February 25, 2017

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Why Didn’t I Think of That?

A toilet brush that stores cleaning liquid in the handle and automatically dispenses it as you clean. An “arm sling” for sleeping through those awkward plane rides where the seats seem too small and your body seems too big. Toddler-style pajamas with feet for adults. Every year there are hundreds of new inventions that make you want to scream, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” But the truth of the matter is, many of these inventions will never see the light of day.

Items like the Ped Egg– an egg shaped device for scraping and collecting dead skin off your feet–have been a tremendous success, thanks in part to the late-night infomercials that can be as addicting as they are entertaining. But for many of the inventors behind such would-be phenomena, getting their product on a late-night infomercial is just the saving grace their idea needs. And for people looking for that kind of big break, AJ Khubani is just the man to see.

Khubani invented the infamous Ped Egg, but he’s also the founder of Telebrands, which you might know as the company behind products branded with the “As Seen On TV” logo.

NPR producer Mike Vuolo paints a pretty telling of Telebrands, describing the lobby of their headquarters in Fairfield, New Jersey, this way:

Displayed in the lobby of the building are honest-to-goodness trophies for products like the Better Pasta Pot and the World’s Safest Can Opener. There’s even a letter from a professor of mechanical design at Princeton University, thanking Telebrand’s founder, A. J. Khubani, for a lecture he gave titled “Finding Winning Products.” That’s what they do at Telebrands.

Khubani and company spend a good deal of time listening to pitches for new invention ideas, trying to find the next late-night sensation.

It’s sort of like American Idol for Inventors. Inventors hoping they have the next big thing can get an audience with Khubani and company and pitch their product. While some of the people who travel hundreds of miles hoping to be the next member of the As Seen On TV family, many are serial-inventors, coming up with new “hairbrained” ideas every day. And that’s exactly what it takes to succeed in Khubani’s eyes.

“The truth is the majority of ideas do not make it commercially,” he adds. ” Think of Thomas Edison – the most famous inventor. He had a thousand patents to his name, but how many were commercially viable? Probably just a dozen out of the thousand that he invented.”

Of course, getting rejected by Khubani isn’t the end of the story for a lot of these products. Inventing, developing, and marketing a product all on your own might be too much for some people, but for others, having a product idea they believe in is enough to motivate them.

Last year, I interviewed one such inventor: Marc Newburger, inventor of Drop Stop, a car wedge designed to stop anything from falling between your seats. At the time, I asked Marc if he thought we lived in an “inventor-friendly” culture, or whether inventors are looked down upon, or even hated in our society. He responded, “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.”

I agree with him, and I can’t help but picture AJ Khubani surrounded by a camera crew, filming a reality show about his never ending search for the Next Big Thing.

Because in the end, there will always be plenty of “Why didn’t I think of that?” inventions, and there will always be weird little novelty items that you don’t need but can’t live without. And for every thousand people hoping their idea will take off, there’s someone like Khubani, using his experience and resources to help and advise, but more importantly, to capitalize.

Follow me on Twitter @thinkofthat.

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