5 Patents??? Meet Superstar Inventor and Entrepreneur Deane Elliott

Deane Elliott, Holder of 5 Patents
Deane Elliott, Holder of 5 Patents

This is the 10th installment in the series of our entrepreneur interviews (see links at the bottom for our other interviews).  In this interview, we talked with successful inventor Deane Elliott who has already sold one business and was recently awarded another patent.

Thanks for your time and congratulations on getting your fifth patent.  As we were talking about earlier, that’s quite an achievement.  Not too many people get a patent in the first place.   Tell us a little bit about your fifth patent.

So my fifth patent is hunting related.  It’s called GutCheck and it’s an indicator for application to an arrow.  Basically, to allow the hunter to determine if the arrow has been exposed to acid.  More specifically, if the arrow has gone through the stomach portion of the deer.

How did you come up with that idea?  That sounds pretty novel.

I was hunting with a friend of mine named Jeff.  He had a super steep shot at a deer, maybe 8 yards away.  He shot it and he thought that thing’s dead.  The way that it ran around him he had no indication that it was not a fatal shot, but it ran quite a ways out of his sight.  So we tracked and we were having a hard time finding a blood trail.  Eventually we did find the deer and its stomach had been cut open by the broadhead.  I thought there has got to be a way to tell if an arrow has passed through the stomach or through the entrails of a deer.  Basically that got me thinking along the litmus paper lines…but chemistry is not my strong suit, so I went to a friend of mine who is a patent attorney whose brother is a PhD chemist.  I proposed the concept to him.  He identified the materials and found a way that we could prove the concept and make it work.

You’ve obviously been very successful in being awarded patents.  What is the secret to getting a patent through the system?

I think the primary thing is having a search done.  That’s what I do for a living.  That’s been my main career for the past 30 years.  A lot of people don’t know where to start, but I think the process starts with having a search done and having it done professionally.  A lot of people go onto Google patents, or other sites and feel like they’ve done a comprehensive search.  A searcher that does it for a living has a different way of doing a patent search.  So having the search done professionally is really the foundation of getting a good patent, because then the patent attorney has what we call a prior art, the known prior that he has to weave around in order to craft the application so that he can file a good application.

How did you get started being an inventor?  Would you call yourself an inventor?

(laughing)  I think so.  You know, the word entrepreneur is an interesting word.  I think at some point when one crosses over from being an inventor to making money then they can legitimately call themselves an entrepreneur.  I’m definitely an inventor.  I’ve been reluctant to call myself an entrepreneur, but then my wife reminds me that I had a patent search business for a number of years that I was able to grow and sold it successfully so I think I can say I’m also an entrepreneur.

You’re definitely a successful entrepreneur if you were able to sell a business that was a going concern.

Right.  Absolutely.  Inventing with me starts like a lot of other people by identifying a need.  My first two inventions were in the golf industry.  I invented a system for confirming ball position relative to the golfer.  That was a problem I struggled with and still struggle with today.  I came up with the idea of painting lines in front of the golfer on the ground with lasers and then placing the ball at the intersection of the lines.  The hunting ideas have been sort of the same thing.  More or less have to do with identifying the problem then coming up with a fix.

Have you come up with an idea to make golfers hit the ball straight yet?

(both laughing)  No.

Tell us a little about your creative process.  You talked about how you invent to satisfy a need.

So the process is that I identify a need that affects me personally and then I start thinking how can I solve this need or make a better way of doing something.  I start sketching.  Often times I’ll go right away and put something on paper so I don’t forget.  But sometimes I forget and then I come back to it.  Being in the industry I have a search done.  Usually I do some searching myself just to make sure there’s not some patent out there that someone is going to find in 10 or 15 minutes.  So I do a cursory check, and then if I don’t find anything I’ll send it to one of my researchers to have a search done.

What are some of the habits that have helped you be successful?

That’s a good question.  With regard to patenting, or in general?

Just in general.  Tactics in your day, your week, or your month?

Prioritizing is important.  I wear so many hats with regard to my current position.  And then trying to fit in so many of the other aspects of inventing and being a husband and all those things.  Identifying those things that are most important and allowing some of the things to wait to another time when I can dedicate some time to it.

What are your entrepreneur lessons learned so far?  Either from when you had a business before or in doing the patents?

One thing I notice is that people tend to glamorize the term a lot.

For sure.  Maybe it’s what they call survivor’s bias. You tend to only hear about the winners and not the losers.

I think it’s harder to own a business, for instance, than some people might understand.  It takes discipline.  A lot of people that I encounter tell me they could never work from home, because of the distractions and the discipline it takes.  I can focus more and get a lot more done.  Discipline is definitely an important part of success, I think.  And then, being reasonable in expectations, and emotionally separating yourself from a particular idea.  When I got the first golf patent I thought that the industry would knock on my door.  They would come to me.  They would want to license or buy the patents.  That didn’t happen.  They were obtained in 2008 right before the crash.

How long are the patents good for?

Give or take 20 years.  You can keep renewing them by paying maintenance fees.  I’m still keeping them alive.  I’m not sure I’ll pursue them.  It’s interesting to know you hold a piece of patent history.

What advice do you have for beginning entrepreneurs?

I would say be realistic in your expectations.  It’s one thing to get a patent.  It’s another thing to go into production, sourcing, and actually setting up a business around the patent.  I wouldn’t suggest building a business based upon one invention or one device.  Be well rounded and continue to create a portfolio of things.  If that’s your niche.  If it deals with a particular product.

So the patent is just the beginning, not the end.

It’s not the end.  My preference would be to license.  That’s always been my desire:  to create a product, have someone see it and then be interested enough to offer a licensing deal.  You don’t have to deal with manufacturing at that point, sourcing, getting it out on shelves or any of that.  I’m told that many inventors make the mistake of over asking when it comes to licensing, basically wanting the potential licensee to put way too much out way to early without proving that there is a market.  At least in my case, I haven’t really gotten down to negotiating a license yet.  I am talking to some people with regard to GutCheck.

Speaking of which, what’s the next step for GutCheck?

So, I’m currently speaking with custom ink manufacturers.  The material that changes color upon exposure to the acid is a body of materials that’s commercially available.  It’s just a powdered dye that has to be mixed in a way so that the viscosity, dry time,  cure time, all that is usable in different printers.  If we go with an inkjet printer I need to make sure the ink is compatible with that particular print head.  I would prefer to identify a source that would print it on the label or media and do the whole thing.  I could pay them per label or per run, as opposed to setting up an actual print shop and printing these things myself.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I think on the whole I would say that inventing and entrepreneurship should be fun.  It’s a journey.  If you can’t enjoy the entire process, it may not be for you.  So find a way to enjoy the process, and understand that it will have challenge all along the way.  And try and enjoy the ride.

Where can we learn more about GutCheck and your other ideas?

Probably e-mailing me would be best.  It’s doeproducts@gmail.com.

Alright, that was fantastic.  Thanks.

That was fun.  It will be interesting to see what it looks like in print.

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Click these links to see our other posts in the entrepreneur interview series:

Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby, writer of The Devil Dragon Pilot:

Interview with Entrepreneur Lawrence Colby, Author of the New Military Aviation Thriller: The Devil Dragon Pilot

The Devil Dragon Pilot Rockets to #1 on Amazon! Interview Update with Entrepreneur and Amazon Best Selling Author, Lawrence Colby

Amazing photographer Richard Weldon Davis:  Interview with Entrepreneur and Photographer Richard Weldon Davis

Successful entrepreneur and owner of Custom Display Cases, Mo Johnson:

From Military to Entrepreneur: Interview with Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

What Everyone Ought to Know About Launching a Business: More Wisdom from Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

Do You Have the Courage to Start Your Own Business? Military to Entrepreneur – More Insights from Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

Veterans MUST Read This Post! Key Transition Tips from Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

Incredible baker and entrepreneur, Haleigh Heard:  Interview with Entrepreneur and Baker, Haleigh Heard, Owner of S’Cute Petite Bakery

Writer, blogger, and photographer Lisa Traughber:  How To Cut Your Work Hours 40% to Focus on Making: Interview with Writer and Award Winning Photographer Lisa Traughber

Stay tuned for our next interview in the entrepreneur series!

 

 

How to Fail Fast and Fail Cheap in Woodworking, Entrepreneurship, and Life

“Success is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm”

— Winston Churchill

prototype entrepreneurship woodworking
Chair Prototype in Progress

Have you ever heard the business maxim “fail fast, fail cheap”?  The reason to fail fast and cheap is to quickly find out what doesn’t work and accelerate your journey to success while doing it at the lowest cost possible.  One of the ways we do that in woodworking is by prototyping.  Premium hardwoods are expensive.  You don’t want to build the first in a set of dining room chairs, for example, and find out your measurements are off or the design isn’t quite right.  All the more reason to do some prototyping first.  This maxim of fail fast and fail cheap applies in woodworking, entrepreneurship as well as life, which we’ll delve into below.

Fail Fast in Woodworking

One of my first projects for Traughber Design was to design and build a cat bed for our favorite pet, Ralph the Woodworking Cat (see post about the life of Ralph here).  The pet industry in the United States is a multi-billion dollar per year industry and given how much people love their pets, I figured a hand-made pet bed in black walnut would be a sure fire seller.  I was actually worried there would be so many orders once the piece was posted on the Internet that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with production.  Silly me.  Guess how many orders we received for that piece?  Zero!  That was a valuable lesson in failing fast for a couple of reasons.  One is that I should have prototyped the design in pine first before going final with black walnut.  Pine is about a fourth the cost of black walnut.  I ended up making two of these beds out of black walnut and could have made just one.  But the other lesson we learned was to finish the piece quickly and get it on the website to get user feedback.  That part I think we did well.  In this case, we learned there was not a market for this type of work and quickly moved on to more lucrative projects.  Lessons learned:  make it fast using a prototype and solicit feedback early from the market.

Fail Fast in Entrepreneurship

I came up with an idea a few years ago for a consumer product that had wide application.  Anyone could use it.  I cobbled together some parts from around the house and started testing it.  Given the nature of the product, I could test it once every 24 hours.  I’d test it, modify it, test it, modify it, etc.  I was failing fast (and cheap) because I could run through the entire cycle in a day.  The grand plan was to market it via a company called Quirky, which solicits products like this then does all the marketing for the entrepreneur.  Unfortunately, Quirky went bankrupt!  The product is currently  on the shelf due to time constraints with our other projects, but we learned a lot in the process of testing and did not have to invest a lot of resources.  We may resurrect the product in the future and try to market it ourselves.  Lessons learned:  do rapid prototyping with inexpensive components.

Fail Fast in Life

At one point in my life I accepted what was considered a promotion, even though I was very reluctant because of the nature of the work.  I did the job for a few months and realized I didn’t want to do that type of work for the next unknown number of years and was not following my calling.  I developed a transition plan, then discussed it with my boss who was very amenable to the change when I explained how the switch back to my old job would benefit the organization.  I had to put aside my pride, because the change might have been perceived by some to be a demotion, but that was definitely the wrong job for me.  By pulling the plug after only a few months, I was failing fast which is a good thing.  Lesson learned:  don’t wait to pull the plug if you know your job is not a good fit.  Move on.

Fail Cheap in Woodworking

I’m currently working on a commission for four dining room chairs in cherry and decided to build a prototype in pine for two reasons.  One reason was to test the form, fit and function with the client, but the other reason relates more to failing cheap.  This reason was to go through the build process and identify any manufacturing problems.  I had modified the joinery plan from using biscuits to mortise & tenon joinery since that’s one of Traughber Design’s hallmarks and we have a Festool Domino (see blog post #2 on tools).  The Domino cuts joints amazingly precise and quickly.  Sure enough we ran into a problem in attaching the leg braces underneath the seat (see picture at top of this post) and were able to resolve it by changing where the joints were placed.  We would not have uncovered that issue until we were cutting into very expensive cherry if we had not prototyped.  As it was, we were using very inexpensive scrap pine 2 x 4s which were laying around the wood shop.  Lesson learned:  fail cheap by building inexpensive prototypes.

Fail Cheap in Entrepreneurship

We’re very happy with our current Traughber Design website, but started out with another provider when we first launched on the Internet.  The other website was free to set up, and there was a nominal cost to post each of our woodworking pieces online.  Sales, however, were disappointing and the more we worked with that site’s community, the more we realized it really wasn’t a good fit for a custom woodworking business.  Fortunately, we were only out a few bucks and we failed cheap.  In addition, we established a beachhead on the Internet for very little cost and learned a lot.  We decided to create a website with more functionality like this one that can grow with the business.  WordPress is a very widely used open-source software with thousands of plugins available.  Our web host, SiteGround, has industry-leading uptime rates, and first-rate tech support (click here if you are looking for a web host)  Lesson learned:  try to do many low-cost experiments to see what works well then pick the winners.

Fail Cheap in Life

One of my summer jobs during college was at a gas station in our home town.  The manager was great and my co-workers were great, too.  The pay was terrible, though.  I learned a lot about the value of time during that job.  For example, the previous summers I had painted houses which was pretty lucrative for a teenager.  Unfortunately, our crew had to disband which is why I got the gas station gig.  I didn’t make much that summer at the gas station, but I paid relatively little to “fail cheap” by not earning what I could have earned painting.  In the grand scheme of things, “wasting” 3 months that summer wasn’t a deal breaker, and I learned a key lesson in valuing my time.  Lesson learned:  take risks in life, just not expensive ones.

You know how you always see or hear that saying “failure is not an option”.  Maybe it should be “failure is mandatory.”  If you’re not failing, it doesn’t seem to me you are trying anything worthwhile.