About 5 years ago now, I started hearing joyous praises from a friend of mine concerning a product he’d procured from Ebay. He’d purchased a bidet…not some elaborate "second sink" mind you, this was the Japanese style "Toilet Seat Replacement Style Bidet". Around our group of friends, this was quite a humorous endeavor. There was all kinds of awkward conversation, laughs, and people emerging from the bathroom with damp pants because they turned the knob "just to see what would happen". But nearly everyone that…"used it"…came out with a pleased look and quietly asked me "How much is that thing?"
I on the other hand, went on line, bought one, and then contacted the distributor to begin the process of reselling these marvels on my own. Within a few weeks, I was up and running at Bidets Direct. My friends and family laughed at my garage full of bidets for resale. I even emailed the popular Kevin and Bean show in Los Angeles about these devices and within 24 hours, I was being interviewed on the radio about them. The interview was a decent into the most graphic bathroom humor you can get away with on the air, but that’s the style of the show and I adapted (pretty easily). My phone rang off the hook after that interview for about 30 minutes when I gave out the number 1-800-2-WASH-ME (true but please don’t call since I have no idea who has this number now).
I realized quickly that in America, we don’t really talk about "The Bathroom". I found it odd that something that everyone does (using toilet paper) hadn’t really been improved since we replaced soviet style sand paper with soft Charmin. I was ahead of the curve and going to develop an elaborate e-commerce site, etc. I marketed at swap meets and made a few sales to friends and family but without full time dedication and the sticktuitiveness to literally "Educate the US market" in this technology and process, I let the business fade. Never ONCE did I consider seeking venture capital for this business.
Down deep in the core of my business heart, I knew this was going to take off here in the U.S. It must right? Research had been released that showed over 60% of Americans "Use some form of wet wipe" in the bathroom. Ads were appearing more frequently in magazines for bidets. I thought that if I brought a moderately priced device that Americans would gobble it up. I did not push through to see if my theories were true.
Now, yesterday, I get an email from Business Lit that brings my attention to an article in the Wall St. Journal called "High Technology, Enthroned". The piece talks about how bidets have become the high tech device de jour in Silicon Valley. (They’ve yet to reach that status in Ethanol Alley) The article has some very good descriptions of how toilet seat replacement bidets work and a really cool 3-D picture that’s quite educational.
Also mentioned in the piece is the Silicon Valley company called Brondell who believed they could "Make a better bidet". To execute on this vision, they sought out funding and low and behold, Mark Cuban invested in the firm. I wonder if Mark has had these installed in the Dallas Maverick’s locker room?
This article brought home a few points that have been consistent themes in my life so I had a little conversation with me that I’d like to share with…you.
1. I really can visualize how markets will develop, spot trends, and predict future buying behavior. This is about the Nth time I’ve seen "my idea" develop out into a viable and profitable business" before my eyes. REALIZATION: You had the vision but didn’t have the guts, skill, or entrepreneurial craziness to execute on your idea. Therefore, find the right people early in your ventures. Align with more people who will execute on your strategic vision.
2. There are a million excuses I can offer up for why I haven’t executed on one of these ideas: kids, risk/reward, lack of steady income, etc. But you don’t need to justify why you didn’t do it, rather appreciate what you DID do…and if the situation is right, you’ll pull the trigger and wont look back. That was then, this is now…and I’m cool with that.
3. You really do know how to generate buzz and free PR…and you can make people listen when you write. You thrive on blindly contacting people who realize that they must meet you because you have a passion and understanding of their businesses that they usually don’t see…FROM ANYONE else but themselves.
4. Nothing is unworthy of funding. I never looked for money to turn my vision into reality, but maybe I should have. Sure I wasn’t looking to create a new bidet or manufacture a product…but I believe I could have created the number one on line shopping site for bidets and perhaps could have made sure that a bidet was in every new high end home ever built, or placed very well at Lowe’s home remodel center.
5. It’s really all about sales. Finding a key mad dog sales person that will call the world to spread the gospel is really what I needed in most of my ventures.
I’m really not sure how this post morphed from bathroom talk to life and business lessons…but isn’t that what’s it’s all about? My wife often tells me, "You think too much" but I think it’s quite valuable to sit and attempt to connect strangely dissimilar dots along life’s continuum. Do you think this is fodder for a TV pilot? (A little Quantum Leap…a little Apprentice) OK, I’ll be back, I’ve got to make some calls!