Customer Of The Month: Behind The Scenes With Prong

Author: Matthew May | Categories: People

Prong1

Jesse Pliner is the determined co-founder of the innovative consumer electronics company, Prong. A Pittsburgh native, Pliner caught the entrepreneurial bug early on in life and his passion was fueled when his path crossed with that of co-founder, Lloyd Gladstone. After many nights of big ideas and brainstorms, the two decided to take a risk and launch Prong in early 2014. That risk paid off. Here is their story:
Your team has grown considerably since we first met you – but how did it all start?
My partner, Lloyd Gladstone, and I had a big group of friends from the same college, though we were all there at different times. One weekend several years ago, Lloyd invited a few friends to his family’s house in the Hamptons…and who can turn down an invite to the Hamptons?  So I joined, and Lloyd and I hit it off.
We immediately found ourselves lost in conversation about the world’s problems and how to solve them. We knew we wanted to start a business, but we did not have a particular idea in mind. So we just started hanging out multiple times a week with whiteboards talking about possible apps and businesses. At the time, he was in law school and I was in finance.
I remember coming up with the idea for Prong while sitting in class. I told Lloyd about my idea, and Prong started shortly after.
How long did it take for you to bring your first product from concept to reality?
The beginning of our very first idea (the PocketPlug) actually started about four years ago. Since we’re in the business of hardware, there was a considerable period of time where we were conceptualizing prototypes, developing the actual product, and figuring out what to source and where to source it from. Then we launched an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign in March of 2013, raising $130k in just one month.
After our Kickstarter success, I moved to China for a while to set up our supply chain. I hired a guy to be my feet on the ground and then finally, we shipped our first product, the PocketPlug, in 2014.
Wow – so many questions. Let’s start with the Kickstarter campaign. What was your approach to Kickstarter that lead to such success?
Well, to be honest, there were a lot of things we did wrong when launching our Kickstarter. But, we knew that we had a great idea that solved a problem so many identified with. So rather than trying to wing it, we invested some money and created a partnership with a great PR Firm who created a video for us. We posted the video (actually featuring a completely fake and non-functional prototype) and before we knew it, we were garnering huge amounts of support.
Incredible – now how long did you live in China? And how did that adventure come about?
Ha – I am not sure we have time for the entire China saga, but long story short, the team we worked with continued to make promises that were never delivered. After countless, frustrating trips, I made the plunge and moved over there in October, 2012.
The first day in China, I went right to the factory and asked “what is the schedule?”.  We had promised to deliver our kickstarter product in August, and it was now October. I had to be pretty stern with the team and timelines. Each day I would talk with the team and set deadlines/timelines for what needed to get done. I worked hard at building a relationship with them, and eventually, it worked out. 
Was this the biggest hurdle of bringing a hardware product to market?
It honestly seems every stage was a different hurdle: finding an engineering team that could deliver, managing unforeseen changes and roadblocks, and ensuring all of the pieces (literally) come together at the right time. The past 24 months has definitely been a rollercoaster. It’s funny when we think back on the fact that we came up with the PocketPlug when we had no idea how to make product. Sometimes it feels like a miracle that we are here today – but that is the magic of entrepreneurship. Sometimes, despite the odds, you build something that works. 
Prong-AcuityYou have talked about your first product, the PocketPlug… what is on the horizon for Prong products?
I’m excited about our new products. We just started shipping the PWR case within the last few months. This is one of our most elegant, functional cases and includes a battery as well as a plug. We realized after our first model that no one liked the clunky, big cases.  So the PWR has a simple rubber edge and a sleek, clear back.  With this design, the case just slides into the battery connecter – no cord charger needed.
It sounds like you have your work cut out for you with the development and distribution of Prong products – do you have any daily habits that help you keep it all together through the day/week?
I wake up around 5am or 6am and walk my baby, beast of a puppy. He is a one-year-old, 75lb golden doodle named Griffin (and also the face of our customer service team, griffin@prong.com). After our walk, I answer a bunch of emails from China before they head to bed. Then I’ll flick on the news and get ready for work.
Griffin and I take a 7am train from Williamsburg to Brooklyn to the dog park across the street from the Prong office. He plays while I catch up with more emails. Im helped by a Starbucks Venti Cappuccino with 1 pump of vanilla and side of banana nut bread …warmed up of course.
I try to browse Google news to make sure I’m caught up with the latest, then spend the rest of the day reviewing our portals, overseeing product development and checking our bookkeeping to see what came through.
It sounds like keeping track of the financials is a really high priority for you every day.
Absolutely.  When starting a business, the last thing you are thinking is “how can we keep our books reconciled?!”.  Honestly, when other entrepreneurs ask us for tips, it always comes down to “just sign up for bookkeeping…right now.” Because let’s be honest, the last thing you want is to be sitting there at year end, having to reconcile your books. That’s an unfortunate misuse of valuable time.
AcuityComplete has allowed us to stay on top of our finances and ahead of the game. They have been an unbelievably valuable partner in helping us grow. 
We have loved working with you and are so proud of your growth. But enough about bookkeeping, since you have such a busy day – what apps could you not live without?
  • Asana –  for project management
  • Slack – for communication
  • Bank of America
  • Seamless – for food delivery
  • Waze – for traffic
  • Spotify – my go-to for music
  • American Airlines
  • Candy Crush
  • FitBit – staying healthy is very important to me
  • Whistle – because I love my dog
And finally… What’s the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Doing this. Every day is a challenge…but I am all in. And that is a risk that is undeniably worth it.

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