Friday, August 27, 2010

Pong, Water Skis and Speed Control

I am amazed at the products and services offered on the internet. I am also amazed by the tweeters or so-called experts, who give out marketing advise on how to build a start-up company.   It might sound odd, but I have a few words of wisdom and experience.

My husband is a very inventive guy, in fact an engineer.  There were times over the past 42 years he came up with some clever ideas.  I remember the time he made this game, that he wanted me to play on an oscilloscope.  In fact this was back in 1964, that he tried to coax me into the spare bedroom to play this game on the screen.  At the time, I could not imagine people enjoying such activities as sitting in front of a screen hitting a ball around or back in forth.  I enjoyed the game of ping pong but could not fathom that this would be something that the average consumer might enjoy playing in their spare time.  Well, that was definitely a wrong assumption, as we all know that in late 1964 or sometime after that period a company named Atari released the first video game of sorts called 'Pong', a very big hit and the leader to what we all know today as video games.  I learned a lesson at that point in my life, that one should support the ideas of your spouse, encouraging them to follow through on their inventions. 

I also learned that as the years past, there were other ideas that would surface and I stepped forward as a dutiful wife to offer support.  In some cases these ideas were great, but I could see that often the creating and bringing the idea to substance was often more fun for him than following through with the actual marketing of the idea to others.

In one case, he had an idea for fiber-glass water skis.  We had always skied on the old heavy wooden skis and found them cumbersome for the type of water-skiing that we performed: tricking.   He had read an article in an old Popular Mechanics magazine about someone building a sailboat from scratch using epoxy and a special light weight foam material and fiberglass cloth.   Now imagine, that you have a screened in porch that becomes your assembly area.  You order this foam and the epoxy materials and proceed to build 'trick' water skis.  As I recall he made a pair for each of us, one for our 8 month old daughter (for future use), a pair in payment to the boy next door who mowed our lawn and a pair for sending to Cypress Gardens.  The skis were light-weight and a dream to ski on and we used them for many years.  We spent hours sanding and perfecting the layers of epoxy and fiberglass strips onto the foam form that was cut out with a jig-saw, I believe.  The end results were perfection.  We designed a simple white ski with a couple of simple red stripes along the ski.  They were beautiful.  We were naive and trusting, as we sent the pair of skis to Cypress Gardens in Florida.  We had not patented or taken necessary steps to protect the idea.  And it wasn't too long after, that Cypress Gardens introduced their fiberglass water-skis, amazingly with almost the same simple red and white design we had sent them.  They didn't even bother to change the appearance which surprised me.

As the years past, and work and family consumed most of our time, there were fewer inventions that came forth, but another one that I remember was the speed-control for our inboard waterski boat.  If you have ever water skied in tournaments you know that the speed of the boat is paramount to how successful you are in completing a 'trick run'.  As a wife, I tried my best to provide the utmost perfection in controlling the speed of the boat, listening to the hum of the rpm's and doing a pretty good job I thought.  Eventually, he took the idea of a speed-control for the boat and came up with a device that we were able to use on our boat to control the speed automatically in 1970's.  The thrill of creating had again been reached and the follow through to market to others never materialized.  It wasn't long after, maybe a year or two people were trying to come up with a device to control the speed on boats.  I would say it took them at least 10 year to perfect the device and we eventually had one on our last boat as an add-on feature in late 1980's.

I guess I need to make a point here and how this point pertains to products and marketing.  First:  You must have a product that consumers use.  Second:  You must protect your ideas with patents and legal advise.  Third:  You must follow through from creation to market.


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