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Monday, December 1, 2014

Drop Stop: A Chat with Marc Newburger

What drives someone to invent something? More often than not, it’s a problem they’re having. They can’t find a solution, so they make one up.

Maybe it’s an ailing sports team. Maybe it’s a problem with bartenders stealing money from the drawer. In Marc Newburger’s case, the problem was a dropped call. Literally.

Drop Stop inventors Marc Newburger and Jeffrey Simon

Drop Stop inventors Marc Newburger and Jeffrey Simon

If you haven’t heard of the Drop Stop before, it’s a pretty simple idea: The Drop Stop is a wedge that fits into your car, between the seat and the center console. Its goal is to prevent dropped objects–phones, keys, anything really–from falling into the abyss below your seat.

The story goes like this:

Three years ago, Marc Newburger was driving down Sunset Blvd, waiting for a very important call. “A call that would only come once.” His phone was laid on the center console of his car. When the phone did finally rang, it vibrated. The vibrations sent it rolling of the console, where it “shot down the gap between the seat and center console.”  There was no time to waste. Marc began digging for the phone. He took his eyes off the road, only for a second, but it was long enough for him to accidentally jerk the wheel to the right.

In a flash, his “car hopped up onto the sidewalk where a pedestrian had to jump out of the way,” and headed straight for a telephone pole. Impact was imminent. Newburger slammed on the breaks, covered his face and screamed.

But there was no impact. He looked up. The pole was mere inches from his car.

At this point, Marc began screaming something to the effect of: “Why doesn’t someone come up with something to block that crack?!” Add in a few profanities, and you get the idea.

Recently, Marc Newburger, one of the co-inventors of the Drop Stop, was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, via email. So, without further ado, here is the Think of That Blog’s exclusive interview with Mr. Newburger.

Benjamin Christopher: Were you and your business partner already looking to start up a company when Drop Stop “fell” in your laps?

Marc Newburger: We were just about to launch a huge arm of our nutrition company, and this caused a 3 year sidetrack.

Leaving [our nutrition company] to start up an invention was crazy.  We had no experience…  We started with the book “Inventing for Dummies.” No joke.  From there, we read many other books, and aligned ourselves with major players in the business.  Everyone wanted to be a part of it, as they all saw (see) the potential.

BC: If you could go back, what would you do differently, anywhere in the conception, design, development or marketing phases?

MN: Many mistakes have been made, but they led to other amazing revelations.  When you have and can maintain the attitude that everything happens for a reason, and that any situation can be made good by simply KNOWING you will ALWAYS find a way…it makes the journey incredible, and you revel in all the ups, and the downs. With hindsight I would of course change many things.  However, without those mistakes, we could never be where we are now.  The important thing is not looking back, but rather, becoming a master of the moment before you.

BC: How did friend and family react when you told them about your endeavor?

MN: We knew we had something after we made the first prototype out of simple household items.  It looked and worked great, although it was very Frankenstein-esque.  We first showed it to one of our most skeptical friends who shoots down EVERYTHING.  We called him over to tell him we had a great invention, and we wanted to show him.  He already had a bad attidude just having to come over without us telling him what it was.  He had that, “this better be good, this better be good” attitude.

We put it in his car without him knowing or seeing, and gave him 5 minutes to try and spot it.  He couldn’t.  We took his keys, dropped them in the gap, and when he saw them ‘floating,’ and not falling down, we said, “We’d like to introduce you to the ‘Car Wedge’ “(the original working title name of the product).  He looked down, looked back up at us, and said, “That’s the dumbest, greatest thing I have EVER seen.” At that point, we really knew we had something.

Our favorite reveal, which we still use, is installing Drop Stop in someone’s car without them knowing, and then asking if they can spot the product in their car.  We tell them it is in plain view, and that the product is 18 inches long.  We even hint that it is in the front half of their car.  They can never find it, and you will see this if you watch me doing the ‘On the Street’ testimonials at the end of our commercial on the website. (2 min commercial/2 min testimonials follow after).

You see, Drop Stop blends with the dark shadow present in EVERY gap.  We originally made them in black, tan, and grey.  But, what are the odds our tan matches your tan? 100-1? If it doesn’t match perfectly, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  But in BLACK, even with a purple interior, there is ALWAYS a dark shadow in every gap.  Drop Stop simply makes the shadow, solid.  So Drop Stop is now made only in Universal black.

As far as family, my parents were not too thrilled at the start of yet another endeavor.  But they quickly saw the passion and time we were putting in, and stepped in to help when they saw it was for real. But in the beginning, I DON’T BLAME THEM! And then Jeff’s parents, our friends, and many others, stepped up to help, in ways nothing short of miraculous.  Many of these people were folks we taught nutrition to for free over the years…and when it came time for us to need help, they made us feel like George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

BC: Was there anyone more supportive than you would have expected? Anyone less supportive?

MN: Yes.  and Yes.  But we went in asking for help with no judgment, and didn’t get mad when folks said no, but wanted to give the world to the folks that stepped up and believed in us when no one would.

BC: How have you been doing for yourself?  I know that even the best products don’t always pay for themselves right away. How is Drop Stop, fiscally speaking?

MN: We have a ways to go…but we are quickly approaching calmer seas.  We are really starting to get a lot of hype.  Also, QVC ordered 2500 sets from us…  So, that is upcoming and very exciting.  Also, they recently ran this news story (below), and another one is scheduled for this week.

When this story ran, it literally catapulted our business into a whole new level, overnight.

Also, customers are starting to post their own reviews, like this one, which really help get it out there as well, as they post it all over car blogs and car forums.

BC: In Thursday’s blog post, I brought up this issue: Apparently some people think that inventors don’t get the credit they deserve, or that they are often ignored/maligned by our society. In your experience, have you found that people tend to look down at you, or treat you any differently, because of your “inventor-status?” Would you consider our culture particularly inventor-friendly?

MN: It depends on what type of inventor you are.  There are some inventors who sit in a dark room, come up with ideas, write about them in forums, talk about them, and maybe, just maybe, sell them.  Being an inventor does not automatically make one an entrepreneur, however.

I can’t speak to folks looking down on us because it is just the opposite.  Even though they know I reside on a couch (for the last 3 years), we feel nothing but respect from everyone who sees the product, or hears our story.  In fact, it really inspires them.  I think the attitude is something like, “Well, if ‘couch boy’ can do it, anyone can.”

That said, it takes a heck of a lot more than me. I have a business partner and co-inventor in Jeff who has a background working for Arthur-Anderson accounting firm for 4 years, and also as a producer in Hollywood.  His abilities to not only steer the ship, but hold the ship together, are incredible, and much credit is given to me perhaps that is not deserved.

We make it very clear that while the simple idea was mine, it took both of us to design it, market it, and get folks to care about it.  People see us every day mount our white horses and charge into attack.  It takes guts, an iron stomach, and a wheelbarrow full of faith.  I think anyone doing that in any regard will get respect from folks.

And when people call us “inventors” it’s kinda weird.  It’s like making one citizen’s arrest, and calling yourself a cop.  I think we have inventor type minds, with an entrepreneur’s type spirit.  The combination serves us well.  That said, we are learning everyday, and everyday is a unique journey unto itself.

And if our culture wasn’t inventor friendly before, thanks to shows like “American Inventor” “Shark Tank” and “Pitch Men,” I think a shift is very much occurring.  I think people will wake up and realize the point to life is to create.  And when people work for a company for 50 years, and want to retire, only to find out their 41-year-old CEO just spent 2.2 million on a toga party for his wife, while bankrupting the company and leaving these folks in the dust in the process…it will cause a shift, where people will want to create, and put something out to the world.  Whether a service, or a product, something that can help their fellow man.  And something that is their own, and can’t be taken away from them at will.

Perhaps I’m not the best to answer, as we are not career inventors.  We are also food coaches, actors, and producers.  As the old saying goes, “You can fail 100 times.  With one win, they will call you a success.”  I think if our product was crappy and unnecessary, we would have had a whole different kind of experience.

BCAnd lastly- the elevator pitch. If you had to convince our readers, in 55 words or less, why they need a DropStop in their cars, what would you say?

MN: 80% of all accidents happen when you take your eyes off the road for 3 seconds or less.  If Drop Stop can save your life even ONE time, it’s worth it.


Resources

Drop Stop Website

Drop Stop Profile @ mustangs.about.com

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