14 November 2006

Inspiring People 2

One of my favorite quotes is from Rumi, "The morning breeze has secrets to tell you, don't go back to sleep."

It's basically about when you wake up at some crazy hour, way before your alarm goes off to start your day, and instead of going back to sleep staying awake to hear what your intuition has to tell you. If you listen long enough, you'll hear it. Instead of being stressed out that you're not getting all your sleep be inspired that your intuition has woken you up. It's hard. Sleeping is so much fun. But if you can manage to stay up and listen, well, who knows?

From inspiration to income
Wayne Fromm has transformed frequent middle-of-the-night brainstorms into nearly 50 successful commercial products
Nov. 11, 2006. 09:40 AM From The Toronto Star

Almost everyone has thought of at least one great invention they believed would make them a million dollars. But few are like Wayne Fromm, who has converted his musings into nearly 50 successful commercial products.

Even among inventors that's a rare feat.

"Less than one-tenth of one per cent of patents are profitable. The odds are against you there," said Fromm, 51.

Over the past 18 years, Fromm's "hits" have included Disney's Beauty and the Beast Magic Talking Mirror, Crayola's Sketch-A-Lot and Nesquik and MacDonald's Magic Milkshake Makers.

But the buyer at a well-known regional camera chain knew none of this when Fromm stepped inside the Toronto store a few months ago looking for help getting his latest idea, the Quik Pod, on the market.

He just thought Fromm's invention, a kind of "extendable hand-held tripod" that lets you photograph yourself with your friends and family, was cool.

"There's nothing else like it in the marketplace," said Jim Floroff, a buyer for Henry's Cameras. The Quik Pod won't be in Henry's stores until sometime next week, he said. But initial response has been positive.

"Wayne brought the prototype to The Imaging Show last month just to get some response. People wanted to buy it. But it wasn't in the country yet," Floroff added.

This weekend, Fromm will be putting his invention to the big test when it appears for the first time on The Shopping Channel and in an ad tomorrow in The New York Times for the venerable J&R Music and Computer World store.

Fromm said he invented the Quik Pod to solve a problem he had taking a photo of himself and his daughter in a restaurant. The table was wobbly and he didn't want to ask a stranger to shoot the picture.

"I can see video bloggers using it to film themselves, making their own movies, at three in the morning," Fromm said. Down the road, he has an idea for a website where amateurs could post their news and views from around the world.

The lightweight extendable device works with any photo or video camera weighing less than two kilograms and with a standard tripod mount and a self-timer.

After years of inventing products mainly for the toy industry, bringing the Quik Pod to market was like starting all over again, he said.

As usual, there was no instruction manual to follow. But a combination of intellectual curiosity, marketing savvy and relentless focus seems to be part of the winning formula.

A university degree in psychology gave him insight into how people think. His apprenticeship in his father's bowling alley and movie theatre business taught him entrepreneurship. And the chain of video-arcade stores he launched in the 1980s, called Video Invasion, taught him how to fix things with circuits and wires.

The rest, he said, is trial and error. "You have to be very patient, very focused and a little crazy."

He says his ideas come out of his head. "It's totally unscientific. I just go with my gut feeling." His focus group is an ex-girlfriend. "I have 100 ideas a week. She tells me 99.9 are no good." And his (now) adult daughter, Sage, who's in her second year at university. "I'll wake her up at three in the morning to say, `Should it be in this colour or that colour?'"

His laboratory is his basement, where he assembles products using everyday items he purchases from stores such as The Source and Canadian Tire. His first effort at the Quik Pod, for example, was based on parts cannibalized from an umbrella and a ball-point pen.

After that, Fromm said it's a matter of making lots of calls and sometimes flying to New York, Europe or China to meet people personally. And never taking no for an answer.

Sometimes, he licenses an invention to a big name. Other times, he brings the idea to market himself, as he did with the Quik Pod. Not all ideas bear fruit. He once worked on an idea for two years only to find out someone else had beaten him to the punch. Another time he licensed a product to a company that sat on it for two years because it no longer fit its corporate strategy.

By the time Fromm arrived at Henry's, he had the prototype, the packaging and the marketing strategy all worked out, Floroff said. Fromm also brought in a receipt for a product he'd bought at Henry's back in 1971. "I wanted them to know I was a long-time customer," Fromm said. "They got a big kick out of that."

The buyer for the store was impressed.

"This was a finished product," Floroff said "So, yes, we took a chance on it. It's hard to say how it will do."

But Henry's has ordered "hundreds," just in case.

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