Christina Daves: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help”

As tedious as it is, do some type of business plan. If you watch Shark Tank, you know they always talk about the numbers. You have to know what your market is and if you can make money with this product. What will it cost to make it, what can you sell it for, and […]

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As tedious as it is, do some type of business plan. If you watch Shark Tank, you know they always talk about the numbers. You have to know what your market is and if you can make money with this product. What will it cost to make it, what can you sell it for, and how many people will buy it?

As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Daves.

Christina Daves is the inventor of CastMedic Designs. Her MediFashions are fashion accessories for medical boots. She was passionate about changing the conversation of an injury from a negative to a positive by allowing people to “Heal in Style” by wearing her product.

Her invention won her “Top Inventor” honors on the Emmy® Award winning Steve Harvey Show. Diana Ross also wore her accessories when she sang for then-President Obama at Christmas in Washington. CastMedic Designs have been seen on the Today Show, The Chew, local affiliates of NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX, magazines such as, Forbes, Success and Entrepreneur, Sirius XM Radio, The Washington Post, and many more.

Christina has written two best-selling books about her journey with her invention and the subsequent publicity she received, which grew her brand tremendously: PR for Anyone™ — 100+ Affordable Ways to Easily Create Buzz for Your Business, and the #1 best-selling book, The DIY Guide to FREE Publicity.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I am a rare native Washingtonian, having lived in the D.C. area my entire life. I graduated from Virginia Tech with a double major in Political Science and German. I landed a job in Germany right after college. While I was securing my paperwork to work abroad, my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. I chose to turn down that position overseas to spend my father’s last days with him. After he passed, as a young woman who was a “daddy’s girl.”, I was quite lost. This tragedy actually led to my life of entrepreneurship. I began by selling real estate. With my partner in real estate, we also started an event planning company for twenty-somethings (think before the internet). After I married and had children, I continued a life of entrepreneurship and opened a retail store with my best friend that was profitable from the day it opened in 2003. After selling my share in the store, I “retired” (which an entrepreneur never really does). A freak accident led to my own broken foot and eight weeks in a medical boot and with that, CastMedic Designs was born.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Just Ask… what is the worst anyone can say? I’ve applied this to every aspect of my life. I’ve asked for advice, mentorship, or assistance with business and life topics. I have found that most people don’t say “no” and I have learned so much by asking questions to people who know more than me.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Start with Why? by Simon Sinek had a profound impact on how I grew my businesses because I re-evaluated and looked from the inside out. Discovering that my “Why” was to help people feel better about themselves made the how much easier.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

I was in Canada on vacation with my family visiting my mother. I had a freak accident when we were docking the boat and I was thrust forward and landed on a metal cleat used to tie ropes on the dock. I was in excruciating pain but in a foreign country, so I chose to hobble around instead of getting treatment. After we returned home, I was still in pain and my husband tried to convince me to go to the doctor, but I chose not to for 3 weeks. Right before we were headed to New York City, I realized I could not walk around a crowded metropolis, so I went to the doctor. That’s when I learned my foot was broken and he placed me in a big, ugly medical boot. On the train to the City I began searching for anything that would make the boot look better. With nothing available on the market, I had my “aha” moment and spent the next 6 months designing a fashion line that would be able to work on all medical boots.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I’m a doer. I saw a need and a marketplace that didn’t have anything like this. Research showed the number of people who are placed in boots annually and that made me move forward. I did make many big mistakes along the way and there was quite a bit of trial and error but eventually, we had a product on the market.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Google is a tremendous research tool. I would also look at the USPTO system and see if someone has a patent on anything similar. There could be a patent but no product yet and you don’t want to run into that. At the end of the day, unless an idea is patented, can you make a better widget? If so, don’t let competition scare you. Burger King and McDonalds do just fine and they are often located right next to one another.

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

My grandmother is my inspiration. Although she passed in 1991, her legacy lives on and inspires me. She was a Jewish woman in Berlin, Germany during WWII. What she experienced and how she forgave taught me so much about perseverance and believing in myself. She also always encouraged me to learn and try new things because knowledge is something no one can ever take away.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

My story starts with the visit to the doctor, the broken foot diagnosis, and the trip to New York City. Once I decided this was a business idea to pursue, I needed prototypes. Not being a sewer, I enlisted the help of a neighbor grandmother who sewed. We worked on prototypes which led us to stretchy fabrics and Velcro that could be uused on the inner liner of medical boots. With the designs in place, I needed a manufacturer. I was adamant about making this product in the United States, but the factories were not interested in taking on my project. I spent months trying to find someone to sew my products together but kept hitting roadblocks. When I had called every applicable factory in the U.S., I went to a textile tradeshow in New York. I took my protype, not sharing what it was, and literally went booth to booth asking, “Can you make this?” At one booth there were two gentleman who were sock manufacturers who signed an NDA right there and I shared my idea with them. They worked with me to manufacture the product overseas.

I met with a patent attorney. I had done quite a bit of research myself before I walked in and lucky for me, he was so impressed with my work ethic that he took my case on pro bono as I really didn’t have any additional funds. We filed a provisional patent application and then decided that the product could be altered so easily that it would be difficult to patent. We pulled the provisional patent and instead went with a Trademark, The Healing Power of Fashion® to brand the concept.

As for distribution, this was so specific to the medical community that we targeted in-office stores at orthopedic offices. We were also selected to be a vendor on Amazon (at that time it was difficult) and that is how we generated sales.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think the funniest mistake was me trying to design a fashion line when I’m a self-described “fashion don’t.” I quickly enlisted the help of others who could work through this with me and we went with simple, timeless designs including faux fur and leopard.

The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I was flat broke after manufacturing my products and had no money left for advertising or PR. I taught myself everything I could about publicity because it was free and could reach the masses. I applied for Shark Tank in Season 2 and made it through most of the rounds when Sony decided my product was too similar to a product for regular boots in Season 1. I was devastated and continued to work on anything I could to get exposure for my product.

My tipping point was an appearance on the Steve Harvey Show where I won his Top Inventor competition. I was awarded 20,000 dollars and this as well as subsequent appearances (when Diana Ross wore the product and outfitting an audience member who was in a boot) put my product on the map. The prize money was also the shot in the arm I needed to kick-start our marketing campaign.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Overnight success takes 15 years.
  2. It is going to cost more than you think.
  3. It is going to take longer than you think.
  4. Find a mentor.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

As tedious as it is, do some type of business plan. If you watch Shark Tank, you know they always talk about the numbers. You have to know what your market is and if you can make money with this product. What will it cost to make it, what can you sell it for, and how many people will buy it?

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

This is a very touchy subject for me as I paid someone 24,000 dollars to “consult.” We all make mistakes in business and fail along the way. This was my big one! I was taken, badly, by this person. That being said, it forced me to do things in-house because I had spent all of my marketing dollars on him. Ultimately, this led to the success of the product because I was forced to do a lot of things on my own and the publicity piece was tremendous for my business.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

This is an interesting one for me and a great story that goes with it… I went to New York City to a “speed-dating” type event for people with fashion products and angel investors. I live in the D.C. area and angel investors in this area are mainly high-tech. I was told to try New York so I signed up. We were assigned to speak with specific investors based on our product and growth probability. Something happened and the numbers/meetings got skewed. I ended up speaking with someone who wasn’t on my list. I told him all about my product and he advised me, if I could make it happen, to fund it myself (and/or do friends and family investments). Keep the money in-house versus giving away a part of the company. He walked me through exactly what I should do. What was supposed to be a 2–3 minutes speed meeting, ended up being a long one-on-one conversation so he was able to really walk me through what I should do. Who was this angel investor? Lawrence Lenihan, founder of First Mark Capital, who invested in companies like Pinterest and Shopify.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Because of my bad experience with my “retail consultant” and my ultimate success getting exposure for my product, I have been in a position to give back and help fellow inventors. Pre-Covid, I was doing regular product segments on television. I was always on the lookout for new inventions and if there was a way to give a new product exposure, I did. I’ve also done quite a bit of speaking and training on PR and marketing, specifically to inventors, to help them land exposure for their products because I know what that means for the bottom line.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Right now, my passion is our education system. We have shut down schools in our country and we are about to lose an entire generation. I read that 17 million students do not have Internet access. How in the world can they do virtual school? I’ve heard from teachers that many kids aren’t logging and the parents are at work so there is no one making them go to on-line school. These kids NEED the structure of school, the social interaction, and for many, it’s where they get their meals. We MUST get the kids back in the classrooms!

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I have always admired Oprah (me and millions of others). I was fortunate to be a guest in her audience many years ago and what happened with audience members after the cameras stopped rolling has always given me pause and I’ve always wanted to ask her about it. People were saying “Oprah, can I have your earrings? Oprah, can I have your shoes?” That must make you sad that people want your “things.” All the money in the world seems like it could be a lonely place. My dream is to interview Oprah (like I did Hoda Kotb) on what matters. What got you to where you are? Who helped you get there? What does real friendship look like to you? What’s it really like to be Oprah Winfrey?

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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