Ever make something from nothing? Maybe you made a sandcastle at the beach. Perhaps a quilt, a birdhouse, a garden … you get the idea. But did they really come from nothing? After all, you had the sand, thread, wood, nails, etc. Did you have plans for any of those projects? Did you research the literature prior to the undertaking, or was this something you conjured — an idea — a dream?
In my old neighborhood, I made the acquaintance of a man whose father was a full-time inventor/entrepreneur. An Air Force veteran armed with an associate degree, Bill Clarke specialized in developing children’s toys. How’d he do it? He’d get an idea and then go out to tinker in his garage. He didn’t draw a plan. This is because the image in his head was so clear he knew exactly what to do. And if you asked him to draw it, he’d struggle to put a stick figure on paper. Instead, he’d build it. Walking the aisles of stores and looking at products, Clarke would buy those he thought could be used for parts to make his prototypes. In later years, he partnered with mold makers or fabricators to have a prototype made. But in the early days, he made his own prototypes and did so with such sophistication, you wouldn’t believe they were built at a garage workbench in the 1970s.
Prototype in hand, Clarke would then seek a partner, often a toy manufacturer or retailer. Now as this is before the internet, he had to do a lot of research in libraries to find out what type of companies might be interested in what he had. He’d go to trade shows and network. He got addresses, phone numbers, and contacts so he could set up an appointment to sell his product idea. Many times, these bore fruit, and he had a number of products make it to market, with one being awarded Best Infant Product of the Year in 2003. However, there were occasions when a pitch was made and an idea stolen. This happened on more than one occasion, and yes, there were lawsuits. Such adversity aside, Clarke Enterprises was a successful company, and as you can see, its one employee wore many hats. Though never a household name, Clarke obtained nearly 20 U.S. patents and provided for his family of five by creating something from nothing every day. And if you’ve ever gone to the beach or been at a picnic and played catch with a tennis-type looking ball that you caught with a Velcro- type plate strapped to your hand, well then, you’ve played with one of his products.
Many of us have good or even great ideas for a business, product, or service, but only a handful follow through. Why? Perhaps we bounced our idea excitedly off someone and they replied, “If it’s such a good idea, wouldn’t somebody have thought of it already?” Balloon popped; we do nothing. A few years later, while walking through a store or surfing the internet, don’t we see our idea in all its glory. Turns out your friend was right: Good ideas have likely been thought of by others. However, as evidenced by Clarke, or this month’s cover feature subject, Robert Hariri, M.D., Ph.D., founder and CEO of Celularity, there is a difference between knowing the entrepreneurial path versus having the temerity to do all that is necessary to walk it. Thankfully, these folks aren’t easily dissuaded by naysayers.