Najma and Yusuf Jamaludeen are siblings that collaborated to create an innovative laundry product, BasketMate. The duo pitched their product recently on Steve Harvey’s Funderdome. Brandon Andrews of Values Partnerships sat down with Najma and Yusuf after the show for an interview with the brother-and-sister team.
(Najma and Yusuf Jamaludeen with Steve Harvey on Funderdome. Image: The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Lisa Rose))
Brandon Andrews: The BasketMate makes perfect sense. How did you develop the idea?
Yusuf: It was developed by my big sis to help with the laundry responsibilities of her three little girls. Given my hatred for doing laundry, reducing my trips to the laundry room by doubling the capacity and making my existing laundry basket easier to carry made me an instant believer.
Najma: I love the way you say it makes perfect sense Brandon because that is exactly what I thought when I thought of the idea. I needed something that made more sense than trying to struggle with the idea of carrying my laundry for a family of four at the time with two hands while trying to keep everything inside. I mean I could have used a bag I guess but I was going back and forth from the laundromat up and down stairs with three small kids and I didn’t want my clothes stuffed in a bag.
When did you decide that your product was strong enough to start a business?
Yusuf: Well that depends on who you ask! My sister and I have differences of opinions on how we decided to get into business together. The way I remember it was her using it during an overnight visit to my house. I immediately thought “What a great idea, I know I can sell this!.” It looked a lot different than what we have been selling now. I asked her to do a prototype with a few modifications and we were officially in business!
Najma: When Yusuf saw it and thought it was perfect for him. I mean he was a single man living alone with laundry for only one person. We were on different ends of the demographic spectrum if that is the correct term. We did a couple of focus groups and everybody said it was a great idea.
(The BasketMate. Image: The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Lisa Rose))
How did you feel pitching your business in the Funderdome? How did you prepare for the pitch?
Yusuf: The producers told us backstage that we had to nail our pitch on the first try because they would not edit if we messed up and then we would embarrass ourselves in front of millions. Talk about pressure. They said only Steve Harvey gets to mess up and get do-overs.
Being in the middle of the audience felt like being on a tightrope without a safety net in a circus as the main attraction. We prepared by practicing every day. We practiced so much that my sister threatened to ransom me to the highest bidder if I asked her to rehearse our pitch one more time!
Najma: I felt like it was going to be a lot of fun. We had pitched the idea before so we kind of had a game plan but then we got some facts from the producers about the format and we knew from that that it was going to be energetic and fun. I think then it was all about making sure that we were able to connect our product with the audience.
Andrews: What did you learn from being on the show?
Yusuf: I learned that the presentation of the product is usually more important than the actual product. Products don’t sell themselves and a great sales pitch can go a long way.
Najma: I already know that I love what I do. I mean I love being creative. As an African American businesswoman/entrepreneur I am obsessed with the process of building something that is owned by someone who looks like me. So the Funderdome was just another experience in the process of me building my empire and I learned once again that this is my destiny. It is where I feel the most comfortable, and one of the only places where the challenges, while they are extremely difficult, are the most gratifying.
Andrews: Give us a post-show update. How do you plan to grow your business in 2017?
Yusuf: Aside from being local celebrities, we hope this gives the BasketMate some major exposure post our show appearance. Now that we’ve conquered TV (lol) we plan to grow our business by reaching out to the social media influencers like the YouTubers and bloggers that are into nifty home organizing products like the BasketMate.
Najma: Well, we are looking to take advantage of the exposure that we got from the show and continue to utilize our marketing outlets to build our customer base. I’m never just working on a product, I am working on a brand, a lifestyle. So that is my work in progress; fine-tuning that and fitting everything I do into that. We have some great new modifications to the BasketMate and now that we have a little name for ourselves, I think people will be excited to see the new product line.
Andrews: What do entrepreneurs like you need to succeed?
Yusuf: Patient Persistence! You also cannot be outcome dependent if you want to succeed. We have had so many ups and downs along the way and if we thought about all those outcomes before we got started we wouldn’t have ever given this a shot. Just do your best and forget the rest because you don’t control the outcome anyway!
Najma: What I have learned to be one of the most important things that entrepreneurs like me need to succeed is first of all, a focused understanding of self. Your product and everything that you build around it is only a physical reflection of who you are and what you know about yourself. Secondly, a solid group of teammates who understand and believe in your vision, who are talented in their field. Who, along with you, have the drive and resilience to get up after you fall, who tell you the truth, and who can see and reach for things in the dark. That takes time, experience, and a few hit and runs to get however. LOL.