Her invention and new company, CatTongue Grips, was born because no other product offered grippiness without scratching
In March 2015, Matt Kelly walked into a Verizon store in Park City, Utah, to upgrade his phone. When he commented to a salesperson how easy it is to drop a phone, slippery as they are, she offered to sell him an expensive insurance plan.
Instead, Kelly—who grew up in the skater and surfer culture of San Diego—drove over to a nearby skateboard shop, bought some grip tape, and slapped it on the back of his new phone.
“I said, ‘What have you got going on here?’” recalls his wife, Missy Kelly (PolSci, IntAf‘94). “He said, ‘I love this thing. It grips and it’s not sliding around.”
There was just one little problem: “It felt like a cat tongue…and the sandpaper surface was going to scratch up everything in the house!” she says. So, he challenged her to find him something online that would measure up to grip tape, minus the scratching.
“I couldn’t find anything,” Missy Kelly remembers, “so we decided to make it.”
Two and a half years later, CatTongue Grips, a soft, self-adhesive, anti-slip accessory that can be easily applied and removed from the back of any mobile phone, debuted on Amazon Exclusives.
The company racked up more than $65,000 in sales its first year and is now available in 45 college bookstores around the country, multiple retail outlets, the company’s online store and Amazon. CatTongue Grips has also partnered with numerous organizations to create branded grips, from the University of Southern California to U.S. Ski & Snowboard and Spartan.
But CEO Missy Kelly—her husband is executive vice president—says it took time to get the material and product just right.
“It took us six months just to get a meeting with the largest manufacturer of non-slip solutions in the world,” she says. “They said ‘We’ve never seen anything like it. We’ll get scientists on it and make it for you.’”
One year and eight prototypes later, they had a product. “Not only did it feel good in the hand,” Kelly says, “It gripped and didn’t pick up hair, lint or dirt.” And of course, it didn’t scratch.
The company now has a patent pending on the material and recently launched its second product line, the Phat Cat Grip Collection, for tablets and laptops. This summer, it will introduce rolls of material so that users can cut to whatever size desired for home improvement, tools, rugs on wood floors, sporting, boating, camping—“Anything that needs a grip!” Kelly says.
As videos made by CatTongue Grips show, the material helps prevent phones and laptops from slipping off slanted dashboards, out of fumbling fingers and even the tops of moving vehicles.
“We want to be known as the Gription™ company,” Kelly says, using the trademarked neologism she coined to describe what CatTongue Grips do.
The company has contracted with numerous artists to create its array of more than 30 designs, which run the gamut from solid colors to quirky animals, flags and graphic patterns.
“The back of your phone is an incredibly personal space, and we identify with that. If you are going to put something on the back of your phone, it should reflect you, your personality, what you want to align yourself with,” Kelly says.
The company’s products are printed in Salt Lake City and made from fully recyclable HDPE plastic.
“It’s a focus of ours to be green and clean,” Kelly says.
CatTongue Grips now has a team of 12 people and was certified as a Woman Owned Business in October 2018.
Kelly grew up in San Diego and came to CU Boulder for a change of scenery.
“I was intrigued by CU because I love to ski. Having been at the beach my whole life, I wanted something different,” she says. “I wanted to experience seasons!”
She double-majored in political science and international affairs. Following graduation in 1994, she returned to San Diego, where she met her husband and started a family. She earned her teaching credential and started a tutoring company.
But she hadn’t had her fill of mountains just yet, and in 2011, the family moved to Park City.
“The mountains were calling. We were looking for skiing and an outdoor lifestyle similar to what I had in Colorado,” she says. Her two children, a girl, 15, and boy, 13, are both Alpine ski racers with Park City Ski and Snowboard Team.
Kelly credits CU Boulder with catalyzing her transition from beach girl to mountain woman and successful CEO.
“CU was just a great introduction to how great life in the mountains really is. That’s why we’re here in Park City,” she says. “Life in the mountains has just been wonderful for me and my family. It’s what gives me peace in my spare time; hiking my dogs in the woods or flying down a mountain on a pair of skis are what bring me back to center.”
So far, USC is the only university that has a licensing agreement with CatTongue Grips. Kelly says that’s in part because it is the only major school that has its own licensing division, simplifying the process. Most schools, including CU Boulder, contract with Learfield/IMG College for licensing agreements.
“I’d really like to do something with CU in the future,” Kelly says. “It would be really great to have a Ralphie CatTongue Grip!”