On regular visits to Santa Monica’s beaches during college, Katie Everds had a routine. She’d plop down near the shore, bunch sand together to build a makeshift pillow and then place her towel down.
She and her boyfriend at the time got to thinking: What if beach towels came with built-in pillows?
That question now has an answer in the form of the Tillow, a product that Everds is bringing to a Third Street Promenade kiosk this week as she deepens her foray into entrepreneurship.
It’s the next step on what has been a whirlwind journey in business for Everds, a UCLA alumna and current Santa Monica resident who hails from San Diego.
“I always looked up to women who started their own businesses,” she said. “It was kind of like, ‘If anyone can do it, why can’t I?’”
Everds often explored her entrepreneurial side during her childhood, buying a variety of products and reselling them for profit. In college she started a charity recycling program, collecting used bottles from fraternities and sororities and exchanging them for cash that went towards scholarships.
“It was not that successful because I had no time or money,” she said. “But I love the idea of having an idea and turning it into something tangible.”
By the time she graduated UCLA with a psychology degree in 2011, her entrepreneurial spirit hadn’t gone away. She thought about her many trips to the beach and how she wished she had a multipurpose towel that could improve comfort and protect valuables.
While working full-time in marketing for NBCUniversial, Everds spent her nights brainstorming, prototyping and working with a designer to create a towel with a removable foam pillow, headphones-friendly touchscreen pocket and water-resistant storage pouch.
She raised $30,000 in 30 days through a Kickstarter campaign as she learned the ins and outs of insurance, production, distribution and shipping. She spent three months trying to figure out how to source the product in the U.S., but it wasn’t feasible because doing so would have cost 10 times more than it did to manufacture the towels overseas.
“You never really know what you’re doing,” Everds said. “It’s not like I took a class at UCLA that taught me how to develop a business and bring a product to market. It’s learning as you go.”
Everds went online in June of last year to launch Tillow, a portmanteau for “towel” and “pillow.” And although she’s had success with her Web business, including on Amazon.com, she was curious to test her product in the physical market.
“I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself,” she said.
Everds had been successful selling her towels from a booth at area beach volleyball tournaments, so decided to seek out a retail space with a similar demographic. And she wanted her spot to be tourist-friendly and close to the ocean, which led her to apply for a spot on Third Street Promenade.
“There’s a long wait list, but I finally got called,” she said. “It feels really good to have some sort of physical thing to represent the work I’ve done.
“It’s a huge project, and honestly I’m a little terrified. But I’m hopeful. I’ve done everything I can. If everything goes as projected, it should be really awesome.”