I pitched my product idea to a big company. It changed everything!

I pitched my product idea to a big company. It changed everything!

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It was on a return flight from a life-changing vacation in Alaska when I decided to become an entrepreneur.

I was so moved by the wildlife and natural beauty of Alaska that I wanted to make lots of money so I could help protect such wild places.

…and my wife and I both became especially passionate about grizzly bears after seeing them in the wild.

But, being a microchip design engineer for Texas Instruments was the job I dreamed of since I was a child.

And I’ve always been obsessed with electronics.

I loved my job. I was good at my job. And I was passionate about it…for about 10 years.

But, I’ve also dreamed of being an entrepreneur most of my life.

And, honestly, I was tired of spending so much of my life in a tiny office in a city.

I wanted more freedom, more control, and more impact in the world!

And I’m gonna guess you probably have similar feelings or you wouldn’t be watching this video.

So I began the process of brainstorming different business and product ideas.

Then one night while struggling to see the buttons on a remote control while watching a movie in the dark, my product idea struck me.

That idea was a low-cost miniature lighting device that illuminated any surface that it was attached to, including among many things, remote controls.

I named it the Pop-up MicroLite.

When you pressed the top it would pop-up and shine light downward illuminating the surface it was attached to.

Keep in mind this was years ago before illuminated remote controls and smartphones were popular.

Next, I began building early prototypes using just clay and foam.

Within a few months I had my first 3D printed prototype which was quite crude and not functional yet.

Before proceeding further with prototyping, and spending a large sum of money, I decided my strategy would be to get a single big company to express interest in my product.

I hoped this would be the product-market validation I needed, and that it would open up new doors for me.

So I decided to make Blockbuster Video my primary target.

They seemed ideal for a product that could illuminate remote controls when watching movies in the dark.

You do remember Blockbuster, right?

This was back when they were a huge, internationally known company.

So how did I get through to Blockbuster Video?

First, I found the email addresses for several of their vice presidents.

Then I decided to reach out to their Vice-President of Purchasing.

I sent him a really short email describing my product.

And I also attached a sales flyer featuring a picture of my product in use on a remote control.

Although, at this point my prototype was still barely functional, and was nowhere near ready for market.

Within a day, he replied. His message was brief but blissful for me to hear:

“Looks interesting, tell me more.”

Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled!

To have a top executive at a multi-billion dollar retailer tell me my product was “interesting” was a huge jolt of energy.

I’m pretty sure I did some sort of a ridiculously looking dance:)

A few days later, I was in communication with their head retail buyer over merchandise in all of their thousands of stores.

But, this communication was painfully s…l…o…w.

I spent the next few months improving my prototype, and constantly playing phone tag with the Blockbuster buyer who was nearly impossible to catch on the phone.

In addition to the electrical design, my product also needed considerable mechanical design, which I had no experience with at the time.

I tried hiring a few different mechanical engineers. But that didn’t go so well.

None of them could focus entirely on my project, so I kept getting frustrated with how long it was taking.

I was excited and highly motivated to move fast!

Can you relate to ever wanting things to move more quickly?

After one engineer yelled at me to stop rushing him, I decided to learn enclosure design and finish it myself.

Oh yeah, I also quit my dream job at TI, and did something a little crazy:)

We moved from Tucson, Arizona to Homer, Alaska for a couple of years while I worked on my product and did remote consulting work for TI.

Finally, I secured a meeting with the Blockbuster head buyer at their corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas.

I was thrilled. But I was terrified too.

Going from my relaxing, secluded life in a small Alaskan town to presenting my product to a billion dollar company was a HUGE shock to my system.

Talk about being outside your comfort zone!

Their headquarters were located downtown near the top of a tall skyscraper making the whole event even that more intimidating for me.

I didn’t sleep at all the night before my presentation, and I was sick to my stomach almost the entire trip.

Uh. Needless to say I was not operating at my best.

Fortunately, I must have done okay and they were still interested. The buyer requested that I send him an updated prototype once I had it ready.

A few months later I finally had a fully-functional prototype, although it was still 3D printed.

I shipped him this latest prototype and crossed my fingers.

I was so anxious to hear his reaction, confident he would be impressed.

The buyer received it, and it was time to talk with him on the phone.

His response, let’s just say, was not what I hoped for.

I remember vividly the chills running down my back when I asked him what he thought of the prototype.

His blunt answer was “I think it’s awkward to use.”

Seriously, WTF?

I was speechless and completely devastated by that response.

I’m not going to lie, I cried that day.

In fact, I spent the next day or so wallowing in self-pity.

But then I recovered and decided to figure out what happened.

My first reaction was to be defensive and to blame the Blockbuster buyer.

Maybe he’s a moron who doesn’t know how to push a button?

…Or maybe his fingers don’t work correctly?

…Or maybe he lives in a parallel universe with different laws of physics.

Darn it, none of those were the case!

So I did some research and got more details from the Blockbuster buyer.

I did my own experiments, and ultimately I discovered exactly what happened.

I had sent him a 3D-printed prototype made with a type of resin with low heat resistance.

And, I shipped the prototype to him in the middle of a summer heat wave.

Duh! Not my brightest moment:(

My prototype had warped or partially melted. But, it didn’t melt enough to be obvious to the buyer who had never seen the product before.

It had melted just enough to make the product awkward to operate.

I worked with the buyer, even though I was devastated, and he was actually pretty understanding.

He knew it was a prototype, and not a production unit.

Ultimately, I think it impressed him that I worked through this problem.

Um. Thankfully he didn’t hear all the bad words I called him just a few days earlier:)

I was able to work past this to eventually get a Letter Of Intent (an LOI) from Blockbuster.

Basically, an LOI just says “We’re interested, and would like to test this product in our stores once available.”

This is exactly what I wanted from the start!

Well, an actual purchase order would have been even better, but that wasn’t feasible at this early stage without inventory.

Unfortunately, Blockbuster was beginning to die by that point, and it wasn’t much longer before they filed for bankruptcy.

So I never got an actual order from them, but their LOI opened up all kinds of doors for me.

Read the next part of my journey to market about how I got a manufacturer to invest over $100k in my product.

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