Hello, my name is Christopher Hawker. I am a professional inventor, specializing in innovative consumer products. My company is called Trident Design, LLC. I have developed many products in numerous industries and have over 20 products on the market. My most famous invention is the PowerSquid, a cephalopod-inspired power strip with outlets situated at the end of short cords, thereby eliminating the problem of losing outlets to bulky transformer plugs. John Biggs, editor-in-chief of this blog, has asked me to write the story of the birth of the PowerSquid and its development and journey to market. This is the Song of the PowerSquid.
Part 1: Genesis
This is a story of the birth of a product, a company and a career. It’s an example of how to turn ideas into reality. But, more importantly, it is also a story – albeit a cautionary one – of how to earn a profit from new product ideas, something easier said than done.
The story begins when I was a 16 years old growing up in Toledo, Ohio. I owned an aquarium setup and maintenance company called The Fishman. I specialized in saltwater reef aquariums, which required specialized filtration equipment called protein skimmers. I designed and made my own protein skimmers, which years later, while in college at the Ohio State University, I mass produced under the name “Trident Series,” a moniker I chose because it was a powerful-sounding aquatic name that wasn’t already being used.
The Trident Series Skimmers had a short and unprofitable life. I quickly spent all of my savings on advertising expenses and had to fold. I then began selling one of the filter components called a venturi injector, which I had purchased an injection mold for, to a local aquarium distributor. When the distributor went out of business a few years later he introduced me to one of his suppliers, Jack Kent, founder of Kent Marine, a high-end reef aquarium supplements company.
I began selling the venturis to Jack, who became an early mentor. Jack taught me that you could make money by adding value to someone else’s business equation and that the integrity of your product was among the most important factors in achieving success. Fourteen years later, I still sell venturis to Kent Marine, now owned by the conglomerate Central Aquatics.
Later, I was looking for another opportunity and Jack gave me another chance. He was looking for a new algae scraper for aquarium maintenance. I spent the next 18 months working on the design and figuring out the right materials. I contracted a factory to make them and, in 1999, six months after I graduated from OSU with a degree in Comparative Religions, we launched the ProScraper Line. We expected to sell a few thousand units per year, but in fact, they sold much better and suddenly I was making what seemed like real money.
I thought, naively, “That was easy!” and decided to start an invention development company, which I named Trident Design. I hired a gifted product designer who I met at a Kinko’s while sending a fax, and then quickly hired a second, who had amazing design skills as well. We set to develop our own ideas and get hired as a design firm. We created guitar accessories and cooking gadgets and more aquarium products. It was tough, though, as I did not know how to manage employees, sell a job or, for that matter, how really to make a product. Nevertheless, we pushed on with fervor, convinced we were about to strike it rich. I was spending every waking moment thinking of new ideas and designs, often suffering from insomnia as I tried to save my quickly sinking ship.
It was on one of those sleepless nights, in 2000, that inspiration struck. I was drawing while trying to fall asleep when I looked over at my stereo and saw the mess of cords beneath it. For a second I saw things in reverse, with the cords coming out of the power strip instead of into it. Eureka! It was an accident of sight, but I drew what I saw: a pod with cords rising vertically out of it. I wrote under the drawing “Power Blossom”. I recognized immediately that it solved the problem of transformer plugs, while also providing easier outlet access and added flexibility. I felt I was onto something big, if only someone hadn’t already beaten me to it. I brought the drawings to work the next day to share with my team. By the end of that first day, the “Power Blossom” had gone from vertical to horizontal and the name changed to “PowerSquid”.
Christopher Hawker, an inventor specializing in innovative consumer products, is founder of Trident Design, LLC in Columbus, Ohio. He is the author of “Inventor’s Mind: 10 Steps to Making Money From your Inventions”, a free e-book available at Invent-Shop.com. He will be hosting his first InventShop Inventor’s Workshop in October 2009 for serious inventors who want to learn his inventing system.
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