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November 2, 2017

Innovating the travel-beauty game

Regina Ye ’18

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As I clicked the “Launch Project Now” button, the Kickstarter website for my creation went live. I sat back in my chair and thought about how my journey to this moment — the launch of my ZIRUI Go Case — all started.

The stirrings of an idea

I have always been an entrepreneurial person, a curious and active thinker, bubbling with ideas. My mother and father are entrepreneurs who started ventures in hospitality and construction, respectively, so I grew up fascinated by the process.

Mirror detail within Regina Ye’s ZIRUI Go CaseMirror detail within Regina Ye’s ZIRUI Go Case

Despite my background, I lacked the courage to take the final step to push the idea out of my head. I have long heard the Thomas Edison saying that “genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Or for entrepreneurs, one percent idea and 99 percent execution. But through my first two years of college, I was not convinced that this was true. I told myself that my idea, my passion — which stemmed from years of traveling and making observations all over the world — was not good enough.

The summer before my junior year, I participated in an eye-opening tech internship, funded by Mount Holyoke’s Lynk initiative, at a start-up company in Berlin, Germany. I was part of the hustle, energy and chaos, right in the center of the European start-up scene. I experienced firsthand the thrill of shipping a product, making connections between a product and its users and discovering how many aspects there are to a successful business venture. That summer, I decided to take a new class on campus in the fall called Entrepreneurship: Idea to Prototype.

Blog_Ye_ZIRUI go_toolsbrght.pngThe path to a prototype? Paved with tools.

The perfect push

I had a feeling that the course could be the nudge that I needed. Taught by Rick Feldman — entrepreneurship coordinator and lecturer for the interdisciplinary minor in entrepreneurship, organizations and society — the class was about taking an idea and developing it into an actual business venture.

Here was my idea: I love beauty products and I love to travel, but the two never seem to go well together. Why is it so difficult to travel with personal care products? Liquids tend to leak, powders tend to break and today’s toiletry cases are either too bulky or fragile. None of the options on the market are space-efficient and truly travel friendly. I thought of Legos and Rubik’s Cubes, which stay compact and flexible while maximizing their efficiency as a single versatile object. What if I could make something that was compact and easy-to-use, that would keep my liquids from leaking and look sleek?

During the class, I pitched the idea to my classmates. I think it was an instant yes from my classmates because as Mount Holyoke students, they understand so well what it means to be a busy woman. I started interviewing more people outside of the class and even outside the school to get feedbacks and ideas, and the positive responses from girls and guys nodding their heads in agreement made me believe ZIRUI was a worthwhile venture. Pronounced “zee RAY,” ZIRUI is my name in Chinese and, conveniently, means smart beauty.

Blog_Ye_ZIRUI go case_1crp.jpgThe ZIRUI GO Case, available in black and dusty rose

From prototype to pitch competitions

After the semester ended, I pursued an independent study with Professor Feldman, where I worked further on developing the product while also earning academic credit for my work. I spent a lot of late nights in the College’s Makerspace, finishing CAD models and using 3-D printers to create the prototypes. Nothing can describe the joy of first seeing my idea, fresh off the plate from the 3-D printers, sitting on a napkin.

After talking with hundreds of customers, I realized that people want something functional and durable, but also compact and stylish. The ZIRUI Go Case is a magnetic travel toiletry case that consists of four TSA-approved (30 ml/1 oz) modules. Three of the modules hold liquids and one is for little miscellaneous tools, such as Q-tips and cotton pads. The product is unique in that it combines style and functionality, which is why we were able to file for a patent.

A look inside the ZIRUI Go Case, which features four magnetic modulesA look inside the ZIRUI Go Case, which features four magnetic modules

The spring of my junior year, Professor Feldman recommended that I participate in some local pitch competitions to get more involved in the start-up community. In doing so, I met many helpful mentors and friends. This networking eventually led to a fruitful summer at Valley Venture Mentors’ Collegiate Accelerator program, where I got to work on the product full time and made incredible progress that made the launch possible.

When you hustle hard enough, amazing things happen. Over the summer, I also got to talk to the founders of CircleUp and a big provider for CVS, and these established entrepreneurs were all surprisingly approachable, friendly and extremely generous with advice.

Travel in style — minus the spills.Travel in style — minus the spills.

The launch

We launched ZIRUI’s first product, the ZIRUI Go Case, November 1 on Kickstarter, and I could not be more excited. It has been such a fulfilling ride, and I don’t think it would’ve been possible without Mount Holyoke’s support and encouragement to pursue not one, but all of my interests. Being at an inclusive women’s liberal arts college has provided me an environment to think and act fearlessly and create outside the box. Make that outside — and inside! — the case.

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Regina Ye ’18 majors in computer science and is pursuing a Nexus concentration in global business. Her favorite place to relax and unwind on campus? The Equestrian Center, where the horses teach so much about leadership and life — it’s all about team spirit and balance. As a passionate traveler who hails from China and loves exploring the world, Ye’s guilty pleasure is buying more beauty products than she could ever consume. After returning from a trip to Texas for a tech conference, and finding that her shampoo had spilled all over the contents of her suitcase, she decided that enough was enough. It was time to innovate the travel-beauty game. One year after assembling a team and developing a product, Ye is ready to launch the ZIRUI Go case.
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