QUESTION: Did you feel at any stage that you were chasing your tail, chasing false leads? Do you tap into and trust, your intuition, your gut feelings? How do you chose which is the right path to go or the path that’s just wasting your time? How do you make that judgment call? When your friend John said “Go ring my mate, this kiwi guy lives in the States, and it will all be sweet?”… and it definitely turned out that way…how did you know to follow this lead?

ANSWER: My gut feeling said, ring him up! Because my attitude is, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. To be honest, I find it really challenging to phone people. Even doing this RadioTV interview I don’t find easy, but it’s part of what I do that seems to work for me. When look at the decisions I make, intuition does play a part. I have a sense of which choice is going to work for me and the other people involved. Of course experience plays a part in my decisions. That’s how my kids entrepreneurial program came about. It was an idea that I thought had major benefits to a lot of kids, parents and teachers which just felt right! It hasn’t always been an easy road, because experience is gained by making a lot of mistakes. But for me it comes down to deciding “Okay I think this project is a good thing”, and off I go and do it.

This post is part of my Radio Coaching Interview. To listen to this section please click here.

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YouTube How Inventors Invent Inventions

QUESTION: What was the time frame between having the idea to you selling the patent?

ANSWER: It took me about 35 seconds to think of the idea for BetterBlocks, then to develop it and get it into the marketplace, about another 3½ years. I was $100,000 in debt and struggling to financially survive…let alone develop a new product. I built the prototypes myself but I couldn’t manufacture it. 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 them. Then, assemble and lead the 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 invention, but I realised there was a whole lot of business skills and resources I did not have. A team effort was required to make BetterBlocks successful. The people in my team may not have been as inventive as me, but were far better at manufacturing, sourcing venture capitalist, marketing, drafting contracts and many more things I was not so good at but knew were important.

To be honest, I don’t know exactly how I attract the people I need in my projects, but I seem to be able to do it. It’s like my new kids entrepreneurial project. I had an idea that I wanted to teach kids about inventing, money and entrepreneurship, because, from experience, they seemed to be interested in these subjects. I knew whatever we created needed to be entertaining, because kids like to be entertained. And that was about all I really knew. Then off I went and 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 internet marketing people, but encouragement from people in general. 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 my kids entrepreneurial project a successful product and a successful business.

QUESTION: Are inventors born wearing an inventor’s hat?

ANSWER: I wasn’t born an inventor, but my parents were very creative people, so I had great role models. 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, it was more pulling “stuff” apart…then 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 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 would break the next record and then off I would go chasing the next record. 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 start over 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 one lesson I learnt as a kid. Some ideas worked and some didn’t and perseverance is the key. I had to keep going to get to the end….to where I wanted to go. This is simple persistence and I’ve applied it to all of my inventions, my race bikes, my business and my relationships.

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, the NZ marketer who bought the BetterBlocks patents from me, 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 in the different classes we had set up. During the event a father came up to Kelvin, and really thanked him for bringing Better Blocks into the marketplace. 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. It’s what made all the tough times worthwhile. 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 touch peoples lives?”

I never really know if I’m going to make a difference to someone’s life or how or when. 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. BetterBlocks brought a father and son closer together. That’s what makes inventing exciting for me…..the unexpected results that no business plan can include!

The Bigger Picture

I started with an idea, and was a 100 grand in hock. I desperately needed get out of hock. That was what I thought was the bigger picture! But there was actually a bigger than this. I could positively affect a relationship, a father and his son. I have no idea how many other people’s lives I may have touched with a simple plastic block, but I know I’ve touched one, and that makes all the effort worth it.

We sold over 2 million kits and manufactured more than 600 million blocks, so there are 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!