Inspiration struck Michael Messer as he was tending to his wife’s hand. Four years ago, she burned herself on a hot bowl while stirring some leftover soup, which remained largely cold, by the way, despite being in the microwave. “There’s got to be a better way,” Messer thought.
His better way was the Simple Stir, a plastic cover attached to a motionless paddle that can blend liquids as your microwave rotates the bowl. Messer created a prototype, filed a patent application, and began drumming up publicity. He aspired to bring the Simple Stir to market himself via a Kickstarter campaign, but that idea cooled off by last summer. Despite getting press on TV news programs, a top-rated radio show, and the front page of his hometown newspaper, he had raised only about 10 percent of his $50,000 goal.
Fortune smiled on the Plano resident last November, just days after he received a utility patent for the Simple Stir. That’s when he found himself seated next to Elliott Brackett at a Texas Inventors Association meeting. When Messer, an accountant by day, asked Brackett what he did for a living, Brackett explained that he is the vice president of Exceptional Products Inc., a Dallas company that has provided venture capital for consumer products since 1990. Messer’s eyes lit up as he told Brackett about the Simple Stir, which happened to fit Exceptional Products’ main criteria for selecting products to fund:
It has mass appeal because it solves a common problem. Millions of Americans have kitchens, and most of those kitchens include microwaves, and many of those microwaves are often used to heat dishes that need to be stirred.
It is visually demonstrative. Not only had Messer used a 3-D printer to fabricate a prototype of the Simple Stir, he had also created a promotional video showing how it works.
It is not available in stores. “We like products that have no sales record,” Brackett says, “which is the exact opposite of what most people like to do.”
Messer did his research and was impressed by Exceptional Products’ successful history of selling merchandise via TV commercials and in stores. Just as important, Brackett and his colleagues were not asking Messer for a dime. Exceptional Products risks its own money up front, rewarding inventors with royalties based on actual sales. That tactic separates the firm from many of the companies Messer has encountered since devising the Simple Stir.
“There were a couple that wanted me to give them $5,000 with no guarantee of a patent or any sales or anything,” he says. “Google’s a great thing, and I found out their success rate was less than 1 percent. And I was like, ‘I’m not sending you $5,000 so you can do nothing with this invention.’”
Messer was, however, willing to sign an exclusive license agreement that grants Exceptional Products the right to test the Simple Stir for a couple of months to determine its marketability. Brackett said his firm probably looks at hundreds of products that it doesn’t bother to test, and about 80 percent of the tested products fail. “The market just doesn’t care,” he says. The remaining 20 percent proceed to the rollout of a national media campaign costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million. At that level, Brackett says, “There will be enough people to see the product and know what it is.” And if enough people know what the product is, then there’s enough demand for it to end up in the “As Seen on TV” sections of stores such as Walmart and CVS.
If the Simple Stir gets that far, it will follow in the footsteps of Exceptional Products’ greatest hits, which include Plaque Attack, a spray that improves dogs’ dental health and breath; Save a Blade, a cordless device that can sharpen virtually any kind of razor blade; and Wrap, Snap, and Go, soft hair rollers whose fans include Taylor Swift, even if she couldn’t recall the brand name as she touted them during an appearance on The Jay Leno Show. (Skip to the 6:20 mark of this clip to see her describe them.)
All of those success stories are managed from Exceptional Products’ rather modest office in North Dallas, where Brackett is one of only a handful of people on staff. The firm works with contractors to manufacture products, buy airtime, answer calls to 1-800 numbers, and fulfill orders. Ideally, all of that will eventually happen in regards to the Simple Stir, without one dollar coming from Messer’s wallet.
“It’s all-around a pretty great deal for me,” the inventor says, “because I don’t have to invest any more money.”
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