The Long Road to Market

A decade in the making, Craig Nabat's FINDIT
is finally ready for prime time.

By Bridget McCrea

Oct. 19, 2000 - The idea first came to 19-year-old Craig Nabat one night while he searched frantically for his television's remote control. "Aha!" he thought, envisioning a device to help locate lost remotes, keys and glasses. "There's my idea." He knew he was onto something.

What Nabat didn't know was how much effort it would take to develop and sell that idea, now embodied in an electronic device called FINDIT. Ten years and $700,000 later, a very different entrepreneur is marketing his invention to the world.

Clap Three Times

Nabat's company - appropriately called Ambitious Ideas Inc. - develops and markets FINDIT, a patented, domino-sized device that attaches to items such as keys and eyeglass cases, and is set to respond to a certain three-clap pattern. Lost your keys? Just clap three times, and the FINDIT will beep at you from between the sofa cushions.

"I originally figured that it would cost no more than $30,000 to take my product from an idea to reality. Was I ever wrong!" says Nabat, who relied on bank loans and family investments to finance his business idea. "The majority of that investment was spent on research and development."

A sociology major who minored in business in college, Nabat had no idea how complex his electronic device really was. He worked with a team of six engineers through the design process, which lasted from 1992 to March of this year. "I didn't have an engineering background, so I had to find engineers to do the design work," he says. "The microchip for the device had to be custom-made, and I wanted to make it so that it wouldn't fault."

Altogether, 12 engineers have worked on the invention, which retails for $19.95 and is currently sold through a national toll-free number, the FINDIT Web site, an infomercial, credit card inserts and mail-order catalogs. So far, revenues have amounted to a modest $42,000, though Nabat expects sales to pick up around the holidays. He is estimating sales of 50,000 units a month beginning in December.

Though the company has only been doing limited advertising so far, it has found other ways to get onto the public's radar, including hiring a product-placement company to get FINDIT into feature films. A five-foot FINDIT retail display will appear in an upcoming Jack Nicholson movie, and plans are in the works to put banners and billboards in upcoming productions.

A FINDIT infomercial can be found on the company's site and on the air in about 10 markets around the country. Nabat says he is using the infomercial strategy because users must be educated about FINDIT's features before buying. "It's just not the type of product that would sell well from a retail display without the educational support of the infomercial," he says.

The Long Road to Market

Nabat also pitched FINDIT on QVC this summer, selling 900 kits of two units for the price of one. Though the product isn't sold on the retail level yet, that may be a component of a deal the company is working on with a San-Francisco-based direct-response/infomercial firm. Joseph Enterprises, the company responsible for the marketing of such household names as Chia Pet and the Clapper, is considering private-labeling FINDIT, a relationship that could obviate the need to find independent distributors to get FINDIT into retail stores.

Tuning out the Radio

Nabat had to jump a fair number of hurdles during his tenure as a fledgling inventor. He knew little about research and development or manufacturing and marketing processes, and his first challenge was finding someone who would design the product correctly - so that it wouldn't be triggered by random sounds such as a radio. "We spent years in trial-and-error products of many prototype models," says Nabat. "My engineers finally mastered it this March."

The manufacturing process itself also proved daunting. Nabat was taken aback by the number of changes his product went through over the seven-year time frame. "I found out that products change countless times before they're perfected," says Nabat, who now regularly networks with other budding inventors. "I advise them not to jump into mass production without thorough market testing. And they must be sure that a high consumer demand exists before investing large amounts of capital into manufacturing."

To determine whether the demand for his product was high enough, Nabat says he paid a marketing firm $7,000 to develop a professional business plan that included extensive market research and competitive information.

At the time, he was shelling out big bucks to impress his biggest investor - his family. Family financing requires the same attention to detail as bank loans do, says Nabat. "I (knew) my parents wouldn't necessarily believe everything that came out of my mouth," he says. So he hired the marketing firm to gather the data about other products and about FINDIT's potential, as well as facts like just how many people lose their remote controls on a regular basis.

"I showed my family a huge binder that took 2-1/2 months to assemble," he says. "In addition to the financing, that plan really gave me a road map of where my company was going and how it would reach its destination. It showed me that the idea was feasible and that myself and my family weren't just throwing money out of the window."

To Market, To Market

For Nabat, image is everything. His face graces every Ambitious Ideas flyer, brochure and product package, and he likes it that way. "I use my image in all facets of advertising," he says. "This helps establish a familiar bond between myself and the consumer. My story is just as much a part of my success as the finished product, and I want consumers to know that I'm a real person and not just a corporation." This approach has also garnered him some media attention - he was voted one of Entrepreneur Startups Magazine's 11 sexiest entrepreneurs, a fact he advertises on his Web site.

Lending his image to others

In addition to his slick marketing materials, Nabat relies on networking as a business tool. He maintains a database of information on "every company and key person" in his industry, and he even contacts authors of the business books he reads to ask for personal feedback on his marketing approach and business idea. "Following the advice and paths of successful people has been one of my methods for achieving success," he adds.

In discussing his competitors, Nabat says his seven-year journey put FINDIT well ahead of the other noise-activated devices on the market. "There are other remote-control key finders on the market, but the quality of these items is so poor that competition is minimal," he says.

Don Azars, an executive producer at dapTV Associates in Los Angeles, concurs. Azars first got involved with Ambitious Ideas three years ago because he knew the product would be a hit; he also knew it needed more work before going to market.

"Craig and I worked together over several months," recalls Azars. "We got a designer involved and gave him input in terms of what the product should look like, and we also created a sales slogan and a concept for the product."

Throughout the lengthy process, Azars says he always knew that Nabat would succeed as an inventor and an entrepreneur. "He's not only an inventor, but he also has strong marketing sense," Azars says. "Not everyone has those multiple talents. Some are very good creators and conceivers but they just don't have a feel for the marketing. On the other hand, some are entrepreneurs but have a different attitude for the likes of the product. Craig is a combination of the two."

More Inventions Ahead?

Call him crazy, but Nabat is currently looking for new inventions that Ambitious Ideas can bring to market. But this time, he says he'd rather take someone else's idea and make it successful, rather than doing it on his own. With the majority of his investment eaten up by R&D for FINDIT, Nabat says he'd rather forgo that process this time around and work instead on the marketing angle.

"We plan to specialize in marketing new products through direct-response television or infomercials," he says. "Right now, we're developing several other products to follow the FINDIT brand."

Nabat says he also hopes to reap the rewards of his seven-year effort by mid-2001, when he hopes for explosive sales for his device. He also plans to develop a FINDIT clothing line and wants to continue helping other inventors bring their products to market. "When FINDIT becomes not just a key finder, but an established brand, I want to introduce a whole new facet of marketing," he says. "In fact, the word 'FINDIT' in itself is a great word - it's just waiting to be marketed."


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