Last month, we started a blog series called Inventor Q&A to give you the opportunity to get to know your fellow Edison Nation inventors a little better. For the first month, we sat down with John Vilardi, a professional 3D modeler, serial inventor and G8 Edison Nation inventor. This month, we’re getting know Edison Nation inventor and Insider member, Tim Hayes!
Tim has been a member of Edison Nation since 2011 and is no stranger to the term “G7”! You may recognize Tim from his posts within the forums, or his successful Kickstarter campaign for the Splash Infuser! Tim owns his own product design company called Cardboard Helicopter and has worked with many major companies to bring products to market.
Given his product design and development background, we thought Tim could be a wealth of information for other inventors, whether you are just getting your feet wet or have been around for some time.
Where is your hometown?
Lakewood, Ohio, which is the most densely populated city between Chicago and New York City.
Where do you currently reside?
Lakewood, Ohio. I love this city!
What is your professional background?
I have a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art in Industrial Design. I graduated in 2007 and worked with all different types of firms and brands, including companies like Fisher-Price toys, MTD lawn equipment, Proctor and Gamble, Craftsman and dozens more. I’ve designed products for industries such as medical, pet products, military vehicles, motorcycles, camping devices, commercial products, infomercial items, etc. The hundreds of products I’ve worked on have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profit for my clients.
How did you initially hear about Edison Nation?
I was designing a new product invention late one night in my apartment, and started to search for invention outlets. I heard plenty of horror stories about certain invention submission companies in the past, and only read great reviews about Edison Nation. They had an affordable submission fee, highly focused searches, and the process was professional and discrete. I knew that this was a terrific opportunity and it has proven to be the best outlet for inventors and great product ideas.
You are an accomplished product designer and have your own product design company, Cardboard Helicopter. How did you start in this industry?
I was designing products for a huge corporation, and while I loved it, I desired to own all my own IP, be my own boss and earn incentives from all the creative products I was designing. It took a long time to land my last job, and although my family said I would be crazy to leave, my entrepreneurial spirit could not be contained. I truly believe the old saying “big risk, big reward” is 100% true. We have evolved our company into something fresh and new with the different ways we operate our firm. Our core business is designing products for companies and inventors, and we also act as an internal invention think tank to license new ideas to companies. Recently, we developed one of our inventions and successfully funded it via Kickstarter, and we’re currently marketing and selling the product ourselves.
What was it like getting your company “off the ground”?
When I left my steady job, it wasn’t scary for me at all because of the experience I had up to that point. I helped turn a medical device start-up from one guy in a basement into a company with 20 employees making millions of dollars annually. In the early stages, I was involved in every aspect of the business, including developing the overall company structure, operations, design, fulfillment, facility locations, sales, going to trade shows, and everything in between! I learned a lot about building a culture and keeping employees happy.
I started submitting ideas to Edison Nation and a few other outlets, and began to gain traction with open innovation companies looking for new ideas from independent inventors. At that point, I was a one man show called Tim Hayes Innovation. I began to use the money I was earning to invest in things like digital sketching screens, 3D printers, a tiny office space and other items. I then brought in two of my business-minded inventor friends who I have known and trusted since 6th grade. They had great jobs at the time, but didn’t hesitate to come on board because they wanted to be a part of Cardboard Helicopter.
It brings me great joy that I get to walk into the studio every day knowing that these guys have my back, and are here to help me grow this thing into something special. We are still in the initial stages of our company, but we are acquiring some amazing clients and helping a lot of inventors make their ideas more appealing, marketable, and ready for manufacturing. We have created hundreds of product concepts, and have placed many products with large companies. By the end of this year, we plan to have signed 40 licensing contracts.
Have you worked with any EN community members on projects? If so, anything you can share?
I have helped many EN community members with industrial design sketching, animations, 3D renderings, sell sheets, and prototypes. I can’t share any specific information about them yet, but some of them are on the road to success!
What is your process when approached with a new project?
We start each project with an imaginary end user that we create, complete with a name, hobbies, location, product preferences, income, family details, etc. This allows us to tailor our design and style around that target user. As a start-up firm, it’s important to research your market on a budget. Some of our methods have been to print out all the different types of products in the category we’re working on. Then we start throwing out ideas, or even construct crude prototypes using items around our studio. This hands-on approach helps us envision how it might work and gives us new ideas in terms of ergonomics, usability, materials, etc. Sometimes we will simply try to think of every possible way we can innovative a specific product, from mild to wild.
On average, how long do you spend working on each design?
If it’s just a pen concept sketch, it can be five minutes to an hour for each concept depending on the difficulty of the product.
I typically 3D model products in a couple hours, 3D render them out in an hour or so, and then create a sales sheet in an hour.
For inventors, we always try to under-promise and over-deliver. Since I understand firsthand the process and headaches that come with being an inventor, we do our best to save them time and money. As industrial designers, we see countless different ways to do something, and can often get to a refined solution quicker. We understand the steps that must be taken to get a product manufactured in the most affordable manner. I personally love to help with every project, as I understand the industry and the industrial design and engineering process.
What are some industry trends you have noticed recently?
I have been going to trade shows and hearing about a lot of different trends in the consumer product industry each year. Some of which include healthy living products, all-in-one gadgets, devices for the farm to table trend, and new uses of eco-friendly materials. Trade shows are a wealth of information for those with ideas and I highly recommend inventors seeking them out.
Any products currently on store shelves where you collaborated that you can share?
We have many products launching in 2015 that we designed for companies. However, the product development process typically takes a long time and, besides the Splash Infuser, (which is available for sale on the Splash Infuser website) I can’t discuss anything yet!
You recently successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign for your Splash Infuser product – can you share some insights from that experience?
This was a great experience for us and we just started shipping online and to retailers all over the world. It marked the first time that we created a product and developed it every step of the way, from initial sketch to store shelves. Running a Kickstarter campaign is definitely a full-time job and some advice I can offer is it is never too early to start researching, marketing, and building relationships prior to launching your campaign.
The motivation to make the Splash Infuser is that we wanted to create our own destiny with it, designing it to our high standards, creating appealing packaging, brand values, and the idea of creating a product to motivate users to get healthier.
We are very grateful of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter because it provided us with the opportunity to manufacture the Splash right here in the US. I strongly believe in the importance of US manufacturing and I know that most consumers (and inventors!) want responsibly-made products. While more expensive, making products locally has many perks like ease of communication, ability to visit the facility, and shipping times and costs. I understand why companies and inventors manufacture overseas, but it’s not for us. As the labor costs go up in China, you will start to see a lot of Made in America products popping up. Even major retailers like Apple and Walmart are starting to ask for Made in America items.
Would you ever pursue another campaign on Kickstarter?
Yes, I would for our next product. I also plan on developing products on Kickstarter to help pay for tooling so companies would want to license it. This is very appealing to brands because they basically don’t assume any risk. We also may help others develop their product, prototype, photos and videos, and page layout creation.
Do you have any advice for inventors who are looking into launching a crowdfunding campaign?
As I stated before, you can never plan far enough in advance before you launch. We started doing PR and sending press releases when we launched, when we should’ve done it at least six months ahead of time. It seems that many of the incredibly successful campaigns get a massive social media following in the year leading up to launch. I heard that some don’t even start until they get 50,000 Facebook likes!
I recommend making a video that is intriguing, exciting, and since attention spans have become shorter, brief.
Your campaign will gain some traction early from your family, friends, and inner circle, and you just have to maintain and keep the momentum going!
Do you find that invention ideas come to you or you have to go after them?
We usually go after them. Sometimes I have an “a-ha” moment, but generally we pick a category, think of ways to solve problems or ways to make something more fun or enjoyable and start brainstorming. We are often tactical and see what types of categories are hot, pick the best ideas from the session, and develop them over the weeks into refined ideas and sell sheets.
What advice would you tell other inventors hoping to score a licensing deal of their own?
Licensing is a numbers game and don’t get discouraged if your idea gets rejected. There are tens of thousands of brands worldwide, and you just have to try, and try again. Even if your idea gains interest from a company, be prepared for the deal to fall through at any moment. Just keep learning, researching and developing better ideas. It’s definitely tough to break into but keep your head up! I have been getting empty promises for years, but I know that if I stay positive, work hard each and every day, I will be successful.
What are some other fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with the EN community?
I am married to a beautiful woman who has been very patient with me through all of this. It is great having someone at home that is supportive through the many risks I’ve taken. She is an amazing graphic designer and give us great feedback on the products and brands we create.
I have been an entrepreneur my entire life. I started at a young age selling shirts I created, candy, CDs, and all sorts of other things. I learned a long time ago that there are two types of people in the industry, buyers and sellers, and I always wanted to hustle and be a seller.
I have been training in mixed martial arts since 2002. I still find time during the week to go train in boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, MMA, grappling and jiu-jitsu. I have a clear mind when I do this, and I feel that if I can walk into a cage or ring against an intimidating opponent, I can do anything. My mind is always in motion, and I’ve actually invented some of my own moves, and use problem solving when I compete.
What inspired you to start inventing?
I have always been an idea guy. I love the thought of being able to turn a raw idea into a tangible and successful product that I can actually see on the shelf and make money from all my hard work!
You have been an EN member since 2011, can you provide us with some details around your experiences and journey so far?
It has been great! I had the opportunity to visit the Edison Nation facility a few years ago. It was amazing meeting all the inventors and members of EN. They were all very welcoming and their space was so cool! It instantly made me feel comfortable and that I was involved with a trustworthy company. As an inventor, it made me even more excited to have this terrific outlet. They offer tremendous support throughout the entire process and have built great partnerships. This gives me the opportunity to focus on my strengths, which is designing innovative products that people love.
Want to see your idea on store shelves?