Saturday, September 29, 2007

How To Make Money With Emotibuds

A couple of years ago, Jonathan Hall and his wife, Kate, decided that there must be a way to capitalize on the popularity of iPod add-ons. Cases and “skins,” had become big business by then — but those items decorated only the main device, which was usually stuffed in a pocket, out of sight.

Today, the Halls have sold tens of thousands of pairs of flexible rubber charms called Emotibuds, which clip onto earbuds, almost like earrings. Each pair features a blocky little face that incorporates an emoticon into a cute cartoon visage. There are a variety of faces, each set against a bright color and corresponding with a mood, like “starry-eyed” or “frisky.”

When they first dreamed up their idea, they knew nothing about making a product. They contacted a manufacturer of injection-molded plastics, but they didn’t know how to make the detailed computer-aided drawings such manufacturers require.

Hall bought the appropriate “For Dummies” book, and after some false starts they sent out the drawings and received price quotes only to realize they needed an investor.

Not surprisingly, potential investors wanted to know if the Halls had any market research suggesting consumer interest. So the couple put the drawings of their design on a Web site and sent e-mail messages to about 10 online cool-hunter types, in the hope of gauging interest.

Then, eight months later, Hall received a sudden flood of e-mail from people demanding to know where they could buy Emotibuds.

It turned out that an online trend-hunter — — had belatedly posted a link to their site. The Halls, of course, had no actual product. They decided that with the help of an uncle, they would bankroll a first run themselves.

By the start of this year, Emotibuds were popping up all over the cool-little-design-product ecosystem, which includes retailers like the online shop Shana Logic as well as the Daily Candy e-mail newsletter.

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