He Redesigned the Pen

From their website:

 The story of the PenAgain™ stretches over 15 years in the making. The original design and idea surfaced in 1987 while the creator was still a young teenager.

One day Colin Roche found himself stuck in “Saturday School,” a long afternoon of study at the high school campus as punishment for showing up late to class just one too many times. Dread turned to boredom and boredom turned to daydreaming. And then he was given a short break for air…

The school parking lot was hosting a local flea market that day. Colin perused the goods on display for something to occupy his mind while sitting in Saturday School. He picked up a flexible toy pen. This pen would go from a silly looking robot to a long square shaped pen.

Back in the classroom, Colin fiddled with the toy and twisted the shape into a more comfortable way to write. Then, BAM! The idea hit him. Colin had his first vision of the new pen.

He ran home after he was released and pulled out his father’s soldering iron to make some adjustments. After spending the evening in the garage ruining his father’s tools, Colin emerged with the first working prototype of the “PenAgain™”.

Another afternoon, more than 10 years later, a phone call from a friend woke Colin from his slumber. Colin told his friend, “I just had a dream about the pen, again”. They both sat stunned in silence and realized the perfect name for the product had just passed between them.

Colin began pushing once again to make his dream come true. The PenAgain™ would become a reality.

Colin then teamed up with a former business partner from college, a star engineer for a high tech company in the Bay Area. The two began sketching solutions, and then they formed the Pacific Writing Instruments, Inc. .

With help from several interested partners, the Pacific Writing Instruments, Inc. developed the PenAgain™ and put it into production. Now the PenAgain™ is available to you. Though the journey has been a long one, we think you’ll find it well worth the wait.

WHY USE THE PenAgain™?
When you first use the PenAgain™, you’ll immediately notice how different it feels from other pens. This is a natural feeling because your hand is trying to unlearn a lifetime of poor writing habits. It’s not your fault.

Until now, pens have typically been designed with only two things in mind: money and manufacturability. But the PenAgain’s primary focus is comfort.

The human hand dictates the design. Even though it may feel strange, try to resist the urge to grip the pen with your fingers. Just let your hand relax, and let the weight of your hand hold the pen in place. You’ll feel tension of writing melt away.

The maker of PenAgain recently signed a deal to feature the pen in Wal-Mart stores.

(UPDATE:  I recently got my very own PenAgain.  In georgeous red.  At Wal-Mart.  It’s every bit as good as Colin promises.  And no, he didn’t pay me to say this.)


He Left Princeton to Sell Worm Poop

The original idea for Terra- Cycle came to Tom Szaky when, as a 19-year-old Princeton student, he and his roommates went to Montreal to indulge in a bit of underage drinking. A friend there was growing plants in his basement and hadn’t had much success with chemical fertilizers, but did amazingly well when worm food was used. As Szaky recalls, “The light bulb went on for me. The plants were thriving because the garbage fed to the worms generated worm poop that served as this fantastic fertilizer.”

Upon returning to Princeton, the behavioral economics major wrote a business plan using a business model “where you get paid at both ends”— to take the waste away and again for the end product. During the summer of his freshman year, he took all his savings, maxed out his credit cards and invested $20,000 into scaling a system of converting garbage into “lots of worm poop.”

While his fellow students were interning at Goldman Sachs, Szaky shoveled rotting food waste and slept on the floor of a friend’s dorm room. Just as the venture seemed poised to end in frustration, a local radio program picked up the story. “Someone heard the show and called to say he wanted to give us $2,000—not a lot of money but it saved the company,” he says.

Since their worm poop company lacked the charm of a dot-com start-up,Szaky and his pals entered business plan contests, collecting amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 to keep their idea alive. The piecemeal financing method saw them through their sophomore year, during which Szaky dropped out of Princeton to pursue the venture full time. (His parents did not learn this at the time—and were not amused when they did.) During this time, he figured out how to liquefy the worm poop—a big turning point in the enterprise’s fortune. A business plan contest that earned them a $1 million prize in May of 2003 might have been another big step, but the founders had to turn away the funding because of the terms. “They wanted us to change our management,” the spiky-haired Canadian now remembers, “but even worse, they also wanted us to move away from garbage, which was the essence of our company.”

Just as bank funds were dwindling to slightly over $500, a badly needed breakthrough came when the company hit upon the idea of using discarded 20-ounce soda bottles for its “tea,” as the brew became known. With this epiphany, the idea of a product not only made from waste, but packaged in waste, crystallized. Meanwhile, media coverage of the $1 million contest won the interest of angel investors and funding of more than $1 million in just six months. Another $4.5 million soon followed, along with the promise of another $2 million on the way.

The reaction from Big Soda was mixed. Coca-Cola’s initial reaction was cool to the fledgling Trenton, N.J.-based outfit but the company has since come on board. PepsiCo, on the other hand, embraced TerraCycle more readily.

“Within 10 days of Pepsi first hearing about us, we had a meeting with every one of their vice presidents in the marketing division talking about ways we can further this,” says Szaky.

Like many entrepreneurs, Szaky, now 24, is evangelical about his product; but unlike many green entrepreneurs he doesn’t position it as a vehicle to save the world from itself. Whole Foods sells TerraCycle fertilizers, but Szaky shrewdly sought relationships with big box retailers, which are now his biggest customers. Consumers, he contends, may support politically correct products, but their purchase behavior demonstrates that they are value-conscious. It’s nice if a product is eco-friendly, but it’s nicer if it works better than the alternative and doesn’t cost more.

(Excerpted from CEO Magazine)

Sweet, Sweet Music

In July 2004, Patrick Misterovich was a stay-at-home dad when he read an article featuring an entrepreneur who had turned Altoid tins into iPod speakers. The idea inspired the 40-year-old ex-IT administrator to make a list of other possible candies and electronics that could be combined: laser pointers, Life Savers, USB drives. But nothing seemed to fit until he noticed “MP3 players” and “Pez dispensers” sitting idly on his list like two lost souls waiting for someone to play Cupid.

Five minutes later, Misterovich was e-mailing Pez about licensing its dispensers to create a Pez dispenser-shaped MP3 player and was only steps away from turning his self-proclaimed “crazy idea” into reality.

“I knew it was feasible after five minutes of research,” says Misterovich, “but I had no clue if there was a market or how much it would cost.”

That weekend, Misterovich spent $50 on Google ads and created a short survey to test the market. To his surprise, everyone from toy collectors to anti-establishment teens was interested in the product.

But after waiting six months to finalize the license with Pez and stopping production at 1,500 after learning he would need approval from product compliance agency UL to continue with a second run, Misterovich started feeling as if someone had pulled the emergency brake on his sprouting home business.

“When you come up with an idea, and two hours later you have the company saying, ‘We’re willing to license you,’ you think everything is going to happen quickly,” says Misterovich. “But it takes time to make something.”

The response has been positive, and current sales are at $120,000. In 2006, Misterovich sold out of his origi-nal production run and received approval from Pez to go forward with the second edition of Pez MP3 players, which have passed UL testing and will go into production early this year. In the future, Misterovich also hopes to expand outside his online sales forum, www.pezmp3.com.

Says Misterovich, “It just makes me feel good that I came up with a product people think is cool.”

Darren Crouch: Urn Maker

From our sister site, Final Embrace (a funeral home management and marketing blog): 

The biodegradable cremation urns from Passages happened by accident.

Darren Crouch and his business partner, Tim Rivera (a licensed director and funeral home owner) started the company after noticing that most of the cremation families they served were bypassing the traditional urns and taking the least expensive option (a plastic or cardboard box).

After diligent research, it became obvious that families were not being presented with realistic options.  The traditional urn offerings, even when priced extremely low, were rejected by the new breed of cremation buyer.

Their focus quickly changed to finding an appropriate non-traditional urn design that would fill the gap.

Because they couldn’t use traditional materials such as polished wood, stone or marble, they searched for another option.  This search led them to biodegradable papers.

The papers (made from mulberry tree bark sometimes infused with flowers) are both biodegradable and attractive.  An added benefit to the makers:  they don’t look like traditional urns.

“There’s a close connection between cremation consumers and the environment,” says Crouch, president of Passages.  And since burial is often touted for its preservative nature, many who want a more natural or “ashes-to-ashes” disposition turn to cremation.

(Pictured above:  Journey Earthurn from Passages)

During the first several years of existence, the men fielded numerous requests about using their urns for water scattering.  While their Journey Earthurn (a staple of their line and a big seller) was suitable for water disposition and unique in its own right, they searched for something that would be “clearly themed” with an obvious use.  Further research revealed that 40% of cremation families intend to scatter the remains, while 70% of those will do so over water.

Taking into account the challenges and shortcomings of other urns designed for water burial, the men created the Shell Deep Water Bio Urn.

A step above the competition, the Shell urn is easy to load (no seams to match up or sides to snap together) and comes with a convenient carrying case and a water-soluble plastic bag for the remains.  Each urn is specially-molded from recycled paper and handpainted in a choice of three colors.  A best seller, their Shell line now includes a permanent keepsake shell urn.  Interestingly, Passages donates a portion of each sale to The Ocean Conservancy in memory of the deceased.

Moving Pictures that Sell

Doug Wolens has been involved with filmmaking for over 9 years. After earning two BA degrees, a law degree, and spending seven years practicing law in New York and California, Doug became a filmmaker in 1993.  He started out working on feature film sets and for commercial production companies, learning the skills necessary to create high quality projects.  At the same time, Doug began making his own independent films.  

His short films, HAPPY LOVING COUPLES (1993) REVERSAL (1994) and IN FRAME (1995) have screened at film festivals throughout the world including Sundance, Seattle, and Mill Valley. 

Doug successfully self-distributed his feature documentaries WEED (1996) and BUTTERFLY (2000) with theatrical screenings in over 80 cities. BUTTERFLY, was broadcast nationally on P.O.V. (PBS’s award winning non-fiction showcase).  Currently, he is working on two new documentaries.

Wolens teaches film classes at San Francisco State University’s Multimedia Studies Program and taught at the Academy of Art College of San Francisco.  He has also been a guest lecturer at Parson’s School of Design, Loyola Marymount, and University of Alaska.  Wolens also acts as a consultant to other filmmakers.

Doug currently serves on the Film Arts Foundation’s Board of Directors and is a juror for the Mill Valley Film Festival and San Francisco International Film Festival.

Doug is the owner of i-magine media – Moving Pictures that Sell provides a combination of products and services to enhance the marketing efforts small San Francisco businesses, specifically increasing their web presence and branding, in order to capitalize on the new broadband environment.

Create Marketing with MyOwnEzine.com

A message from Stan Smith, owner:

“I grew up in a small country town outside of Portland, Maine, where I had the very good fortune of living near Sebago Lake, a popular summer retreat in Maine.

“In 2003, I retired from a major regional telephone company after 32 years of service. However, I never retired from my life long desire to be self-employed, online and helping others.  When I saw Terri Seymour’s offer to sell www.MyOwnEzine.com, I could not resist the opportunity and the adventure. I bought MyOwnEzine.com in August of 2004.  Since then I have enjoyed meeting and helping many new friends.

“I try to manage www.MyOwnEzine.com with honesty, simplicity and brevity.  I strive to make it your premier resource for publishing your own ezine and for improving your internet marketing.”

Alpine World Ascents: Standing at the Top

From their website:

With a flawless safety record, an intimate knowledge of the mountains, and an ability to truly accommodate your goals in the hills, Alpine World Ascents is a step ahead of the common mountaineering guide service.

Markus Beck, owner and head guide, specializes in climbs and backcountry ski trips in Europe, Central Asia, and the Americas. He accomplished the first snowboard descent of Tharpu Chui in the Nepal Himalaya and carries the adventurous spirit through in his guiding on the world’s great climbs and ski tours.

One of an elite few guides in the U.S. with both AMGA and IFMGA certification, Markus has passed rigorous certifications in Alpine Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, and Ski Mountaineering. He is a Swiss-certified Ski and Snowboard Instructor, a certified AIARE Level 2 avalanche instructor, and a backcountry observer for the CAIC. Markus has a Masters Degree from the University of Bern in Switzerland in physical education. He is fluent in six languages.