It’s a dilemma so many entrepreneurs face: Taking you great idea public now, when the market seems ready, or wait until you have patented or otherwise protected your intellectual property. Then you ask, is the cost worth it? How long will it take?
These are the same questions Allison Krongard asked herself when starting her company, WallCandy Arts. She started the company around the development of her unique, reusable wall stickers and wall art – products she’s named WallCandy. Having been in the design business for many years, she came to her product idea after being asked by several friends and family for ideas to decorate their children’s rooms. “I treated their children just like clients, trying to determine what they liked and wanted. But I soon learned that each time I’d meet with them, their preferences has completely changed. As someone who didn’t have children at the time, it was eye-opening to see how fast their tastes change and grow. So I wanted to find a way to create a design that could change with them.”
Allison launched her company in 2001 by exhibiting at trade shows, where, she admits, there are pluses and minuses. “By exhibiting at the trade shows, you can become an international company overnight. Your product will be seen by all the buyers – but also by everyone who is going to try to copy your ideas. My products have been copied, but as a former boss once told me, ‘If you keep your secrets, you’ll never sell them.’”
After seeing her WallCandy being copied, she decided to file a patent on a newer product – a peel-and-stick, removable, reusable chalkboard. Still waiting for the patent after almost four years, Allison said, “The ‘patent-pending’ designation is only obeyed by the truly ethical, so going out with that means you still have to be willing to risk being copied. When the patent comes through, you can ask them to stop, but by that time, who knows how much money they’ve made.” In her case, a larger competitor made a bid to buy her company. After opening up her company – and her products – to their due diligence, they then backed away from the sale. Then they produced their own identical chalkboard product.
“That was really hard to see, especially since I know they’re making millions off of that product. I’m a small company, so what am I going to do? Spend all my money litigating, or spend my money innovating? As friend of mine said, when a larger furniture company stole his chair design: ‘Prada doesn’t care what Dockers is doing. They’re both selling pants.’ So I see that being copied is just confirmation that my idea is good, and I have to put faith in my creativity. They can’t take that from me.”
I asked her what she’s doing to differentiate WallCandy against competitors and imitators, and she told me that she uses a more personal approach to marketing: “On my Web site, I incorporate room ideas to help my customers figure out how to best use the product in their home. I've also introduced new products that extend beyond décor, such as a peel-and-stick whiteboard (in addition to the chalkboard) and two designs called Monster Patrol and Smarts, one intended as a tool for parents to help their children deal with fears of the dark and the other created with images to help stimulate newborn cognitive development. There are also customers’ photos as well as photos of how I use the product in my own home to help inspire even more ideas.”
Allison continues to invest in developing new products, despite the copycats stealing some of her business. And, she doubled her revenue not only last year but nearly every year since she launched.
I thank Allison for sharing her story, and invite anyone else who has had a similar experience to share either their comments below or to send me an e-mail at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @marcyshinder or follow OPEN Forum @OPENForum.
You can find more information about WallCandy Arts and its products at www.wallcandyarts.com.