ASHBURN, Va. (WDVM) — Usually, vacuuming is a chore, but one small business owner has turned what once was a hassle into a joyful business venture.
Francesca Maniff started Robo Rascals, her robotic vacuum cover business, just six months ago in July, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was her love for the show, Shark Tank, that inspired her to make her idea a reality.
“So I’ve always liked the idea of creating things,” Maniff explained. “But with this especially, I had no business background and it really just started because my husband and I love watching Shark Tank.”
Maniff explained that she and her husband are fans of the show and would often pitch ideas to each other, usually to find that their idea was already someone else’s reality. But it was her dog and “Chief of Barketing,” Chewey, who sparked the inspiration for the first Roomba cover.
Maniff described how Chewey had once hopped onto her Roomba and began to ride the robotic vacuum around the house before dismounting the device. This adorable accident lead Maniff down what she describes as a “click-hole” of videos about dogs, cats, and even babies riding on top of the robotic vacuums.
“I was like, ‘I’m surprised nobody’s tried to make it into an animal,” Maniff stated. “Like I know we had named ours and I was like well they already have such personalities, why not make them look like it too?'”
Maniff started workshopping her first Robo Rascal by going to Goodwill and purchasing stuffed animals to cut up and piece back together. Now, she uses a digital software to create 3-D images of her covers and prototypes before making mockups with her supplier. Maniff also described the practicality of the cover as her Roomba would often hit and scuff her floorboards.
“Really how it all started was the turtle,” Maniff described, as she pulled out other Roomba covers. “And she’s a little bumble bee and she’s got little wings on her back. And then my favourite part of this whole design is she’s got a little stinger. And then I always say her cousin is the ladybug. And this is my little hedgehog. He’s got the little furry back here.”
Maniff has also used social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to promote her new business.
“Honestly, everything changed with TikTok and with social media,” Maniff explained. “Especially like I didn’t expect to be in the middle of a pandemic launching the business. You know I had thought of the idea back in 2019.”
Maniff described that the ability to hold what once was a mere idea in her head is one of the most rewarding feelings of owning a business. She also explained that her Roomba covers have allowed her to connect with people and create a community. She recalled stories sent to her by one of her customers who had a young child that was afraid of the family’s vacuum. After purchasing one of Maniff’s Robo Rascals, she was sent a picture of the child petting the cover and interacting with the vacuum.
She laughed as she remembered a mother who wrote to her and explained that her house has never been so clean because her children loved to watch the Robo Rascal travel around the house.
“Obviously, it’s a product and it’s a business and I want it to be successful, but to see that like especially right now when I think a lot of people need it,” Maniff explained. “Something that I’m doing, like this silly little product, can bring somebody else’s day joy, I think that’s my favourite part.”
Maniff also hopes that her experience will inspire other female small business owners.
“Women, in particular, are so creative and imaginative and they might look at the space and see more roadblocks than maybe somebody of a different gender would see. Don’t let yourself believe that you’re not qualified enough.”
Maniff and her company have recently obtained a patent for her vacuum cover design. She was overjoyed to explain how the process means that the design is now her intellectual property and gives her a “real and tangible” way to define her success and hard work as a small business owner.
Maniff is currently working on designing and redesigning covers to fit more vacuums. She explained that she has gotten requests for new animals and different features to suit vacuums of different brands and sizes. She is also looking forward to a year of creation and cannot wait for Robo Rascals’ future in 2021.
To learn more about Robo Rascals, visit their website.