Amir Zaki has been a yoga practitioner in Southern California for over a decade. But something was bothering him.
When he used a typical yoga strap for stretching and poses, he found the prop to be clunky, sometimes painful and not helpful.
“In 2011, I was in class working with a conventional long strap. It was awkward . I literally just had the idea for an alternative design right there,” Zaki says.
Zaki went to the store and bought a long strap, traditionally 8-10 feet long with a hard buckle. The extra length tends to get in the way, twisting and tangling. Another design flaw is the buckle that can hurt when it comes in contact with the skin during stretching and poses. Ask any yoga student about the strap buckle clanging on the floor. It’s a loud and unwelcome sound during a yoga class.
“I cut up the strap and sewed it on our home sewing machine. I knew I had a good idea,” he says. He quickly took his product to the next level. “I went into the city and filed for a business license within a week from making that first prototype. I established a website as soon as I could.”
The Infinity Strap™ (patent pending) design is a dual loop with a subtle twist at the center, forming a shape of an endless figure 8, which is illustrated by the symbol of infinity, or ∞. The design serves multiple purposes, making it easy to slip over a hand or foot, helping yogis to form a good grip and distributing the pressure away from the fingers more broadly over the hand and wrist. “I worked really hard to find specific material. We use 100% cotton along with high resistant nylon and rubber with a little bit of a give.”
The Infinity Strap was first launched on Amazon.com. “Amazon is a leveler in the playing field. The fact that people were finding and purchasing our product was a big motivator.” Customer reviews on Amazon rank the product 4.9 out of 5 stars. One poster praised the Infinity Strap as “genius“ with three exclamation points; another found the customer service to be “awesome”.
The Infinity Strap production was literally started in the garage with Zaki and his wife handling all of the sewing, marketing and manufacturing. Zaki’s niece later joined the team and the booming business has been in operation for over five years.
Zaki’s still keeps working at his “day job”. A professor at UC Riverside in Southern California, he teaches art and photography. When asked if he ever thought he’d be an inventor, he has an interesting perspective. “Inventing is like creating art. You have to come up with unique ideas that others have not had. Artists are by definition inventors.”
The Infinity Strap business was self-funded at first. “The thing we had going for us is that our production didn’t require a lot of upfront costs. We did have to find someone to make the material but we could buy in small quantities and test.”
The company turned a profit in 2014 with minimal advertising and marketing costs. “We tried Google paid ads and advertising in magazines. The thing that has really taken off for us is Instagram. It’s a unique community of positive people who trust each other. We have over 35,000 followers and my wife has become our social media guru.” These days, Instagram drives 80% of the sales completely organically, without any paid advertising.
Sales of the strap continued to increase and the company recently introduced a new product. Zaki’s second invention, the Infinity Strap BRIK, another yoga prop, sold out in just two weeks. “We have customers dying for them,” he says.
Zaki knew that he needed extra funds to keep up with demand, increase inventory and fulfill bigger orders. He looked into start-up business loans. “There was nothing available that we would qualify for,” he says. He ended up taking out a line of credit with a traditional bank but it wasn’t enough to reach business goals.
He came across SmartBiz via a Google search. “I’m one of those people that researches and tries to find unbiased reviews. I wanted to find the best company.” One of the problems he came across was that loan sizes were too big. “We didn’t need a million dollars, I was looking for another option.”
He started working with SmartBiz and liked the streamlined process. “I worked with my Relationship Manager the whole time. It was easy and she was very responsive.” Zaki secured a $50,000 SBA loan through SmartBiz in a relatively short time.
Zaki is using the funds in a variety of ways – for specialized products, trade shows and to hire a sales person. “It’s nice to just have money in the bank,” he says.
The future is bright for Zaki. He’s completed a 200-hour yoga teacher-training course and is developing specific yoga classes using his strap. Zaki and his team aren’t just profit driven. Infinity Strap gives back by supporting a variety of organizations and events.
Zaki has a feeling of relief after funding. “I now feel that every single decision doesn’t need to be so tight.”