Update: We're almost there... the finish line for development is in view! Been a long road for this start up. There have been obstacles, setbacks and so much stuff to consider. The goal of all this is for people to have fun... and I think we'll make it!
I saw the best models yet just the other day. A few more tweaks and the world will have a cool new toy! It has to be special to have lasting value. So while there is no launch date yet, the Bandit Ball is on the path to production.
The interest and support of so many people along the way in this project has been amazing. The capital involved, legalities and production hurdles have been surprising... requiring even more guidance and patience than originally thought.
Entrepreneurs...Take Note: Here is some history and a list of stuff I've had to do in order to get this project off the ground. These steps are common and most of them necessary if you are going to take something worthwhile to market.
TIMELINE: For the most part, besides the 30 year gap... I approached the project methodically. Step by step. Two steps forward and sometimes one back. To be expected!
Step #1: Somewhat hard to believe... Hatching the idea in the 1980's. I thought, "How could you push two balls together and make one?" Then proceeded to slice up a Wiffle Ball and found I could squeeze it and change its shape. Eureka!
Step #2: The 1990's... Very few product endeavors. Busy with kids, commuting, working overtime at Diamond Star and doodling in sketchbooks when I could.
Step #3: 2000's: When silicone wristbands came on the scene, had an "aha" moment and made some new prototypes.
I found a toy agent in California in 2005 and he made an attempt at representing the concept to some manufacturers. All to no avail.
Step #4: Began thinking of what to work on soon after my job at Mitsubishi ended in November, 2015.
Group F-6 with Mitsubishi's last U.S.A. Outlander Sport
Good people and good friends! Most are flourishing and we don't have to wear those maroon shirts anymore!
#5: Branched out in the community. The kid with all the connections in his 20's had very few as a 58 year old Grampa. So I began going to 1 Million Cups meetings in July, 2016. My goal was to meet at least one new person at each meeting. That was easy to do! Most everyone, young and old, attends Cups meetings for some sort of hopeful reason.
#6: Reached out to the Illinois Small Business Development Center. I began meeting with Ross Miller in the fall of 2016 and took their "Starting a Business in Illinois" workshop. The S.B.D.C. is located in the Peoria Next Innovation Center on Main Street. It's state of the art and what's more... they provide valuable time and expertise to the local community. For free!
#7: Applied for a provisional patent. Checked that off on February 3, 2017. After that I could start telling folks about the Bandit Ball.
The fee to file as a Small Entity is only $140.00. Of course you have to follow strict guidelines, but it is easily doable and you can put "Patent Pending" on your invention for one year following your application date..
#8: Picked a manufacturer. I decided on Midwest Molding Solutions in Bloomington, Illinois. I learned of them in late 2016 through folks I'd met at community meetings. Their website says they are open to working with inventors and that was key. Joe Diemer is the President there. He is personable and quite knowledgeable in the injection molding field.
#9: Secured the website, www.banditball.com, through GoDaddy. They have many services and are less expensive than some other sites.
#10: Applied for a trademark at the U.S.P.T.O.
I successfully obtained the Bandit Ball Trademark. There's a actually a fun story about this. Fun because it worked out! But that's for another post.
#11: Applied for a non-provisional utility patent in February of 2017. This had to be done within one year of the provisional patent filing. I chose Alan Singleton, a patent attorney from Champaign, to do the work.
#12: Began investigating wristband companies. I am still doing that to this day. Which is strongest? Most economical? Embossed? Debossed? Colored Ink? No color? Of course these will be ordered many times for many situations. May have to even make our own someday! The companies I've ordered from are Rapid Wristbands and 24 Hour Wristbands.
#13: Took several business and marketing workshops along the way through the local S.C.O.R.E. chapter. These are free and informative, although you have to sign up for them. Much useful information for start ups and entrepreneurs can also be found through the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.
#14: Began meeting with Kevin Evans, the first person I met at 1 Million Cups. In late 2016 he began mentoring entrepreneurs through Bradley and the S.B.D.C. Kevin is The Man to see at the Illinois.S.B.D.C. He's knowledgeable, warmhearted and that big smile will make you think you're on your way!
#15: Applied for and received my L.L.C. for The Bandit Ball Project in March 2017. One of the things I learned to do at the IL. S.B.D.C. business classes.
#16: In March 2017, I also did the first of more than 100 Customer Discovery Interviews at our next door neighbor's home. I was there so long, the mom dozed off! Took till the end of June to complete all 105 interviews. Most were at public events and folks didn't know I was the inventor. This was a long an sometimes uncomfortable process. Going up to folks and saying, "Hey, can I tell you about..." Very necessary though, to get good opinions on the concept and its potential for success. And the results were outstanding!
#17: I opened a business account with PNC Bank for The Bandit Ball Project, LLC in mid 2017.
#18: We made a really cool Promotional Video in late July, 2017. Connor Parkhurst of Hoop House Creative was at the helm and he did an outstanding job! Over 30 people were involved and It was set in the park by our house. It will debut on social media when we launch! It's a minute long, so much fun, and will seriously compel you to buy the product!
#19: I wrote my first Business Plan in August 2017. Used a template I found online and that made it doable. Our needs have changed a lot in the past year and the plan can be easily updated. This is an important step for anyone to be able to review what you are doing or have planned in your business.
#20: Started up my website, www.banditball.com, using Shopify as my web host. So far, so good! Although we haven't taken orders yet, that will hopefully be easy to set up. "How hard can it be?"
#21: Started this blog shortly after that, upon mentor Kevin Evans' suggestion. Is it successful? You tell me! I know it has been good to write out the story.
#22: In August 2017, my start up was accepted to be Bradley University's Senior Consulting Project. Four very talented seniors helped me out for the fall semester as their Capstone Project. They did research, an online survey and provided me with a very detailed document at the end which was full of their findings. This was a free of charge and is a very cool service that Bradley provides to the local business community.
#23: I presented at 1 Million Cups on October 4, 2017. It was a great experience! Public speaking is not my forte! But I stuck to script and had a good presentation. Got folks excited.... and now they've waited for over a year. But good things take time! An image from my PowerPoint is above.
#24: The engineering consultants through all of this have been the Integris Group in East Peoria, IL. My first meeting with them was with Bill McKay in early 2017. I continue to work with Andrew Hoerr and Mike Grossen. They have done all my CAD 3-D drawings, which the manufacturer needs in order to make the models. It's an ongoing process and they will provide images for the Bandit Ball's changeable end caps in the future.
#25: On May 1, 2018, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and i3 Broadband sponsored a Start Up Pitch Competition. A traveling angel investor group known as The Results Junkies was in town and that was the catalyst for the contest.
Randon Gettys, of Start Up GP, helped me in preparing both what I would say and my "slide deck"... the visuals of the pitch. The competition was held at the Peoria City Council Chambers inside City Hall. First time I had ever been in the chambers. It's a beautiful room. What made the experience even more cool is that I won! First prize was $1000.00. The first time I've taken home pay for something creative in a very long time!
#26: I also have to mention invaluable legal advice along the way from my life long friend, Nathan Miller, who just happens to be a very talented attorney. Nate's in the middle this photo, from a few years back when we saw fraternity brother and super cool comedian Taylor Mason. Taylor has been a creative inspiration since "the 70's", when all were together at the U. of I. On the left is Martin Kiesewetter, inventor of the Sundawgger solar hot dog cooker.
#27: And finally, the prototype testing with the manufacturer has continued since I received the first batch of samples late last year. There have been improvements every couple of months. We are on about the 5th iteration of models. On the left, the first models: too small, too brittle and they broke in the middle. On the right, the most recent... and as you can see, it's COOL!
Here's a fun little video of photos and happenings along the way in this journey. Now that the Bandit Ball is almost here, we're gonna have to get moving!