My Own Incredible
Discerning opportunity in the day’s mundane moments is the instinct necessary to entrepreneurial survival; having the courage and the ability to act upon opportunity is what essentially separates those who succeed from those who fail.
Risk Equals Reward—Big Risk Equals Big Reward
How do you turn your kitchen table idea into a million dollars? How do you become a successful entrepreneur? There are many books that detail all the abilities and strengths that need to be brought to the task, but it’s not so much a question of competence as one of entrepreneurial character. You could bring with you every word of wisdom and degrees from venerable Ivy League colleges on how to succeed to the threshold as an entrepreneur, but without the necessary willingness to take a calculated risk, you could not take the first step toward that exciting and mysterious frontier of risk and reward.
There is no reward without risk, and the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
To some people—a couple of whom will no doubt be family members—the willingness to embark upon a path of risk will be perceived on one day as courage, on the next as foolish abandon, and on another as insanity. At the very beginning, I was walking in the darkness of faith and not the light of reason. There was no way I could communicate my expectations to friends and family—I just had a gut feeling that I would be successful and I had to follow my gut. Many told me I would fail. Let’s face it; vision is a gift of the dreamer, and not everyone was born to dream. People had been laughing at dreamers for aeons before I came along. I’m sure a lot of people laughed at Bill Gates when he dropped out of college to pursue some little business he had going on in his garage.
I Was No Bill Gates
The little project on the side I was working on in my basement was laughably simple. In fact, no one took me seriously, and why should they have? It was literally a bag of corn! The whole invention itself was a complete accident. I was a stay-at-home mom with two boys, aged two and four, who was just looking for something clever to give to her kids’ teachers for a Christmas present. My husband was feeding deer in the backyard of our sprawling tree-lined suburban neighborhood. What did we know? We were city kids with our first official house with a certified yard! I saw a fifty-pound bag of corn he had left standing upright next to my sewing machine and a lightbulb went off in my head. I had heard of rice in socks, surely corn would be better: It had a bigger grain that would hold on to heat longer. I put the corn in a hastily sewn pillowcase, heated it up in the microwave for a couple of minutes, then took it out and held it against my chest. I was blown away by the wave of soothing moist heat that enveloped my body.
The Eureka Moment: When Inspiration Meets Invention
I was overtaken by something that can only be described as a fever. I was possessed during the next three days by a tireless need to work on this thing only. Sewing different-sized pillowcases like an automaton, I experimented with different weights and fills, dragging my screaming, uncooperative kids through blinding whiteout snowstorms to every fabric store within thirty miles, looking for the perfect fabric, the perfect print, the perfect welt cord. I used a hundred-dollar sewing machine I had gotten for free with my credit card points, jamming my fingers under the needle occasionally—I was a lousy sewer—and produced pretty pillowcases with tiny little bloodstains on them where I had sewn over my finger as I tried to turn a tight corner on the cheap, lumbering machine.
do you have a million-dollar product?
To evaluate your product, ask yourself the following questions:
• Is there a need for my product?
• Does a market exist to buy it?
• How big is that market?
• Do I have the capacity to meet the need?
• Am I willing to learn how to knock down doors to take it to market?
The Next Big Thing: Evaluating Trends
Some of the nation’s biggest retailers employ full-time trend spotters, who do nothing but look in their crystal balls of research, intuition, and popular culture to come up with the next big thing. This is actually more of a predictable science than you would think. Hallmark, with more than forty-two thousand stores nationally, employs a professional trend forecaster, Marita Wesely-Clough, whom the magazine American Demographics identified as one of the top five trend spotters in the nation, to keep its retailers ahead of the consumer curve. To read her current forecasts, type “Hallmark trends” into your Google Search bar. She predicts that the next five years will give birth to a new entrepreneurial age, in which young companies will produce ingenious products and devise new strategies to take their products direct to consumers as retailing giants experience temporary stasis from their mega-mergers, including Sears and Kmart, Federated (Macy’s) and May Company, Belk and Proffitt’s. So brush off your idea for the next big thing you’ve been sitting on for years and ask yourself these questions:
• Do you have a great idea? What is a good idea? Generally speaking, it’s anything that will wake you up in the middle of the night or keep you up. I experienced this same inexplicable passion about my quaint little invention soon after I made it, seeing opportunity that made me so excited I couldn’t sleep. Whether you’re investing your precious time or money in a product or a service, there are a few key elements to what defines a “great idea.”
• Have you identified an underserved niche? Every successful entrepreneur is always on the hunt for their next unexploited market. Once you find a customer base that has previously been ignored in the marketplace, it is easier to design your product’s features and benefits around it. One of the most successful examples of this in the last decade was Tommy Hilfiger’s almost accidental connection with the rap and hip-hop community. Until Tommy, almost nobody was making clothes for this image-conscious and sometimes affluent group of consumers, and they practically made his empire overnight. My product’s success identified a niche by merging home decorator accent with spa therapy; consumers could buy a microwaveable moist heat pillow that no longer looked like a medical device, a sock, or a doughnut. It would look great in their homes or as a gift. Other features that distinguished it from similar products in the marketplace included a superior heat source, removable washable pillowcase, no smelly herbs, and upscale designer fabrics. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Everyone is always looking for something “hot and new,” and so my product found its way into every retail environment there is!
I woke one morning to the tune of 2001: A Space Odyssey playing in my head. What had I made? Why was I so possessed? What would I call it?
After all, this was just corn in a bag. “A very pretty bag,” I would years later joke with my chief financial officer. After at least two dozen different prototypes, I had finally sewn the perfect pillow, with a finished size of ten by sixteen inches, complete with a removable, washable pillowcase, featuring a contrasting fabric-covered welt cord trim and an envelope-style closure on the back. Inside was a very nicely sewn pillow of cotton muslin filled with my ingenious thermodynamic heating element, feed corn. Later this internal heating element would be upgraded to expensive seed corn.
I recognized my dilemma instantly: How could I possibly express in a name the superiority and comfort of something so deceptively simple? How would I put into words the indescribable feeling of soothing relief that I felt when I held this heated bag against my chest, allowing its waves of healing warmth to pulse into my heart, making me distantly recall the embrace of my mother when I was a child? How could I communicate to tense, overtaxed modern consumers the release of a deep sigh that this product would deliver to their cold, weary bodies after heating it for only two to three minutes in the microwave? I stood in my kitchen, a Michigan snowstorm raging outside in the deep woods that surrounded our suburban development, as two troublemaking, mischievous toddlers ran around my house with abandon and glee, breaking, spilling, crying, and laughing like Thing One and Thing Two in Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat. Impervious to the chaos, I thought about the solace provided by my simple little product, which made me feel, for one peaceful moment, that all was right in the world.
Trademark 101: Crazy Is Good
How do you put that into words?! I want to say the name Wuvit instantly came to my mind, but that would just be subscribing to the myth of the Mommy Millionaire, which I am trying to dispel here. The real story is that I held it next to my chest and whispered in a childlike voice, “I love it.” “Love It. Luvit. Hmmmmm.” I raced down to the computer—first popping a videotape of Rugrats into the VCR and shoving a box of cereal at my still pajama-clad toddlers—went to the United States Patent and Trademark Office Web site, www.uspto.gov, and just started searching trademarks. Damn! “Luvit” was already taken by a brand of toilet paper. What a waste of a great name! Who luvs toilet paper? I had a job before I was a mommy, in marketing at a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. I still possessed some creative brain cells that weren’t destroyed by two years of pregnancy and four years of an almost total and complete lack of sleep. I had to use them.
why you need a trademark
• A trademark provides legal protection in the marketplace for the name of your product or business name and is defined as any word, name, symbol, or device used to identify and distinguish a producer’s goods from others. A service mark provides legal protection for a service instead of a product.
• A trademark is a key piece of intellectual property (IP) that is critical to the future success of your product in the marketplace, as well as a valuable asset to your company.
• You need to protect your product’s name right at the beginning, before you introduce it to the marketplace, or you may risk losing the name later to someone who may contest your ownership rights because you didn’t register it.
• Another reason you need to register your trademark right at the beginning is to make sure that you’re not impinging on anyone else’s trademark rights, which you’ll discover with a search on the USPTO’s Web site, www.uspto.gov. You could be sued if you do so.
• It can take up to a year to have your trademark formally approved by the USPTO, at which time you will be legally allowed to use the registered trademark symbol ®. Until then, you need to use the symbol ™ behind your product’s name to let the public know that you’re claiming it as your mark.
What was the next best name after Luvit? Wuvit! Why, that was brilliant! I guessed that nobody could have possibly registered that as a trademark, and I was right. I only had to fill out a simple online form with line-by-line directions provided by the USPTO and charge $325 on my credit card and I could own this trademark in a year. As a former marketing professional, I knew that creating a unique, nonsensical brand name would get the instant attention of the consumer in a brand-crowded marketplace. Look at Kleenex. That was marketing genius. The latest to join the crazy name ranks is Google, after only seven years valued at over $100 billion. You know you’ve created gold when your brand becomes so distinct and unforgettable that it comes to represent the generic product itself and becomes part of the language, like Kleenex. What consumer would ever be able to walk by a product called Wuvit in the marketplace without at least stopping to find out what the heck it was?
how to register a trademark
1. Take the TEAS (Trademark Electronic Application System) Tutorial, a free service of the USPTO, which explains step-by-step how to fill out your electronic trademark application online. (www.uspto.gov/teas/eTEAStutorial.htm).
2. Determine what mark you want to register.
3. Use Tess to search the USPTO database to determine whether a similar mark is already registered or whether an application for a similar mark has been filed for related goods and/or services.
4. If you didn’t find any similarly confusing marks in your search of Tess, check the Trademark Application and Registration Retrieval (TARR) system to see if there are any other potential conflicts.
5. If not, it’s time to file your application online, which will require you to submit a payment of $325 by credit card. This is a nonrefundable fee, so make sure you do your homework first. If they turn down your application because a similar mark already exists, you will not get your money back.
6. If your mark consists of any original artwork, you’ll need to convert it first to a jpeg file so that it can be electronically attached with your application.
7. Once you file your application, you’ll immediately receive e-mail acknowledgment of your filing. Save this, because it will have important information, including your filing date and case number. You’ll need to have this handy when an examining attorney calls from the USPTO to discuss your application.
What’s the Difference Between ™ and ® and How Do I Protect My Trademark?
Use ™ to identify your brand in the marketplace while awaiting the acceptance of your trademark application from the USPTO. This gives fair warning to all competitors that you are claiming this mark as a brand. You may only use ® when your request for a trademark has been formally granted and it is accepted as a registered trademark.
Every time I file a trademark, I will get numerous letters in the mail looking very official with an invoice inclosed for anything from $200 to $2,000, offering to “record” my trademark application in their database. This is an unnecessary expense. They are counting on your inexperience to cause you to send them a check for a useless service. Some of these scammers will go to great lengths to make their correspondence look like it came from an official U.S. government source. Be careful and read the fine print.
Copyright © 2007 by Kim Lavine. All rights reserved.