An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
You’re going to make mistakes through trial and error! Whenever you start something new and forge out into the great unknown, there are going to be bumps in the road. You’re going to make mistakes, it’s a given! Just try and do your best to minimize your downside risk.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim OMeara.
Jim was Raised in New Rochelle, NY and was always into sports. He graduated from Fairfield University in 1988 with a degree in Marketing and is married to a fellow Fairfield Alum, Alice Giff. They have two daughters, Patti (24) and Jillian (18) and live in Fairfield, CT.
Jim also has a Master’s degree in counseling from Manhattan College. He has been a Career Counselor/Executive Recruiter for the past 23 years and owns his own executive recruiting agency in Westport, CT. He enjoys spending time with family, watching crime shows, reading self-help books, golf, fantasy football and playing with his two dogs (St Bernard Nory and golden retriever Lily)
Jim loves the game of basketball and always hated to see rims without nets in public parks. He thought that every kid wants to shoot on a hoop with a net! So in 2019, he set out to find a way to brand basketball nets so that companies could advertise their brands on the net which would incentivize a movement to put nets up in all public parks across America.
The idea for NetBandz finally came to him by chance in the bookstore of the college where his daughter was a student, William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. He saw a tube-top apparel item on display in the store and a light bulb went off! This could be a potential way to brand the net. All that was needed was to have 12 openings around the top circumference of the band/tube which would allow the top loops of the net to go through allowing for the band to hang on the outside of the net where it would never interfere with the ball going through it.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was raised in Westchester County in a fairly-well to do neighborhood. My father was an accountant and my mother was a stay-at-home mom.
I’m the youngest of six kids. I have a twin sister as well. We’re all very close in age (six kids, five years apart) so it was never a dull moment in our house.
I think growing up with all these people around me helped to shape my personality to one who gets along with people, adapts quickly and who is unselfish. Looking over my life, I’ve always been good around people and can easily engage with anyone and fit in quickly, so I can thank my upbringing for that!
I wasn’t the best student growing up but managed to squeak by somehow. When I got to high school, I only played basketball and was a three-year starter on the varsity team and did well.
I went on to play my freshman year in college at Fairfield University in CT. However, I found the adjustment to college and mixing academics and basketball to be challenging. Although basketball was such a large part of my life, I was forced to focus on academics and stopped playing after my freshman year. That was a big inflection point in my life where my identity shifted from being this basketball player “sports jock” to just being a regular everyday college student. I went on to graduate from Fairfield U in 1988 with a degree in marketing.
I stopped playing basketball many years ago, but I still follow some of the NBA teams and colleges. It’s ironic that the sport of basketball that I loved so much in my childhood would be where I have my invention.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m a self-help person and read all the books (James Allen, Og Mandino, Napoleon Hill, Tony Robbins etc.). I also have a Master’s in Counseling Psychology from Manhattan College so this question is right up my alley.
There is one quote that sticks out above the rest and is easily remembered and it’s from Tony Robbins.
“RAISE YOUR STANDARDS”
Don’t settle for the status quo. Always try and get better and do more. This quote serves as a constant reminder for me to convert my “want to haves” in my life to “must haves”. It keeps me committed and determined.
As an inventor, there are a lot of times when things don’t go your way and there are set- backs. However, set the bar high and keep grinding and pushing through. I also use this quote to help guide me across all areas of my life including my health (exercise and what I choose to eat), business and relationships.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As A Man Thinketh by James Allen.
I read this in my early self-help reading days and it opened the door to me learning that human beings have control over their thoughts and as a result they themselves can control their destiny and happiness. People are not on “autopilot” when it comes to their thoughts.
I picked this book out because of the profound impact it had on my life. It turned me into a life-long curious person and really opened up my mind. It changed me.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
Moving from idea to an actual business is very hard. I have other inventions/patents that have gone nowhere. It’s a combination of things and many things have to line up in order to get there. I think a lot.
My advice to inventors about moving from idea phase to a real business phase is two things and they flow into one another:
- Action — just thinking and talking/brainstorming about your invention and how great it will be won’t get you where you want to go. You must take action. People come to me for advice with an idea they have and I’ll say “That sounds great where are you with it?” and they’ll say something like “Oh I’m too busy with my job” or “I’m looking into getting a patent” or some other weak reason that tells me they’re not really serious and passionate about taking the idea to the next level. If you’re serious and passionate about your idea and believe in it, you have to take action to enhance it and bring it forward and shouldn’t let it just sit on a shelf in your mind.
- Incrementalism — Focus on the next task only.
With the mindset of incrementalism and action, you’re constantly asking yourself “What task do I have to perform next to move this forward?” and do that task as soon as possible. You should always be in task, never idle.
It’s a one step at a time thought process, each task building on the next, but it’s constant. Once a task is done, you ask yourself again right away “What task do I have to do next?” and just keep going.
There’s a vision an inventor has when thinking of their product of many people buying and using it and it’s a big hit and they are rich. Of course, this is a great vision to have and hold and should be the primary driver, but along with that in parallel the inventor has to come back down to earth and put in the daily grunt work to move the invention along so it can evolve and expand.
For example, when developing NetBandz, I was personally in the back of a dry cleaner every week making samples of my bands with a seamstress for over a year until we got the right prototype. I remember having two weeks of phone calls at 11PM with manufacturers in Asia just to get the care tag that goes on the inner hem of the band that tells the customer how to wash it. It’s just things you have to do as an entrepreneur, and you do these things because you believe in where it will go eventually.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
The first thing I do is Google it. See if it’s out there in the public domain. After that, get curious and educate yourself on the patent process. Learning the patent process is valuable by itself because you may invent other things and it’s just good to know. The website is uspto.gov which is the USA patent website.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
3. First my advice is the inventor should never be paranoid that someone will steal their invention. This fear leads to stagnation and procrastination. Move fast! Be cautious and cover your bases with NDAs with manufacturers and people you don’t know but don’t let this slow you down!
4. Make a prototype and have people use it and get feedback. You must ensure that people who use it like it and it solves a need.
5. Cost: What would someone pay for it? Can it be manufactured at a cost that will make the business worthwhile? There are tons of good products where the economics/margins just don’t line up!
3. “How to file a patent” — Once the above is done and satisfied, find a patent attorney. The first thing the attorney will do is run an official patent search with the USPTO to see if there is anything like your product already in existence. After their patent search, they will make a recommendation based on their experience if they think your product has a chance of being granted a patent. (Note: Even if your lawyer says you have a good chance of getting a patent after the search and recommends you apply for one, the USPTO Examiner can still reject it based on prior patents issued. It’s a very subjective process based on the “opinion” of the examiner).
After the patent search, the attorney will ask you for drawings (referred to by the patent office as ART) or they may have an artist on staff to create the drawings for submittal. The lawyer will then carefully write out a list of “Claims” which explains in detail the invention in written form. The lawyer will then submit your invention to the patent office for “provisional” patent status. This is a “place holder” patent certification for your invention, it is not a patent itself. Once the attorney files the provisional patent, it will get assigned a certification number. Your invention is now “in the que” and you have protection from others submitting your idea so you’re free to show it to anyone. If asked if you have a patent, you say “I’m patent pending”. If someone else invents a similar item to yours and files a provisional patent after you, your patent would take precedence over there’s because yours was filed first.
Once in Provisional status, you now wait until you hear back from the lawyer on if it’s officially granted or not and the lawyer will tell you how long it will take. I think our patent was granted 8 months after we got the provisional patent but could be up to a year or more depending on how busy the patent office is.
4. While submitting patent, you should be sourcing manufacturers for the product. We used Alibaba for NetBandz, as ours is an apparel item but they have all types of different manufacturers on Alibaba, so I would start there. You can select manufacturers and contact them through the site. We called about ten different manufacturers in Asia we got through Alibaba and selected two (You should always have more than one just in case your primary can’t produce for whatever reason). Always have a backup!
Find out total costs and minimum quantities and get a contract with manufacturer as well as time to deliver which is critical in this market with slow supply chains etc.
We started selling retail ecommerce online with an Amazon account. There’s a monthly fee of $39.99. Once you have inventory on hand, photos created, you create your pages on Amazon yourself which is straightforward. You set your inventory and pricing levels for the product and then go live. I recommend keeping inventory of your product yourself and ship everything yourself at first just to see how it goes before engaging with a fulfillment center (a warehouse that ships your products for you). Fulfillment centers can be expensive and a little slow with delivery plus you don’t get to see the quality control. At least when you ship yourself, you can oversee quality control and know exactly how it’s packaged and delivered and when it’s shipped out.
5. How will you ship the item? In a box or a mailer envelope? If you ship yourself, you’ll have to have the shipping materials on hand as well. You’ll also have to get a printer label machine for postage which is easy to set up. Shipping material can be expensive and should be factored into the cost of goods.
6. In addition to Amazon, we also built our website and sell our products through there using Shopify. Shopify is also easy to set up for online orders. You’ll have to create all the product pages again just like on Amazon.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
I wish someone told me:
- That you must be patient. Things take a long time to develop! There’s a lot of little things that pop up that slows things down. For example, it took over a year just to develop a prototype to get it where we wanted it to be. Another area is manufacturing turnaround. It could take up to five weeks to get product and time seems to drag on, so you have to be patient with everything.
- Things get harder and more time consuming as you go along. I always thought things would get easier as time went on. They don’t, they get harder. It seems that once you get over one hurdle, there’s two more in front of you! For example, I thought once we got on Amazon that was it. We could sit back and crank out the sales and enjoy. That was not the case at all. Once you’re selling on ecommerce, now you must develop advertising, social media, your website, new product development, SEO optimization, get designers for new products, deal with manufacturing issues and maintaining inventory levels, dealing with licensing agreements — the list goes on and on.
- The costs of running the business are more than expected and really eat into profits such as costs of goods rising and advertising etc. Over the past year, our cost per unit from manufacturers has doubled. Cost of advertising was a higher than we thought too. Pay per click advertising is expensive on Amazon.
- You must be prepared to make final decisions on your own because in the end, it’s your call. It can be difficult sometimes because you may have partners that want to do one thing and you think it’s best to do another. I was always part of a team and now with NetBandz, I make the final decisions on what direction to go in and how to allocate resources, which is new to me. Inventors should be ready to make the final call, be decisive and live with their decisions.
- You’re going to make mistakes through trial and error! Whenever you start something new and forge out into the great unknown, there are going to be bumps in the road. You’re going to make mistakes, it’s a given! Just try and do your best to minimize your downside risk.
At NetBandz, we made a few mistakes ordering too much inventory of certain items that we ended up not even putting up for sale. It was costly, but we take it as a learning experience.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take? Find out if it’s already on the market. Google it and do a patent search.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own? I have nothing against idea consultants. For me, it’s always best to go out and learn everything on your own. You’ll learn a ton and be better for it! I have learned so much over the past two years that I wouldn’t take that back for the world. Plus, now when I invent my next thing, I’ll know what to do and can hit the ground running. Never pass up an opportunity to learn!
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I would recommend exploring both avenues and gathering as much information as possible and see where it takes you. It all depends on personal preference and risk tolerance and what structure you want to work out of etc. I do think having a VC who specializes in your market could accelerate things a lot quicker and create greater enterprise value and would be potentially good for optics. Of course, it comes with a price, and you have to give up equity and control.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Interesting question! In addition to being an inventor, I’m also a career counselor who spends a lot of time coaching people, giving them guidance with their careers and other personal matters. My hope is that what I’ve learned over the years both as an entrepreneur/inventor and as a counselor/coach comes through and impacts the people I come in contact with in a positive way and makes the world a better place.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would inspire a movement to cure ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Disease. I personally have two friends with the disease and seeing what these people and their families are going through just makes me want to help them and give them hope. I envision a future where there’s a cure, but it needs more attention and resources behind it. 5,000 people in the US get diagnosed with ALS each year. It’s a terminal disease and we MUST find a cure!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Mark Cuban!! Mark is someone we would love to connect with as he’s a basketball guy and invests in cool ideas.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Making Something From Nothing: Jim OMeara Of NetBandz On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.