There was this >
The Corona-Matic Typewriter Waffle Iron was a conceptual design piece made for an exhibit with the School of Visual Arts in 2001. It was made using parts of a Smith Corona Typewriter purchased at a garage sale for $5 and an old waffle iron from the thrift shop for $8. The waffles are made of plaster and painted, and the metallic looking keyboard pattern was vacuum-formed from plastic using a mold I made using the typewriters keys. It came out pretty well considering I was a student learning how to turn my ideas into 3D objects. It was then professionally photographed along with about 14 other portfolio pieces as I prepared to graduate and enter the job market. At this point in time, the idea of making this into a real product is non-existent.
I post the image online.
The website no longer exists, but this image along with two other concepts went viral and were picked up by countless websites, driving views up to 7,000,000 on my site in March of 2004.
I continued on with my career and had some great experiences doing...
...Conceptual design, Graphic/Package design, retail spaces, props, Event design, Exhibit Design, Animation/TV development, Motion Graphics, Broadcast design, Special Effects...
...However between 2004 and 2012 a consistent part of my life was this very email exchange:
I was a bit more gracious in my actual replies, though little by little I realized how many people wanted this product to be real.
As time went on, the interest grew along with great opportunities for exposure. Name dropping aside, there were some big opportunities missed, and the years of constant inquiries from people all over the world pushed me to finally make this into a real product...
...I realized I have no idea how to make this into a real product.
I was fortunate in having a friend that not only made his own product, but was excited to work with me on what would become The Keyboard Waffle Iron. Michael Frank and I have been wanting to work together on a project for some time, and one night at a friends party, we scribbled out a plan for making this product real. The path of lowest initial cost and risk involved using an existing waffle iron and making a custom plate with a keyboard pattern.
Around full-time jobs, we worked somewhat loosely on developing the first Keyboard Waffle Iron for almost a year. As we approached the manufacturing stage, we decided to create a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds necessary to make this happen. Here is the original (never before seen) Kickstarter campaign video:
We frantically submitted to Kickstarter with the hopes of a quick approval and timing that would have these shipping out for the Holidays. Our first pass was rejected since we did not have a working prototype. The setback allowed me a moment to rethink just about everything- in a good way. I realized that I really wasn't passionate about the end product. In designing around an existing waffle iron, there was nothing special about the waffles it made, and the keyboard pattern wasn't true to an actual keyboard.
I initially explored the idea of making a stovetop waffle iron before pursuing the electric version, and all it took was a conversation with a friend to remind me that this was the way to go all along. The following year was spent refining a brand new "waffle-out" design that began with creating the exact size, pattern, and thickness based on an actual computer keyboard.
Suddenly it was a different ball game. I needed to produce a prototype and find a way to manufacture this custom design. This was the start of what would become my self-imposed grad school education in product development. I started from the ground up by cold-calling local foundries. I'd learn little by little from multiple companies and perspectives on what the best solution would be for making my prototype and ultimately a mass-produced version of my product. Every process I learned about had its own advantages and disadvantages, some were very low cost, but are now illegal in most states, some seem ideal but extremely costly to mass produce. On a daily basis, I my emotions would range from very excited and optimistic to completely discouraged and questioning the entire effort. In the early stages as there are so many unknowns: how will I mass produce these? how are they assembled? how will I make the packaging and instructions? how much foam protection does it need to have? the biggest question of all was: How do I make this into a profitable business?
After about 2 weeks of phone calls I received the tip of a trade show coming to the Javits Center. I went to the show and met with about 20 different companies. Still knowing very little, and armed only with my iPad to show my 3D CAD drawing, I found about 12 companies that were good potential partners for this product. I made my choice, and got started with a prototype.
After about 3 weeks I received my very first prototype, and made the very first Keyboard Waffle which was extremely exciting and thankfully a success! This enabled me to move forward with the Kickstarter campaign which statistically is ideal to launch in the Fall or the Spring. Now working with a small team, we ran into several roadblocks that would delay the campaign launch to November 25th. The biggest hurdle was learning that the current design would present potential manufacturing issues. I needed to redesign the product to a uniform thickness while keeping my design in-tact.
I worked out a few variations of this design that involved breaking each half into two parts: the waffle part and the logo part. Without getting too specific on the technical aspects of this, the end result was a lighter weight product, and I was also able to address the smallest of details in the waffle that were not perfect in the first prototype. Moving from the prototype phase to production I encountered issues with my 3D file. The factory could not read what I was sending, and my limited ability to make CAD drawings had hit the wall.
I found a great professinal 3D modeler and went forward with the second prototype. Weeks later I received, and tested this new version and it was just about perfect. We made the final tweaks to the 3D model and went forward with the tooling process.
Ready to Launch
A lot went into the Kickstarter launch. Finalizing the video, the product, the rewards and sponsorships as well as the page design. It all came down to the wire as we wanted to launch before the holidays. With everything in place we launched on November 25th 2014. As many Kickstarter campaigns go, it started strong, slowed down in the middle and ramped back up in the end. We recieved an amazing amount of press from popular sites that covered the original design. i had an amazing opportunity to appear on Good Morning America and pitch my product to Barbara Corcoran on their "Shark Tank" segment. Our goal of 50,000 was exceeded, and the campaing closed at $66,850 on Christmas day... a pretty great gift.
Spending money to make money
After enjoying the campaign's success along with the Holiday, i had some fun considering the idea of running off to a tropical location with a briefcase full of money... then the reality set in that I am really going to make this thing happen. I wrote the biggest check I'd ever written and sent it off in the mail to start production.
I had this idea that I'd be able to relax a bit once production was started, of course I could not have been more wrong. Besides coordinating production between multiple factories, i needed to continue building the foundation of my company and prepare for the eventual arrival of this first big shipment, which is harder than it sounds.
I also needed to set up a website and e-commerce page to begin taking preorders. Several people reached out to me after the Kickstarter ended hoping for a way to order a KWI. It took about 6 weeks to set up the site, have photo shoots, and iron out the policies of my online store, which again, I was completely new to. Despite the time this all took the site still looked awful, but there was simply too much else going on for me to be in designer mode to make it all look great.