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This is the second part in a series called The Exit Interview featuring life-long entrepreneur Bill Hinchey. Read part two here.
So here’s the setting.
It’s Pittsburgh in the 1970’s and no longer will just “working hard” make ends meet. Pink slips are coming down in a flurry as the blue collar industries which helped build the city are quickly transitioning into rustbelt relics.
Growing up amidst this evident shift, Bill Hinchey doubts his father’s instructions could have resonated any clearer. At its core, his father’s message more or less embodied the same one that was most likely passed down to him. Work hard, he told his son, but again, this was 1970’s Pittsburgh. Even some of the hardest workers were coming down hard on their luck.
“My father drove it in to me that one of his wishes was for me to be my own boss,” Hinchey said. “Whether that’s running a pizza shop or having my own company, he just thought that you’re going to work hard no matter what you do and he felt that it was in my best interest if I was going to work hard, to work hard for myself and not let somebody else control my own destiny.”
And so, an entrepreneur was born. Hinchey didn’t dive right into the pool, but it didn’t take him long either.
At 27 and just out of graduate school at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Hinchey packed his bags for Cincinnati for a job in the beverage division at Proctor and Gamble, the world’s largest consumer products company. Hinchey would go on to stay there a mere 16 months but he’ll admit that it only took him six days to realize he wasn’t cut out for the role.
While daring as many of these ventures are, it wasn’t necessarily a blind leap. Hinchey had just spent nearly a year and a half at a worldwide leader in consumer goods, had a working product in mind and had made two likeminded friends there which he says were also bitten by the “entrepreneurial bug.”
“If I was going to take a really high risk, that was the time in my life to do it,” Hinchey says.
The group had heard about a business incubator center in Bethlehem, Pa. on the campus of Lehigh University, where one of the three had studied. The opportunity to start a new business became too enticing and so once again, Hinchey found himself packing his bags.
“I know if I didn’t do it then that I would regret it for the rest of my life,” Hinchey said.
And just like that, Solar Care Technologies was born and the product the three developed, a sunscreen towelette, was so simple yet at the same time so innovative. Not only did it completely repackage sunscreen for portable usage, but it also became the first time the product was marketed for sports and recreation purposes rather than just the beach.
“We hit the market at the right time,” Hinchey said.
Quickly, the education and experience that the three brought to the table shined through as they conducted extensive market research and worked on product branding.
“When our product hit the marketplace, it looked like big-time execution,” Hinchey said. “It didn’t look like three guys and a dog in a basement making these things.”
A little entrepreneurial spirit didn’t hurt, either.
“You’ll never meet a successful entrepreneur that’s not a passionate person and can’t sell their story,” Hinchey says. “We just don’t take no for an answer. We’re the most persistent people on the planet.”
And validation came fast. Just a year in, the nascent company received acclaim in a Friday piece published in the Wall Street Journal. The story, he says, helped give the company both “incredible credibility and visibility.”
“It’s one thing to have your uncle Charlie tell you (that) you have a good idea,” Hinchey said. “It’s another thing to have the Wall Street Journal put the spotlight on you.”
Little did Hinchey know at the time, the exposure from that story would help take his company to new heights and the product developed in an incubator in tiny Bethlehem would soon reach customers around the world.
This is the first part in a series called The Exit Interview featuring life-long entrepreneur Bill Hinchey. Read part two here.