In this inventor interview Lucy A Mitchell shares her story of bringing her invention MagneClip® to market. MagneClip® is a new snap hook (used on things like dog leashes) which use a magnet rather than a conventional spring. Lucy currently has a crowdfunding campaign to help raise money for her product at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/magneclip-magnetic-snaphook/x/1704284
Tara: What is your name, invention name and website URL?
Lucy: Lucy A Mitchell, my invention the MagneClip® www.magneclip.com
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background experience how you first started inventing?
Lucy: I live in Wiltshire UK. I moved back to the UK after living in Florida USA for 20 years. I originally went to Florida to do some flight training and to become a pilot. I ended up staying after teaching others to fly to build up my flight experience.
I think I have always like to design different things. I remember as a child being annoyed at things that didn’t work properly, or being unable to find good information.
I don’t have an engineering degree, but certainly having a good understanding of how and why things work is a blessing. I’m certainly glad I insisted in studying engineering drawing at school even though girls weren’t allowed to take the subject and were supposed to do typing. That would have been useful too. But those were the days before everyone had computers and I had never typed anything in my life.
I studied various practical subjects when I was training to become a pilot and physics, chemistry and mathematics at school were so important. I also used to help fix engines and motorbikes and cars as a teenager.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about your invention, what it is, and how you came up with the idea?
I came up with the idea after I was at a pet tradeshow in 2010 in Germany. I was talking to a vendor and playing with one of his leashes. It slide bolt snapped back and the button flipped my thumbnail off the nail bed and tore my nail. Painful and I needed to go and get it repaired.
The big difference with springs and magnets are their force and how that force is applied. If you look at my video of the bow and arrow you can see how a spring works. It has little or no force when it is at rest. Just like a spring snap hook. This means the slide bolt can start to rattle when it gets old. It is also very easy to open very slightly. But as you try to open it further it becomes progressively harder. When the slide bolt is fully open it is like the bow and arrow. Ready to shoot if your thumb slips. The small knob on the slide bolt is what hurts. It catches your nail, knuckle or even your dog and hits it full force.
A magnet works the opposite. It has full force when it is closed. So it wants to stay closed. But as you open it magnets quickly lose most of their attraction when they are only a millimeter or two apart. That means when it is fully open you don’t have to struggle keeping it open and if you let go by accident it cannot build up any momentum so it closes gently. You just get a click over the last millimeter and that is too small to injure any part of your body.
As the MagneClip® Ease opens inwards it means you don’t have to bend your thumb at the joints. That is very good for anyone with arthritis, or women that just have smaller less powerful hands than men do. You simply apply pressure at the opening and it clicks on.
I could bore everyone for an hour explaining exactly how and why it works. But when you use it you can instantly tell the difference. It may look almost the same but until you get it in your hands you won’t really get it.
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
Lucy: After I came up with the idea, I first did some rough drawings. Very rough. When I look at them now I smile as they are pretty ragged. I sent them to an engineering design company I had worked with in the past for their input. They responded with a yes it will work and what an interesting idea. They made up a prototype on a 3D printer and sent me the sample and drawings. I sent them to my attorney to do a patent search.
Tara: Did you try and patent or protect your idea in any way and how did you go about it?
Lucy: To my amazement there was nothing similar. So I filed a utility patent. Then came the hard part, trying to find a manufacturer.
Tara: Did you always intend manufacturing your invention yourself or did you look into licensing the idea?
Lucy: I attended another trade show and spoke quietly to several companies. They had all said that the snap hooks were a problem. I had them sign a NDA (non disclosure agreement) and then showed them my new still unnamed snap hook. Most of the vendors liked it. The market is targeted towards women as about 80% of buyers are female. So most vendors ‘got it’ .The only one that didn’t was a company specializing in large leashes for very large dogs. Their clients were almost 100% male under the age of 45, so not many of them would have thumb issues.
I did think about licensing, but I couldn’t find a company that was interested. Most of the manufacturers of hardware for pet products are in Asia. US manufacturers buy from them. As the snap hook is just a part they just wanted to buy from me or from the factory.
Tara: How did you go about finding a suitable manufacturer for your invention and did you self fund this?
Lucy: I ended up finding a manufacturer from the tradeshow. Another vendor told me he could help and put me in touch with his factory. Most companies guard their suppliers names incase you try to go around them. The company was in Taiwan and he comes with me when I visit and translates for me.
So far I have funded everything my self. It has been hard working full time and doing everything by my self. Money is always tight and it has been a steep learning curve.
I have just started a crowdfunding campaign on indiegoggo.com, here’s the link.
Tara: What have you found are the best ways of promoting your invention?
Lucy: Going to tradeshows has been a great way of getting out there. I had my first booth last October and I had one person helping me out. She has past sales experience. She went to all the other pet leash manufactures at the show with a leaflet with our booth location and information. She took a leash with her and invited them to come and visit. They did.
Vendors get upset if you try to sell them something at the show. They paid for a booth to sell you something. But by inviting them to our booth when they had some down time worked very well. Everyone at the show knew who we were.
Tara: What were the most difficult elements of bringing your invention to market?
Lucy: One of the most difficult things I found and I’m still finding is dealing with men and their attitude towards me. Manufacturers are still mainly men and they have an opinion that women must be dumb and don’t know what they are talking about. This has cost me a lot of time and money.
An example is every manufacturer has presumed they knew best as they already make snap hooks. True but none of them know anything about magnets. They insisted they do it there way and wanted to cut me out of all the designs. Well after they couldn’t get anything to work they came back to me and I had to fix all their mistakes. I had to give them some very basic physics lessons. This may also be part Asian culture that they can’t admit failure. I’m not entirely sure but it has been an obstacle.
Tara: Is there anything you learned developing your invention that you would now do differently if you had to do it all again?
Lucy: I’m not sure what I would do differently. A good mentor would have been a plus. I’m still looking for one. If you know of any send them my way.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Lucy: My advice to anyone wanting to be an inventor is, get a good education. Far too often girls skip science subjects at school. Having a good fundamental idea of how things work and some practical experience is invaluable.
Do some business studies and learn something about patents and how they work. Read some good business books. If you look for a business partner, look for the opposite to yourself. No point in you both having the same skills. If one of you is good at marketing and accounting then the other needs to be creative. At least one of you needs good people skills.
I outsource everything I’m not good at. 99Designs.com has been great for logo, brochure designs as well as product labels. I also hire from Elance.com I have my CGI drawings done from contractors I found there. I also found a CAD engineer there too.
I have also found so much help from Twitter. There are all kinds of interesting people there. The Shark Tank and Dragons Den has been useful If you can’t get one of the investors to listen to you try the people who were on the show looking for an investment. They will usually respond and help you out with information.
Tara: So what’s next?
Lucy: Well I’m working on the new MagneClip® Secure a locking version of the first MagneClip®. The prototype will be done in a few days. I already have people waiting to see it.
After that it will be those horrible buckles used on dog collars and luggage bags. I received so many complaints about them people have begged me to design a new one.
Tara: Where can people find out more about you your invention?
Here are some of my links. If you have any helpful advice please feel free to contact me.