I Needed That

You Need a Hobby

Tribastone discovered his innovation among the struggles of his work. Vinu Malik had an even more strenuous trial as his inspiration. By 1998, Malik, now 34, had been competing in triathlons for eight years. He had become completely fed up with the large water bottles he needed to carry to stay hydrated. According to Neil Malik, Vinu's business partner and brother, "The bottles were cumbersome and could easily start bumping against the runner."

Vinu decided he could develop a better water system. In his mind, the solution would feature multiple small bottles, so the weight of the water could be spread out around the runner's waist. He went with four flat bottles that attached to a belt. Then, as an extra touch, Vinu curved the bottle spouts in one direction so they would face away from the runner's body.

When Vinu recruited his brother Neil, they sunk $5,000 into their Cambridge, Massachusetts, venture, Fuel Belt Inc., and started selling the product on the Web. They ran a little ad in Triathlete magazine and sold $25,000 worth of products in the first three months. According to Neil, 32, "We weren't sure how much the ads helped, because in a small [and] connected community like triathletes, word travels fast."

In 1999, the brothers kept selling on the Web while continuing to hold full-time jobs. Before long, they enlisted a few stores to carry the product--and sales quickly grew to exceed $50,000. In 2000, the brothers started getting serious about the business, so they gave up their jobs and worked on obtaining patents, improving production arrangements, incorporating and setting up their business structure.

The turning point came in 2001, when the brothers approached the official board of the Ironman Triathlon in order to license the Ironman name for their product. They succeeded in obtaining a license, not only to use the Ironman name, but also to state that the Fuel Belt is the "official worldwide Hydration Belt of Ironman." At the time of the agreement, they had 15 retailers selling their product. By year-end 2001, they had signed on 350 stores, and by early 2002 their product was in more than 500 running stores in the United States and 1,000 worldwide. The Fuel Belt, which retails for $31.95, pushed the company's sales to about $500,000 in 2001, and the brothers expect to hit $1 million this year.

The secret to their success, according to Neil, was that "Vinu knew what triathletes wanted. Once he started using the belt, many of the top runners started using it, too. That made selling our concept to Ironman a snap. And once we were the official hydration belt of Ironman, stores were happy to carry the product." In other words, the brothers knew exactly how to successfully promote the product, because they understood the market firsthand.

If you're hoping to find a money-making idea of your own, start by looking at your own job or hobby. If you're observant, you'll begin to notice where improvements should be made--and that's your first step to success.

Open auditions
The company that sells products like Ab-Away Pro, Aloette and Pür Minerals on TV is looking for new products. Inventor's Universe licenses products with wide consumer appeal and handles every phase of a product's introduction, including manufacturing, marketing, advertising and fulfillment. Although the company is choosy about the products it takes on, those it accepts have a real chance for success. For more information, log on to www.inventorsuniverse.com or www.makemillionsontv.com. To find other direct marketers seeking innovative products, check out Response Magazine, a leading trade magazine for direct response TV marketers.

Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and author of Think Big: Make Millions From Your Ideas. Send him your questions at dondebelak34@msn.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: I Needed That.

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