Archives for the month of: October, 2011

It has been said again and again that necessity is the mother of all invention. This particular product is no exception. Yet like all great products, there is a human story behind it.

The Swiss Army Knife is legendary for its multiple uses. Each soldier receives one upon entering the Swiss Army. The man who is thought to have invented this product for a reason that had nothing to do with military or adventure.  It had to do with his car breaking down while he was on a European tour with his wife back in 1975.

As you can imagine, if this caused him to eventually develop a new product, he must have had to fix the car himself. This was the case because they were on a budget. The story behind this product is that while making repairs to his old Fiat he had bought in Amsterdam he lamented the fact that the knife he had with him (in fairness it wasn’t a Swiss Army Knife) didn’t have pliers. In fact the famous, early Swiss knife also didn’t have pliers.

So Tim Leatherman set out to develop a knife of his own.  Although he had an engineering degree, he wasn’t really that skilled with his planning and building. What was supposed to be a one-month project turned into a three-year endeavor. It was his wife who had to support him.

He finally got the knife he wanted, of course with the prized pliers. He also got a job to support himself and his family, and in another five years to finally sell it in 1983. It wasn’t easy since there was the issue of product identification. What he thought was a knife, would-be mass purchasers considered it a tool. When he went to sell it as a tool, sellers in that line of business said it was a gadget. So in the end, he finally called it the “Pocket Survival Tool”. It was through the mail order catalog niche that he made his breakthrough sales.

He had a great product, the challenge was in marketing and finding the right channel. After that was accomplished, everything else followed. His perseverance, support from family and friends, helped him bring the product to the mass market. The Leatherman Tool Group, Inc. is now a multi-million dollar company with a host of products and continues to innovate.

Looking back, one of the best moves Tim ever made was buying that broken down Fiat.

One product that has been a part of many people’s childhood experiences is the crayon. It is such an interesting product. In my own personal experience, I did not view it as a writing or coloring instrument, but more as a toy. In fact I recall chewing a crayon on a number of occasions.

Only later on did I learn to make a distinction. Crayons and Crayola crayons are two different things. What I fondly recall chewing is a Crayola crayon. Crayon encompasses a wider range of items. There are basically two types of crayon, coloring (wax) and chalk. Based on my own personal experience, whenever I asked for crayons, I usually was given Crayola crayons.


image by George Hernandez

One of the nice things about Crayola products are that they are non-toxic, which is great for kids. The company who manufactures this wax colored-crayon was initially known as Binney & Smith after the cousins who owned and ran it. The company started in 1885 and produced and offered to the public Crayola crayons in 1903. They offered eight colors. This number of colors has increased over the years.

The company changed its name to Crayola in 2007 and is now a subsidiary of Hallmark. It’s reported to produce 3 billion crayons a year, along with other children-related products as well.

Nowadays, there are a dizzying array of products and toys offered to children. Yet, Crayola, a for profit company, has made a product that seems like a natural part of a child’s learning and growing experience. Hopefully in the years and decades ahead, it will remain that way.

So here you have an inventor who is already in his mid-seventies trying to sell his tongue brush, an invention he perfected over 10 years ago. Bad breath does not lead to bad company; it just leads to no one wanting to be in your company. With an observed fact that 90% of bad breath is due to a dirty tongue, Dr. Robert Wagstaff thought he had had a hit. However, after spending a good sum of money on traditional advertising, nothing happened.

Even students in a particular class (he was trying to find help) at Brigham Young University, in Utah, said that the product wasn’t interesting; except for one student, Jeffery Harmon. He believed the product could find success online. Based on commission and very little capital outlay, he produced a video and uploaded it on YouTube. That was in 2009, as they say the rest is history.  Their YouTube channel already has over 39 million views. They have over 200,000 likes on Facebook as well.

This online popularity also translated into actual sales. Online sales increased. They were also able to sell their product at a local Walmart store. However, they did not rest on their clean-tongued laurels as the company recently announced that they are now available in Walmart stores nationwide.

The Provo, Utah based company, Orabrush, Inc.  reportedly made $2 million in revenue in 2010 and is projected to make $10 million in 2011: a giant leap.

It’s so inspiring; an inventor in his mid-seventies unsuccessfully trying to sell his product; a college student at home with the internet and social media; and YouTube. What a combination. It shows the power of the internet and how age should not be an excuse to give up.

How many hours are you online every day? If you’re social life is synonymous to cyber life, you may spend more time surfing the internet, checking your Facebook account, and playing online games than the average person. As a matter of fact, Americans are spending more time in social media sites like Facebook than ever before, with an average of 4 hours and 35 minutes per month according to Experian Hitwise. What is making people stay online longer?

The answer: social media applications. A company called RockYou would know all about this since they are one of the pioneers when it comes to the development of social media apps, especially games and advertising solutions. Are you familiar with Gourmet Ranch and Zoo World? If you’re an avid fan of these games, you have RockYou to thank.

What is RockYou? Listed as one of the most promising venture-backed companies by the Wall Street Journal in 2008, RockYou is focused on the development of interactive social games. Although RockYou now specializes in social media applications, the company’s first product, was much different than what they are producing today. In 2005, partners Lance Tokuda and Jia Shen created a slide show application widget. From this, they moved on to create other applications such as voice mail, text and photo stylization. In 2007, they found their niche in producing games for Facebook as one of the first companies to develop and operate third-party software applications.

And the rest, as they say, is history. RockYou continued to climb up the ladder of success as they began to focus on higher quality social games. Since their inception six years ago, they have acquired two-game development studios, namely TirNua and Playdemic. The latter’s first game, ‘Gourmet Ranch,’ was recently nominated for a Mochi Award for ‘Best Social Game’ February of this year.

Today, RockYou’s games have millions of active users and counting.