Lighten Up Part Two: The Highlight Bulb Changers Origin Story
Posted by James Ellis on February 01, 2017 . 0 Comments
The HighLight Bulb Changer: Bringing The Team Together
At that point I did what any good inventor does when he or she gets an useful inspiration...I called my brother-in-law.
It has been one of the real pleasures of my life to have known Gary Nunn. He is a master Civil Engineer out of Ga Tech, who after a highly successful career at DuPont, has become a world-class, globe-trotting consultant for all matters polyester and other things I don’t understand.
Gary got right on board and had soon produced the first working prototype of the HighLight Bulb Changer. For $100 no less, which is a laughably small amount of change compared to subsequent prototypes. I am lucky and proud to have him as a co-inventor. I am a lot more lucky and proud to have him as a friend.
I was now gassed by the possibilities and did the next thing any inventor worth their Gladstone Gearloose Award does…. I called my brother.
He is wicked smart about money and physiology, having earned a Masters degree in each of those, and is as good a man as is…. plus he’s my brother.
Jarvis Ellis is his name and we incorporated into Faraday Partners, LLC. and with the expert help of cousin Richard Childs’ lawyering, we took the first steps of a very long journey by trying to find someone to turn what we had, into drawings that would be suitable for a patent application. Also searching for a patent attorney to guide us through this step.
As it turns out, we had an old friend Jim Goodroe who was working for another old friend Jim Downing of racing fame and inventor of the HAN Head and Neck restraint, something all NASCAR drivers use today, in some form.
Jim was able to recommend good people for both of those tasks: Dave Lynn for the initial design drawings and T.J. DoVale as a patent attorney.
Dave (a Ga Tech Mechanical Engineer and father of the then quite small Brisco, whose red hair and good spirits spread good luck and good vibes into every corner) was crucial in the development of the design of the Grabber, introducing the ‘cathedral shape, lined with grabby rubber strips’ idea which not only advanced considerably our ability to accommodate more shapes of bulbs, it added the capability of grabbing them firmly enough to unscrew even reticent, perhaps rusty bulbs. His drawings were perfect and allowed me to approach the attorney with all the requirements for application.
T.J DoVale is the gold standard for patent attorneys. Not only did he guide me through the considerable maze that is a patent application, his writing for my application was a masterpiece of balance between broad stroke and narrow detail, providing our project with maximum protection. If T.J. says I should do it, I do it.
At this point, Jarvis and I realized that we were nearing the end of our effective range and needed someone to illuminate the way forward. Learning of this, T.J. said “ you guys need to meet a friend of mine” and soon we were to a have the first of many breakfast meetings with:
Jim DeBetta, who is not so much an expert in matters of making and marketing things as he is a force of nature. Of course, he is also an expert in how to make and market successful products. After meeting with him that day, I knew for the first time that if we were careful, we could actually make and market HighLight Bulb Changers for a profit.
So the plan became, and remains, to 1) create and submit to tool makers a manufacturable design for our product. 2) When an agreeable price can be found, 3) raise the money for the initial die costs and first run. This is where we are now. Having raised the initial capital we 4) make the first run and 5) begin selling them… not only on our own nifty sales website (HighLightBulbChanger.com) but now, since we have a product to sell, 6) Jim DeB could engage his considerable abilities with his considerable contacts, like with Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, etc. and 7) we could then think about larger shipments.
On Jim’s recommendation, we enlisted the help of Trident Design, an award-winning design and marketing company out of Columbus Ohio, who provided us with the design for prototype 2 and an initial set of sales materials and graphics. They also came up with “HighLight Bulb Changer” as a better name than CLIC (Chandelier Lightbulb Changer). All big steps forward and well taken.
Initially, the plans for prototype 2 were submitted to a manufacturer and a quote was given, with the caveat that the plans from Trident were not nearly specific enough, no matter how spiffy. The quote was about $13 a unit, not including die costs which were okay and that was just right, as we intended to sell them for $49.95, a price agreeable to everyone we asked including Home Depot. Unfortunately, in the time it took us to get the plans strictly finalized, the initial offer wasn’t available and the best price we could get was about triple the initial quote and the die costs were enormous…..we were dead in the water with that design.
I note with some pride that no one…. no one on our team wanted to give up. We all agreed to the idea that it was literally back to the drawing board to totally redesign the HBC out of plastic with the idea of making an equally usable product at an affordable manufacturer’s cost. Further, we all felt as though we had learned enough from Proto 2 to make a much cooler and more effective product. The idea of plastic was actually opening doors and adding options for us rather than making the job more difficult.