The Long Road to Market
A decade in the making, Craig
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
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
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."
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
"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
"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."