In this inventor interview with Patrick Kinnamon, Patrick talks about his invention the Swaggerdoodle Collage Frame which allows the user to creatively display their pictures any way they want. What I found remarkable about Patrick’s interview, is how he specifically got a job working for a large retailer to learn more about working with suppliers in order to be able to use this experience for his own product.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background experience how you first started inventing?
Patrick: I’m currently based in NW Arkansas, working for Sam’s Club, though the Swaggerdoodle business is based out of Dallas, Texas. I came to the largest retailer in the world so I could learn the intricacies of how its merchants work with suppliers and make decisions on the items offered to them. You should always try to learn from the best!
I don’t know how I first started inventing; I love to draw and was crazy for Lego’s. But since I was in middle school, the margins of my spirals have always been filled with whatever idea I was cooking up at the time – water pressure-powered dish washer for campers, automated tennis racquet stringer (I was beaten to the punch on this), and plenty of other crazy ideas. I think 90% stemmed from my general laziness towards chores.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about the Swaggerdoodle, what it is, and how you came up with the idea?
Patrick: Swaggerdoodle itself is a brand name that I hope will represent to consumers a creativity-inspiring, fun, and easy alternative to standard collage frames, scrapbooks, and memo boards. Displaying pictures at home should be just as quick and fun as displaying them online, and the full Swaggerdoodle line will answer that need.
The Swaggerdoodle Collage Frame, which is what’s currently being produced, is a large collage frame that opens from the front for easy access to pictures by users. Pictures are held in place by our patent-pending die-cut matte. The matte can be any pattern we (i.e. consumers) want – we’re currently launching with a damask pattern, since it’s so popular right now. Thin cuts in the matte that outline the pattern hold the picture in place just like a paper clip would. Using this method to hold pics means you can post any size image, and no more cutting, taping, pinning, lining up pictures, or any of the other frustrations that come with normal collage frames and memo boards. The matte is even two-sided so you can flip it to change the pattern color. To top it off, the frame comes with a dry-erase marker to “doodle” on the Plexiglas cover, over your pictures. The end product is a collage frame that looks clean and elegant on your wall, but can be completely changed in just a few minutes. You can always check it out on Swaggerdoodle.com!
I came up with the idea several years ago, watching my sister and her friends struggle with current picture frame and memo board options. Rather than spending $30 and several hours filling a new frame, or poking/pinning their pics to an ugly corkboard, they’d often just leave their latest photos in a shoebox – this is apparently a very common problem. I don’t really collage or scrapbook, so I wouldn’t have thought of it had it not been for them.
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
Patrick: Once I had the idea where I wanted it (it’s gone through several reiterations since) I reached out to small business/entrepreneur program contacts at my university (University of Dallas) for thoughts on next steps. That said, many large universities have programs that offer assistance to any entrepreneur, in school or not; I’m currently benefiting from the program at the University of Arkansas. I was told that I needed to write a business plan…and include financial forecasts…and consumer survey data…and production costs…and sales strategies for major retailers. It was all very daunting, but I managed to pull it off over the course of about six months, with a TON of help from the UD program.
Tara: Did you try and patent or protect your idea in any way and how did you go about it?
Patrick: The die-cut matte is currently in the patent process. It’s being funded by capital derived from the promising forecasts in our business plan, which was presented to our first investors. However, we understand that patent protection isn’t always enough to protect a product. It’s difficult enough to prevent another domestic company from going into production with your idea – even with a patent – let alone a foreign supplier who sees this new product your manufacturer is working on and rips it for themselves. That’s why our protective strategy relies as much on first-to-market presence as a patent.
Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or make a prototype of the Swaggerdoodle?
Patrick: Originally, I had 3-D renderings and videos made – this is what our first focus group and survey were actually based on. However, the product wasn’t able to truly progress and evolve until I had samples produced by a manufacturer overseas. Hint: Alibaba.com for any type of manufacturing you could ever need.
Tara: Did you always intend manufacturing Swaggerdoodle yourself or did you look into licensing the idea?
Patrick: I thought about licensing, and it’s still a possibility to license the patent from us if a company wants to produce on their own (hint, hint). But, I never saw the concept of Swaggerdoodle as one that would be instantly understood by other businesses – it’s not a flying car – and therefore likely wouldn’t receive much interest if presented. I see Swaggerdoodle’s rise as more of a groundswell, finally prodded into the doors of retailers by demand from users. This ties into our strategy of social media-based marketing. So does cash.
Tara: How did you go about finding a suitable manufacturer for the Swaggerdoodle and did you self fund this?
Patrick: In short, Alibaba.com; search “picture frame manufacturer.” However, this doesn’t take into account that I had been working in a position as Operations/Projects Manager for a small wholesaler for a year, learning everything I possibly could about sourcing and production, specifically for this reason. The lessons I learned there through trial and error, under someone who had the cash to afford my mistakes was absolutely invaluable.
Tara: How are you going to be promoting Swaggerdoodle?
Patrick: Blogging, like this! …Social media will definitely be key on a limited budget- product give-aways, consumer involvement in new product development, and online advertising. Using Google Adwords and Facebook Ads, we can target potential consumers with pinpoint accuracy and set a daily spending budget. We’re also very fortunate that our target consumer is a savvy online customer.
Tara: What were the most difficult elements of bringing Swaggerdoodle to market?
Patrick: Most likely sourcing the overseas production. This is an ongoing balance of managing relationships with people who have much larger accounts to tend to than you, and making sure that they produce at a level of quality necessary to sell to your domestic consumers. For example, what we consider “defective” and unsellable is often considered “mark-downable” to overseas manufacturers; make sure your production instructions are on par with the middle school exercise of how to make a PB & J- describe every painstaking step. If you go the overseas route, you should learn everything you can about the culture and business practices of the country before attempting to source.
Tara: How long has it taken from your initial idea to taking it to market?
Patrick: It will be almost exactly 5 years once our first production run arrives at our facility. Much of this time was spent learning the trade at my various positions out of school, and if you can fully protect your idea with a patent, the licensing route has the potential to be shorter. That said, the process will undoubtedly take longer than anticipated, so be prepared for the long haul.
Tara: Is there anything you learned developing Swaggerdoodle that you would now do differently if you had to do it all again?
Patrick: I definitely would have brought the other members of the team on sooner. There’s no way I could have done all this on my own, and no matter how well you know your product, you can always benefit from the expertise of others.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Patrick: Seek advice from knowledgeable sources and shrug off bad vibes from those who know nothing about your product or its intended user. Constantly following these two practices is critical to keep you moving through adversities. Even if you’re confident in your direction, reinforcement from someone who’s been there can provide an inspiring push in the back.
Tara: Where can people find out more about you and the Swaggerdoodle?
Patrick: Anyone can check out Swaggerdoodle.com or Facebook.com/Swaggerdoodle for more info and a video on the product (as well as rave feedback from our fans!). We’re constantly updating both, so be sure to check back and follow us.
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