Updates: Online Survey! This fall I am working with 4 talented senior students from Bradley University in their "Senior Consulting Project". They are helping with several aspects of my startup. This includes ideas for marketing strategies, possible accessories and social media. One of their tasks is to conduct an online survey about the Bandit Ball. It will be posted sometime soon our Facebook pages. Please help guide this project by giving us your valuable input!
Story Continued: In 1986 I discovered the licensing end of product development. Think up a great idea, do your due diligence and send it out to be licensed to the highest bidder. That was the goal anyway!
My friend, Tom Sandberg, by then an industrial designer at 3-M, had made a contact with a large toy manufacturer in Minneapolis, MN. Through Tom, I was able to send them my first throwing toy concept for review. It sparked interest but wasn't accepted. Nevertheless, I had a groundbreaking experience with licensing and was hooked.
For the next two years, I sent out concepts to major toy manufacturers on a regular basis. I made money on the side by painting houses and selling hand made furniture at craft shows. The hope with licensing was to get "just one" deal, moreover to foster a career as a productive toy designer. I was successful at getting noticed and was on a short list of outside inventors at some large and well known toy companies.
In those days they may have listened to me because of my youth. I was young kid bold enough to knock on doors. I sent out ideas for doll lines, throwing toys and table top games. I made a model of the ball I had sketched out in July, '86 (see blog post #1) and discovered that its shape could be changed.
The "Wunder Ball" was round in its natural shape. A large rubber band, used to hold lettuce together in the produce isle, made a football shape. Suction cups from a hardware store morphed it into a disc. We did a promotional video, but couldn't figure out how the ball would be made. So I kept it under wraps ... for the next 20 years!
Here is a page from yet another concept, "The Funday Sunnies", which I sent out for review in early 1988. I had concocted a whole line characters, each pictured here and drawn by yours truly. There was a continuing story about a boy who collected the Sunday Funnies and let his imagination run wild. The major toy companies thought it interesting, but passed yet again.
On Friday May 13, 1988, I won a trip to Hawaii from a local radio station, WIRL, in their "Month of Vacations" contest. My wife Nancy, on her way to work, was in her car ordering a salad from Hardee's when my name was announced on the radio. Wouldn't you like to have seen that? Aloooha!!!
With friend Ray Emory on Diamond Head ... August, 1988
We had an incredible time on Oahu and Maui and came home with some wonderful news. A baby was on the way!
I was 31 and our lives were about to change for the greatest of reasons. Today as ever it still rings true. You ought to have stability when about to start a family. We needed insurance and a steady income. I needed a full time job.
I went to work for Diamond Star Motors, the budding car manufacturer in Normal, Illinois on May 1, 1989. Our daughter, Kailee, was born the next day! The Diamond Star plant was, in many ways, like a giant toy factory... for older kids. We made really cool sports cars in all sorts of colors. Our vehicles won awards. They were in movies and they were fast!
There was a lot of hope for the company in its early years. Our group put on spoilers, decals, shift knobs and other fun parts at the end of the production line. Away from home 12 hours a day and with a growing family, my designer dreams went on hold. We had three wonderful children, bought a house and lived the American Dream.
You may know if you’re reading this that the “entrepreneurial spirit” never completely leaves you. Mine certainly did not. In 2007, at age 50, I recommitted to sending out toy and game concepts. The passion was still there and I thought, “Geez… if I hit 65 and have never done anything with this. What then?"
By 2007, however, my connections were long gone. Now I was an older guy, dealing with 30-somethings in the industry. But what does age matter? I made contacts and took it all in stride. A slower stride! Coincidentally, at about that time the silicone wristband industry was taking shape.
Hmmm… a wristband. My middle aged brain had a spark! The 3-in-1 ball, shelved so long ago, had changed from a baseball to a football to a flying disc. Now I could band it with a wristband! That was the aha moment and the "Bandit Ball" was born. I signed with a toy agent in California who agreed to represent the Bandit Ball to his large manufacturing clients.
And he did just that. From 2008 to 2010, several large toy companies expressed an interest in my novel toy. The Bandit Ball made it through layers of internal reviews at two major companies more than once. It was an exciting time!
"BANDIT BALL" . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . First Prototypes, 2007
Licensing is very speculative and the odds of success are stacked against any independent inventor. Large companies have in house staffs that are constantly coming up with their own ideas. To pick a product from an outside source and pay royalties does not happen often. The concepts they review had better have one or more "wow factors." These are aspects that make people say, well, “Wow!” when they are introduced to a concept. The wow in Bandit Ball is when it transforms. Because of this and the Ball's versatility, there was continued interest from the companies. But no deal....
Dutifully, I stayed at what had become the Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing plant until it closed in November, 2015. The highlight was working with some really great people who are friends to this day.
For all that time I did my design stuff at night, hoping incessantly that something would be licensed. During 2016, my agent decided to give a group of my concepts one more shot before retiring. I appreciated that, and we waited with hope yet again. As it ended up, he did not show the Bandit Ball. And I started thinking!
With time on my hands in the summer of 2016, I began attending 1 Million Cups meetings in and around Peoria. Local entrepreneurs pitch their ideas and startups at the once a month meetups. The Cups motto is "Caffeinating an Entrepreneurial Nation" . They serve free coffee in a room filled with hope!
Grandson Jude with Bandit Ball Prototypes . . . . . . September, 2017
Yesterday, I presented The Bandit Ball Project at the 1 Million Cups meeting in Peoria. It was a great experience! In the next blog post we'll begin catching up to what's happening currently with the Bandit Ball. Thanks for reading and have a great day!