One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a woman who stumbled across an opportunity to invent a new product, took a chance and turned her bright idea into a million-dollar invention. Betsy is proof that inspiration can strike at any moment -- you just need to seize it. -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
Betsy Ravreby Kaufman is what some might call the accidental inventor. While many people spend their lives trying to develop the next big thing, Betsy was simply making a purchase at Bed, Bath and Beyond when she tripped upon an opportunity that would change her life.
“When I got my sales receipt,” Betsy explained, “I glanced at the back and noticed a headline that said, ‘Have a great dorm idea?’ And it gave a web address where customers like me could send in new product ideas. My son was still in college and I’d been in so many dorms, I was sure I could come up with something.”
So Betsy went to the website, which led her to Edison Nation, a company that partners with retailers and manufacturers to develop new products. She submitted three ideas for items she knew her son could use -- and paid an entry fee of $25 for each one.
“I wouldn’t have sent money to just anyone. There are a lot of scams out there. But I read that Edison Nation produces a show for PBS called "Everyday Edisons" and, as a former television reporter and anchor, that struck a chord with me.”
The staff of "Everyday Edisons" had taken their own big idea to the next level. As they were producing the show, they realized that lots of great designs were slipping through the cracks. So they began creating searches for regular people like Betsy who happen to have really good ideas, but maybe not the time or money to bring them to market.
“Once you submit your concept,” Betsy continued, “it goes through a series of steps and that can take months. So one day I was checking on my dorm entries, and I noticed they were looking for ideas for “As Seen On TV,” the company behind lots of the infomercials that air late at night. I always loved laughing at those. I’d watch them when I’d get home from work, after doing the 11 o’clock show. And I had a cupboard full of things that they were selling -- Chia Pets, the Clapper. And a few days later, it hit me.”
“I called my husband and said, ‘I just came up with a winning idea for the “As Seen On TV” search.’ He said, ‘That’s nice dear, but could you call me after I finish this sales call?’ And I called my friend Anne and she said, ‘That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.’ But I thought, 'For $25, what have I got to lose?'"
So once again, Betsy wrote up a description and paid the fee, this time for something she called “Egg Toss.” She envisioned the kind of plastic egg one might buy at Easter to fill with candy -- shaped like a real egg -- but made of two heat-resistant pieces that would twist apart.
“I was thinking about all the eggs I boil for Passover Seders,” Betsy said. “Every year I bring at least 30 hard-boiled eggs to someone’s home, and just as I think I finally have them all peeled and looking perfect, my thumb gouges into one! And I have to start boiling again.”
“I thought, 'What if I could crack open an egg, pour it into a heat-resistant form -- and then when it’s hardboiled, just pop it out?' That way, I could even add things like scallions, tomatoes and seasonings, and every egg would come out perfect.”
That was in October 2009. As Betsy made her way through the holidays and continued to tell her friends and family about her exciting new idea, she’d watch as they’d roll their eyes. Until, of course, she received an email from Edison Nation, saying they had a sponsor who was interested.
“They asked when I had time for a conference call and I called my father screaming! He said, ‘Calm down and see what they have to say.’ But I knew they weren’t calling to say I wasn’t chosen!”
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And Betsy was right. All Star Product Group, the “As Seen On TV” company most well known for bringing “Snuggies” to the world, wanted to create a prototype and test an infomercial. If the infomercial worked, they would roll it out nationally, put her products in stores around the world and Betsy would receive royalty checks for 20 years.
“But then, of all things, there was a national egg recall,” Betsy laughed. “Egg farmers were coming up before Congress! You could go into a grocery store and there wouldn’t be any eggs.”
So the infomercial ended up on the back burner for awhile. But once the egg industry got rolling again, everyone scrambled to see if Betsy’s Egg Toss, which was renamed Eggies, would become the next big “As Seen On TV” success.
“And at the end of April, 2011, I got a letter saying, ‘Congratulations, Eggies is going to store shelves!’ I hate to admit this, but I didn’t know how enormous this could be. If they had emailed me and said I’d won airfare to New York and tickets to a Broadway show, I would have been thrilled!”
But Eggies was going way beyond Broadway. The little heat-resistant shells were on their way to stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond, CVS, Walgreens, Target and Kmart. They were shipping around the world.
“My husband and I walked out of a movie theater,” Betsy remembered, “and noticed we were right by a Bed, Bath and Beyond, so we thought we’d check to see if they were on the shelves yet. When I saw them, I almost pulled the entire display down! I asked a woman to take a picture, and then I bought her a box. I bought one for the checkout girl too!”
And after only four months on store shelves, Betsy received a six-figure payout. In 2012, more than 5 million Eggies were sold. And at $10 a package, one can only imagine what she’ll find when she opens the envelope with her next royalty check.
“I laugh when I think about what would have happened if I’d taken this idea to that television show, “Shark Tank.” The dramatic music plays. I walk out looking really cute. I say I have no prototype, no sales and I’m not really sure if the product will work, but in my heart I think it will -- and that’s when they would have called security!”
But no one is calling security now. Instead, Betsy is actually getting calls for speaking engagements. On January 13, she’ll be appearing at the National Retail Federation conference in New York, as part of a program called Product Innovation - For The People And By The People.
“I seriously do not consider myself an inventor,” Betsy said modestly. “I had a son who was still in college. I wouldn’t have invested $100 in developing Eggies. This was kind of like a creative lottery ticket for me. But it just goes to show you that anyone can have a good idea. You just have to go for it.”