The Story of a Minnesota Horsewoman’s Journey into Inventing and Business and What She Learned Along the Way – Guest post by Misty Caston
Idea to reality – Creating a Better Drying Equine Blanket
Have you ever had an idea that made you say, “Hey, I should invent this!”? Well, I did. And I did! Here is the story of how the WikSmart™ Cooler a horse blanket came to be a real thing and not just an idea. And of the surprising lesson I learned along the way.
Drying wet horses – Needed a better way!
I have been training horses and teaching lessons in Minnesota for almost 10 years now. One of my least favorite things became waiting around in the freezing cold for the last horse I rode to dry. At one point, I even brought a hair dryer out to the barn to try to speed things up. Of course I’ve tried just about every cooler out there, but the problem was always the same. The horse would never be completely dry. Regardless of what brand of cooler I used, or the material it was made from, two parts of the horse’s body that get the most sweaty – the belly and the chest – would always still be wet. I would then have to spend more time and effort toweling off these areas after I’d already waited forever for the rest of the horse to dry. All of this while it’s freezing cold outside!
Need Stirs Invention
In February 2012, I got out one of my stuffed horses and cut up some old towels and set out to make a prototype of a cooler that would cover these important areas that traditional coolers miss. After the stuffed pony, my real horse kindly stood tied for hours on different occasions with me cutting up thrift store sheets and pinning them on him in different ways. With help from a friend with sewing skills, these sheets became a home-sewn, polar fleece prototype of the WikSmart™ Cooler (patent-pending).
Wild Ride To Market
Since then, I have been on a nearly two-year-long, wild ride that has included many middle-of-the-night-wake-up-and-jump-on-the-computer-brainstorming-sessions that leave me zombie-like during the day. I have taken a business class and have done massive amounts of research into: patents, patterns, textiles, manufacturing, licensing, accounting, social media, sales, marketing and advertising.
From February through March of 2013, I ran a campaign fundraiser on Indiegogo.com. I raised enough capital to get a small but decent start. The basic premise of many of these campaigns for start-ups is to get pre-orders for your product, thereby providing you with the capital you need to get your product on the market. I pre-sold more units than I thought I would and had a lot of donations aside from the pre-orders.
I have come a long way since that original home-made prototype. WikSmart™ Coolers are now available for sale at wiksmart.com, through several Twin Cities tack stores, and through other select websites. I had a booth at several horse expos in 2013 including the Minnesota Horse Expo, Equine Affaire in Massachusetts, Horse Crazy Market, and will be attending Pennsylvania Horse Expo in Februrary, 2014.
Adventure and Success
In less than one years since the launch of the product, I have had a lot more success than I expected. This venture has been full of a lot of hard work and passion; fun (and, at moments, scary) road trips; frustration and teary-eyed, exhausted melt-downs; and happiness and pride.
Kindness of People is Amazing
The most amazing thing I have learned from doing this so far is about the kindness and generosity of people. Trust me, I am more fond of animals than people so I am not one to say this lightly. People often display judgmental, arrogant, rude, disgusting, and even disturbing behaviors, especially in regards to animals. But I am re-discovering that they can also be very kind.
For example, I have relied heavily on friends with the skills to help me get my project going. I had a friend who is a video editor edit my Indiegogo campaign video, another friend who is a graphic designer made me a logo, and another friend who is a photographer took pictures for me. All for free.
Strangers even contributed financially and by spreading the word about my campaign on social networking sites. I was also lucky enough to find a patent attorney who did all the patent work for me for free through the Minnesota Inventor’s Assistance Program. (http://minnesotabusiness.com/article/law-innovative-help-innovators) Local businesses have taken a chance on a new product by stocking it in their stores where shelf space is precious. A woman I hardly know who invented a different kind of horse blanket has mentored me and hooked me up with manufacturing less expensive than I could have found on my own by piggy-backing my order onto hers. (Thank you Nancy Kelley of Kelley and Company Equestrian Products https://www.kelleyandcompany.com/ ) Amazing…
It is incredible, the support people are willing to give. In some ways, I think it is due to the recessed economy which has thrown us back to a way of life that depends on community for support and where a “do it yourself” attitude is not only appreciated, but necessary. People seem more willing to pitch in and help than they used to be. In another way though, I think human nature rears its beautiful head sometimes and shows those of us with a “people suck” attitude that we are wrong. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.