Katherine Wolfe Inventor of ThumbbyAn inventor interview with inventor Katherine Wolfe who created who created the Thumbby™ Soft Massage Cone

Tara: What is Your name, invention name and website URL?

Katherine: I’m Katherine Wolfe, my invention is called the Thumbby™ Soft Massage Cone, and our website is at http://www.thumbby.com

Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background experience how you first started inventing?

Katherine: Our company is based in Portland, Or. I am a software engineer with an interest in massage and bodywork because of chronic pain issues. I started inventing because I needed a massage tool that was comfortable for me to use.

Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about your invention, what it is, and how you came up with the idea?

Katherine: The Thumbby™Massage Cone is a massage tool made of soft silicone rubber, that’s shaped like a cone with a rounded tip. It feels like a thumb and magnifies force, so it helps anyone give deep massage regardless of hand strength. I invented the Thumbby™ because I lost strength in my hands from a congenital spinal problem and so couldn’t massage people well. Hard massage tools were uncomfortable both for me and the people I was trying to massage, so I made a kind of rounded cone out of clay, then made a mold of it in hard plastic and experimented with various materials to find the right “feel”. Silicone gave us what we were looking for in a material because of its natural feel and non-reactivity to lotions and oil.

thumbby invention

Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?

Katherine: I made what turned into my first prototype to use personally and showed it to friends, including an LMT who became my business partner.

Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or make a prototype of your invention, how did you go about this?

Katherine: I made a prototype for personal use – later I produced some 3D CAD drawings with a software package called SolidView and had a 3D printer print the drawing in thermoset plastic resin.

Tara: Did you try and patent or protect your idea in any way and how did you go about it?

Katherine: Yes, we went to an intellectual property attorney, who guided us through the patent application process.

Tara: Did you always intend manufacturing your invention yourself or did you look into licensing the idea?

Katherine: I think we always really wanted to manufacture the Thumbby™ ourselves – we did look at a contract manufacturer but not into licensing.

Tara: How did you go about finding a suitable manufacturer for your invention and did you self fund this?

Katherine: We’re self-funded, and still make our product in-house.

Tara: What have you found are the best ways of promoting your invention?

Katherine: Video has been very important for us, because describing how something feels doesn’t have nearly the impact of seeing someone react to how it feels to them. Reading “It feels great!” is one thing – seeing someone say “Oh My God, where can I *get *one of these?” is quite another.


Tara: What were the most difficult elements of bringing your invention to market?

Katherine: I think the biggest challenge for me, like many other engineers, has been with marketing. What has been very important is having a partner who is familiar with our target market, credible as a spokesperson and talented at marketing and sales.

Tara: How long has it taken from your initial idea to taking it to market?

Katherine: About two years.

Tara: Is there anything you learned developing your invention that you would now do differently if you had to do it all again?

Katherine: I think I would have been thinking from the beginning of a product that we would be producing hundreds of a day, instead of a few at a time. At the time I had no idea how big an impact a small design change can make on ease of manufacture – and the larger the number of units you’re making the more important easy manufacturing gets. It will also impact your costs down the line if you make your design as easy to manufacture as you can.

Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?

Katherine: Imagine the kind of people you think would really love using your invention, go find some to talk to about it, and really listen to what they say. You can hire this out, but it’s easy to chat people up about a product idea if you have something to play show and tell with. We made several design changes in our product and packaging early on to address comments from those conversations we had with potential customers.

Tara: Where can people find out more about you your invention?

Katherine: Please visit us at http://www.thumbby.com.

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