Taking An Idea From Hunch To Shark Tank and Beyond
This episode of the accidental create podcast brought to you by fresh books allocate. More time to creating let fresh books do the boring accounting and bookkeeping. Learn how by going to fresh books dot com slash accidental and entering accidental creative. And how did you hear about the section? Look looking about the puck in. In the puck. Deductive Doug everyone. Welcome to the accident credit podcast. My name is Todd Henry. I'm your host. I'm also the author of a bunch of books, including the accidental, creative die empty louder than words, and the new book hurting Tigers, which is about how to create an environment in which creative teams thrive. If you're anything like me, you probably have, oh, five to seven ideas day that, stop you in your tracks. And you think wait a minute. What if you're that's interesting? What if we did this what if we did that? What if I created this? I wonder if anybody would be interested if I made that, but often we let those moments pass often we don't act on them instead of acting on them. We think, well, it's not practical or maybe probably wouldn't work anyway. So it's not really worth the effort. It's not worth the risk. It's not worth the investment. But occasionally someone says, you know what I think I'm going to give it a go, and we hear stories about those people. I think sometimes it convicts us. Us personally of all of the ideas that live in the idea graveyard that is our past today's show features. Neil Hoffman Neal is one of my neighbors. He's an amazing guy. But he's also got a remarkably successful business that he built based on a hunch. It was something that was the conflict of his past interests, his skills, and an idea that meta need that wasn't being met by anybody else. But he thought, hey, I am uniquely qualified to make this happen. He actually not only created something, but he was able to then get on shark tank, and while we're going to talk about what happened when he went on shark tank today, but I want to talk about the conception of an idea to its execution to its alternate success, and then some of the life cycles of the entrepreneurial process with Neil today, it's going to be a phenomenal conversation. I think you're really going to like it before we dive in today's episode is brought to buy fresh books. So as creative, prose. We're in the business of turning clever ideas into customer value. What we're gonna talk about on the show today. The thing is that greed ideas and creative work take time to cultivate, and running a business doesn't always provide enough time to do that kind of creative work because you're so busy doing all of the mundane administrative stuff to make your business run. Well, that's where our sponsor fresh books can help fresh books is accounting, software designed for creative professionals like you, and like me, it's so easy to use. The you'll save sixteen hours a month on time consuming Adleman paperwork, which means that you'll have more time to let your creativity flourish fresh books as packed with time saving features, you can create and send branded invoices in about thirty seconds of this. So super simple. You can set up ACH and credit card payments, right on your invoices and get paid up to two times faster snap photos of receipts from your phone to make managing expenses, a million times faster. And when tax time rolls around export tidy reports for expenses, invoice details and sales tax to make working with your accountant a breeze. Doesn't that sound great? So allocate. More time to creating and let fresh books do the boring, accounting and bookkeeping right now, fresh books is offering listeners of the accident, creative a thirty day trial of fresh books. No credit card required is incredibly rare. All you have to do is go to fresh books dot com slash accidental accidental creative, and the how did you hear about the section? That's fresh books dot com slash accidental and interacting creative. And how did you hear about the section to get started with fresh books for sponsoring this episode of the accidental creative podcast? All I'm excited to have on the show today. Neil hoffman. I'm excited for a couple of reasons. First of all, I love Neil story. I love what he's done what he's built a really creative guy. I can't wait to jump into this conversation. But also deal happens to be a neighbor of my lives right down the street and so excited on that front as well. The irony of the whole thing is no, we're not recording this together. We're actually recording it via Skype which is funny because we're only like a couple blocks away, but Neil, welcome to the podcast. Will thank you happy to be here. So I wanted to dive into your story kind of get get into how you got to where you are today, which will go into detail about as well. But when when people ask you what you do. How do you respond to them? Well, that's great caution. I tell them, I'm living the dream, so ever since I was a little kid. All I wanted to do was make toys and just it brings people joy, and it makes me happy and I went to business school it just to be able to make toys and God job at Hasbro toys, and worked on GIGO got to relaunch, the twenty fifth anniversary of GI, Joe so recreated my childhood got to work on the GI. Joe movie which didn't do that. Well, but was such an incredible experience. This was this was how how long ago like what years were was the, this was, like two thousand five two thousand eleven. Okay. And then I left has toys because my wife made me and we moved to Cincinnati for her job. And I was suddenly a toy guy without a toy. So when you say what do you, do you know, for a while, I was like, well Matola maker, but I'm not making toys. And about six years ago. Now, seven maybe we were walking through the store, and I'm Jewish. My wife is Catholic and we're raising our voice Jewish of decision. We made early in our relationship, and it's, it's hard in a Christmas time is really difficult for us, and we're walking through the store and my son comes up like daddy, daddy, get Nell fun at shelf, now, it's like, no, no. You think it now font shelf? You can get up mentioned a bunch, and I was just messing around and like love that idea, I wanna do that. And my mind was racing. You know when you got that one idea, and you just it's the one that won't go away. And I planned out all these different line extensions and PR plans. And I wrote affordable fronts on the bench specific bench. Yeah. And my wife, I remember she said to me, she said, well, you've kind of lost your spark. If this is. What you need to do to get back, and you wanna make Jewish all's in the basement more power to you. So I just want to serve visit that your wife said, if you wanna make Jewish Dole's in the basement more power to you. I love that line. I mean, you know, fast forward years later, we sold you hundreds of thousands of these Rawls. Ed. My wife still is like, wow. If you wanted to this whole thing in the basement. That's okay. That's awesome. And so when you say, well, what do you do? So now I run my own toy company. I run the Mench on a bench. We have expanded to about eight different characters in the line, and then I have got the entrepreneurship bug. So I support bunch of different ideas with a bunch, different entrepreneurs and just try and keep that passion lid and not rest on my oils. So I want to go back to that moment where you had the idea of for Mench on the bench, which, by the way, I think, just for those who may be aren't familiar with elfin the shelf, so they may not be able to do that derivative to mention on the bench. You just describe what it is. Sure is has been out about fifteen years now. And about ten years ago, hits peak, and the elf goes to Santa and tell Senate every night, if the kids have been good or bad and returns in a different position in the family's home when he comes in new position. He's always income, a fun position doing something unique and funny. And this rose at the same time as Pinterest, and Facebook, and there was a generation of moms that was having so much fun with this sharing it every day of December. So he comes on December first and for the entire month. And as a Jew, you know, December's a tough time anyways, you know, the twelve days of Christmas, you know, you kinda roll your eyes 'cause if feels like even longer will now it started on December first and all these Jewish families were left out. So the insight here was while they have this incredible progress incredible insight. And they've left a small. Passionate market. Totally neglected. And I don't claim the Mench was brilliant, Mench was just the right idea at the right time for the right people. And so what, what is meant on the bench, then, so Mench on a bench is the Jewish alternative to the alpha shelf, and instead of really doing what they do where it is watching over the kids on reporting, if they're good or bad. It's more of an educational toll. So Judaism is a lot of education based, so, everyday Mench likes to introduce a different Jewish concept, whether it's drizzle or lock goes presence or prayers. And then every night, you know, he holds your candle while you sleep in watches over your candle in your minora for you. And I wrote the book, I wrote eight rules that he has an funnels like he likes to have his picture taken that one night of Hanukkah. You give presents to those in need instead of get presents yourself. So trying to enforce good values, which is all the parents wanna do know. And it's all I wanted to do raising my two boys. So, so you had this idea. And I because I actually we kind of we knew each other right? During some of the, you know, the, the formation of all of this and. You at the time you had you were working your wife was working, you're very busy. You have kids, obviously, you have a lot going on. Walk me through the calculation in your head as you're thinking about doing this thing that, you know. Yeah, it was a side project, but it wasn't really took a lot for you to be able to, to launch this in a meaningful way. Talk me through some of the concerns that you had when you were thinking about launching out into doing Mench on the bench as, as a new venture would I started? It was not a concern. It was this will be a hobby and we're gonna make five hundred dollars. And then I said, you know, we're what's by thousand and by the end of that first year, we had sold one hundred thousand all one hundred thousand dollars dolls. And I was like, oh, this, this isn't just a little hobby anymore. But at that time, my wife works fulltime, I was working up in Dayton. So I was driving an hour from my house doing Mench calls on each way of taking my lunch break working on Mench. Every day it was really difficult. I've learned a few things some of the best, not best, some of the don't successful entrepreneurs, I find have one partner, who has a very stable job at one partner, who can take risks bed because when you're an entrepreneur, they're going to be extended periods of time where you don't bring any revenue and for a lot of people, you know, if you have two kids and a mortgage like that's not doable. And I was doing it where I was handling the job and bench. And I almost broke you know, I got to that point, I was probably a week away from breaking down. And I remember having that conversation with my wife being like I just can't do this anymore. I did as long as I can, and I'm not being the dad. I wanna be upping husband, I wanna be I'm not running a business the way I want to do it. I want to take this leap and I only took that leap after we'd filmed shark tank. We'd gun Neela. Okay. So that's, that's. Okay. So you were on shark tank. Yeah. Okay. So how did that happen? So we went out there. We went on Kickstarter originally. I'd made those first five hundred dollars like I said, those soul through we actually sold pre pre-ordered for whole bunch of other dolls. And I got calls from bed bath beyond Barnes and noble Michaels and got orders for the coming year of seven hundred fifty thousand dollars Saddam sitting here with seven hundred fifty thousand dollars purchase orders. I know that the projects going to, you know have some trouble selling through at that kinda crazy rate. Shark tank, is my favorite show. It was in my scope right from the beginning. We had this idea, I want to get on shark tank and let people say, well, yeah. Everybody wants to get on shark tank in their forty thousand people who apply every year in about one hundred get on Il. What makes you confident that? You're going to be the one in the way, I. Looked at it was, they have a holiday show, and where they have Christmas items and Hanukkah items and how many companies out there really doing Hanukkah items. Maybe three of us raid. So suddenly instead of being a hundred out of forty thousand I'm one out of three and that's exactly how it went down. I applied for that very specific slot got interviewed. So I did buy -plication gotta phone screen interview where they seem to think I was kind of nod until I mentioned I had seven hundred fifty thousand dollars purchase orders. And then you get assigned a producer and every week, you kinda work on your pitch and you talk to them. And during this time they're taking the forty thousand down to thirty two twenty to ten until they finally give you the call until you you're coming out, and you're gonna film and. As a student of shark tank in a storyteller. Someone who understands entertainment. I realized that might challenge was to be. I was a joke, right? And Mitchell benches a joke. It's funny. And my challenge is going to be to get them to see that there's a real business year before they laugh me off the stage and I separate that John JR. And knew that there was a real chance. I was going to go on there and just look ridiculous. That would be William hung of shark tank. The gets laughed off and you could see it. If you go watch that episode it's a six twelve season six episode twelve and you'll see right? When I say, Mench, benchmark even like puts his head into his hands just shaking his head like absolutely. Yeah. And I, I remember watching the episode as because you couldn't tell us what happened right ahead of time. Or tell anyone I think ahead of time like what actually happened. And I remember. As we were watching it unfold. And I'm like O'neil. Oh, Neil thinking, but, but tell us what happened. What happened after that? So I ended up getting a deal. So the first half hours in there. I was in there about an hour I got roasted for about a half an hour, I was battling and battling in our sweating and people don't know about about shark tank is that you're in there for like, what an hour, two hours or something. And they will that down to like five minutes of TM and. It was going terribly to the degree of I was getting ready to just turn out walkout and. I decided as I was asked a question to try and reframe the story here and say it was Laurie asked me a question. What retailers are you in? And I said, well, or before I answer that do mind. If I just tell you, how I came up with the idea, how we got to this point, and then how we got into retail and what retailers for in, and then I told my story, I mentioned, I was a toy guy from Hasbro and the whole conversation change. And would I was totally unprepared for and I think this happens in venture capital? I think it happens in the business place. I was the most prepared person to ever go into shark tank. I read every single one of their books. I watched every episode I did back and forth Cuna with all my business school friends non-business girlfriends. I mean I was so ready? And I wasn't ready for was the questions that they threw out or non sequential and kind of random. So when they cut it together. It tells a store that makes sense. That's always what you see. We don't see is when you walk in, you're the first question, Barbara throughout there was is this offensive? And I'm like, no. This isn't offensive Mark you and was like, yes, it is. And now instead of talking about my business. I'm having a conversation about with their I'm offending Juzar not. And I was on the defensive and I was off my game. Right from the first step. I had no idea what was going on. It took me a little while. And I think because they see so many people, and they have a very short time to decide if this is the kind of person that they won't do business with they purposely really try and rattle you. Yeah, let's see if you're the kind of person that's going to break. Or if you can stand your ground and defend your business and those end is a little credibility. Moments are important to, you know, there's a good lesson for anyone who's doing any kind of pitch, right? Like, the, the earlier you can get your story and as little credibility moments. In the better the rest of the conversation is going to go remember agai no Stanley Hanes worth who has a company now called tether. But he was on dragons den the Canadian equivalent of shark tank, and he showed the clip and I mean, it stand the Catholic crazy hair, you know, and kind of looks a little bit wild when you kinda see him and they were kind of I mean, they're kind of mocking these guys who had this product, and so they were kind of going down the line. They said, no. Whether you do whether you do, what do you, they got the Stanley said? So, so what about you? What's your deal you like a hairdresser? And he's like, no, I'm the former global creative chief of Nike Starbucks in LEGO and all of a sudden, the entire compensation went. Oh. So what you have to say, like it was totally different conversation. But I think people in any situation like in that situation, people prejudge you or they come in with their assumptions and the earlier, you can establish credibility like you did so, well, the earlier you can do that shifts the entire conversation. Absolutely. I think you're totally right. So okay so shark tank happened you gotta deal on shark tank. So how did that change the business? How did that change your approach and obviously had to pour kerosene on the fire of awareness of what you were doing? Yes. So the court thing is we ended up getting three of the five sharks in. We signed a deal with the Laurie and Robert. The deal about half the deals don't close after shark tank. We closed our deal fast forward. We are still with them, still great relationship with them. And the business was kinda running pretty well before that. So it wasn't like we need to rely on them for product innovation over getting into retail where I really use them, as when I have a big problem. It's nice to know that I have a, multimillionaire celebrity on speed dial to help me fix that problem whatever that one problem is a year. But that's what I call them in. And I'm okay I'm in trouble. This is something I haven't seen before having problems with retailer or how do I do this, and they'll pull some strings, and whether that is Robert coming in throwing out the first pitch at Fenway park. Laurie, you know, talking to the buyers at bed bath beyond gang the contact at the white. House. So we could get into the White House Hanukkah party so pretty great. And then in, in terms of you know what shark tank did absolutely poured. Kerosene on the fire. I made the single biggest mistake you can make until ice. And I'm smart enough to say like I should never have made this like I know this, I'm doing as long enough that the only difference between a good toy in a Abed toy is how many make and if you make too few than the retailers thrilled and they want to buy more for next year. If you make too many than the toys, a dud, and I made too many and we just were too excited about the PR. We were too excited about alfono shelf and how great they were doing. And we overestimated how many Jews were in how many there were going by and I would have single Italy killed the business in the first year if not for shark tank, and that huge wave that came with that allowed us to sell through that product. And every year since then I've not oversold the property under sell the product on purpose because we'd rather be around, you know, in the future, but shark tank, single Angelique save the business from that one mistake I made. So I wanna talk about your, your new idea, because you're so mentioned has been going now for how many years. I think it's. About eight years since we had the idea. Okay. So like happens with many entrepreneurs, you get something up. You get going. It's going, well, it becomes kind of a bit of a well, oiled machine I can always tell when you're in Mench season because I don't really see you around very much. But then, you know when it's kind of the off season for your business I year around more. But I'm just I'm curious so you mentioned was going, and then recently you had another idea as often happens with entrepreneurs once things get up and going and settled. It's okay, I need to start something new. So what is the new thing you're working on now yet, you know, I think once you have successful idea, it's easy to rest on your laurels and just keep cashing that check and people like us, it's we just can't sit still right now. I wanna do something else. I take everything I've learned. And the idea had originated during the last election and are sinking about who. I was going to vote for and probably not surprised your audience that I'm a liberal Jew from the northeast. So I was debating between Hillary, or Bernie, and I was like, you know, Bernie Sanders just so cute. I just want cuddle him like a doll. I want Bernie doll. I don't know if I'm gonna vote for him, but I want a doll and was I could do a Bernie doll. That's, that's my thing. And I was like, what would it be like Bernie on a journey? It'd be on a journey to the White House. And there was like a Colonel in that idea that loved I win trademark this three in the morning. I run downstairs trademark the idea I by the domain name. It's percolating. I'm like are let's see if he comes around during the next election because it was too late for to get it in time for that election. It's sitting there and then as all these democratic primary contenders have come out this year, and they're all good ones, and I see the pure passion. That's out there of like why am I limiting? Myself to Bernie. Why don't I do a whole bunch of them? And I came up to this idea of primary pals, it's your cute and cuddly take on the democratic primary and as a small toy company it a week ago fast enough that we can make these, we can do small production runs as really are, you know, competitive difference here. We have all the systems in place. The, the style is cute and cuddly. So we went out there and I'm sick of all the net. Identity politics and, you know, suspend our time ripping down Trump. Why don't we build up the democratic candidates and support them? Right. And have a positive conversation. So decide to do Bernie, on a journey Rydin with Biden courageous comma, mayor Pete in the street and my buddy Bego. And we are. Launch now on Kickstarter and having an absolute blast doing it. It's everything I wish I'd done with mentioned the first time I've learned over the past few years. And I always say, I will next time I launch business. I will not launch it for two percent of the population for six weeks. So good advice. Right. So. People are like, look, you can always sells to Democrats, he can only sell it for the next twelve to eighteen months, you know, relative to match that is, you know, like going from a puddle to a pond. You know that. So that is what we're doing. And we're having a blast and for our Republican friends out there that are saying, well, why, why are you leaving us out? You don't have a primary right now, so sell down and wait until the election. And we're looking at doing a Trump doll with the democratic nominee in a battle pack where the two of them will be together and kind of come commemorate the upcoming election. I love the idea of, you know, like you said, you're just tired of the negativity in politics, negativity in the US right now. And that this is sort of a way to, in some ways, kind of adult a little bit of fun to the whole process rate. And I, I really enjoy it really enjoy that, that idea that vision. And this is a kick starter that you're doing. Yeah, we are launching on Kickstarter. Mid june. We'll be going for forty five days. We're watching right around the first debates. And I think it's the same thing with bench where we found a very serious topic with religion and put a fun. Humorous take on it, and people really responded to that. And it's the same thing with politics that were just trying to take a humorous, take on it, but again positive, and if any of those candidates are one that you support, like, yeah, our mayor Pete, I'm gonna put a mayor pee on my desk, and I'm to, you know, take it around with me, and, you know, it's, it's let's stop ripping people down start building them up. You know that's really what we're trying to get people ah venue to do. So, so Neil, I know there are a lot of people listening, who have ideas like you had an idea for mention. It's this thing where you sort of hit this moment where you are either going to act on it, or you're not. And I think some people have been carrying ideas like that around with them. For days or months or years, what advice do you have the people who are similar to you? They have some idea, but they don't exactly know what to do. You know, I think there are couple different kinds of people out there, right? So there people like me, who I have a lot of ideas right in all day. I'll be coming up with these crazy ideas and the hard part for me is not knowing what's a good idea, bad idea ride. So I might come up with something like this is the greatest thing ever. And then the next day I wake up and, like, what was I thinking? So I think those for those people it's don't rush into it, right. It's not lodge a business the day, you have an idea. And in general, I think getting feedback trying to find ways to stage gate. I found Kickstarter to be a great way to launch something without spending tens of thousands of dollars and getting feedback from the right stakeholders, whether that's the buyers, or the consumers one of the biggest mistakes, I continually see out there from entrepreneurs is people will go and have an idea actually get it made prototype everything, and then, they'll by ten thousand pieces, and ten thousand pieces are sitting in their garage. And they're like now would I do. And it's like no man, you did it wrong. Right. You should have one piece and have ten thousand orders Annan. You make it. And then you say, okay, I know what I'm going to do. So. Putting that plan together from the bottom up instead of the top down is a way to ensure success in decrease risk, and I see a lot of people, you know, we're in a society that kind of rewards risk, and it sounds sexy to take the big risk and quit your job and launch company, but as much as you can mitigate that risk. I tell the story of the win Mench needed to buy product that first year we had seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars in purchase orders from target bed bath and whatnot. And I had to put twenty percent down at the factory and, you know, I'm ten years younger at this point two young kids just bought a house. I don't have that money, not literally go to my wife and be like I need to borrow some money from us. And she's like, how much does all of it, and we cashed out all the 4._0._1._K's, the college funds that everything, like if we got in a car. Accident. We couldn't have paid the deductible. It was like that. And people like that was insane. No, no, no. That wasn't insane. That was one hundred thousand dollars to get seven hundred fifty thousand dollars. I purchase orders in hand. That was the opposite of risk. That was, you know, those shore thing, as long as the product sold Dodds when you cash in your life savings to on a on an easy bet like that. You don't do it. You know, when you say okay, I'm going to buy seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars in Prague, and hope that it sells and I'll just keep it in a warehouse beforehand, so I, I try and caution people against that. Well, I think I think it was James. All somebody said, entrepreneurs are not risk-takers their risk mitigators, right? I can't remember who said that exactly. But it was someone like that who said, you know, the reality is most entrepreneurs are really good at mitigating risk. Yeah. They take risk. But the risk that they take is very calculated. And that's exactly what you're saying. There is don't take out one hundred thousand dollars to speculate. You know, don't go gamble at the race track. Make sure that you understand you have sherve at least as sure of things you can before you take that risk, and there's always going to be some risk. But at least it's calculated risk at that point. So I'll use primary pals example, even though it's ten years later, and we could just kind of borrow the money and do this from ourselves. We're watching on Kickstarter. So if it's not a good idea. And people don't buy we can shut it down. And nobody gets hurt. Right. So still acknowledging that, hey, I might have a complete dud. I don't think so. But it's possible and then my PR agency. My socially. Agency. My video agency. They all are getting a piece of the action. So nobody got paid up front. So that's like thirty thousand dollars in cost instead of laying out, I'm spreading out over time. So I'm launching this whole project for less than two thousand dollars. And if it works, then great, everybody wins, and we'll have a nice little business for the next eighteen months. And if it doesn't then, you know, we're out a couple thousand dollars, and we have some one of a kind prototypes, and I'll put mayor Pete on the street up on my shelf and, you know, we'll have fun with it. And I think, you know, we're falling our own advice even, you know, after we have some success on your under belt, because past success does not ensure future success in, you try not to get overconfident after you've had a couple of wins because, you know you can still make mistakes. The next one could be a loss. Will neal? Thanks so much for taking the time to share your insights, and your ideas with people when they go check out the primary Powell's Kickstarter working. They do that. Yeah, just go right onto Kickstarter and you search primary pals, you'll see it right on there. We have our Facebook page, if you like one of the candidates that we are not making let us know on Facebook, and we're looking at making additional primary pals future mentioned a bench has our website as well. If you have questions there, and I answer every single one of those emails personally, so if you wanna get in touch me, I say yes to everything. So I'll talk to anybody about. I think that's it which I can vouch for absolutely true. We'll Neil thanks so much. And best wishes with the Kickstarter campaign. That's really exciting. Thank you for appreciate many many things to kneel Hoffman. If you like this episode make sure subscribe, wherever you listen to podcasts. Or subscribe to the weekly Email at accidental, creative dot com slash subscribe. Remember friends cover band. Don't change the world. They'll be a cover band. You need to find your thrive. We'll see next time.