Our InvENtor Spotlight for November is on Jim Sage! Jim has been a member of the Edison Nation community since 2016 and is an active Insider!
Where is your home town?
North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania – Suburb of Pittsburgh.
Where do you currently reside?
I returned to my home town five years ago.
What is your professional background?
I worked as an Art Director for 20 years with companies like General Nutrition and Lockheed Martin. I left my career after landing my first invention, a cat litter box, on QVC. After several complete sell outs, I realized I had a successful item and wanted to expand to brick and mortar.
My wife, Amy, and I began attending trade shows and networking while still continuing to sell the item on QVC. My product won the “Best New Cat Product” at the Global Pet Trade Show in Orlando, beating out million dollar companies for the award. We were able to get the product placed in Petco and then later in PetSmart. My business hit $1 million in sales by year three. I have been awarded four US patents and I currently have one patent pending.
How did you initially hear about Edison Nation?
After my company suffered significant setbacks during the economic downturn, I realized I needed to focus my energies in a new direction and do what I do best, product design. I needed to expand my product design portfolio into other categories than just pet and I became interested in product licensing. I tried another invention submission company but that company failed so I searched for other option. A friend emailed about EN and I liked the long history of successes and the fact that the submissions are private.
What inspired you to start inventing?
Inventing and graphic design have a lot in common, each requires problem solving and each demands creativity. My litter box design was born out of trying to impress my girlfriend (now wife of 24 years) who was very busy and had neglected the litter box. When I used to scoop to try and clean it I realized what a frustrating job it was. A few days later I had a prototype cobbled a couple together from Rubbermaid tubs and parts from the hardware store. After testing it out with her cats, I felt confident that I had a hit and I brought my prototype to a local pet product buyer. The buyer explained that the idea was good but the design was ugly. I couldn’t believe I had forgot the form part of the “Form and Function.” I am a Graphic Designer! This is a lesson I never forgot.
I always try to present ideas that are more developed. As you develop your product concept further, you discover problems to solve and actually find new beneficial features.
Do you find that invention ideas come to you do you have to go after them?
I believe that inventing is a muscle that must be exercised and pushed.
To get inspired in my search for new ideas I force myself to visit stores, websites like The Grommet and Kickstarter. I learned 3D modeling while at Lockheed Martin and I continue to develop that skill because it is so valuable when designing products. Whenever possible, I build my own prototypes. 3D renderings can fool you into thinking you have a good product until you make a prototype and realize you have a lot of work to do.
When did you come up with your first great idea?
The litter box was my first success about 25 years ago, and it inspired several more successful line extension products. That line took me and my wife around the world for 15 years. I do, however, feel the products I have been designing for the past few years are my best efforts. I feel that through all of my experiences I understand a lot more about all aspects of product design, manufacturing and marketing.
I used to sometimes wonder if I would ever have another great idea. Now I believe that my best idea is still to come.
Have you ever collaborated with another inventor(s) on a project? If so, how was that experience for you?
I have collaborated on many occasions.
One danger of being a “lone wolf” is you get so close the the elephant all you see is grey. I like helping someone who may have a great idea but not the ability or experience to bring the thought to life. It is so rewarding helping someone’s vision come together in a 3D model. If you can have a team of people who are experts in different disciplines, the result is a much better finished product.
I recently worked with a team that had a close-to-finished product and I introduced them to Kickstarter. The team consisted of experts in DRTV, sales, finance, social media, web design, SEO and logistics. Once I helped them pull together the Kickstarter campaign I got out of the way because they had all of the needed team members to handle the project from amazing customer support to fulfillment. The campaign exceeded the goal and the product went viral to well over 100 million views on the web. I really love opportunities to collaborate with a solid team.
Never be afraid to look for help. You can’t be great at everything.
What are some general industry trends you have noticed recently?
When I first started my business there were very few options. Open innovation was not even thought of. Loans and credit cards are how I funded tooling, trade shows and marketing. Now, open innovation is welcomed by more and more companies and innovation is exploding thanks to Kickstarter and Indiegogo. It is so inspirational to see individuals and companies be so creative without the start up barriers of the past.
Another amazing advantage is Google Image search. With my first product, I remember going to a library to use a US Patent microfiche machine to do my patent searches. It took hours. Now, I can have a pretty good idea of how unique my idea is in minutes.
You’ve been an EN member since 2016. Can you provide us with some details around your experiences and journey to date?
I learned not to fall too much in love with my ideas.
In my experiences with invention submission sites and licensing I have had a lot of rejections but the rejections always pushed me.
You can’t let rejection shut you down. You have to raise your game and learn.
I am so grateful for EN and the vetting they do. I used to come up with products, fund them and launch them only to watch some of them sit on a shelf and die. It hurts to get a warehouse full of product back nobody wants. ASOTV is my new quest on Edison Nation, I am very driven to try and find a product that delivers a win on that platform.
I try not to submit every idea I come up with. I research as much as time allows and only submit ideas that I feel are at least unique and problem solving. I feel like EN gives me the opportunity to focus on what I do best.
What advice would you tell others embarking on their own invention journeys?
All along my journey I have met people that success seems to come to easily and, yes, some people do hit it very lucky. My recipe is hard work and learn as much a you can.
In my career I have been able to travel all over the world with my wife doing QVC shows in the US, London and Germany.
I have met with buyers at Walmart, PetSmart and PETCO all because of going for my dreams but it came with a lot of painful lessons.
Find a path that makes you happy and never ever give up. I am never happier than when I get an inspiration that excites me, but then I realize that now the hard work begins. The idea may not pan out, learn from it and move on.
Keep your radar up everywhere you go, new ideas are looking for you.
What would you consider as your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
I wanted to create a consumable product when I owned my pet product company. I came up with an idea to create a clumping cat litter using bamboo as a substrate for the litter. Bamboo grows up to 5 feet a day in some regions of China and is an amazing renewable solution. I spent about a year developing and testing with a longtime trusted Chinese manufacturer.
After about 20 samples I finally found the perfect formula. I developed the packaging for the new product and headed off to a major pet trade show. I was thrilled when the “holy grail” of buyers stopped by the booth – Walmart. I traveled to Bentonville and had a successful meeting with the buyer.
I needed to find a partner who had the size and financial ability to handle Walmart’s demanding business. I was flown to California to finalize an investment deal when the potential investor demanded that I own a Chinese patent along with my US patent.
I called my Chinese manufacturer and it was revealed that he subcontracted the business to another Chinese company and they patented my formula under their name. The next morning Walmart called and said they decided to go with a less expensive non-clumping Bamboo litter. In 24 hours I went from the highest high to the lowest low when the deal fell apart, that was a long plane ride home.
I learned many lessons from this adventure, one being if you are going for an idea yourself you really need to cover all of the angles, but if it doesn’t work out shake it off and move on.
What are some other fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with the EN community?
I am passionate about my family, golf and I recently became an avid bike rider and supporter of Rails to Trails thanks to a new trail close to my home.
I self wrote, illustrated and self published a children’s book called The Magic Bib as a promise to my kids.
We’d like to thank Jim for sharing his journey with us and have our fingers crossed for his next deal!