You know the old saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun”, well time sure has flown since launching zoodi one year ago this month, but I can’t say it has all been fun. Don’t get me wrong, becoming an entrepreneur and product inventor is something I never dreamed I would be. However, this is the path my husband and I are traveling on and like everything in life, it has had its ups and downs.
Here are some of the things I have learned over the last year:
Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Most people that know me really well, know that I don’t have an abundance of patience. If I want something, I want it now. Please don’t make me wait, because I will nag you until I get it (just ask my parents). The first hard lesson I had to learn is that to be an entrepreneur, you must have a healthy dose of patience.
I guess I thought when my husband and I finally shared the secret that over the last several years we had been designing the first hands-free iPad case that the sales would start pouring in. What actually happened was we got a few sales immediately after our launch, and then realized that it was going to take a lot more work to generate exposure and interest in our product to yield customers.
Over the last 12 months, I have sent out thousands of emails to potential customers, distributors, product reviewers, and anyone that might use an iPad for business or pleasure. I have increased my social media presence 500 percent, which is funny because I am a publicist, but an old school, send out a press release and pick up the phone and call the media type of PR person. I have been told “no” more than I expected or wanted to hear that word. When people say an entrepreneur works 24/7, they really aren’t kidding! However, each day I wake up ready to accept the challenge of owning a business and increasing my sales!
You are Held Captive to the Timing of Others
As you know, modern technology has conditioned us to want instant gratification. However, when running a business, sometimes your pace doesn’t match the pace of others. What I’ve learned over the last year is that persistence is the key. Just because someone says they love your product and want to work with you, doesn’t mean you are shipping out hundreds of cases to them the next day. You may find yourself waiting weeks or months after an initial conversation for things to progress. Just because you haven’t heard from them in a while, doesn’t mean they are not interested. They may be too busy with existing clients or perhaps there are staffing changes that have put the process on hold. The key is to be persistent and keep you and your business top-of-mind through emails, phone calls, or a handwritten note (yes, some people still find this to be a viable form on communication). In the words of the late, great, Jim Valvano – “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
People Genuinely Want You to Succeed
One of the best things I discovered after bringing zoodi to market is that most people genuinely are excited for you and want you to be successful. When we announced our invention on social media, hundreds of people that I have met throughout various stages of my life in different parts of the country and across the globe sent me kind words, business prospects, as well as purchased a zoodi. I have to admit I was quite nervous after four years of hard work to share it with the world, but feel extremely lucky to have been blessed with some amazing people throughout my life that want zoodi to be a success! I guess the lesson here is to surround yourself with good people that want you to be happy and have a good life. If you find people telling you it can’t be done, then it is time to move on and find people that tell you, “Yes you can”!
This past year I've learned so much. And isn’t life about continuously learning and growing? With all of the hard work, struggles and wins, I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t need to tell you that life is too short, we all know that to be true. If there is something you have dreamed of doing, today is a good day to start on that journey. Don’t let fear win! Accept there will be challenges, because nothing worth having comes easy!
Running a business can be challenging on its own, but embarking on a startup with your spouse adds an extra layer of stress and anxiety that takes some extra effort by both of you to make it work. Here are five tips to building a successful business with your life partner, while reducing stress in your relationship:
1.Evaluate your skills and assign responsibilities
Before launching your business, make sure you sit down with your spouse/life partner and identify the skills you each bring to the table so you can assign responsibilities for a successful go-to-market experience.
With my husband’s manufacturing and IT background and my public relations and marketing experience, tasks were pretty easy to identify and own based on our skill sets. While my husband and I were equally involved in the design and development to the zoodi iPad case, my husband managed the manufacturing of zoodi, as well as built our website and is pretty much all things computer related. Since he is also the left-brained one in our relationship, we decided it was best for him to deal with the accountant and all things having to do with numbers.
As the creative, right-brained half of our relationship, my role was to manage the brand identity, logo development, color selection for the tablet cases, marketing materials and packaging design. Although the brand development of zoodi was in my wheelhouse, it was important to include my husband in the process and ask for his opinion on certain creative elements.
Communication is key when it comes to personal and business relationships. It plays an even more important role when your business partner also happens to be your spouse or life partner. To avoid over communication, set aside certain times throughout the day where you sit down and discuss business initiatives or challenges and work together on solutions.
Although the entire product invention process was pretty fun and exciting, there were times when my husband and I clashed on ideas and business strategies. The best advice I can give is to listen to each other. If there’s a disagreement over a business strategy, it is important to take a pause and listen to the reasons for the concern, so you can reduce tension down the road and not play the blame game when things go wrong.
4.Learn to Compromise
Throughout a marriage or romantic relationship you will experience many situations where it is just better to give in a little to keep the peace. Same goes for running a business together. I can recall a few disagreements on certain design elements of zoodi where we each gave up something to keep the product design process moving along. In the end, we are both pleased with the final design of our hands-free iPad case. Don’t be afraid to compromise with your partner, because you may end up with a better product.
5.Carve out “business free” time
When you own a business, it is difficult to not focus on it 24/7, but when you are in business with a spouse it is important to find time for what’s important – your relationship and spending time with each other and your family. My husband and I make it a habit to pick at least one day on the weekend where we try not to do anything business related. Sure, I may send out a tweet or post something on Facebook, but we save the big business conversations for the work week.
The key to making your business together a success and not end up damaging your personal relationship is to recognize that every business hits a few bumps along the way. You must stick together and remember why you embarked on the entrepreneurship journey, and if you work together toward the goal you set for the business, you’ll be successful.
I know you’ve probably heard this a thousand times from people that have invented a product, but a new product idea often just hits you when you have a problem or challenge that you need or want to solve. The best advice I can give you is to not sit around thinking of new ideas, but be cognizant as you’re moving through life and if you find yourself saying “I wish they made…” or “I wish I had something that did…” then perhaps you are on to something.
After you come up with what you deem a solution to a particular problem or issue, start doing research to see if your idea already exists. If you came up with the idea, then there’s a chance someone else may have the same one. Start by searching the internet. Look at websites that might sell a similar product, see if there are industry associations that have a membership list, and check out industry trade publications to see what product ads are featured and scan the product news pages in the magazine. Be careful not to share your idea with anyone in the beginning. Although you probably have a great circle of friends and family members, I recommend keeping your idea close to the vest for now.
Once you’ve completed your initial search and haven’t found a product that accomplishes what you believe your idea will. The next step in bringing it to life is to identify a product design firm. We were fortunate to find a great firm called Laut Design in Raleigh, North Carolina, located about 20 minutes from our home, which made it very convenient for a lot of face-to-face meetings.
Before sitting down with a firm, have a rough idea what you want your product to look like so it will be easier to convey to the design team. Patience will definitely be necessary during this step in the process. It took three years of design iterations, color selections, and prototyping before landing on a final design for zoodi.
When I look back at the first prototype of our hands-free iPad case and where we ended up with zoodi, it was well worth the wait! The key is to be patient, expect hiccups and bumps, but enjoy the ride!
Next, I’ll share our experience with the manufacturing process. Stay tuned!
Welcome back! Before I share the process we went through to manufacture and market the first hands-free tablet case, I think it’s important to provide an overview of our professional careers and how we believe they prepared us with the right skills to become product inventors.
Kelly’s Professional Background
As an art major, I graduated college with absolutely no clue on what to do with my life. I did an internship as a graphic artist and quickly realized that wasn’t the creative path I wanted to take. I knew I wanted to find a career that would allow me to use my creativity, but didn’t require a paintbrush or graphic software program.
I was fortunate enough to land a job at a top public relations firm in New York City. I have to be honest, I had no idea what PR was when I took the job. I spent the next four years learning how to promote national brands and products and had some pretty amazing opportunities and experiences. I met several celebrities, traveled across the country, and even held the 1996 Olympic torch as our team promoted the relay traveling through New York to Atlanta. After four years at the PR firm, I took a job running the PR department for a major furniture manufacturer and retailer. For close to a decade, I continued to hone my PR skills, working on some notable projects, including several HGTV Dream Homes and other television programs, such as The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model, The View and more.
Jim’s Professional Background
Shortly after graduating from college, Jim took a job with an injection molding manufacturing company in the New York area. After a few years, he realized his talent for computers and engineering, and decided to head back to school to pursue a career in Information Technology. He has worked in the IT field for more than 15 years.
So, you are probably wondering why I gave you a snapshot of our professional backgrounds. It’s because I want you to see how our careers helped lay the foundation for becoming product inventors. My public relations experience allows me to promote the zoodi through traditional and social media outlets without paying an agency. Jim's plastics manufacturing background came in handy when we were going through the design and material selection for our product. And by default, he is our website manager and IT consultant. The message here is that just because we start our professional lives down one path, doesn’t mean that is the path we are meant to stay on throughout our careers. However, all the experiences and skills that you acquire throughout your life can be applied to whatever new ventures you decide to take.
Keep learning and growing. Take opportunities that scare you and give it your best shot! Challenge yourself. Jim and I had many sleepless nights over the four years it took for us to bring zoodi to market, but we have no regrets! We are content knowing we took a shot no matter the outcome. Are you going to let fear win or will you be brave enough to take your shot?
Stay tuned for my next blog post when I provide the steps we went through to create zoodi. I’ll share tips, tricks and lessons learned through the product invention process.
Thanks for reading!
Welcome to the Accidental Inventor’s very first blog entry. I love the name, because it captures how my
husband and I came to invent a product.
For as long as I have known my husband (we met almost 25 years ago), he has always wanted to invent a
product. Over the years he has had some interesting ideas, but nothing that really made me stop and
say “that’s great, we should make it.” Well, that was until May of 2012, when we were vacationing in
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
During our trip, my husband (Jim) had to slam on the brakes to avoid what could have been a terrible
crash. The velocity at which we stopped caused our two sons’ tablets to fly out of their hands and land
in the front of the car. Almost immediately (after gathering our bearings), Jim and I looked at each other
and said “we should invent a case with a strap that prevents tablets from becoming projectile objects.”
Well, that wasn’t exactly what we said, but you get the idea.
Over the next several months we continued to talk about this idea and began rough sketching
how the case would look and work. We ultimately landed on a case that offered all that current iPad cases on the market offer, but with a strap system that would allow consumers to use their tablets with both hands, providing a more productive and comfortable use of their device, while protecting it from
being dropped, or in our case, propelled through the air.
Four years later, the zoodi was launched to market. Yes, it literally took four years to design, develop, test
and manufacture our iPad case. Stay tuned as I continue to share our story on becoming an "accidental inventor" through this blog, and how we took an idea and made it a reality.
Thanks for reading!
Kelly – Co-inventor of the zoodi