The following is a guest post from the inventor I mentioned in my recent Friendly Good News post: Alan Beckley. We happened to hire into Boeing within six months of each other in 1980 and had almost identical jobs (as seen from the outside, at least). We both left Boeing eventually, though at different times and for different reasons. We, like so many other people, are redefining our work selves, which is why I am posting his story here. Regular readers have witnessed my story. Here’s part I of III of his. (For more of his story, check out his blog for inventors; Ideaworth.
Engineer to Inventor – In 3 Easy Steps – by Alan Beckley (aka @SavvyCaddy)
The American Dream: this is my journey and transition from what I did then to what I do now.
I began life – after college anyways – working as an engineer for the Boeing Company in Everett, WA. The Boeing Company was (and is) a great company and the 747 – the project I worked on for three years – is a great airplane.
But, for me, working as a young engineer for a large corporation felt smothering. I needed a career environment that was more dynamic and ever changing where either instant gratification or humiliation resulted from my work. I found all of that when I moved to Dallas, TX and began working for a small company as a telecom project manager in the early 80s in the then nascent cellular telephone arena. Telecom in those days was entrepreneurial; every day was different and I developed many new skill sets. It was a fast paced environment; deadlines were measured in days, not weeks or months. I loved it.
Going from an engineer at a large company to a project manager at a small company was Step 1.
All good things must come to an end.
Over the next twenty years the telecom landscape transitioned from an industry dominated by many small companies serving the needs of a few large industry icons (like AT&T) to the large iconic corporations gobbling up many small competitors. I again found myself working for large corporations: my creativity was obliterated by bureaucracy and smothered by monolithic processes. I was back to where I had begun, working for large smothering corporations. It was time to plan my escape to a very small company – my own small business. If I could no longer find the career I wanted, maybe I could create it; I became self-employed as an inventor.
Going from a telecom project manager to an inventor was Step 2.
In 2002 I filed two patents on a thin, flexible wallet design that I felt was worth patenting. I had conceived of many product ideas over the years, but had never taken actions to develop any of them into products. I subsequently saw some of my ideas selling as products in retail stores and I would say to myself, “what if”? I decided it was time to see if my wallet idea could be successful as a consumer product and the first logical step was to patent it. At this point, I was employed full time in telecom and was a part time inventor tinkering with my product idea.
After a few years of attempting to license the product to a variety of manufacturers, I decided I could get some wallets manufactured and test market it myself. Once I finalized the design, I had a small run of 500 wallets manufactured and soon was selling them at flea markets, shows and events. Buyers loved the wallets because they were comfortable to sit on, held a lot of cards (up to 24), yet were still thinner than most wallets.
In 2009, I had to opportunity to take my Savvy Caddy wallets to a bigger platform: the home shopping network, QVC, with over 90 million viewers.
Telecom had become draining and it was time to do something else, so I left the security of my telecom job and became a full time inventor without fully realizing what I had gotten myself into. It was very exciting, but also scary. I had embarked on a new journey to destination unknown.
Leaving my telecom job to become a full time inventor was Step 3
I had sold out in my QVC appearances in the winter of 2009 and QVC reordered for winter of 2010. Things did not go as well in winter 2010, I got less favorable air times and sold about half my inventory at QVC when I got what every vendor to QVC dreads: the RTV notice (return to vendor). This meant my remaining inventory was being returned to me and my QVC career was over.
In January 2011, I was faced with a very difficult decision. I was done on QVC, still had about 1,500 wallets to sell but had lots of expenses – bills, loans, credit cards, and living expenses – that had to somehow be paid. I wasn’t going back to telecom, so I needed to quickly rework my business. I hit the road and began selling as a vendor at military bases, various shows and events. I soon found myself working 7 days per week just to make ends meet. I was extremely frustrated, this was not my idea of the American Dream: working very long, hard hours but not making very much money. But my QVC experience had convinced me that the Savvy Caddy wallet was definitely a sell-on-TV product; after all, I had sold over 5,000 of them on QVC. I had to find a path to DRTV (direct response TV or infomercials) where I convinced my product could be a big hit, even though less than 3% of promising products succeed on DRTV.