This unknown hardware startup already has a distribution deal with Brookstone

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on January 10, 2014

From The News Desk

There's one hardware tech startup at CES not stuck in the windowless basement of the Venetian. You've never heard of this company. It hasn't raised money from VCs and didn't do a high profile crowdfunding campaign. It's helmed by a first time founder, and hasn't even started shipping its prototype.

And yet -- this company has already struck a deal with Brookstone to sell through Brookstone stores, and it has a coveted spot in the Convention Hall, surrounded by big name brands. It's one of two products Brookstone has chosen to feature at its booth, even though Brookstone itself didn't develop it.

It's essentially the sweetest deal a hardware tech startup could hope for at the giant trade show.

So how did iTOi founder Hernan Giraldo do it? Sheer CES ballsiness.

The iTOi uses reflective lens and an audio tunnel so that users can video chat with someone on a tablet and still make eye contact with them instead of awkwardly looking down. Giraldo had been developing the iTOi device for three years, moonlighting as an entrepreneur in the nights and weekends outside his day job at Cisco.

In doing market research, Giraldo decided that Brookstone would be a good fit for the brand, so he started cold calling and emailing Steve Schwartz, the Brookstone VP of merchandise. He had no success reaching him. Then, as luck would have it, a secretary revealed that Schwartz would be at CES 2013, which Giraldo had already planned on attending.

Giraldo strolled up to the Brookstone booth, palms sweating, and requested Schwartz personally. He was sent away because Schwartz wasn't around, but he didn't give up. After a few hours he headed back and once again asked for Schwartz. This time, the merchandise VP was in and told Giraldo he had exactly fifteen minutes to try to impress him.

With the clock ticking, Giraldo pressed play on a professional two minute video he had invested in that described the product. A quit descended over the little booth, and then Schwartz broke out into a smile. He loved the concept behind the iTOi, and told Giraldo to come visit him in his New Hampshire office as soon as possible.

Thus a deal was born. Over the span of the last year, Brookstone worked closely with Giraldo in designing the final product to fit its customer brand. Then, they invited him to showcase the iTOi as one of only two Brookstone devices displayed at CES 2014.

It's not a bad lesson for a founder: Never be afraid to pitch the big guys.