Notions in Motion

Itching to turn an idea into reality? You've got to answer the call and take charge to make it happen.

Some inventors readily come up with one idea after another, but then get bogged down trying to market too many at a time. Not surprisingly, ideas from entrepreneurs who lack focus often languish in the conception stage and never make it to market.

Luckily, that has not been the case for Randice-Lisa Altschul, an inventor who, at 42, has invented thousands of products and licensed more than 200 games, toys and other products, including board games for Miami Vice, The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Turbo Fist and Racing Fist action toys. With her company, Dieceland Technologies Corp. in Cliffside Park, New York, Altschul is launching her biggest product yet, the Phone-Card-Phone. GE is set to handle North American distribution.

So how do you successfully turn your ideas into moneymakers? A great idea is only part of the process. You've also got to know in your gut when a concept has real potential to become something tangible and hit it big. You'll also need perseverance and ingenuity, as well as a willingness to let your idea evolve until it's ready for sale.

Making It Happen
Before explaining Altschul's formula for success, let's see how one seemingly simple idea was able to catch the attention of GE and earn 2002 Product of the Year recognition from Frost and Sullivan, a leading publisher of market analysis and statistics.

The Phone-Card-Phone is a disposable cell phone with a certain number of minutes that can be used for both outgoing and incoming calls. (Altschul prefers to refer to her product as "an enhanced phone card.") Prices are expected to start at $10 for 60 minutes of local calls, and $16 to $18 for an hour of all other calls. The product was designed to replace phone cards, making it, as Altschul says, "much easier for people to make a call. After all, they don't have to find a phone." Her target customers are not cell phone users, who expect tons of product features. Rather, Altschul will be targeting "kids who need to call their parents and people who want protection in case of an emergency." After developing the product, Altschul also discovered that an enormous market also exists for credit-challenged individuals who are unable to qualify for annual contracts with cell phone service providers.

How did Altschul come up with the idea? "In 1996, I was driving and having trouble with my phone; I wanted to throw it out the window. The phone cost too much to do that, but it gave me the inspiration that a disposable cellular phone would be a great idea."

Convinced this was her "grand-slam idea," she decided to risk it all. Rather than license the concept, she decided to develop the product herself. She funded development with her savings of more than $1 million, plus $300,000 in credit cards. All went well until late 1999, when she ran out of money.

Fortunately for Altschul, at that time, a nearly full-page story on the Phone-Card-Phone ran in The New York Times. A media blitz followed, eventually leading to additional investors as well as the distribution contract with GE. Today, the product is in the testing phase at numerous facilities, including the FCC. Assuming she gets FCC approval, Altschul expects to be in production 75 days later. In preparation, Altschul has already recruited several GE contacts to help run her company, and her management team's plans for a national rollout have been put in place.

WANTED: YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS

Ron Perlstein, a 20-year veteran in the direct response TV industry, is looking for ideas to sell through his company, Infoworx.

Specifically, Perlstein is looking for consumer-oriented products in the following categories: automotive accessories, fitness, health, kitchen, household items, pet care and sports. Perlstein is willing to work with new products in a variety of ways, such as through a joint venture or a royalty arrangement or on a fee basis. And for a commission, Infoworx will even represent products with the potential to sell well on a home-shopping network.

A simple form gets you started; the company will work with you to develop and produce the product. If all you have is a concept with merit, Infoworx will team up with Invent-Tech to develop the prototypes and product models, with Infoworx handling the marketing.

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This article was originally published in the November 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Notions in Motion.

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