Do market research and be able to answer this question: How many people could potentially use my product? For example: If you have a product for horse enthusiasts, how big is that market? If you are selling something that only appeals to a small group of people, you are not going to sell millions of units. You need to determine whether or not your market aligns with your goals.
As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Lane.
Lisa Lane is the inventor of the Rinseroo, a patented slip-on shower attachment hose that she brought from concept to store shelves. Her company is Lane Innovations, based in New Jersey.
In the past, she has worked in pharmaceutical sales and marketing and has served as a career expert for many pharmaceutical websites and newspapers including Career Builder, Sales and Marketing Magazine, The LA Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune and over 20 others. She is also the author or multiple books about how to break into the industry.
Her recent success story is one that all started in the bathroom at her Jersey shore home. She claims that she was standing in a tub, when she realized that her idea had mass-market appeal.
She launched the Rinseroo on her own website, as well as on others just over a year ago. Since then, her brand has become a top seller on Amazon Launchpad and it also sits atop their “most wished for” list.
Lisa is currently at work scaling the brand into thousands of retail stores nationwide and is in the process of adding line extensions in the cleaning and bathroom space. She hopes to re-invent the way we rinse, clean and bathe and she is well on her way to seeing her dream come to fruition.
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”?
One of my fondest childhood memories was taking the ten-minute drive from Edison to the tiny town of Fords, New Jersey to visit my maternal grandparents. I feel like we visited them on a weekly basis.
My grandmother liked to teach my two sisters and me how to crochet and she was great, but it was my grandfather who was my true inspiration. He had a lot of hobbies. Not only was he a tinkerer, he was amazingly creative, and was fun to be around. Most importantly, for this story, he was an inventor.
He was a wine maker and made his own storage system. He was a photographer and created his own photo cutter. He even invented his own dustpan and the list goes on and on. When we visited, we often got a full house tour of all his latest creations along with a show and tell.
Although he was not in a position to bring any of his inventions to market, I would like to have seen what he could have done with them if he was alive today. If he is watching over me, I hope that he knows how much of an inspiration he was to me and how much he has helped to lead my way. Thank you, Poppop!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love a great motivational quote and can imagine that other entrepreneurs do too. Sometimes we can feel alone in our journey and a good inspirational message can be the impetus to keep us on track.
One of my all-time favorite life lesson quotes is: “The only thing worse than starting something and failing… is not starting something”- Seth Godin.
Seth is an author, marketer, entrepreneur and public speaker. I am amazed as his accomplishments and am extremely motivated by his words of wisdom. If his slogan doesn’t sum up the reason for starting out on an entrepreneurial journey, I don’t know what does.
Since scaling a business can keep many an entrepreneur up at night, I also live by this mantra: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
No one can agree on who the author is, so I really don’t know who to thank for it. I believe that it can give anyone the confidence to move forward with a big decision. Being a bit of a risk taker is what this journey is all about.
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?
Yes, definitely! The movie “Joy” has moved me to tears and to action. It was released in 2015 and is a story loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano. She is an entrepreneur best known for her invention, the self-wringing Miracle Mop. The movie shows Joy, (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence) going on to eventually bring her product to QVC.
At the time, I was in the product development stage. It was a critical time when I had to decide if I planned to go “all in” or pack up and go back to my comfort zone.
I saw so much of myself in Joy. I was still sitting in the theater when I decided that I had no plans to quit. I knew that it was a long shot, but something told me that if I tried, I could be the next Joy someday. I left the movie, made my life-changing decision and haven’t looked back since.
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 love hearing about other’s “ah-ha” moments and this is mine: First let me start by saying that I have always enjoyed cleaning and get a serious sense of accomplishment when I clean my house. Although I am cleaning obsessed, it got to be overwhelming when I summered at the Jersey shore with my extended family. (There were 15 of us in all plus 4 dogs). We had dirty showers and dogs on a full-time basis and the problem never seemed to go away no matter how much we tidied up. Suddenly, my love of cleaning was not so lovey-dovey.
I was filling a bucket over and over to bathe the dogs and clean the showers. It was messy and time consuming. I thought, “There’s got to be a better way!” That was my aha moment…. right there in the tub. The Rinseroo was born when I decided that it was time to “kick the bucket”.
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 that the key to successfully bringing any good idea to market is to do your homework. I did a lot of research online and I also read books. My favorite was “The Mom Inventor’s Handbook. How to Turn Your Great Idea into the Next Big Thing” by Tara Mosonoff. By reading her book, I was able to evaluate my product’s potential. The book also helped me to understand the basics of sourcing, profit analysis, logistics and more. I also found my engineer thru her book who, in turn, helped me with design and manufacturing.
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?
A simple place to start would be by doing a Google patent search at patents.google.com. There you can search and read the full text of patents from around the world as well as find prior art for free. If you don’t see anything there, your next step would be to reach out to a patent attorney if you choose to. They can do a full patent search for a fee.
A good attorney will also tell you if they think that your idea is patent-able and will make recommendations on how to proceed. For example, my attorney suggested going with a provisional patent to test the waters before investing in a utility patent.
During the provisional patent, you have one year to determine the marketability of your product and during that time you can decide whether or not to pursue a utility patent. Before selecting an attorney, be sure to choose one who knows what they are doing has your best interest in mind.
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?
Definitely! It was one of my lifelong college best friends, Carolyn Favorito, Esq. We met our freshman year while attending the University of Delaware. Lucky for me, she also happens to be my patent attorney!
When others told me that they didn’t think that I could get a patent, she told me that I could and encouraged me to pursue it. I hired her and she fought for my patent as if it were her own. If it wasn’t for her, I may have given up. She was my biggest cheerleader and motivator. Thank you, Carolyn!
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.
Of course! Let’s start with the patent: Not every product needs one but if you decide that you will pursue one, hire a patent attorney to help. Some will tell you that you can do it on your own but I think that would be risky.
If you set out to build an empire, hire a professional. That professional will know how to navigate the patent office, know how to respond to rejections and know how to effectively communicate with them. You can’t file the same patent twice so make sure that you do it right the first time.
A patent can add significant value to your business…especially if you have plans to scale it and sell it down the road. In addition, many companies will require you to own the intellectual property rights of any product before buying from you.
How to source a good manufacturer: Finding a reputable manufacturer can be challenging. Ask your product engineer if they have any suggestions or ask others in the industry if they can make some recommendations.
How to find a retailer to sell your product: The key to getting retailers to buy your product is to be able to show them that your product can actually sell. A good proving ground would be your own website but building sales on a website can take a lot of money and effort. The next and easiest place to prove that your product can sell is on Amazon. After selling there, you can take all of the analytics data to brick and mortar buyers or even move from there to other eCommerce sites.
Once you establish that you have a product that sells, the world is your oyster! Nothing trumps data and sales numbers to back your pitch.
The challenge with retailers is getting access to them. You may have great sales data but if you can’t reach the buyers, all the data in the world is worthless. I have found that the best way to meet with buyers is to attend a trade show in your industry. Plan to man a booth at one of them. This is a great way to meet face to face with buyers, make contacts and, best of all…take orders.
Another great way to make contact with buyers is via LinkedIn. You can reach out via messaging and give them a product pitch. We have gotten a lot of business that way.
With time, buyers may actually come to you. When they do, that is when you know that you are sitting in the catbird seat! In our case, we had a CEO of a large chain buy a Rinseroo off of our website. She liked it so much that she told her buyer to call us. They did, and within a week, we were in 1750 of their locations. From there, we reached out to their competitor on LinkedIn and were able to connect with their buyer. A week after that, we were in all of their 750 stores. That is how you make it happen!
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?
We have made our fair share of mistakes but none of them are funny. Mistakes, unfortunately, are inevitable and they can be painful. Most entrepreneurs should assume that they will make some mistakes along the way. That is how we learn and grow…just hope and pray that they will be small enough to overcome. If you fall down and can dust off, that is ok but if you fall so hard that you can’t ever get up… that is a problem!
When I first launched, I found that 10,000 Rinseroo units were assembled improperly. The only solution was to open every box, remove the contents, reassemble and retape every box. It was extremely stressful because I had no staff to help and had to recruit my husband and family to help. That mistake was time consuming and definitely NOT FUN! Thankfully we persevered and learned a lot.
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?
In our case, we knew that we had a mass-market product that solved a problem. We projected that it would sell but really were at the mercy of the marketplace.
Making sales and getting a few decent reviews are a good predictor of things to come but it took more than that to convince me. In the early stages, it’s very easy to have doubts. It took a couple of turns of inventory to make me realize that I actually had something viable.
When you see orders coming in from big retailers and they start reordering….that is when you can start scaling but it really all depends on what your long-term goals are. Sometimes a slow and steady climb is best.
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.)
Bringing a product from concept to store shelves can take a couple of years
In our case, it took approximately three years. I don’t think it is a good idea to rush the process. Taking the time to tweak, learn and plan is a great strategy.
Bringing a product to market will cost more than you might expect– Our product was not high tech, didn’t have any intricate parts, and we didn’t have huge mold costs, but everything added up. Try to estimate your costs before starting out and add at least 25%. Prototypes, samples, drawings, patent and copyright, etc. are just a few of the startup costs.
Regardless of how successful your product is, you should be prepared to not make a cent during the startup phase– This is just the honest truth. If you can’t afford to not make money, know that you are trekking out on a difficult path.
Half of bringing a product to market is development. The other equally important part is marketing– My life prior to starting this endeavor was in sales and that experience has helped tremendously on this journey. If you are only a maker and not a marketer, you may need a partner who is, or you may need to hire one.
The most successful products check all of these boxes: It is demonstrable, it solves a problem, it is an improvement over what is currently available and appeals to the masses- When I started, I knew that the Rinseroo left no box unchecked and that gave me the confidence to start.
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?
These would be my suggestions based on my experience. You really can’t move from one step without completing the one prior.
- Do market research and be able to answer this question: How many people could potentially use my product? For example: If you have a product for horse enthusiasts, how big is that market? If you are selling something that only appeals to a small group of people, you are not going to sell millions of units. You need to determine whether or not your market aligns with your goals.
- Create a working prototype: In your mind, your product may be the best thing since sliced bread, but you need to actually make it to find out if it actually delivers on the level that you think it can.
- Ask complete strangers to use it and get their honest feedback: If their experience is less than stellar, be willing to jump ship.
- Understand margin requirements for multiple marketplaces and learn about how much margin you will need to actually make a profit.
- Have it manufactured and cook up a marketing plan.
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 got a lot of great advice from others who had been in my shoes at one point. I found that most inventors are proud of their accomplishments and are very willing to share their insight without charging for it.
My engineer was also very helpful. He had years of experience and his advice really helped with my trajectory.
Sadly, there are also a lot of so called “invention help” companies out there who like to prey on inventors. They will drain your pocketbook quickly if you let them. If you really dig, you will find that their motives are mostly their own. They have often done very little to help make dreams become realities. Beware and be warned!
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
We have been fortunate to have been able to fund our growth on our own. We are a small enough brand and have enough sales and margin to make it happen that way. I am not familiar with the VC route because we haven’t needed it yet.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I wish that I could say that we have donated millions to a great cause, but we are just starting to scale, and all of our profits are going back into the business.
What I can say wholeheartedly is that I believe that the Rinseroo itself has made the world a better place in a small way.
We initially launched thinking that we had a shower and pet cleaner on our hands. What we have found is that the Rinseroo is being used in ways that we could never have imagined.
During the pandemic, it became a portable bidet when toilet paper was scarce. It gave pet owners the ability to bathe their dogs at home when their groomers were closed. It also gives the elderly and disabled an easy way to bathe if they are unable to install a handheld showerhead in their home.
We have a product that is helping thousands of people solve some daily challenges and that is a reason to feel good about what we are doing.
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.
Thank you for saying that. I hope that I have inspired many with my words of advice in this article.
Because I am a mom first and an inventor second, my daughter is always in my heart. She and millions of others worldwide deal with an invisible disability, Type 1 diabetes. No day with Type 1 is ever easy and there is no cure.
I would like to encourage others to donate to the Faustman Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. Their work has led to the BCG Human Clinical Trial Program, which is evaluating bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) as a treatment for advanced type 1 diabetes.
Early trials have demonstrated the potential to help reverse the autoimmune response that contributes to Type 1 diabetes as well as other debilitating autoimmune diseases such as MS. I have high hopes for this research and hope that it can make a big difference in the lives of every Type 1 diabetic someday.
Here is the link to donate:
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.
Yes! There are so many people that I would love to meet but if I had to pick one, it would be Suzy Batiz. (the founder of Poo-Pourri toilet spray) I would love to hear how she grew her poop empire. I am sure that she has some amazing stories and phenomenal advice. Maybe she would even be willing to answer my burning question… Can two empires be built in a bathroom? ☺
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.