<h3>Excerpt</h3> <div><div> <h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p><b>Opportunities for Inventor-Entrepreneurs in the Twenty-First Century</b></p> <br> <p>This is a fantastic time to be creating new products and bringing them to market yourself!</p> <p>The opportunities for simple ideas that offer clear benefits to the consumer are endless. Consumer spending accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the U.S. economy, even during economic slumps, and 40 percent of consumer spending is discretionary—driven by desire, not necessity. Dreaming up ideas for consumer products can be a lot of fun. But your simple idea doesn't have to be for a consumer product. It can be for something purchased and used by businesses, governments, scientists, institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.), public service organizations (police, fire, waste management, etc.), and so on.</p> <p>Even during economic downturns, there are opportunities for innovation. When the economy is poor, the most popular products tend to be those that enable people to stretch their resources (such as squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube), provide inexpensive comfort or enjoyment, and improve the quality of life without breaking the budget. As I write this, our economic situation is not great, but some markets are strong. For example, the pet and home-improvement industries are both growing by approximately 5 percent a year, and the kitchen industry is on fire because people are staying home to cook.</p> <p>Regardless of whether the economy is booming or busting, consumers are always open to products that make their lives easier or more enjoyable. You just need to know where to look for them and how to recognize them.</p> <p>There are also lots of tools and resources available that make it easier than ever to start and grow a business. With the Internet and communication technologies, such as Skype, you can work out of your home rather than locate the business elsewhere. You don't have to sell your product only through brick-and-mortar stores; you can sell it online, too. The Internet enables you to study the market and find most of the information you need. Social media networks allow you to connect with like-minded people who can help you with your business. You can use your website, blogs, social media networks, e-mail, and other online tools to build your brand and communicate with customers and vendors.</p> <p>All these tools make it easier for anyone to compete in the big leagues. You can get closer to and be more responsive to the market. You can bring products to market faster, seizing market opportunities the heavy hitters miss or don't want to bother with. You can provide a level of personalized customer service that most large companies don't care to do.</p> <p>All of these things can be done from your desk, with just your telephone and computer—no fancy office or employees needed. Everything can be outsourced, from creating a technical drawing of your idea to manufacturing your product, designing your logo, and doing your bookkeeping! You can tap into creative ways to fund your business, too.</p> <p>All the information, resources, and tools you need to successfully launch a small business and bring a simple idea to market yourself are out there. You just need a road map to show you how to find them, use them, and get from here to there. That's what this book is all about.</p> <br> <p><b><i>My Journey</i></b></p> <p>During the 35 years I've been bringing simple ideas to market, I've done more than just license my products. I've also worked for a startup company where I helped bring other people's ideas to market, and I've started a business to bring my own ideas to market—not once, but twice. In fact, that's how I began this journey, so let's start at the beginning.</p> <p>In the mid-1970s, I was a freshman at Santa Clara University majoring in economics and hating everything about it. I felt overwhelmed and needed to try something different. So I took an art class and fell in love with working with my hands. One day, I went home and told my dad I wanted to be an artist.</p> <p>"That's fantastic, Steve!" he said. "Do you draw?"</p> <p>"No."</p> <p>"Do you paint?"</p> <p>"No."</p> <p>Dad sighed and studied me for a long minute. Then, he said, "Find your passion, Steve. Then do it, and you'll never work a day in your life." It was the best advice he ever gave me.</p> <p>I transferred to San Jose State University because it had a huge art department, and I changed my major to art. That wasn't the right fit for me, either, because I was creative but not a fine artist. When I left college three years later, I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't think I had the skills to get a job. I had to find a way to earn a living, so I started to make things.</p> <p>I made t-shirts with funny sayings on them and ran advertisements in the back of national magazines to try to sell them, but I didn't have much luck. I added funny hats with adjustable fingers in the back that you could bend into a peace sign, okay sign, or other symbols, but I didn't have much luck selling them either. I didn't give up, though, and began making soft sculptures (stuffed animals and characters). I would come up with ideas, source the materials from local fabric stores, handmake the products, and sell them at arts and crafts fairs up and down the state of California.</p> <p>I'll never forget my first show. It was a small art-and-crafts festival in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It seemed like a big deal to me at the time, but it was actually just a bunch of tables and handmade booths set up in the playground of an elementary school. I was sitting there at my little table covered with my Softies when my dad showed up.</p> <p>"How're you doing?" he asked.</p> <p>"Fantastic!"</p> <p>"Good!" he said. "How many products have you sold?"</p> <p>I hadn't sold any. But I loved it, stayed with it, and learned from it. One of the best lessons I learned very quickly was that if I was going to eat and pay my rent, I had to come up with ideas people loved. If a product didn't sell, I had to immediately replace it with one that did. The experience taught me to be agile: quick to realize and respond to what customers did and didn't like. I spent about six years designing, making, and selling my stuff at street fairs, loving every aspect of that little world.</p> <p>Unfortunately, everyone (and I mean <i>everyone</i>) thought I was a loser. I could see the question in their faces: What are you doing with your life? You're 25 and selling things on the street? Besides, I wanted more for myself and my ideas. I thought, <i>If I can sell my little products at street fairs, why not in local stores? And if I can sell my products in local stores, why not in big stores all over the country? Why not all over the world?</i> I wanted to see my products everywhere!</p> <p>One day, I loaded up my partner Marlena's Mustang with a crate of our products, a series of soft-sculpture vegetables with smiling faces we'd made out of colored nylons we purchased at a local department store. I drove to downtown Los Gatos, where there were a lot of novelty stores. I found one that seemed perfect: Puttin' on the Ritz. The owner, Marilyn Hart, was very kind. She treated me with respect, even though I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and she let me show her my products, even though they weren't right for her store. Then she gave me a mini-lesson in retail pricing—explaining how a store would <i>keystone</i> my product (mark it up)—and some other advice before sending me on my way, without an order but inspired to keep trying.</p> <p>Two more stores turned me down, and although I was discouraged, it wasn't enough to make me stop. I went to the Rainbow Inn at the Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz, a store I had frequented as a customer and knew had a lot of soft sculpture. I hauled in my crate and was trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the manager to carry my product when a woman walked up to the register to make a purchase. "What's that?" she asked me. I pulled out a Softie to show her; she loved it and bought it on the spot. Right then and there, the store owner said he wanted to carry a dozen Softies. That was my first—and only—retail order! But it was enough to convince me I could get into retail.</p> <p>A couple months later, I opened my own retail store. On one side of the shop, we sold the Softies we made; on the other side, we sold plants and jewelry. On opening day we sold enough to pay the first month's rent. During the three years I had the store, I continued to sell my products at local street fairs. I also still wanted to get them into other stores. I just didn't know how. But I would soon find out.</p> <br> <p>* * *</p> <p>It was Labor Day weekend, and I was at the Sausalito Art Festival in the San Francisco Bay Area. A man came up to my booth and asked whether my products were available in stores.</p> <p>"Only at my own shop in Santa Cruz," I said.</p> <p>"You need to contact Steve Askin," he said. "He can get your stuff into stores everywhere." Then he told me about Steve, the "Gizmo King," inventor of Deely Bobbers (headbands with pom-pom antennae sticking up from them, inspired by the "Killer Bees" costumes on <i>Saturday Night Live</i>), and his company, What's New, which represented artists and designers from all over the United States.</p> <p>I happened to call Steve when he was in the midst of setting up a trade show where retail buyers from around the country would come to select merchandise for their stores. Mistaking me for someone else, he told me to bring in my stuff. I asked my father to come along, because I was still wet behind the ears and figured that he, a lifelong manager at General Electric, had a lot more business experience than I did. The showroom was filled with antique toys, dancing stuffed animals, and a riot of novelty items. We sat across from Steve Askin in chairs molded like a ballerina and a basketball player; he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a Deely Bobber with money-sign antennae on his head. Dad felt like he'd landed on Mars, and I felt right at home!</p> <p>Steve fell in love with my products. If I could make them, he would sell them. I assured him I could, and he immediately put them on display in his showroom. Sure enough, the orders started flowing in. But I wasn't prepared for the volume; I was making everything by hand and couldn't keep up. With the interest in the product and its price point, I needed to find a cost-effective and less labor-intensive way to make them. Steve had a manufacturing facility in the garment district at the time, and he showed me how he manufactured his products. I taught his group how to make my designs, and they were able to make them faster and at a better price, even though they were still handmade.</p> <p>So Steve took over manufacturing while I focused on designing more Softies, and we divvied up the profits. It was my first experience with manufacturing. In hindsight, it was my first experience with licensing, too. Steve was also the first person to tell me I wasn't crazy and could actually make a living doing this, and he's continued to be my mentor over the years.</p> <br> <p>* * *</p> <p>Although my products were selling well through What's New, I wanted to get them into more and bigger stores, especially big-box retailers such as Target and Walmart. By then, I realized that to get my products out to the mass market I had to find a faster, cheaper way to manufacture them.</p> <p>I was fortunate to meet a woman who was fascinated with my creations and pointed me in the direction of patternmaking. Patterns could be sewn by a workforce and made quickly. So I spent the summer learning how to make patterns.</p> <p>Soon after, I visited Dakin, the largest manufacturer of plush stuffed animals in the United States at the time. The day I chose to go to Dakin proved to be fortuitous: their lead designer had just quit. The timing couldn't have been better. People there sent me home with an assignment to make a life-size plush golden retriever and told me to come back in two weeks. If they liked it, they would pay me $1,500. When I cashed that check, I felt like a million bucks! That was my first freelance job designing a product for a mass-market retailer.</p> <p>A few months after that, I read an article about a teddy bear from a new company called Worlds of Wonder (WOW), in Fremont, California. The bear (Teddy Ruxpin) talked and moved its mouth, but it was pretty ugly to me. I thought I could do better, so I contacted WOW and offered to design a cuter bear for the company on a freelance basis. Instead, WOW hired me. They were planning to manufacture a line of electronic plush toys and needed a designer to create patterns and oversee manufacturing. I was in my late twenties and had my first real job.</p> <p>The company sent me overseas to supervise manufacturing, and I worked with packaging designers and contractors. I went to trade shows and sat in on meetings where the major players at WOW discussed why an idea was good or bad. I also did a lot of design work for WOW, and eventually was promoted to manager of design and even had a few people working under me. I learned about every facet of bringing a product to market in a corporate environment and for a worldwide mass market. What I learned and experienced there changed my life. WOW sold more than five million Teddy Ruxpins in the first year at $89 a pop and became the fifth largest toy company in the world—with only one product. The best part of being at WOW was that I met my beautiful wife, Janice, there. The most important thing I learned was that the guy who created Teddy Ruxpin and licensed it to WOW made more than a million dollars a month in royalties!</p> <p>That really got my attention. Licensing appealed to me because it would enable me to focus on what I loved and did best: being creative. Plus, I was fearful that I still didn't have the skills, knowledge, or desire to start and run my own company, and licensing felt like a safer way to bring my simple ideas to market. So I left WOW and started my own product design company, Stephen Key Design, LLC.</p> <br> <p>* * *</p> <p>In the beginning, I was the CEO, president, sole designer, and single employee of Stephen Key Design. I got off to a good start because I was able to submit my ideas to the manufacturing companies for which I had done consultant work at WOW. I also did some freelance product design work for those and other manufacturers. Companies such as Applause licensed my ideas, and that took me to the next level—seeing my own product ideas on the shelves of mass market retailers. Ohio Art licensed a basketball game from me that sold for more than 10 years, and Trudeau licensed my cup and canteen ideas, which sold well in Disney stores and theme parks for many years.</p> <p>Over the years, I've licensed more than 20 ideas to companies in many industries. When I was in my forties, after reading that there wasn't enough space on labels to provide all the important information consumers needed to know about products they were consuming or using, I came up with the idea for a "spinning" label that wrapped around the container. The opportunities in the labeling industry were huge, and my Spinformation® label turned out to be the best-selling idea of my career (so far).</p> <p>But things change. They <i>always</i> change. Royalties from the Spinformation label stopped. The label was too expensive to manufacture. I was also tired of the daily grind and needed a change; I wanted to do something new.</p> <br> <p>* * *</p> <p>That's when Rob Stephani, a friend from my childhood, walked back into my life. We both knew a guy who was making a lot of money selling a guitar pick with the image of an alien head printed on it. Later, I kept thinking about that guitar pick and playing around with ideas for guitar pick designs. Then it hit me: rather than just printing an image on the surface, why not change the shape of the pick, too? As long as the picks were the standard sizes and thicknesses and in the basic shape of a rounded triangle, why couldn't they be shaped like skulls or monsters?</p> <p>We had some skull picks made and took them to the largest music trade show in America, where we gave away the Grave Picker, as we called it. Our booth was packed. I knew then and there we had a hit.</p> <p>I also knew from my research that the two companies dominating the market would never license my idea. But we knew it would sell. Rob had a music store for 15 years, so he knew all the distributors. We figured the picks would cost only pennies to make. I could design the picks, Rob could sell them, and a local contract manufacturer could make them. How hard could it be?</p> <p>Well, it was harder than I'd thought. But we did it, and it was extremely rewarding to see all of our hard work come to fruition. Hot Picks ended up in tens of thousands of stores worldwide—including major chains such as Walmart and 7-Eleven. Once again, my products were in mass market retailers! This time, I'd brought them to market myself. In a way, I'd come full circle, like when I was in my twenties making and selling my Softies—but on a larger scale. This time, I was manufacturing rather than handmaking my products, and I was selling my products nationwide through retailers rather than handselling at local street fairs or in my little brick-and-mortar store.</p> <p>I had a blast! I got to work with some great bands and great people, such as Taylor Swift and her family. I had complete control. And I learned a tremendous amount about starting and running a business to bring my own ideas to market—all of which I'm going to share with you in this book.</p> <br> <p><b><i>Successful Inventor-Entrepreneurs in This Book</i></b></p> <p>I asked several inventor-entrepreneurs from a variety of industries to share their experiences, knowledge, and advice with us in this book. You'll hear from them throughout these pages. Let me introduce them now. </div></div><br/> <i>(Continues...)</i> <!-- Copyright Notice --> <div><blockquote><hr noshade size="1"><font size="-2">Excerpted from <b>One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs</b> by <b>Stephen Key</b>. Copyright © 2013 by Stephen Key. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..<br/>All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br/>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.</font><hr noshade size="1"></blockquote></div>