Inventing, Reinventing and Inventing Again
In 2008, I bought a straightforward, profitable e-commerce business that sold a line of laser pointers. I knew from day one that I’d have to both focus my market and diversify the product line in order to keep the business viable, but figured I had some time. I didn’t.
Within six months of purchasing the business, I had encountered a perfect storm and was about to go down.
- The single product I was selling, laser pointers, had moved through the product life cycle from new, cool and expensive, to a mass produced commodity with rapidly falling prices.
- The web space became much more complicated. With new metrics, players and competitors, we lost our first page spot with major search engines.
- Need I mention, it was 2008 and there was a recession?
Sales, and more importantly, profits were falling fast. As I scoured the data, though, I noticed there was a segment of sales that was not shrinking, but growing: Wholesale Science Education. So I decided to put my attention on what was working rather than on what was not.
I initiated conversations with wholesale buyers and end users (classroom teachers) to find out what they were doing with the laser pointers. It didn’t take long to get a clear picture about how the laser pointers were being used in the classroom; they were being used to teach basic principles of light and optics. From there, I thought, my mission is clear-target education.
But talking with teachers and wholesale buyers yielded more than just a market to focus on. I had something else – an idea for a new product! Not only did teachers tell me what they did with the laser pointers in the class room, they unexpectedly told me the limitations of using them for teaching and learning. “They roll” they told me, “they don’ t stay on”, and “you cant see the beam,”. Based on what teachers told me they needed, I’d developed a new design for a laser that would be easier and more flexible to use in high school and University classrooms.
The path from idea to concept to manufactured product went smoothly and quickly. But reinventing the business and getting sales has been a long haul. In the three years since the product launched, I’ve sourced accessories, assembled kits, and curriculum around LASER Blox. I have spent endless hours and too many dollars focused on getting LASER Blox out in front of the end user (physics teachers) and into the right stores and catalogs. But it is through that process that the mission for LASER Classroom emerged: Lead the creation, manufacture and distribution of K-12 educational products and curriculum for light, lasers and optics.
That mission and the foundation built around a first invention has taken time and effort; and it has given me the confidence and clarity to dive into inventing again. As I embark on the product development journey again, first thing I’m noticing, is that like children, you really can’t compare your first to your second. Stay tuned for a series of posts that chronicles the product development process for an Educational Optical Communicator!