Flashlights And Roller Coasters

(Innovators Rules #10 & #11)Rollercoaster

From the last story we realize two more important Rules of being an Innovator; Rule #10: Don’t Force Your Product Into One Category and Rule #11: The Roller Coaster Ride.

Rule #10 is easy to forget but important to remember. If you aren’t constantly aware of this rule, you could miss out on market segments you never thought of and like in the examples below the missed markets were larger than the original markets. And, of course when I say “markets” I mean “revenues”.

Rule #11 is a rule you can never forget about. Being an Innovator is getting up every morning, driving to the Innovator’s Amusement Part (your office), and stepping on that roller coaster ride for another 12 hours of excitement.

Here are the next two Rules of Innovation…

Rule #10: Don’t Force Your Product Into One Category

Don’t try to force you product into one category, sometimes the most successful application isn’t the one that’s the most obvious. If you let your product, idea, company take on a life of it’s own, you will see how it grows naturally.

As in the previous story, when I first developed SoftVoice I didn’t know what it was, at all. There was no category for it. The Assistive Technology Industry didn’t exist yet. No one had ever heard of or used computer to aid the severely disabled. At first I thought it was only for a quadriplegic to turn on a light. I never would have imagined that a P.C. like this could be used as a physical therapy device. The longest day I lived I never would have guessed that a voice activated computer would allow for the first time, a C-3 Quad the ability to regain the use of their arm.

When I built Paper Models, Inc., www.PaperModelsInc.com company I thought the big area of success would be as a corporate specialty advertising product. It worked with United Airlines, British Airways, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Honda, and BMW. I never thought of the product as educational.

When I began selling the product I watched how and who was buying it. The first thing I noticed was one product out sold all of the others; the San Diego Mission Bacilica de Alcala, California Spanish Mission. When I spoke to my customers they told me they ‘needed’ it for a school project. I quickly launched all 21 California Spanish Missions. It turned out that there are 415,000 forth graders in the State of California that is required to “build” a Spanish Mission as part of their course study. With no competing and a guaranteed 100% market turn over every school year (the third graders become brand new forth graders), I had a winner!

I then released the Alamo, White House, Capital Building, and other school related products. The demographics showed me that each grade from K through 12 represent about 3.2 million kids nationally. The education division now out sells the rest of the company more than 10 to 1.

Another of the three companies that I have founded and am currently running is Better Homes Seminars. This company is also a stunning example of Rule #10. When I founded Better Homes Seminar my intent was to create a seminar company that would support new homebuyers; both buyers of new homes and first time buyers. Did you know that over the next twelve-months there will be 1,233,000 new homes built in America. This is more than any other twelve month period in the entire history of the U.S.

I rolled out my Building Class 101 and was fortunate enough to have also have a nationally published book in partnership with Que / Pearson Publishing titled “Build Your New House… In No Time”. The book was a success, the seminars, not so much. As with many products, the customer base is so spread out throughout the overall demographic population, that the revenues generated didn’t justify the amount of generic advertising necessary to reach my target demographic.

So before I gave up on this idea (which was more of a calculated decision than an emotional one), I took a strong look at my customer base, people who have attended my seminars. I instantly saw something funny in the data. It turned out that about 25% of everyone who attended my seminar was a realtor. I knew it wasn’t possible for 1 out of every 4 people who signed up for my $99 seminar accidentally was a realtor buying or build a new home. So I picked up the phone and began calling them. Not being a realtor myself, what I found out was something I never would have anticipated or realized if I didn’t look closely at my client base and actually speak with my customers.

As it turned out most realtors are uncomfortable with selling into new home construction. They’re afraid of suggesting a homebuilder to their client who wants a new home because of all of the horror stories they’ve heard about new home construction. In almost every case, a realtor will push their client into a “tract” (production), home knowing that they may only get a $500 commission or none at all and that it might not be the right solution for their clients.

The smart realtors when hearing about this class were willing to pay the $99 to get a competitive advantage over of the other 75,028 licensed realtors in the State of Arizona. Wow, go figure!

So, instead of shutting down the company and accepting failure, I repackaged the seminar for the realtor and it and I was quickly certified by the Arizona Department of Real Estate for realtor license credits.

While I’m not getting rich from this concept, I am teaching this class and Construction Class 102 at the Professional Institute of Real Estate in Scottsdale four time per month and it gives additional credibility to me as an author and to my book. What started out looking like a failure, turned out to be a success because I “Shifted My Perspective”.First Flashlight

Another similar story was the invention of the Flashlight invented in 1898 by Joshua Lionel Cowen. Josh came up with an idea for a decorative lighting fixture for potted plants. It was a metal tube with a light bulb at the end and a dry cell battery that could run the light bulb for up to 30 days. Conrad Hubert, who worked for Cowen’s Eveready, Company (ever ready), came up with the idea of turning the poorly selling plant light metal tube, light bulb, and battery into the world’s first flashlight. He began selling the batteries and the flashlight, together and as separate items.

Recognize Josh’s middle name? Miniature trains was also an invention by ole Joshua for which he also became a multi-millionaire. In 1900, Cowen was actually trying to invent a store window display when he invented his toy trains. He developed a battery powered toy car that traveled on a circular track. People who saw his display wanted to buy the display more than the actual merchandise he was trying to sell. Cowen then started Lionel Model Trains.

Rule #11: The Roller Coaster Ride

As an Innovator you have to be able to ride the rollercoaster. You have to ride it over and over again until your ready to throw up. Then you do just that and get back on the roller coaster again.

Roller coasters are fun, exciting, exhilarating! When you go to an amusement park it’s usually the first thing you do, ride the biggest roller coaster. And, during that day you might ride it a second time. It’s great. As someone who has been used to a 9-5 job, you might not have the stamina to ride that roller coaster again and again and again from the time the park opens until it closes at night, then do it all over again the next day.

Being an Innovator is a lot like this. It can be really exciting climbing to the top. From the top of that first hill you get a perspective of the park and area around you that you can’t get from any other ride. The anticipation of climbing up that hill or getting V.C. financing, or signing that big deal, or getting your FDA or Patent Approval is incredibly exciting. Actually getting that approval, or signing that contract is even more exciting, it’s a total rush of adrenalin! Imagine when you hit those curves at the bottom going 100 mile per hour. Wow!Rollercoaster

Then you run into a cash flow problem. The Venture people take control of your Board or pull out. You run out of money. Your product fails in the market place. You run out of money. A new competitor pops up. You run out of money. You don’t get your patent approved this round. You run out of money. An employee files a lawsuit. You run out of money. A competitor files a lawsuit. You run out of money. An investor files a lawsuit. You run out of money. Of you just run out of money.

Then you crash. You might get depressed. You definitely get overwhelmed. You feel like the weight of the whole world is on your shoulders. You are responsible for making payroll, paying the invoices, delivering that product. This time you don’t think you can fix it and get back on that rollercoaster one more time. But, aha, you’re committed. You’re in a great deal of debt. You can’t give up. You would never financially recover from this if your quit. You have to try again. So you get back on the rollercoaster for another loop around the park.

And like before, you succeed. You Innovate a solution, you buy some time, you raise a little money. You get on a plane and fly to Alexandria, Virginia and demonstrate your invention for the patent office and get approved on the spot. You get on a plane and fly to New York and meet with the V.C. people and get funded. You go and meet face-to-face with the individual suing you and you come to a compromise. You meet with the competitor and strategic partner together and work as a team (these all are true and happened to me.) And what do you know, you’re riding the downhill adrenaline rush part of the ride screaming with both of your hands in the air. Again.

If you are an inventor or Innovator listen carefully and remember what’s about to come the next time you hear the “Click, Click, Click”.

Lon Safko
Innovative Thinking

Lon LIVE !