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Hard lessons learned (and shared) by product inventors

A simple solution to an age-old problem saves windows, blinds and curtains while keeping the cat happy. But WindowKitty’s getting “innovation to market” came with its own unique set of challenges.

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WindowKitty

Because it’s a cat’s life

If you’ve ever had a cat, you know that your pet feline is going to do whatever it wants, when it wants! This includes a fair amount of lying around watching particles of dust or similar activities. I’ve been trying to figure it out for the last 20 years or so and still don’t have an answer! I do know that the window sill is prime real estate for mine and many other cats, which is why WindowKitty is so attractive.

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WindowKitty resolves all your worries by creating a protected crawlspace. Think of it as a ¾ tube that braces against the window and sits on the sill. You cat walks in, sits down and enjoys the view. Tabby can’t hurt the blinds. He/she can see out, but no one can see in. Your feline won’t sit on top of WindowKitty because it’s curved and he/she will slide off (awesome). You can check out way cool videos here and here to connect the dots.

Innovation is not easy

Good ideas are dime a dozen. Transitioning WindowKitty from concept to actual product took time, effort and resources.

According to Brian and Christina Martinez, the creators and patent holders of WindowKitty, “We needed a solution to the problem of sacrificing our privacy to maintain window blinds. We devised our first prototype out of a range hood vent and a long flute. When our cat jumped in immediately, we knew we were on to something.”

What did they learn as new entrepreneurs?

But that was only the beginning. In the founders’ own words below is a brief but insightful look at the challenges involved in developing WindowKitty that may guide your own way forward.

Money doesn’t always talk: “We did a national search for a manufacturer. We had money to start manufacturing and could not find any companies that wanted to take on our project. Our manufacturer found us through Kickstarter.”

Chinese New Year: “It was surprising to us that all work stops for the Chinese New Year.  We’ve added this information to our plan so that we can maintain inventory around this time.”

Time: “It takes a very long time…”

“…From collaboration to design, from design to tooling, from tooling to production took us over two years.”

– “Shipping cargo internationally takes about three weeks (all the sudden the weather became very important!).  We had all of our products delivered to our house and again, time played a huge part.  We had 1.5 hours to unload 720 WindowKitty’s from the truck –or we would incur an hourly rate (we kept the kids home from school and they helped us unload!).”

Collateral: “From cars to life insurance [we used it] for collateral on a business loan. Even with great credit the business loan process was rigorous (and lengthy!)”

Buyer beware & pricey decisions: “We made the wrong decision and lost thousands.  We had the product designed with a firm that wowed us in the beginning but didn’t deliver in the end.  We had to pay a local designer to fix the designs.”

It’s a family affair: “When we started working on WindowKitty we weren’t both on board 100%.  It was a risk and very costly!  It took us a few months to both get on the same page.  We learned that we cannot be successful unless we were both 100% on board.”

Hard work pays off

The idea of WindowKitty seems to have gelled, as the initial rollout was a success. But it doesn’t end there. Sustainability takes even more effort.

Let WindowKitty’s lessons in innovating guide your own path of innovation, and may your learning curve be shorter thanks to the founders sharing their insight!

#WindowKitty

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

Business Entrepreneur

If you’re easily distracted, you’re more likely to thrive as an entrepreneur

(ENTREPRENEUR) If monotony and boredom at work- well bores you, it’s possible you may fit with the other entrepreneurs with a quick and constantly changing career.

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entrepreneurs work place

When Bill Gates was a kid, he knew he liked messing around with code. He couldn’t have known how it might evolve, but he was willing to live in the distraction, focusing on details when needed, but always learning, moving on, taking risks and growing in the process.

Some of the most successful folks among us are not content to sit and make widgets every day. They cannot thrive in a detail and focused work environment. So, it may come as no surprise to know that people who are more easily distracted are also more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.

According to this study, if you are intelligent and get distracted more easily, those two qualities combined will likely enhance your creativity. And, that creativity and ability to use distraction as an advantage can be channeled to create new things, jobs, companies, etc.

For those of us who are more easily distracted, who enjoy doing different things every day, and who like learning, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests a good option is to find a career path that provides the right amount of distraction and which is a great fit for your personality. If you do that your talent is more likely to be apparent because you are playing to your strengths. Also, if you are working in your sweet spot you will be more productive and motivated.

Maybe not surprisingly, the top job for those who live in distraction is entrepreneur. The term “easily distracted” often comes with a negative connotation, but considering an entrepreneur is taking risks, making things happen and creating companies, ideas, products that may have never existed, this spins that idea on its head. Entrepreneurs are the chief cooks and bottle washers of the world. They ideate, create, hire and inspire. None of that is possible in a monotonous work environment.

“Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of ‘openness to experience,’ so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability,” according to the HBR story.

Other careers that are great fits for those of us (me included) who enjoy distraction are PR/Media Production, Journalism and Consultant. What these fields all have in common is, there is never a dull moment, switching from task to task is pretty commonplace, and you will do well if you can be a generalist – synthesizing information and weeding out the unnecessary.

Not sure where your strengths lie? Here’s a quick quiz to give you some feedback on how curious you really are.

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Business Entrepreneur

How can a small business beat a large competitor moving in next door?

(BUSINESS) How do you stand out when a big competitor moves to your neighborhood? Reddit has a few suggestions – some obvious, some not so much.

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Small businesses, especially restaurants have been hit hard by lockdowns. Many closed for good this year, and those that are still hanging on are in a precarious position as their local economies shift.

Last week, a user on r/smallbusiness asked a timeless question that is especially relevant right now. Reddit user longbottomjr writes: “We have a strong competitor moving in next door in a few months. Our restaurant is one that pays the bills but […] I feel that if this new competitor takes up enough market share we will lose our restaurant. Can anyone chime in with resources/ideas I can use to help put together our plan of action?”

Comments quickly pointed out what common sense would dictate.

First, ensure the basics are covered. Being clean, quick, friendly, and high quality will take you far, no matter what competition you’re up against. And as u/horsemullet said, “Customer service also happens before someone walks through the door!” So make sure that your online hours, contact info, menus and social media accounts are up to date and accurate.

Another point emerged that is less intuitive: Competing businesses will naturally gravitate towards similar locations. This is a well-established phenomenon known within game theory as Nash’s Equilibrium. In the restaurant industry, this is actually a good thing. It brings entirely new customers to the area and ultimately benefits all the other nearby businesses, too.

Take advantage of the attention by offering something other spots don’t, like loyalty rewards, specials, unique offerings, or meal deals.

Speaking of the area, a great way to stand out from larger competitors is to build relationships with the community you serve, as u/sugarface2134 emphasized. “In my city there are two Italian restaurants in the same location – just across the parking lot from each other. We always pick the smaller one because the owner truly makes you feel like a member of the family.”

That’s an advantage of being a small, local business that all the money in the world couldn’t buy. Get to know your customers personally and you will not only create loyal regulars, but friends as well.

One of the top rated responses, from u/seefooddiet2200, made an often overlooked but critically important point.

“Talk to your staff and see if they have any ideas. These are the people that are working every single day and may know one or two ‘annoying’ things that if they were switched would make things easier. Or maybe they see that there’s specific things people ask for that you don’t serve. Every single [one] of your employees is a gold mine of insight, you just need to be open to listening to them.”

That is applicable to any business owner who wants to improve their practices.

Ask employees what they think, especially the ones who have stuck around a long time. Not only do they know the ins-and-outs of their jobs, but this builds rapport and trust with your staff. A good boss realizes that employees are more than their job descriptions. They have valuable thoughts about what’s working and not working, and direct access to customer’s opinions.

Good luck, u/longbottomjr! We’ll be rooting for you.

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Business Entrepreneur

How a newly funded coffee delivery startup is thriving during COVID

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) Seattle’s Joe Coffee finds successful funding in hyper specific clientele and operations even mid-pandemic. But how did they do it?

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Joe Coffee delivery

Amidst a pandemic, you might not expect a small company with limited clientele to thrive. Yet, Joe Coffee, a Seattle-based delivery service, is doing just that.

Joe Coffee, an aptly named coffee runner, has received millions in funding, a large chunk of which was raised mid-pandemic. Their mission is simple: to bring coffee from smaller shops to local consumers, especially without endangering either party.

There’s a lot to be said about Joe Coffee’s valuation and mission, but what’s more intriguing is their unlikely success.

A food delivery service that focuses on coffee may not seem that niche, but when you look at Joe Coffee’s determination to stick to the Seattle area, coupled with its staunch resolve for frequenting smaller shops (e.g., not Starbucks), the service begins to look pretty specific–and, in an economy that honors sweeping solutions, this is a welcome change of pace.

The way their service works is fairly simple: Joe Coffee provides shops with signs and information on how to order through the Joe network, then consumers are able to download and order through a mobile app on all of the usual platforms. Joe Coffee takes a nine percent cut of the order total, credit card fees included.

In return, customers are able to order from their favorite, local, non-chain coffee shops, both supporting them and sustaining their caffeine addiction at a time where alertness is paramount and grouchiness is all too common.

What’s truly interesting about Joe Coffee’s example is that it demonstrates an availability for small services with extreme specificity in terms of operating capacity. By sticking to unique businesses in a relatively small metropolitan area (as opposed to, say, multiple cities), the service is more likely to be successful in execution and delivery, thereby solidifying its relevance to both consumers and businesses alike.

And, by playing into the need for curbside pickup or home delivery these days, Joe Coffee only furthers the perception that its service is necessary.

If the country begins to reopen–whenever that happens–it will be no surprise to see Joe Coffee maintain a relationship between consumers and smaller businesses in the Seattle area. For anyone offering a similarly niche service, this is a perfect example of a company to which you should pay attention.

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