As Sophie Trelles-Tvede wakes up, she winces and waits for the familiar tension headache that usually follows. That’s just the price you pay for wearing your hair up on a night out. But relief washes over the student as she realizes there’s no pain. With a rush of inspiration, Trelles-Tvede has an idea: one that could make her a fortune.
By her own admission, Trelles-Tvede was a bit of a party animal in her initial days at Warwick Business School. When she was 18, the young woman traveled to the United Kingdom from her homeland, Denmark, to attend university. And at first, the experience was everything she thought it would be.
Trelles-Tvede revealed what those first few weeks were like at the university in a Technology, Entertainment and Design (T.E.D.) Talk. “I had just arrived there and I couldn’t be any happier,” the student announced in January 2016. “And then not even two months into my degree, I have a crisis.” She realized things weren’t going so great after all.
Trelles-Tvede became completely absorbed in the party culture surrounding her. Indeed, aside from attending some lectures, she hadn’t accomplished anything. This went against her initial reason for attending further education: to find herself. “The only two things I seemed to keep on finding were Red Bull and vodka,” Trelles-Tvede admitted.
The student felt separated from her goals and adrift in a sea of uncertainty. Nevertheless, Trelles-Tvede found her direction again when friends invited her to another party. The dress theme was “bad taste,” where attendees wear outfits made from unconventional items. In fact, this very event put the future entrepreneuse on her road to success.
Following the night out, Trelles-Tvede came up with an idea for an ingenious accessory quite accidentally. Yet despite its simplicity (or perhaps because of it) the concept made her a lot of money. Not only that, but it got her and business partner Felix Haffa noticed in the industry for their significant accomplishments.
After the seed for the idea was planted, Trelles-Tvede recounted in her T.E.D. talk how she acted straight away. “So I immediately pick up the phone and I call Felix, who is my business partner today,” she said. “And I tell him the idea, and he thinks it’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Nevertheless, Haffa was in a similar aimless state of mind as Trelles-Tvede, so he backed up her plan. And no doubt he’s pleased that he did, because the following years have proved a massive success for both business partners. In 2019 Trelles-Tvede revealed some figures indicating just how popular her quirky idea had become.
Just two months before a podcast interview with website OMR, the firm sold its 100 millionth product. “But for us,” Trelles-Tvede continued, “the biggest thing that we do – really what we specialize in – is distribution through mass retailers. Whether they’re upscale or really large retailers, our status now: we’re present in around 85,000 locations around the world.”
That’s an incredible number of outlets, so it’s no surprise the business world paid attention to Haffa and Trelles-Tvede. Initially, however, not everyone took their ideas seriously, as the duo discovered during their degree. Other students didn’t think the invention would ever take off, as Trelles-Tvede told B.B.C. News in February 2020.
“People were initially really dismissive of my product,” the businesswoman reported. “I was laughed off because it was ‘just [an accessory]’. My flatmates would laugh at my Instagram posts about the business, or if I was creating an invoice on one of the uni computers.” It wasn’t just the other students, either.
Trelles-Tvede elaborated, “In my final year, the careers counsellor told me to apply for jobs in H.R. [Human Resources] after she found out that I wanted to work solely on my business.” Nevertheless, the student’s continued work on her invention saw interest growing at an undeniable rate. Indeed, you may even be familiar with her creation yourself!
The business expanded to such an extent that when she left university Trelles-Tvede was earning $6.6 million dollars profit a year. And by the time 2016 rolled round, even the naysayers surrounding the enterprising young pair couldn’t doubt their financial acumen. That’s because Trelles-Tvede and Haffa featured in prestigious business magazine Forbes’s list of the top Under-30 European entrepreneurs.
“That’s when people started taking us seriously,” Trelles-Tvede told BBC News. It was also the moment when she and her partner took their business strategy to a whole new level. They started to look at the bigger picture and sought to get their product to even more consumers. But just exactly what was it Trelles-Tvede had invented?
If you have or have ever had long hair, you’ve likely heard of it. Maybe you even own one but don’t know the success story behind such a simple concept. Hair ties were the idea that made Trelles-Tvede rich, but they weren’t just regular accessories. No, she’s actually the co-founder of the Invisibobble.
Trelles-Tvede described the product in more detail during her OMR podcast. “In its simplest form, Invisibobble is a better version of a regular hair tie,” she said. Then she went on to describe its purpose. “What we were striving for was how to create a hair tie that doesn’t leave a mark in your hair.”
In doing so, Trelles-Tvede also achieved another desirable goal: Invisibobble products reduce tension headaches. And while the unassuming coil-like hair tie is so widely distributed, you’d be forgiven for not noticing it. That’s the very reason the inconspicuous little accessory got its name. So how did the entrepreneurs build a business from the ground up?
To begin with, the co-founder revealed during her T.E.D. talk that starting Invisibobble was comparatively cheap. “Four thousand dollars, that is it,” Trelles-Tvede said. “So let’s look at a breakdown of where these four thousand dollars went. The first thing we had to do – once we had the idea – was look for a producer.”
She also explained that thanks to online connectivity, a lot of her initial investigations into getting a prototype were free. “We found that producer on the internet, so that was for free. We then very quickly realized we need an agent to communicate with that producer. We found her on the internet as well.”
The first thing Trelles-Tvede actually purchased was image editing software Photoshop so she could make a logo for Invisibobble. After that, while searching for an online store to host their future product, the young students discovered the ideal website. “Shopify is a lovely website,” Trelles-Tvede described. “[It] allows you to put your own online store on there, absolutely for free for a trial period of 14 days.
The majority of the duo’s finances actually went on building up their stock. This was at the end of a nine-month period which had been mostly spent researching and prototyping. Trelles-Tvede’s investigations all indicated that the resources and knowhow she needed were to be found in another country: China, to be exact.
Trelles-Tvede wanted to make her product out of plastic, as she told OMR. But she and her business partner couldn’t do it all themselves. “We figured out quite quickly that it’s very labor-intensive and that’s the first thing. The second thing is that the real know-how… is actually in China.”
So after ordering a batch of prototypes, the students approached the experts in their desired field. “If [we want] our product to be perfect,” Trelles-Tvede continued, “we then need to speak to the professionals. And who are the professionals for hair? Hairdressers.” This period really helped to shape Invisibobble into the product we know today.
“We spent nine months going to hairdressers and so on gathering all sorts of feedback,” the entrepreneuse elaborated. “We also had 25 different colors, 15 different variations of packaging. Anything you wanted, we would give it to the hairdressers.” They eventually narrowed these options down to create a consistent product.
The enterprising students decided to keep things simple: they designed a transparent box to hold the Invisibobble. For Trelles-Tvede, this was a vital choice, as she explained to B.B.C. News. “The packaging was so important to me,” she said. “I wanted buying an Invisibobble to be a fun experience – like buying an eye-shadow palette, rather than toilet paper!”
So how did two people who had no previous experience in the business industry make it onto a Forbes list? During Trelles-Tvede’s T.E.D. talk she addressed this very issue, stating that you don’t need to be an industry professional. You simply need an idea, the motivation and the desire to see it done.
“We did not have a basis of structure or distribution to go on,” Trelles-Tvede said. “What we did have though was a vision, and that was to brand a hair tie so that it is associated with a lifestyle.” This, she explained, was the secret to selling the Invisibobble in a variety of outlets.
Not only did the Invisibobble reach shelves in hair salons, but also pharmacies, fashion stores, cruise liners and airlines. “And what that allowed for us,” Trelles-Tvede continued, “was for us to get a period of essentially exclusivity in those outlets. We really had time to build our brand and establish ourselves in those markets.”
Their strategy proved sound, and the business partners now run a successful company with over 100 employees worldwide. But how the Invisibobble came into being may surprise you – it has the humblest beginnings. In fact, it originated from an unlikely source Trelles-Tvede discovered on that fateful night she attended the “bad taste” party.
“In preparation for that I was really excited,” Trelles-Tvede told her T.E.D. talk audience. “I put on a horrendous outfit, some over-the-top makeup, and I was about to leave the door. [Then I] realized, hey, I didn’t do anything with my hair.” As luck would have it, Trelles-Tvede’s student housing was antiquated.
The young entrepreneuse continued, “Then I remembered I had one of these old telephones with an old telephone cord. And I thought, well If I unplug that and tie a knot in it, that looks kind of like a hair tie, doesn’t it? So that’s exactly what I did.” Then she left for the party.
Presumably Trelles-Tvede enjoyed herself, although she can’t remember the specifics. It’s actually the following morning that stands out more in her recollections. She said, “So I wake up with a telephone cord still in my hair, and the first thing that occurs to me is: I don’t have a headache.”
Unless you have long hair, this probably won’t mean much to a male audience. However, the businesswoman explains that it’s quite a prevalent problem for long-haired women. Not only does a conventional hair tie left in place for an extended period result in an undesirable kink in your hairstyle, but all that pressure isn’t good. The tension often results in headaches.
“That is something I suffered with almost every day,” Trelles-Tvede admitted. “So there I am with this big telephone cord in my hair and I walk over to the mirror. And I take it out, and although I have a kink in my hair, it’s significantly less than it would be with a normal hair tie.”
“And that is it, that’s where the idea was born.” Trelles-Tvede said. And the purpose of her speech is to actually encourage enterprising people to buck traditional business trends. She says that her story is a good example of how someone can be successful despite a lack of experience and financial backing.
Indeed, Trelles-Tvede wanted to let people know that she’d learnt three things when it comes to her business experience. The first is that it’s surprisingly cheap! “It has become cheaper than ever before to start up your own company,” she explained. “Like, cheaper than it was ten or 15 years ago.”
The entrepreneur’s second lesson was that you shouldn’t worry if your idea is overly simple. She reported, “The product does not need to be complex whatsoever to succeed, believe me.” And the Invisibobble is a great example of how such a simple idea can be effective both practically and financially.
The last nugget of knowledge Trelles-Tvede wished to impart is something we covered briefly earlier. It’s that you don’t have to know anything about business to break into the market. She believes that if you have an idea you should take yourself seriously instead of adhering to established business norms.
Sticking to a traditional mindset can stamp out good ideas quickly, Trelles-Tvede said. “Had we been industry insiders and experts, we might have set ourselves this psychological limit,” she described. “[We might have] thought: maybe there’s only so many outlets we can sell our product in. And maybe there’s only so much branding you can do for a hair tie.”
Trelles-Tvede concluded, “There is nothing wrong with a traditional career path. In fact, it can be so great for so many people. What I am saying is this: if it is your dream to someday start your own company, run your own company and work towards that every day, then consider taking the shortcut… Start your company now while the risk is still low.”