feeling and how all of these improvements were happening without exercising, dieting, or changing anything else in the rest of his daily routine.
Obviously I was intrigued and the rest is history.
2. What have been the biggest challenges and what lessons have you learned?
Not having enough cash. In an ecommerce business, where cash is critical for growth (i.e. funding R&D and inventory, team building, website and shopping cart development, and sales/marketing), it’s extremely difficult to bootstrap a company even after receiving $649k in Kickstarter pledges. In fact, after deducting Kickstarter fees and cost of goods sold (COGS), we barely had enough cash to purchase more inventory, let alone invest in our infrastructure. Our margins were also so thin because we were offering the Kickstarter community a STAND DESK at near costs while underestimating shipping and logistics costs. So with the clock ticking for our backers, cash flow became a serious issue.
I tried to get a loan, but since we didn’t have a 2 year track record, banks wouldn’t lend to us. I talked to private lenders, but they wanted ridiculous interest rates, plus equity, which just didn’t make sense. I asked friends and family, but no one I knew personally had the capital. I tried looking into government grants, but there weren’t any natural fits and the turnaround time was too slow. I even tried an equity funding website, but things just didn’t pan-out. It seemed every direction I took, I hit a brick wall.
Then I realized something, which became one of my greatest lessons. Sometimes it’s best to take what you have and make the best of it, instead of looking for outside help. Instead of trying to find outside capital to purchase inventory, I artfully convinced our raw material suppliers to give us aggressive payment terms. Instead of working with contractors and consultants that charged in full, I found professionals excited about STAND DESK and bartered our product for their services. Instead of paying our vendors by check, I mandated them to accept my credit card to not only receive up to 5% cash back points, but also extend our payment terms. Instead of focusing on purely online, low ticket B2C sales, I aggressively went to startup CEO events and started selling, selling, and selling and was able to pick up several 50+ desk orders, which solved our cash flow issues in the short term.
I was living and breathing the crash course on how to bootstrap a crowdfunded startup.
3. Do you have any tips for people who are new to standing desks or looking to make the switch?
My best advice to first time standing desk users is to first focus on building the habit of frequent sitting and standing with the minimal amount of discomfort. To accomplish this, follow these 3 simple steps:
Buy a High Quality Anti-Fatigue Mat
During the first month of standing, there’s definitely a transition period for your body. Many people may experience knee, hip, lower back, and heel pain. This is usually caused by your body simply not getting used to the pressure on your body parts caused by prolonged standing. A high-quality anti-fatigue mat significantly relieves this pressure by 30-40%, making the transition period significantly more pleasant. So start with an anti-fatigue mat.
Take it Slow
For the first month, do NOT force yourself to stand longer than you feel comfortable. This is extremely important because if you force yourself to stand too long you start feeling pain. Personally, for the first 2 weeks, I only stood 10 mins at a time. Then, 4-6 months later, I naturally increased my standing to 1-3 hours each period. When either sitting or standing, your body will naturally give you discomfort signals. When you feel these signals, then simply change positions. So listen to your body and take it slow.
Move, Have Fun & Dance
The key to health is constant movement, so when your standing, blast some upbeat music, then when the spirit moves you don’t be afraid to shake, bump and get your groove on! It’s super fun, great for your health and makes work more exciting. Embrace more movement in your work routine. If you’re working from home, walk to the kitchen and grab a glass of water often and if you’re in the office, walk over to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an email. So regardless of our work setting, enjoy the flexibility of standing and keep moving, have fun and whenever possible, dance a little 😉
4. What are some key health benefits of a standing desk?
There’s several, here’s a few:
Improved Energy Levels
This is probably the #1 improvement that our customers mention, especially after lunch. We’ve all been there, we eat a big lunch and sit back at our desk and… BAM! All you want to do is put your head down and take a nap. That problem is definitely not as bad when you’re standing.
My roommate is a great example. He lost 10 pounds simply by using his standing desk and without changing his diet or exercising patterns.
I personally started sleeping like a rock after using my STAND DESK. For someone that suffered from insomnia for several years, this was huge! What I realized later was sitting at my computer for over 12 hours a day was not giving my body the exercise it needed in order to get tired. Ironically enough, using my STAND DESK to stand a combined 3-5 hours a day fatigued my body just enough to knock out at night.
People randomly message in and say how happy they are to have the freedom to press a button and stand. They’re dancing more at their desk, they have a new toy to show off to their friends, and they feel they’re doing something good for themselves.
Improved Focus and Stamina
Supporters have told us that when they’re trying to meet a deadline, raising their desk has mentally and physically helped their focus.
Increase in Creativity
Raising the desk and standing has helped many of our customers with creative problem solving. This is because simply standing at your desk allows your body the freedom to move and pace around, which resembles looking at a problem from many different angles. So in the same way that you often need to step back to see the whole picture, freeing yourself from the confines of your chair will do wonders for your creative flow.
5. Have you had Big Corporation success in switching From traditional to standing desks?
Every month we have small companies changing out all their desks to STAND DESK. For Small and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the tendency is to change one entire section or floor and see how their employees like them. Just last month we had one San Francisco tech company switch out 2 of their major floors and we’re now shipping another 50 desks for their New York office. So it’s great to see companies making the move towards improving their office spaces.
6. Who had been your business inspiration?
Wow, great question! There’s so many famous entrepreneurs that come to mind like Steve Jobs, Mark Cuban, etc., but the one person who was my greatest inspiration was one of my best friends: Mike Zhang of Airsoftmegastore.com. He came from an immigrant background, like myself, and at the age of 15 convinced his parents to invest their life savings (est. $10k) into selling BB guns online. Five years later he grew the company to tens of millions in revenue, then sold to a private equity company. Mike taught me how to be fearless and instilled the mental fortitude needed in order to endure the hardship of an early stage startup.
The first year of designing the first STAND DESK prototype, I burned through all my saving and was $30k in debt. I was “homeless” for almost two years, and would live on a friend’s couch until I got kicked out. My food budget was $5 a day. I developed a medical condition that caused me to lose hair, and be in daily pain, and I couldn’t even afford to go to the doctor and get the medication I needed, so I just dealt with it. My spirits were low and every day I found 10 compelling reasons why I should quit and get a “normal” job. But every time I was ready to throw in the towel, I called Mike. I told him all the fears that I had, e.g. “what if competition comes after me… what if… what if…” and to all my fear, he would reply with a compelling story of how he faced all of those problems while building his company and somehow he still came out on top.
Through these stories I learned not to fear what may or may not happen in the future, which can be paralyzing, but to push forward no matter what condition and deal with problems as they come.
7. What do you think is the future of Standing Desks?
I believe within the next 20 years, automatic standing desks in all work environments will be the standard. In fact, in one of the happiest and most productive countries in the world – Denmark – it’s a requirement by law for all companies to provide standing desk for their employees.
In the U.S., we see more and more companies catching onto the benefits of creating working spaces that promote health, happiness and productivity. One of our small business clients started a standing competition at work where they incorporated fitbits with their STAND DESKs. The winners were given rewards that were then donated to a charity of their choice. It’s stories like these that motivate us to keep building our brand and product offering.
8. how does STAND DESK plan to evolve and grow with the category?
We have big plans to evolve and grow with the market; however, I’m not at the liberty of publicly announcing our new product developments. However, I will say, we have several new product releases scheduled for the next 12 months. So stay tuned, it’s going to awesome…
9. What’s your favorite feature of STAND DESK and why?
Our desks are so simple and easy to use, which I love, but my favorite feature has got to be our bamboo tops. They look stunning, and on top of that, you can write on the desk with dry-erase markers. That’s right, you can use them like a whiteboard which is so cool! You’ve got to try it for yourself to see how fun and useful it can be for your daily work routine. Check out this photos that one of our fans sent in a few weeks ago… amazing isn’t it?
10. Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes. You rock! 🙂 It’s exciting to see people get excited about the STAND DESK movement. We know people want to live healthier, happier and better lives and our first year proves this. To date we still have not spent even $1 on marketing and all our sales are through organic traffic and referrals.
It’s amazing to see people taking control of their lives through small easy steps like standing more. And it inspires me to know that companies are starting to invest in their employees and listen to the undeniable statistics that healthier and happier employees lead to better work.
Powered by the belief and trust of the crowd, we’ve only just begun our journey of making the world a better place one STAND DESK at a time 😉
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Steven Yu on Fox News
Want to see Steven Yu live in action? He was interviewed by Melissa Francis for Fox Business Network where he talked about the Stand Desk Kickstarter campaign, global expansion and shows how the desk works. And be sure to check out our full review of Stand Desk for more details on this life-changing product.
Inspiring story right? Thanks again to Stand Desk’s Steven Yu for taking the time to share his story with us. He definitely rocks the web!
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