Kieara Johnson had so much trouble keeping her cell phone charged it became a running joke with her friends and family. She even asked to be seated near a plug in restaurants.
“I’ve always been known as the person who can’t keep their phone charged,” says Johnson.
This struggle, and ongoing joke, eventually became a good thing and opened her up to a brand new business that would help people charge their phones on the go.
Johnson and her husband Walter, both Detroit natives, had been living in Texas working in the vending machine business. When Johnson’s mother became ill and they moved back to the Motor City to help take care of her and looked to find a business they could call their own.
Johnson’s problem with her phone was the inspiration for the new business.
First they rented recharging stations and set up at events, but Johnson quickly noticed people had a bit of separation anxiety leaving their phones at the stations.
The decision was made, and in 2016 Charge Bot, which sells lightweight portable chargers, came to life. Johnson became the CEO and project manager.
She and her husband went to a company Shenzhen Domars Technologies to realize and manufacture the unique lightweight chargers that they could sell. They believed Charge Bot was a device that could fix the problems she noticed and experienced and take away the everyday stress.
“It was about not the technology as much as what it can do for people,” says Johnson, who has degrees in computer information systems and business management, which helped her connect with the idea to the new business.
She also did an extensive amount of research. She went to tech shows, talked with friends who were engineers and designers, and took a few trips to Tech Town to pick the brains of a few members of Detroit’s burgeoning tech industry.
The result was three versions of the Charge Bot, a cordless, lightweight, portable, customizable phone charger. There is one for the iPhone and two for Android phones. The one for newer Android phones, Type C, is especially important since there are currently no other lightweight chargers for it on the market given its unique design.
All three work the same way. You charge it at home and then carry it around with you. When your phone’s battery begins to die you plug it in to the phone and get up to an 80 percent charge.
It took just over two and a half years to get the product exactly as they wanted and needed.
Johnson’s husband began selling the chargers to those in need during his Uber and Lyft driving, but the primary way to get the gadget is on the website. While the average portable charger sells for around $40, the Charge Bot goes for $19.99.
Johnson says the hardest part is getting people to come to the site because chargers are often impulse buys for people when they are out and their phone dies.
To combat this, she does a lot of work on social media and goes to vendor shows. She says one woman contacted her after her phone died at the airport and realized she should have bought one at the show.
Selling online and at shows is Johnson’s short-term plan. She has a long-term plan to get more Charge Bots in the hands of those who need it, by going back to what she knows – selling them pre-charged in vending machines.
That means no more long cords, no more waiting at an outlet to charge up, no more downtime at a charging station, no more asking random people for a charger and no more missed calls or emails while waiting for your phone to be charged.
She has already talked to some locations interested in the vending machines including:
- Wayne State University
- Michigan State University
- Embassy Suites on Orchard Lake
- The Pontiac Recreation Center
- City of St. Clair Shores
She has also looked into some of the event locations she and her husband used to attend with their big charging stations as well as Detroit Metro Airport.
Johnson also has a deal with Amazon to sell Charge Bot. She is waiting for a big enough order so they can hit the ground running. The Amazon order should be ready in a few months if things go as planned, but the vending machines are a priority.
All of this being accomplished in two years is impressive. What’s even more impressive is the product has only been on the market for seven months and all the work, hustling and trial and error of sales have happened in less than a year.
Johnson has the Detroit work ethic and is proud to be a part of the city’s renaissance.
“We’re excited to be back in Detroit and bring back the city we are from,” she says, “(We are) excited to be a part of what we see our city becoming.”
Editor’s Note: Kieara Johnson will be among the top 10 honorees recognized at the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) 25th Annual Top 10 Michigan Business Women Awards event on March 28. Register to attend here.
This small business feature is sponsored by Bank of America. To learn more about Bank of America’s many programs and resources for small business owners visit:https://www.bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/business-financing.go.