I had an idea and a prototype, but I knew nothing about how to bring a consumer product to market. In September 2014, I met with Chris at Gateway Venture Mentoring Service to see if there was a fit for me in their program. As a potential startup business, I knew that I could use all the help I could get, especially anything that was free. GatewayVMS would match me with mentors that would meet with me regularly and provide guidance, feedback, and assistance. The morning of the meeting I was busy finishing the installation of my prototype on the roof of my car, most of which was completed the night before. I planned to show the rack holding a bike and some PVC piping. Since the prototype was not very robust, I decided to drive to the meeting with my bike and pipe in my car and put them on the roof once I arrived at the GVMS office. About a block away, I parked on the side of the road and attached my bike and PVC pipe to the roof using my prototype rack.
Chris and I discussed the idea and then went to look at the prototype on the roof of my car. Although the prototype was a little sketchy, I think Chris was able to see the potential for a roof rack system that served the needs of many, not just the active/recreational user. I was admitted to the program and my first mentor meeting was scheduled for two months later.
Prior to the first mentor meeting I was able to meet with the marketing mentors (Sarah and Joe) during their open office hours. Again, I put my bike and PVC pipe in the car and drove to the restaurant for our meeting, parking within line of sight of the restaurant windows. In the parking lot I put the bike and pipe on the roof rack. We had a good meeting, discussed the roof rack market, competition, my product, and paths to market. Here’s where it got interesting.
Sarah said to go after the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) market, and not compete head-to-head with the current roof rack companies – genius, I hadn’t thought of it like that. I had envisioned this David and Goliath scenario (I was David…) which seemed overwhelming. An aside – check out Malcolm Gladwell’s Ted talk about David and Goliath.
Then we walked outside and looked at my prototype. Joe immediately said, “I wouldn’t buy that.” OUCH. Joe has an SUV, frequently uses his roof rack for DIY materials, and said that the rack was too big and cumbersome – he would rather use his ratchet straps. Hmm, what next?
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.” -Thomas A. Edison