Entrepreneur: Juan Murdoch pioneered a high-tech approach to the classic bedtime story. Inspired by QR-code technology, he created cotton pajamas printed with a series of colorful dots. When scanned with a smartphone, the dots trigger a free app (available for Android and iPhone) that launches one of 47 bedtime stories--narrated digital tales with colorful photos plus text to allow kids to read along. The Idaho entrepreneur introduced Smart PJs in 2012.
"Aha" moment: During a meeting at the real-estate firm where Murdoch worked as a sales agent, a broker discussed the benefits of using QR codes on "for sale" signs. It was then that Murdoch, a father of six, had the inspiration to use the black-and-white codes to enliven story time. "I was so excited about the idea that I left the meeting and went to my office to Google it and see if it had been done," he recalls. When no results turned up, Murdoch felt certain he was onto something big.
Getting the nod: Murdoch had a built-in focus group at home. His kids, who range in age from 6 to 18, had such a positive reaction to his idea that he was encouraged to move forward. "I was talking about taking two things that had been around forever--pajamas and bedtime stories--and changing them into something brand new," he says. "The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever."
Nightmare: Murdoch lacked the technical background to bring the concept to life, so he enlisted help from a Brigham Young University computer science graduate who experimented with developing methods for scanning fabric. Murdoch invested $50,000 of his savings into development, but the initial attempts failed.
"You had to hold the [smartphone] in the perfect position, the lighting had to be just right, and the fabric couldn't be wrinkled," Murdoch says. "Kids have a very short attention span, and they would lose focus if it was too hard [to scan]."
Although he was passionate about his idea, the practical frustrations of creating scannable codes for pint-size pajamas proved overwhelming. Six months after he started experimenting, Murdoch put his project on the back burner.
Works like a dream:
It was another real-estate meeting that brought Murdoch back to product development. Discussing lead generation, someone mentioned seeing a product in a store and thinking, "I had that idea once, but I didn't follow through." Murdoch knew he didn't want another entrepreneur to bring his idea to market.
With renewed determination, he cheered on his development team in their quest to find a pattern that was easier to scan. The winning design was a simplified series of colorful dots. "When we first got it to work, we were amazed," Murdoch says.
Get your zzz's: Murdoch had 3,000 pairs of his interactive pajamas made by a clothing manufacturer in China in late 2012. He sold them from the back of his pickup truck and through SmartPJs.com. His big breakthrough came with a mention on Mashable that drew 20,000 visitors to the site. This summer, Brookstone started stocking the pajamas, which retail for $30.
No time for sleeping on the job: The bedtime-stories app is expected to be a perennial favorite, but additional apps are in development. Murdoch is also exploring licensing agreements with companies that wish to use the technology to promote their brands. "Pajamas," he says, "are just the beginning."