Diane Mastrull: Hoodie pillowcase captivates entrepreneur, investor

Posted: February 19, 2013

How does one outdo a toilet-training kit for cats?

With a pillowcase designed to be worn - yes, worn - on the head, with a hole to accommodate earphone wires and a pocket for an iPod or a remote control, Rebecca Rescate believes.

The Yardley mother of three has $15,000 in personal finances banking on it, and has just secured an additional $90,000 from Robert Herjavec, an investor on ABC-TV's popular Shark Tank. The technology titan missed out on Rescate's funky feline venture when she appeared on the show in 2011 - sales of the CitiKitty Cat Toilet Training Kit have reached $5 million - and "I'm not going to do it again," he said when she returned for a Feb. 8 episode pitching the new product - the HoodiePillow.

This time, she didn't face the cameras alone. She was joined by a Burlington County father of triplets, who came up with the idea for the wearable pillowcase in a sleep-deprived act of desperation shortly after his daughters were born three years ago.

"I'm a light sleeper, so I needed just to close myself off," explained Chris Hindley, 30, of Florence Township. "I started sleeping with a pillow or a T-shirt over my head, just to block out the world a little bit."

For affirmation, he took to Google "and realized there were a lot of people that liked to sleep that way."

Hindley, a marketing/design professional, and his wife, Dana, a copy writer, put their entrepreneurial inclinations to work and came up with HoodiePillow, essentially a pillowcase with a hood attached that's made of premium sweatshirt material.

Or, as Hindley described it in a recent interview: "A nighttime version of your favorite piece of clothing."

Costing $5 to make and selling for about $20 at www.hoodiepillow.com, it is designed to fit a standard pillow. The hood is oversized to provide enough coverage for the eyes - in case you don't have a sleep mask - and can be loosened or tightened around the head with what Hindley says are patented drawstrings.

About the same time that the Hindleys created the HoodiePillow, Chris landed a job as marketing director for Rescate's father's company in Fairless Hills, A.L. Patterson Inc., a distributor of precast-concrete products. Rescate was using the warehouse facility as headquarters and central shipping for what was, by then, her going-gangbusters CitiKitty training kit.

That, too, had been an invention inspired from a bit of desperation. Rescate had married in 2004 and, in so doing, inherited not only a husband but also his cat, Samantha. They were living in tight quarters in a one-bedroom on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where Rescate was unwilling to put up with litter-box odors.

She got to work teaching Samantha to do her business where humans do. Rescate developed a five-progressive-step ring filled with litter - and organic catnip to help lure kitties to the bowl - that fits under the toilet lid. Samantha was potty-trained in weeks and, by 2005, Rescate and husband Christian had launched www.citikitty.com, selling kits for $29.99.

It was Rescate's desire to take the company to the next level - getting product in stores - that prompted her appearance on Shark Tank six years later. It worked. In exchange for a 20 percent equity stake in the company, infomercial czar (and TV Shark) Kevin Harrington helped get CitiKitty on store shelves, including Walgreens'.

In awe, Hindley took it all in from his desk at A.L. Patterson.

"I became very inspired by them," he said of the Rescates. And he asked them to be his partners, hoping to, in part, benefit from the warehousing and order-fulfillment infrastructure already in place for CitiKitty.

The Rescates agreed, getting a 30 percent stake in HoodiePillow for their $15,000 investment. In June 2012, the product debuted online, and Rebecca Rescate tried to build buzz among gadget bloggers.

"From there, it just kind of blew up immediately," she said.

Hindley said 10,000 HoodiePillows were sold in the first six months, helped by national exposure on ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today within three weeks of its launch.

He expects about $500,000 in revenue this year and to exceed $1 million in 2014 - with college students being a primary focus group. He and Rescate wanted a chance on Shark Tank to get funding to invest in social-media marketing and develop a commercial. They were offering 15 percent of the company for $90,000.

But the Sharks aren't pushovers. First, they laughed when one of them, Daymond John, a fashion expert, agreed to lie down on a couch and model a red HoodiePillow.

They got serious when Hindley disclosed that a travel version has been developed, with an inflatable pillow that fits around the neck. It sells for $16.95.

"I like that it solves a problem," said Herjavec, the winning investor. As majority shareholder, Hindley made the decision, including agreeing to Herjavec's terms: a 20 percent ownership stake.

Before that, Rescate was a wall when Harrington, her CitiKitty Shark investor, offered $90,000 for 33 percent ownership in HoodiePillow. She also rebuffed real estate maven Barbara Corcoran's proposal: that she and John together would invest $90,000 for a 40 percent cut of the company and 10 cents on every sale.

Rescate made clear that she and Hindley were not desperate, and that the market for this product was far larger than the one for her cat toilet-training kits:

"It's anybody with a head that sleeps."

Diane Mastrull:

Rebecca Rescate and Chris Hindley show how their HoodiePillow can help you block out light and noise and get some sleep.


Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com , or @mastrud on Twitter.

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