spark of genius
Purse-uing a Dream
Have you ever let someone in on your invention idea only to have them roll their eyes and say, “Dream on?" As it turns out, that could be very good advice.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sandy Stein faced the prospect of supporting her family on a part-time flight attendant’s salary. The situation seemed intractable, even to Sandy, who had always looked for and found creative solutions to difficult problems in life. At the end of one particularly frustrating day, she went to bed hoping for some kind of inspiration to come to her while she slept.
It wouldn’t be the first time a dream lead to a breakthrough. Like Elias Howe, the inventor the sewing machine, and chemist Friedrich August Kekulé, who discovered the chemical structure of benzene, Sandy received her inspiration when she was not conscious. In her dream, Sandy’s deceased father appeared to her and told her to “bend back a hook, put a cute design on it, attach a claw hammer to hold your keys, and then you’ll have a way to make some money.” Upon waking, Sandy created a prototype for the Finders Key Purse®. This catchy little item was the fashionable solution to many a discouraged woman’s search for keys buried in her purse.
To ultimately succeed, Sandy had to add hard work to her inspiration and be confident in the finished product and her ability to sell it. Above all, she knew that she needed to protect her idea. Drawing on classes and books that had taught her about intellectual property, Sandy secured a patent because, as she said, “If it’s good enough for me to sell, then it’s good enough for someone to steal.”
Next, she needed to apply creativity to her business plan. Making use of social marketing before it became a buzzword, Sandy recruited 20 friends to market and distribute the Finders Key Purse. These SWANs (Sales With A Niche), as she named them, initially had no experience, so Sandy designed a custom training course and marketing materials, then sent her representatives to pitch the product within their own social circles.
The strategy worked. Within one year, the SWAN force grew to 2,000 and Sandy had sold a million pieces.
Such successful ideas are targets for thieves, but Sandy’s preparation paid off. One notorious knockoff specialist confided to her that he had wanted to copy her product, but “her patent was just too strong and well-written to get around.” Another copycat did try and, for his efforts, lost an infringement case. Sandy agrees that protecting her idea with a patent was the key to the Finders Key Purse staying in the market and remaining successful.
From the night of her dream to the present day, Sandy and her employees at Alexx Inc., the company she founded and named after her son, have sold over 8 million Finders Key Purses to a customer base of 12,000 people in the United States, Australia, Canada, the Middle East and New Zealand.
Now Sandy has a new dream—to let others know that if she, without the benefit of a formal business education and after 35 years as a flight attendant, could have success as inventor, they can too. “You just have to be extremely tenacious, have a really good idea, know your target market, and run with it as fast as you can! Don’t take no for an answer.”