Don’t believe people who tell you that you are doomed to fail — if you do, they will surely be correct. There will be no shortage of these people along your journey.
As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rich Brancaccio.
Rich Brancaccio is the founder and CEO of Revibe Technologies. Revibe builds special wearables that leverage machine learning and tactile vibration reminders to improve focus and attention in children with various focus challenges.
Rich spent much of his early career working as a school psychologist specializing in autism spectrum disorders. He is truly passionate about helping children with various difficulties overcome obstacles to attain success. Rich has personally evaluated hundreds of children with various developmental needs and provided consultation and insight for over one thousand cases. While working as a psychologist, Rich realized there was a lack of available technology for helping children with focusing issues to improve their focus and decided to do something about it by founding Revibe. Rich and his team have successfully designed, built, and commercialized two products that have helped thousands of children around the US to improve their focus and attention since 2016.
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”?
The art of modifying, designing, and building has been passed down in my family for generations. My grandfather taught my dad, who taught me. I spent a considerable amount of time taking a lot of things in our house apart (toys, electronics, etc.) and repurposing them to build new, improved things. By a young age, my dad had taught me how to build, solder, etc. but more importantly how to approach a problem from a different angle when you invariably hit a wall prior to determining a solution.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote comes from Al Pacino in the CIA-thriller, The Recruit. To paraphrase, he tells new CIA recruits, ‘The first thing you need to know, is you don’t know a thing.’ This is how I felt when I initially dreamed of building a company from nothing. And it was only strengthened the more I learned. I continue to adopt this humble philosophy of keeping an open mind, because although you will gain tremendous experience, knowledge, and confidence along your trek as an entrepreneur, the moment you think you know it all is likely the beginning of your decline.
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?
The Founders Dilemma, by Noam Wasserman. It shaped the mindset I took on when I became an entrepreneur. I made an agreement with myself, based on a chapter in this book. The agreement was, that if I was ever successful in growing the company to the point that as a CEO, I became a potential bottleneck, I would put the company first and get out of the way to ensure success. This is a process that recently took place. We’ve grown significantly and built some amazing new technologies that have created substantial upcoming opportunities. I’m proud of the work I’ve done and the work at Revibe that I’ll continue to do, but with such a huge opportunity, I want to maximize our chances of success and thus have asked our board to recruit an experienced executive whom I can confidently pass the CEO position to, while I focus on driving value within the company in the domains where my core strengths reside.
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 working as a psychologist within the school system when a parent of one of the students we were working with vented her frustrations over a lack of technology to help kids with focus issues. She pointed out how there were assessments and interventions to determine the level of severity and then remediate reading and math issues, but that nothing existed for focus and attention. I agreed and decided it was time to change that.
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 got out there and started talking to people about my idea. Eventually, after being told by a few people I had no chance of success, I found someone who directed me to an organization called NC IDEA, who provides grants to companies with promising ideas and motivated founders. They were instrumental not just with a grant, but with providing me the knowledge I needed through an accelerator program called NC IDEA Labs. I suggest other entrepreneurs find similar programs in their area because you need a business plan and you need to talk to others who have tried and failed, to learn how to avoid key pitfalls early. Connections are also key, as talented people hang out with other talented people, and those are the people you want to work with as early as possible.
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?
Simple as it sounds, search Google and search Amazon. If that turns up nothing, then you can begin searching the patent databases. Before forging full-speed ahead, you may want to hire a patent attorney to do a professional search on your behalf.
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 dad. I ran the early idea for the original Revibe by him initially and he said, “Just build it. You’ve always built things, so give this a try, it sounds like a great idea.” There was also a period of time where I was stuck. I was working on the circuitry of the first prototype and couldn’t figure it out. My dad taught us to ‘Never give up,’ and I’m glad I didn’t.
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.
I went from an idea to a vision, to a sketch, to a prototype. I quickly conducted a patent search to make sure my idea didn’t exist and that I had a unique and original invention, after which I began the formal patent application process. Most patent attorneys will do a free consult, so I highly recommend partaking in that process to learn if your idea may be patentable. The journey from idea to product launch is long and arduous, so I recommend applying for an accelerator program, which can help shorten your learning curve through a network of mentors and peers. After you graduate from an accelerator is where the biggest chunk of work actually begins. You go from theorizing and strategizing to actually putting rubber to the road, which is always ten times harder than you thought when it existed on paper alone. In terms of finding good manufacturers, this is where you have to rely on your connections, which you should be accruing along the way. Learning firsthand from others, such as a senior mentor, who a good contract manufacturer may be for your product, and learning how to structure a deal with resellers is the best way to go about it if you’ve never done it before. I had an amazing mentor, Larry Steffann, who before he passed away, taught me how to source and vet manufacturers and properly negotiate a deal, even as a small startup.
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 story is from the first pitch I ever delivered to a new mentor when I was just beginning to learn the ropes of fundraising. I finished a five-minute pitch, thinking I hit a home run and hoping the mentor would say, “Great job.” Instead, the first words that came out of his mouth were, “Terrible. That was terrible.” It reminded me of my favorite saying when beginning something new, which again, is, ‘The first thing you have to know, is you don’t know a thing.’ For me, I learned to never assume that because I think it’s great, or meaningful, that others will as well. I learned to get out there and talk to real people because they are the eventual consumers.
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?
There was a major tipping point early on after our product launch. I activated the website thinking our first product, now known as Revibe Classic, would fly off the shelves. When it didn’t I sought out several experienced serial entrepreneurs for help. By the time my meetings with them came to fruition, I had figured out that the marketing message I was using wasn’t clear to the consumer and corrected it. When I met with these entrepreneurs, I had to tell them that I no longer had the problem that prompted me to meet with them and that sales were now going very well. They shifted their next question to ask if they could become investors and have been key members of the board ever since. I think that feeling of your first taste of success is such a powerful inflection point for any inventor or entrepreneur and that excitement keeps fueling your passion as you progress.
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. It will be a much longer, harder road than you can imagine — things invariably take longer and cost more than you think.
2. Don’t believe people who tell you that you are doomed to fail — if you do, they will surely be correct. There will be no shortage of these people along your journey.
3. Do listen to people who say they wouldn’t buy your product — learn from them and make corrections. If enough of them still won’t buy it then you may have a one-customer product on your hands, meaning only you want or need it, which won’t sustain a business.
4. Just because you sell it, doesn’t mean they will come — this may work in Field of Dreams, but in real business, you need to get your marketing right. While you will need to ‘McGuyver’ lots of things, marketing is one of those areas you need to pay up and get someone who knows how to measure twice and cut once. Engineering and Design for Manufacture, is another.
5. You CAN defy the odds — there is some healthy benefit to the saying, ignorance is bliss. Educate yourself on the ins and outs of startup companies and their founders and failures, but don’t harp on the negative outcomes. Instead, be sure to learn about and consistently think of startup success stories, because when you are exhausted, working on your venture at 3 am, the wind in your sail comes from envisioning your product helping others and relating the potential for success to others who have defied the odds before you.
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?
The first step is to ask yourself (or your target market) if this device existed right now, would someone immediately go get their wallet and order it off Amazon? If people don’t say yes, then it’s either not a necessary invention or is not solving the problem in a way that is palatable to those enduring the issue. Once you’ve established an idea or invention is strong and solves a meaningful problem, then make sure it’s not infringing on someone else’s idea, build a prototype, and connect with engineers and manufacturers who can get you started with ideas about time and cost to develop and eventually build and sell your product. Talking to other entrepreneurs in your area or field is a great way to get the names of recommended groups to work with. Just like a detective, you have to do your homework, follow leads, and build your case for why teammates should join you and investors should fund you.
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?
Consultants can be very helpful or very unhelpful, depending upon who they are and what they bring to the table. I’ve seen a lot of startups burn through their cash by paying ‘consultants’ who did very little or led them in the wrong direction. There are some that are great and can be instrumental, but again, you need to rely on unbiased, first-hand references to differentiate. And again, some of the best referrals and connections you can get, as well as the best feedback for your own ideas, comes from a good accelerator program, which I highly recommend applying to.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I think when some first-time entrepreneurs imagine taking money from an investor, they think it will: A. Be nearly impossible, and B. Think it’s a horrible idea and that investors are these mean people who want to take over your company. While it is very difficult to raise capital, it’s not impossible with a solid idea and a tight plan. As far as investors go, they are usually helpful, friendly people who are doing their job which is to turn a set amount of money into more money. In short, I highly recommend raising capital through angel investors and eventually through venture capital groups. I think you can and should bootstrap to get your initial proof of concept off the ground, but once you have something tangible to show investors, it’s time to raise capital and put it to work. The longer you wait, the longer you bootstrap, the longer and harder the journey ahead will be.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I feel like until you’ve hung up your cleats, success is a constant work in progress. With that said, our goal has always been to make life better for kids facing certain developmental challenges by leveling the playing field for them through technology. I’m exceptionally proud of our team at Revibe, as I feel we’ve been successful thus far in leveraging our technology to help a tremendous amount of children improve their focus to live better lives and reach their own academic and personal potential. And at the end of the day, I think living your best life, or in this case, allowing someone else to live theirs, is the best and most rewarding job on the planet.
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 would love to see a movement where everyone pays it forward to one unlikely candidate per year. Meaning, everyone would choose to give an opportunity to at least one underdog. I would call it the Underdog Challenge since challenges have a habit of going viral. Many people took a risk on me, and as a result, I’ve been able to positively impact so many kids. I can’t help but wonder how many other underdogs are out there who could do amazing things if given the chance.
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 would love to have breakfast with Elon Musk. I feel like he gets it. I have a passion for responsibly defying convention. Looking up, over and through convention to see what waits beyond is something that Elon clearly embodies. I would love to eat bacon with Elon and brainstorm what I see coming in med-tech to get his take on it.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.