What’s it take to have an idea, create an invention, and get it to market?
Determination, pluck, and down and dirty hard work. Some luck along the way can’t hurt. People will connect you with others who are entrepreneurs and the dots will start to connect, but you have to keep the flame of the idea burning.
What might surprise you is you can often get your idea and your business off the ground without a lot of money. Carter Johnson started with about $5,000 and much of that was spent on patent and trademark filings for the Penguin, a blade-free tool designed to easily and safely open anything from a pill bottle to large boxes. She also created a 3D printed prototype and was able to successfully test that with nurses at Cook Children’s Hospital.
The meter is still running on the Penguin and Carter has not paused to calculate the total start-up cost, but the initial $5,000 is long gone after building the entire infrastructure: a business and marketing plan, social media platform and strategy, a website (www.getapenguin.com) and production of 30,000 Penguins for the rollout.
Start-up investments can vary widely from venture to venture but experts estimate that you can spend up to $100,000 by the time you’re ready to open the doors or crank up the cash register.
Along the way, as your business idea starts to take hold, you start to find people who can lead you to other people. The dots get connected and you are suddenly headed down the path to your own business.
There is some serendipity to all this. In 2019 Carter found her patent attorney Brian Yost at Decker Jones, and he introduced her to folks who did technical drawings and helped create prototypes and the injection mold. All local people and companies.
After finalizing the design and applying for patents her next key introduction was to Fort Worth advertising agency veteran Susan Watt, who owns and operates Innovador LLC, a virtual marketing and business management firm. Watt looked at the Penguin, knew Johnson had a winner and immediately directed her to a Carrollton tool and die manufacturer.
Next thing you know – well, not immediately but ultimately – you have 30,000 products to sell.
There are three sizes of Penguins, selling for $7.99, $8.99 and $9.99.
Watt continues to operate her own business but is also director of operations and marketing for Johnson’s start-up, XIT XTREME LLC. Johnson is president and CEO.
Carter has one piece of advice for those starting their own businesses: Never sign anything while you are sitting at the table.
“My point is, don’t get caught up in the moment, in the excitement of plans coming together when you have legal documents and other papers to sign,” she says. “Go home, wait, and make sure you know what you’re signing. Understand the commitments.”
She says nothing disastrous has happened to her because of not taking enough time to understand specifics but she’s made a mistake or two.
Carter has several ideas for new products and is currently in the creative development phase with them. Her work is already getting noticed and next spring she will be on a high-powered panel at UT-Austin discussing entrepreneurship.