Serial Inventor Behind UrgentRx Proves Where There's a Will, There's Room on the Shelf
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At 31, Jordan Eisenberg already has an impressive handful of inventions on his resume. Most impressive, though, has been his ability to invent room for his products in spaces where there almost isn't any.
Eisenberg is making room for his latest product in some of the most cramped markets around. He has figured out how to literally squeeze into consumers' overstuffed wallets, invented new ways to sell his product at the drug store checkout counter and, most recently, scored marketing gold by wiggling his product into celebrity swag bags.
Eisenberg invented UrgentRx, a series of dissolving powdered medications for common ailments such as headaches and upset stomach that can be taken without water. The single-serve portions are packaged in a foil envelope the size of a credit card that can easily slip into a wallet card holder. Because the medication is in powder form, it can make its way into the bloodstream quicker than pills can.
The new company, founded in June of 2010 with official product launch on a national spectrum this year, won't disclose sales figures but "will do single digit millions this year and a considerable multiple of that next year," according to Eisenberg.
The idea of putting powdered medication in a credit-card sized packet came to Eisenberg after years of dealing with the mess of carrying pills in his pocket. "It is as much as a ‘necessity is the mother of invention' as anything gets," says Eisenberg, who is based in Denver, Colo.
Eisenberg has severe allergies that require him to have either an EpiPen or medication on him at all time. He has long wrapped Benadryl pills in cellophane and stuck them in his pocket. "I realized that it wasn't a very good solution, because I would stick it in my wallet, it would get crushed, it would fall out, it wasn't sanitary. If it was a hot day, it could get milky," he says. "And Benadryl itself is disgusting if you have to actually chew a pill."
Around the same time, Eisenberg started noticing he wasn't alone in his plights: His dad would carry aspirin around in his pocket for heart-attack prevention, his wife suffers from acid reflux and is always carrying some form of Tums, and a friend of his suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and always needs to have medication on hand. "There wasn't really a good solution for on-the-go drugs," says Eisenberg. "Nobody thinks they are going to have a heart attack, nobody thinks they are going to have diarrhea, so people aren't prepared." Eisenberg patented the UrgentRx packaging, which is the exact size of a credit card, so that consumers can tuck the medicine into their wallets and always have it on the ready.
UrgentRx isn't Eisenberg's first invention born out of identifying a problem and fixing it. His first invention was a vacuum-packed thermos for carrying an EpiPen in extreme conditions such as while skiing or playing golf on a hot day. His second invention was an app called PMS Buddy to remind men when the women in their life would be approaching their monthly cycle. Eisenberg spent $500 creating the app which was tweeted about by Ashton Kutcher, written about in Playboy and talked up by Howard Stern. Eventually, Eisenberg sold his user list to a family office venture capital fund, saying he was ready for his next business and "wasn't in love" with the crowded mobile app space.
Eisenberg's next invention, the CollarCard, is a credit-card sized plastic card that has pop-out collar stays for men's shirts. The CollarCard was another problem-identified-and-solved invention. Dry cleaners take out collar stays to clean men's shirts and Eisenberg would consistently lose them. "So one day, I was traveling for work and I was going to an early meeting and I didn't have my collar stays and I had the whole disco-collar thing going on and I didn't have time to iron the shirt. So I literally took my scissors from my kit and took my hotel key card, which is the same thickness as a collar stay, and I cut two collar stays out of it, totally just being practical. And I was like, ‘Oh! Holy sh*t! That's an idea!'" says Eisenberg, the ever-serial entrepreneur inventor.
Eisenberg learned this way of thinking from his mentor, Maurice Kanbar, the San Francisco-based entrepreneur who founded SKYY Vodka. Eisenberg read Kanbar's book, Secrets from an Inventor's Notebook (Council Oak Books, 2001), when he was in college and it changed his life on the spot. Eisenberg tracked Kanbar's phone number down through a friend of a friend – since these were the days before LinkedIn, he notes – and called Kanbar literally once a month for two years. Eventually, Kanbar said "Either stop calling me or come work for me!" recalls Eisenberg, who eagerly left investment banking to do just that. More than anything, Kanbar taught Eisenberg to be "hyper aware of your surroundings and being really attuned to things that you have found to be annoying or irritating or problematic," he says Eisenberg.
It is with that problem-solving inventor eye that Eisenberg went to drug stores looking for real estate to display his UrgentRx packages. Typically, for a drug store or convenience store to add a product to its display by the cash register, it has to remove something to make room. Instead of asking stores to take something off their shelves, Eisenberg went to drug stores with a new way for them to display product. "Logically, if they were to take something out and try a new brand, they open themselves up to a level of risk," says Eisenberg. So Eisenberg went to the stores, identified gaps in their display spaces and innovated new racks, hooks and hangers to create space, which Eisenberg presented to the drug store chains as "found revenue."
For example, Eisenberg invented a spinning display to sit on top of the posts that define the line for customers at popular Duane Reade drug stores in New York City. In Walmart stores, UrgentRx developed a clip system to cling to the half-wall behind a cashier. For grocery stores, UrgentRx developed a display that hangs on the post that lights up when that aisle is open. UrgentRx has actually applied for patents on all of the display devices. "Coming from the outside in, I have been able to see the space in these stores, where, the people that operate there kind of operate under the auspices of ‘we don't do that so therefore it is not an option,'" says Eisenberg. "When I first started telling them about what I wanted to do, they were like, ‘You are crazy, you can't do that, don't waste your time.' And now it's a core tenet of our business," says Eisenberg.
From a marketing perspective, finding space for your product on the shelves of Duane Reade is almost as competitive a task as getting your product in the hands of an adoring celebrity at a popular event. Eisenberg has gone about that in a bit of a round-the-back way, too. Through another investor, Eisenberg met, partnered with and received funding from the talent-agency William Morris Endeavor (WME). WME's client list is a who's who of Hollywood, including names like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Rufus Wainwright. On the corporate side, WME is partner with companies like Virgin Galactic and limo-company Uber.
Eisenberg declined to disclose the amount WME has invested in UrgentRx or the percentage of UrgentRx that he gave away for the cash, but the celebrity associations and business partnerships WME will offer a small startup like UrgentRx are priceless, according to Eisenberg's math. "UrgentRx, our products, were behind stage at Lollapalooza. We are going to be a part of the Oscars and the Grammys -- we are going to be in all those gift bags. We are starting all of these incredible, incredible partnerships that a small company like us, would never have access to," says Eisenberg. "They are propelling us into, what I would say, is the cultural zeitgeist, and helping us become a part of the social fabric and that social conversation with consumers."
And that is exactly where Eisenberg – and most entrepreneurs, frankly – want to be: Stuck in your wallet, staring back at you in the line at Duane Reade and sloshing around in that oh-so-ethereal cultural zeitgeist.