April Feller, chairman and cofounder of BGZ brands was recently awarded the Carol Campbell Inspiration Award from Women in Consumer Technology (WiCT).
Below, Feller discusses starting her own business, overcoming obstacles, the importance of family—both at work and at home.
RESI: How did you get your start in the CT industry?
APRIL FELLER: Back in 2002, when the first PDA’s and handhelds were emerging, we pursued a small screen protector business under the name of ScreenGuardz. That business expanded over the years to become BGZ brands today. It has been an exciting ride.
RESI: What is your goal at CES 2019?
AF: Every year at CES, we sit down with current and new partners. Consumer tech is constantly changing and innovating. In order to be on top of our game, we have a steady stream of new products and accessories to fit the latest devices. This year, we have some exciting changes and will announce new products in each of our three brands. We are also rolling out a new look for our flagship brand BodyGuardz. I love the direction we are going, and I can’t wait to show the industry what we have been working on.
RESI: What do you believe will dominate the tech conversation in 2019?
AF: As connected home products continue to gain momentum and voice assistants continue to grow, 2019 will be influenced by more brands implementing voice integration into products and eCommerce.
RESI: What was the greatest obstacle you faced in creating your business and how did you overcome it?
AF: Managing growth and finances. Looking back, those first years were so hard—and many times we didn’t know if we would make it to next month. We personally funded the growth with our 401k and using our home as collateral. I feel that, because of our limited personal cash, it did hinder how fast we were able to grow and expand. We made a firm and conscious decision to be honest in all our business decisions so vendors and distributors knew they could trust and rely on us. I really feel that that trust opened doors to longer lasting business that kept us in the game.
RESI: BGZ brands have earned many Top Workplace awards. How do you create a positive working environment for your employees?
AF: We are a family business in more ways than one. Not only did we start in the basement of our home, but, as we have grown, we have kept that mindset. We’ve learned that the best investment you can make is in finding and retaining good team members. As a small business, we recognize the impact each and every employee has on the success of this company. We see and treat them as family, because they are the core of our culture. Some critics say that you shouldn’t get close with your employees. This is opposite of our philosophy. We spend a lot of time at work with each other, and we want our employees to know how much we care about them.
One of the fun things we do with our employees and their families is go on a annual trip. We have been to Disneyland, Hawaii, and on a couple of cruises. I really enjoy spending time with the company. I believe the way to create a positive environment is to have fun and work hard—people want to be trusted and will be more productive when they are motivated and empowered.
RESI: What is your leadership style and how do you influence your employees and others in the industry?
AF: I believe in establishing expectations, providing empowerment to team members, and then holding them accountable to achieving the objectives that we have established. Also, I believe that you should hire people who are more skilled in their areas of expertise than you and let them run. Our goal is to create products that are compelling and exciting to the industry. We strive to be the industry leader in protection.
RESI: How do you hope to inspire the next generation of women in tech?
AF: Every woman is innately unique and can offer something no one else can. My husband and I have very different, but complementary personalities. Working together and playing off each other’s strengths, we were able to build a strong business. So, I would say—rather than trying to fit a status quo or imitate others—find what you are best at, develop those skills and talents, and bring something new to the table.
The sky is the limit. Don’t limit yourself by thinking small. Sometimes it is difficult to balance home, family, and work, but I love the fact that I am a mother of six fantastic children and “nana” to seven darling grandchildren—as well as being able to work beside my husband. Life is good.