by John Torsiello
Mark Donne ’11 and Jason Maloney ’11 had a lot going on during their senior year at Fairfield University. Not only were they pounding the books, the two men were in the process of creating a new business called, appropriately enough, Diffr3nt that has burst onto the high-tech accessories market like colorful fireworks.
Diffr3nt designs, makes, and sells iPhone carry cases and has a combination carry case and wallet that is ideal for the on-the-go, multi-tasking individual.
Diffr3nt was conceptualized during the two men’s senior year but the idea did not come to life until about a year after the pair graduated. Donne saw a lot of cases on the market, but none that made him want to buy them. During his senior year, he was out at a restaurant, and as a self-proclaimed “minimalist” he wanted to find a way to combine something so that he could carry less, rather than fumbling about for his cell phone, credit cards, and ID as he saw other patrons doing.
Plastic didn’t fit the bill for him; it simply never felt good in his hands, and rubber cases were “annoying” because, he said, over time rubber stretches and the cases stick in a pants pocket. Canvas became the answer because of its durability, feel, and the protection it offered.
“We had never seen a case that was slim and made of canvas that protected an iPhone from the daily bump and grind,” said Maloney, who met Donne when the two 23-year-olds were freshmen.
Diffr3nt cases are designed around canvas and are handmade in Torrington, Conn. Donne said having a local manufacturer allows the company to quickly prototype and design with little wait time. “It’s something we are insanely proud of because each case is unique; they are not just spit out of a machine.”
The men designed two cases, the “Slim” and the “Wallet,” that can be used for iPhones 4, 4s, and 5. Both are phone covers but the Wallet also allows the consumer to carry several credit cards, ID and perhaps a little cash. They both protect the phone from damage if dropped, and corporate customers have the ability to silk-screen images on the back of the cases.
The company’s name came about in response to feedback from testers and first-time buyers. Almost everyone who initially saw the cases had a response of “Wow, this is great, it’s different,” said Donne, the firm’s co-founder and chief creative officer. Maloney, co-founder and chief executive officer, said the company is “doing very well and growing.” Diffr3nt is selling cases across the U.S. and abroad (Australia, Canada, China, Singapore, Thailand, and the United Kingdom). The pair credited their schooling at Fairfield University as being vital to their somewhat instant success in the business world.
Observed Donne, “Fairfield University influenced me because I was able to minor in business while still pursuing my degree in film. Majoring in film and minoring in marketing helped our business greatly because our marketing videos are essentially free to make. I’m able to write, direct, shoot, and edit all our product videos, which is key for a young startup in this digital age.”
Said Maloney, “Fairfield was a huge influence with starting up Diffr3nt. Being a marketing major, I was a part of the Dolan School of Business core curriculum, which basically meant that I had experience, even if it was just a 101 class, in many different fields. That allowed me to effectively navigate running a company. Although I am not a whiz at finance, I have enough of an understanding of it from my core classes that I am able to hold my own explaining our finances to potential investors.”
Donne said that every teacher he dealt with at Fairfield was influential, but three teachers made an impact on him. “Fr. Jim Mayzik, [director of the Media Center], Fr. Mark Scalese, [associate professor of Visual and Performing Arts], and Dr. Mark Ligas, [an associate professor of marketing]. Each one of these teachers taught me valuable lessons. I spent a lot of time with Fr. Mayzik and Fr. Mark in the Media Center, and without them I honestly would not be the person I am today. When I was looking at Fairfield, Fr. Mayzik gave this speech to me, which he might give to every student. But the gist of it was if you don’t leave Fairfield with a greater desire to learn, then we failed you. I have never been more excited about the desire to grow as an individual, academically and spiritually, since graduating from Fairfield. I honestly can say Fairfield more than succeeded at what this institution is supposed to do.”
Maloney concurred. Two teachers stood out for him, Dr. Rajasree Rajamma, an associate professor of marketing, and Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, an associate professor of management.
“Dr. Rajamma has been so helpful with Diffr3nt, from answering questions that Mark and I have about dealing with distribution channels to introducing us to members of the Fairfield University community that could help Mark and me in our journey. Dr.Cavanaugh taught me to think outside the box, and the lessons that I learned in his unorthodox class has helped me make decisions that hopefully are going to make this company successful.”
Over the next five years the pair hopes to grow Diffr3nt from a two-person company to something much larger, and expand their product line to cover iPads, tech-related bags and perhaps a venture into the tech industry. It goes to show you what can happen when you have a good idea, some supportive and inspirational professors, a nurturing academic atmosphere, and the moxie and work ethic to make it all happen.