Have FUN!!! It is so important to protect your energy, to remain enthusiastic, especially when you experience failures. Even though you might have to walk a very tight rope between success and failure for a while, just have fun doing it!
As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurel Bloomfield.
Laurel Bloomfield is a patented inventor and the founder of Revelwear Inc., Pocket Innerwear Inc., DMD Digital LLC., and Laurel Bloomfield LLC and several other companies she started, scaled and then sold. Laurel oversaw the development of various products from their initial idea to selling in major retailers. She offers her guidebooks, business building resources and her Patent Workshops at: www.laurelbloomfield.com’
Her patented inventions are distributed in Target and Walgreen’s and she now helps other inventors navigate the myriad steps required to see their brilliant idea become a commercial success
One of her first patents was a clothing line with specially-designed built-in pockets to safely hold insulin pumps for Type-1 diabetics. After working through the entire process of concept, prototype, final design, patent and distribution to major retailers, Laurel sold the company and turned her attention to guiding others through the complicated process via her companies DMD Digital and Laurel Bloomfield LLC. She recently had the opportunity to buy back into the clothing company which will be relaunched as RevelWear later this year.
Laurel could be described as the All-American Girl-Next-Door. Married to a 5th generation Cattle Rancher, she and her husband live in the middle of nowhere, enjoying being surrounded by solitude and nature while they raise their son and brood of animals.
A passionate entrepreneur since her childhood, Laurel’s love of helping others succeed has made her a highly-sought after speaker, mentor and consultant.
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”?
First of all, thank you so much for the opportunity to share a bit of my story with you.
I had a wonderful childhood. We were really poor financially but I grew up with two parents in a loving home and while I didn’t have everything I wanted, I had everything I needed. Most of the time we were pretty short on money and as the oldest I was keenly aware of the struggles my parents tried to hide. I started my first business when I was 9 years old to help out with rent and groceries. Looking back, I am so grateful I grew up this way as there are so many lessons I learned that have shaped my life to enjoy the success I do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m an avid reader and a bit of an inspirational quote junkie. However, I have to go with something my husband said after a really heartbreaking loss early in our marriage; he said “No matter how hard the winter, spring always comes” I call it Cowboy Logic and it has become our motto. We have been married for 15 years, we have built several businesses together, and faced a lot of trials in life together. Building businesses isn’t for the faint of heart, there are definitely some deep valleys you must walk through before you see success. It’s important to always remember the bigger picture and to look to the future to remember that no matter how hard winter has been, Spring is coming soon.
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?
I have so many wonderful books coming to mind that have been transformative and it’s hard to choose. I read THINK AND GROW RICH by: Napoleon Hill when I was 15 years old and I’m convinced that reading this book totally changed the trajectory of my life. I was a young entrepreneur, but I wasn’t really even aware that, that is what I was doing, I was just working hard out of necessity. The principles in Think and Grow Rich introduced me to the power of the mind and opened my eyes to the possibilities in front of me.
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‘ve invented a few products. Like most “inventors”, I don’t have just one idea, as my brain is always spinning, seeing solutions to problems in many places. One project that I am particularly proud of started out as just a side business with a couple of my “mom” friends. We started a clothing company and quickly noticed that what we were selling the most of were leggings, skinny jeans, maxi dresses but all were lacking one thing and that was “pockets” One of my partners thought to build a pocket for a cellphone into a “bootcuff” (a pretty popular accessory trend at the time). We threw that design up on Amazon and jumped to “Best Seller” at warp speed without knowing anything yet about how to market on the platform. As a seasoned entrepreneur, I took that as a great signal that there was a need in the market that we could fill — women wanted pockets! We live in an age where we take our phones everywhere and use them for everything yet we have very limited options for carrying them with us in pockets. I told our team that we needed to figure out a pocket design that could be added to popular clothing trends. As we were working through the design and prototype phase, we collaboratively came up with a pocket design that holds any content in place without closure mechanisms (no buttons, zippers or velcro). Someone could flip upside down on the trampoline and their phone wouldn’t fall out. After some preliminary research I realized our pocket design was unique and perhaps would warrant Patent Protection. I wrote our first Patent Application myself and during that time a few things serendipitously happened that steered us in a very meaningful direction with our products.
I had a friend whose infant son was very ill for a couple days. He was sent home from the emergency room misdiagnosed with the flu and by the time she got him back to the hospital again he was, unbeknownst to her, dying in her arms. What he actually had was Type 1 Diabetes, often referred to as Juvenile Diabetes due to its onset at a young age. It’s an acute autoimmune disease, causing the pancreas to shut down, and be unable to regulate the body’s blood sugar. A healthy individual’s pancreas keeps blood glucose levels between 80–120 yet this little baby’s blood sugar level was over 1200! Sadly, diabetes is commonly misdiagnosed and it can be very deadly.
However, I am happy to report that after a life flight to the Children’s Hospital and 10 days in a diabetic coma, he suffered no significant brain damage and is now a happy little boy who is managing his diabetes. After the initial trauma of almost losing their baby, then learning all the complexities of managing their child’s medical procedures, they chose to use an insulin pump. An insulin pump helps to replace what the pancreas does in the body, and is an incredible medical advancement. However, it is a device that is complex, cumbersome and costly. But the most vexing issue for users is “where am I supposed to put this thing?”
This was our Ah-ha! moment, when we realized our pockets would work perfectly for this. We quickly found the tiniest pair of little boys undies, fashioned our pockets on them, tested them out by slipping them over his little diaper, tucked his insulin pump into the secure pocket, fed the tubing thru the back to the infusion site on his belly and there he was, free from getting tangled up in the tubing while his pump was securely stowed. Success! We’d discovered a new use for our pockets that could give diabetics the world over a new form of freedom.
The gratitude we receive from the customers, especially the moms, is incredible. We have people calling us in tears on a regular basis, thanking us and this alone is enough to get us through any business hurdle we might face. We wish we could do more, but just providing a tiny bit of freedom and safety for these patients, along with a little bit of peace of mind for their caregivers, is a huge reward.
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 believe everyone has had at least one Million Dollar Idea, if not more. So many people, myself included, have experienced that regretful moment when they see “their” idea on a store shelf or somewhere executed by someone else, thinking “Dang it! That was my idea!” The reality is ideas are a dime a dozen. The harsh truth is ideas don’t help anyone or make you money until they become a real business. The difference between the guy or girl saying “dang it” and the person who is behind the product on the shelf is that one took action and one didn’t. Following through and building an idea into a business is a huge undertaking. It’s not just the physical work, the late nights and risking of everything you hold dear, but being able to endure the evolution necessary to accomplish greater things. Building a business to serve hundreds, thousands, even millions of people is the most amazing opportunity for growth in one’s life, but growth requires change and most humans are quite resistant to change. This is why I believe most people struggle because the fear of change is so great. In order to overcome this fear, you need to focus on the people you are going to help, not yourself and your fear! Making someone else’s life easier is a much stronger motivator than any self-centered motivation. Find a significant pain point, create a way to solve it and even on the darkest days of building your business, you will find a way to persevere.
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?
The first step is don’t dismiss your idea but write it down or record it somewhere as soon as you think of it and get in the habit of doing so. You’ll be amazed at how many ideas come to you. It’s really quite easy now with all the technology available at our fingertips to do a quick search for your idea or something like it. First (this one I’m sure everyone knows), just Google it, but I would also recommend diving into a couple other databases because while it may not show up on Google, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done before. Next I would recommend searching the two largest physical products databases available: Amazon and AliExpress. If you are still in the clear once you’ve combed through those databases then it’s worth your time to go to USPTO.gov and do a preliminary Patent search. This is a little more complex and this database can be a bit intimidating or even confusing. You can hire an attorney to do this for you or there are resources to show you how to search these databases — I have a few guides on my website available. After checking all four of these databases, you should have a good indication if your idea is actually unique and if it warrants pursuing a Patent.
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?
So many! I’ve been fortunate to have so many great people in my life, whom I’ve learned from, who’ve taken a chance on me, whether I know them personally or have just observed them from afar, that have blown me away with inspiration. I have to go back to my partner in life and business, my husband. We have made a really great team in the businesses we have together but also in businesses we pursue on our own or with other partners. Whether we are “in it” or not we are “in it together”. He cheers on my craziest ideas, he never fears and is always encouraging me to take a risk. He pushes me to heights I didn’t even know I was capable of. It would be so much harder to walk this entrepreneurial path without this kind of supportive relationship.
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.
Once we had the idea, the timeline was a bit of a blur but it unfolded like this: we started with homemade prototypes. I completed and filed our Provisional Patent Application and we then worked on more prototypes with professional seamstresses (insert any trade here if you aren’t in the apparel space you could be going from welding in your garage to going to a local machine shop.) We built our online sales channels, learned Social Media, learned some traffic techniques, both paid and organic, saw some sales, continued to make the product ourselves until we were too busy we couldn’t keep up, then transitioned to hiring a couple ladies from church to sew for us. We then went to a local small non-profit manufacturing facility that hired only special needs adults and we stayed with them as long as we could before moving to a larger manufacturing facility. Sales were growing so rapidly that we started looking into overseas and Asian manufacturing, all the while building our online presence and sales. Most importantly, we were constantly networking, forging relationships and partnerships with other companies serving our market. The last steps were raising Venture Capital funding and onboarding with a few major retailers.
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?
Lots of our mistakes were not funny at all! They may be funny now because they were so huge all you can do is laugh about it. We were so naive that we went after VC funding too early. While I met and learned from so many successful men and women during that investment round, for which I am so grateful, the reality was we just weren’t ready. We took on an investor who was going to make all our dreams come true, with millions of dollars in capital infused into the business. We were going to build out our own manufacturing facility and it was going to be amazing!
Just before we signed the contract, we discovered this man was under investigation by the SEC — yikes! He reassured us that lots of businesses are investigated by the SEC and that his case was about to be dismissed because it was unconstitutional. Not knowing better, we went ahead because we wanted this deal to happen so badly. He wired an initial deposit of 6 figures into our business account.
That afternoon, I got a call from our banker and he said, “Laurel, these funds have been flagged by the U.S. Treasury Department for money laundering and I’ve looked into it, I am advising you to not accept these funds. If they hit your bank account and they are in fact laundered, you are then liable.”
I don’t remember his exact words but they were stern and caring, like a father figure. I hung up the phone, completely drained of all hope. We were scheduled to have our final onboarding meeting with Walgreens and they needed to see that we had the financial backing in order to deliver on a nationwide purchase order. I didn’t know what we were going to do. We said no to the investor, parted ways and missed that initial retail opportunity. This all came to a head after a very exciting but also a very very difficult year in our business. We honestly thought we were going to have to pull the plug.
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?
It’s so important to recognize and celebrate each step forward. Remember that 97% of patented inventions never make it to market so even if you just get one sale that is SUCCESS! That is a huge win! Now just keep going. The greatest catalyst for us at each level always came back to the relationships we had built. We were able to forge partnerships with insulin pump manufacturers and essentially pull off “influencer marketing” within our niche at a high high level by partnering with these companies with customer lists of our exact demographic. The biggest takeaway, and I cannot stress enough, is that you need to make networking and relationships one of the cornerstones of your business, no matter what business you are in. Relationships make you successful — forge good ones and you’ll go far.
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: You will likely make this harder than it needs to be, and that’s okay! Even if you paddle upstream for a while, it will make you stronger.
#2: Find someone who has been there, gone where you want to go and then follow them. Mentors are so valuable and you will likely need to find multiple mentors as you move through different phases of your growth. People have all the answers you need to succeed and the sooner you reach out for help, the sooner doors will open for you.
#3: Don’t worry about someone stealing your idea. There are simple ways to protect yourself so let that fear go. Success favors speed and fear of anything slows you down, the key to success is taking action. I have sat across the table with Billionaires and Walmart Executives and a whole host of intimidating, successful people, discussing my business and not one of them attempted to steal our idea, even though they had the means to. Every person who’s reached a high level of success has truly only wanted to help me rise higher as well.
#4: Be prepared to risk it all — your money, your relationships, your reputation. If you are prepared, you can protect those things important to you better than if you go into this thinking it won’t take much skin in the game.
#5: Have FUN!!! It is so important to protect your energy, to remain enthusiastic, especially when you experience failures. Even though you might have to walk a very tight rope between success and failure for a while, just have fun doing it!
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?
I always tell people to “Write it out. Draw it out. Search it out.”
Writing and drawing are good habits to get into whenever ideas that come to mind and if one ends up being something you want to run with, you’ll have some assets ready to put towards your Patent applications and product development. Search those databases I suggested and get some protection for your idea. If funds are tight, don’t be intimidated from getting Patent protection. There are a few simple and affordable ways to protect your ideas. You can file for a provisional patent yourself, which will only require a small filing fee of around $200 with the USPTO. Once you have some protection in place, I also suggest searching out your ideal customer for this idea, go find them and start some market research.
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?
I firmly believe that hiring coaches and consultants will shortcut your path to success. That being said, it is difficult to weed through to find the truly effective ones that best fit you and your situation. If you have the budget for it and it feels like the right place for you. then absolutely invest in yourself and your idea.
However, in the beginning stages, especially if you are on a tight budget, I believe there are a lot of positives in learning the ropes on your own.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Truthfully, VC’s are not that interested until you have proven your concept somewhat. They’re smart with their money and they minimize their risk as much as possible. You may be able to pursue a Friend & Family round or possibly an Angel Investor, however all investors really want to see your commitment and belief by you putting some skin in the game. You will be in a better position in the long run if you are willing and scrappy enough to bootstrap your way as far as you can. When you’re close to launching in a major retail outlet, you’ll need quite a lot of capital behind you so it makes sense for you to pursue Venture Capital at this phase.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place
I know that knowledge not shared is wasted so I try to help other inventors learn from me, mostly through my mistakes so that they can take a shortcut to success. Ideas come from inspiration, so you can serve others. Ideas won’t do anyone any good until you get them out of your head. A mentor once told me “if you want to change the world, build a business”
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.
I hope to inspire as many people as possible to turn their brilliant ideas into a business as there is no greater catalyst to Freedom, on a personal, financial or global level. Think about all the genius, life changing, planet saving, happiness bringing ideas that are stuck in peoples heads or the 97% of patented ideas stuck in the USPTO database that never see the light of day. Just imagine how our world could improve if just a small percentage more of people turned their ideas into products and those products into businesses. I hope I can inspire someone to keep moving forward, that someone might see themselves in me and know that it doesn’t matter if you are just a regular guy or gal from middle America, if I can do it, you can too. You never know if that idea might save someone’s life or just bring a smile to someone’s face — both are worthy endeavors
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.
Sara Blakely for sure! She has been such an example and an inspiration to me as a female inventor and founder. I have learned so much from her throughout my journey. So if she happens to read this, I want to say “Thank You Sara!”
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this