QUESTION: What was the time frame between having the idea to the patent being sold?
ANSWER: It took me about 35 seconds to think of the idea for BetterBlocks©, then to develop it and get it into the marketplace, was about another 3 to 3½ years. I built the prototypes myself but I couldn’t manufacture it.. didn’t have the money as I was $100,000 in debt.. I wasn’t a marketing person.. in fact there was a long list of skills and resources that I didn’t have. So I had to find, then assemble a team of people who had all of the skills that I didn’t have but were necessary for BetterBlocks© to be successful. Invest in your team as well as your product. With BetterBlocks I not only invested in my idea that was going to become a product but I also realised there is a whole lot of business skills and resources I did not have and a team effort was required to make it all happen properly and in the sequence that it is supposed to happen. They may not have been as creative as me but were far better at manufacturing, sourcing venture capitalist or they’re very good at drafting contracts so that I did not get burned in the process. To be honest, I don’t know how I attract these people. But I seem to do that. It’s like my new venture, BetterKidsTV.com. I had an idea that I wanted to teach kids about money and entrepreneurship. I knew one thing; it needed to be entertaining because kids like to be entertained. And that was about all I really knew. Then off I went and I told people I’ve got this idea and now, I’m beginning to assemble a team of really excellent people. Not only people who can produce great products, but also on internet marketing side of it, and just general support. Again, I’m assembling a team of people around me who are far more skilled in their areas than I am and that’s ultimately what will make BetterKidsTV.com a successful business and a successful product.
QUESTION: Is successful inventing really as easy as trying something else when your idea doesn’t work?
ANSWER: To be honest.. No! When I was developing Better Blocks© I was $100,000 in debt, people were ringing me up to get the money that I owed them. I had to renegotiate payment plans with them. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think ‘Gee, what am I going to do now? I’m not going to make it by doing the same old thing.’ (just a note here, ‘Gee’ is a polite word I have written here to replace the real word I used!) But I always believed in my invention and my end goal, which was that millions of kids around the world would be playing with my Better Blocks©. Happy kids and happy parents having fun, visualising this end result is what kept me going. When times were really tough, I just recalled what I was really trying to achieve and I would say to myself ’Okay, Warren, just put in one more effort.’ It was really like that, knowing where I wanted to go and just putting in another effort. Sometimes I would kick a goal and sometimes I would kick out of bounds and I would have to regroup and start again. But it was all about persistence. That was one thing I really learned with Better Blocks©. My Better Blocks was an okay idea, it was a building block like Lego, but my blocks moved when clipped together. I’m just kind of an average guy that went to school. I saw some far better ideas than mine and came across far more intelligent inventors than me. But they didn’t succeed which made me start to think, what did I do that worked? Really it was just about being persistent, you know, the only sure way to fail is to stop trying. I was probably a bit pig headed sometimes but I did just keep going, and eventually, Better Blocks© was successful. That was the skill I needed to start out with…. just being persistent.
QUESTION: Are inventors born wearing an inventor’s hat?
ANSWER: I wasn’t born an inventor, but my parents were very creative people. My dad was involved in engineering and my mum was a dressmaker. As a kid, I just used to like making “stuff,” although, looking back, there was more pulling “stuff” apart and trying to figure out where the leftover parts belonged after I had finished putting it back together! I would pull apart electronic gadgetry, old bikes, and machines, anything I could get my hands on. My parents encouraged this inquisitive side of me. From making “stuff’ like Billy carts out of junk I found lying around and then testing them, I learnt that…. some ideas worked. But many didn’t. As I got older I became involved in motor bike racing, I enjoyed developing faster and faster bikes that could break the next record and then off I would go chasing the next title. This is where one of the lessons I learnt as a kid came in very valuable. Some of the engines I made were very fast but other’s weren’t as successful and just blew apart. So I had to go back to the drawing board and do it again, just like when I was a kid when I was testing my Billy cart. One of the reasons BetterBlocks© became successful was because of the lesson I learnt as a kid, that some ideas worked and some didn’t and that perseverance is the key, you’ve got to keep going to get to the end….to where you want to go. This is commonly called persistence and I have applied it to all of my inventions, my race bikes and my business.
QUESTION: What were the unexpected results of my invention?
ANSWER: My highest values are to make kids and parents happy. The business part is in the brain, the motivational mission comes from the heart. It was when parts of my business truly touched my heart that made all the hard times worthwhile. Of all the highlights of having a successful invention let me share with you a story of what truly made the sacrifices I experienced for BetterBlocks all worthwhile.
Kelvin, a NZ marketer who took BetterBlocks to America was running an event in a community hall in Florida. Kids and their parents brought in their Better Block models to enter a competition to see who had the best model for the different classes we had set up. During the event a father came up to Kelvin, and really thanked him for bringing out Better Blocks. Kelvin could see by the emotion behind his voice that this was more than just a simple “thanks mate”! So he asked him why he was thanking him. The proud father said, “I bought Better Blocks and it was the first time in 4 years that I’d sat down and play with my son. I sat down and played with him for half a day building these models.”
To touch someone’s life like that, unexpectedly, that was what made the challenge of seeing my idea, my invention, thru to the end, never giving up even when I really wanted to. I thought “Wow, I really can make a positive difference in people’s lives.” That was the beginning of my quest………….. “How can I create products which achieve this more?
I never really knew when I made a difference to someone’s life or what it was. When I was developing Better Blocks, my motivation was to bring smiles on a few kids’ faces and to get out of debt, but there was a bigger picture than just bringing a smile to a few kids faces and earning some money which I never knew at the time. That’s what makes inventing exciting for me…..the unexpected results that no business plan can include!
The Bigger Picture
That’s the bigger picture. I started with an idea, and was a 100 grand in hock. Now I need get out of hock. That was what I thought was the bigger picture……..but it was actually bigger than this. The fact that I could positively affect a relationship, a father and his son. I have not idea how many other people’s lives I may have touched with a simple plastic block.
We sold over 2 million kits, manufactured more than a billion blocks so there were a lot of BetterBlocks out there that kids were playing with. I simply followed something that I enjoyed doing; creating and making toys and learning new skills. So really I just followed my heart and did what I loved doing. The unexpected results were really out of my control!
David v’s Goliath!
When I did my market research I found Lego was like the big giant in the building block, toy plastic building block industry. They were a $2 billion a year company. You went into a shop and there were Lego and there was Lego and there was Lego……….. there was no competition! For me to come and be new kids on the block, (no pun intended!) it was a bit of a challenge. What I realized is that I couldn’t take Lego on head-on as a company because like I said, I didn’t have the resources. But what I could do was, I could develop a block that was a bit different from theirs. It was like a David and Goliath type of relationship, but I thought ‘Lego may be big, but I’ll just keep working on my blocks