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July 31, 2023
John Rizvi, Esq.

Hanging Shower Caddy Inventor Dana Knowles Talks About Overcoming Mental Roadblocks As A Inventor

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It's my great honor today to be interviewing Dana notes. Now Dana is the inventor of the hanging fabric shower caddy. And her invention is, is like a mesh design and it attaches to a shower rod, and holds shampoo, body wash razors, loofahs, and any other shower related accessories that anyone could possibly want. The invention began as a pet peeve that she created a solution for. And today her product is sold successfully on Amazon. And she's been on QVC sprouts, inventors digest, featured in American profile around the panhandle, and paint magazines. So it's a great honor to have her here today. Just before we bring her on a couple quick announcements. For those of you who participate in our weekly q&a sessions. The next one is October 9 On Friday, so bring any questions you have about patents, trademarks, copyrights, and I'll be happy to cover them. That's the Ask the patent Professor Friday series. And then finally, the dates getting closer. But from October 28, to the 38th, I'm putting on the largest inventor, summit virtual summit of its kind. We're gonna have featured keynote address by Kevin Harrington, if you don't know who Kevin is, he's the one of the original sharks on Shark Tank. He's so he's had over 500 products would combined sales of over $5 billion. So Kevin knows a lot about bringing new products to market, it's going to be an honor to host him October 28 to the 30th. So mark your calendars for that. And without further delay. Dana, you're you're on. So welcome on.

Hey, everybody, happy Friday. I guess I'm here to tell my inventing stories. So I'm gonna make sure that I'm good on time, because I can be long winded and I talk really, really fast. So you gotta keep up with me. Okay, so I come from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And that's where I was born. And I come from a really good family. And I've always been an inventor ever since I can remember my mother would tell me stories about when I was a little girl. And we weren't rich, we weren't poor. But a lot of times I had to create things if I wanted them. And I would spend hours and hours down in you know, dad's garage and, and figuring things out to make things that I wanted. I have to tell the part of my story, that's kind of a sad part of my story. So for the first 12 years of my life, I was, you know, skipping and hopping and playing jacks and doing all those things that we do and, and when I was 12 years old, I guess I like to say my childhood innocence was stolen from me. And that was a pretty rough year. And year later, I started darling, the pain of what happened with drugs and alcohol. And so I was, you know, in seventh grade at this point, and for many, many, many years after that. I just started to spiral out of control. So by the time I was, it was time for me to graduate from high school. I wasn't graduating, so I quit school. I was a guy who got pregnant very early, I was divorced very early, I was in an abusive relationship. But my life consisted of drugs and alcohol for many, many, many years. And but I always was an inventor, I would. Sometimes everything sounds really good when you're all drunk, right? I mean, you know, but I was always an inventor and I was a dreamer. And I always thought one day, I'm going to do something with the one day I'm going to do something and I, you know, I lived in Pittsburgh for many years, I was in a very seedy neighborhood, doing a lot of shady things and things that I'm not proud of. But I'll tell you, those are the things that created who I am today.

And Dana, just to, to kind of highlight the impact of this on a lot of inventors. I you know, I've been a patent attorney for 25 years. And a lot of inventors believe that you have to fit this perfect mold to be a success as an inventor, you've got to go to the right schools, you have to have the right connections, the right amount of money. And you have to be in the industry that your invention pertains to so we're going to cover a lot today but you're you're not in you didn't you know come from a family of people with bathroom and shower accessory companies, right? You're not You're not from that industry at all. And your background also shows that there isn't this perfect mold so if anyone tells an inventor that they don't have a chance because they don't fit the the right mold for inventing. It's nonsense. I mean, the Wright brothers were neither one of whom went to college, only one finished high school and they're from Dayton, Ohio. And they were both cycle mechanics and they created the airplane. So I just had to get that in your story is so inspiring. I didn't know you're going to start with that with the background. But it's it's Gosh, that's that just makes it so much more impactful. where you started and how your products doing today. But don't you deal with me? Sorry for that I just interrupt right then but it's all the floor is all yours again?

Well, thanks. I think it's important that people understand exactly what you said, you know, you don't have to be super smart. You don't have to have a college degree. You don't have to have the connections. I have no college degree. I'm a high school dropout. I mean, I didn't get my GED. But I worked in the bars all my life. And believe me, I wasn't working at the Hyatt Marriott bars. I was working at the seedy bars in the streets of Pittsburgh, that were all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But, you know, so I'm drinking and partying, I kind of say there was a good well, when I was 36, when I got sober. And I'm 58. Now I've been sober for 23 years. But you know, there was I just drank and dragged myself into basically one step away from being homeless. And I always felt worthless, because of the choices that I had made. And one day and I know the day it was September 4 1997 that I came out of a blackout. And I woke up in a which was common for me to start to drink and go into a blackout wake up in a strange place in a strange town and not know where I was at. And I just said, I've got to change my life. This is to I can't live like this anymore. And I put myself in a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center and stayed there.

Just did your I know it was a pet peeve did your pet peeve of these accessories? Is it was that triggered by this or tell me about the start of your idea how was well do you think that gosh you know there's there's a need in the shower for something to hold all these accessories

when I was a young girl there the shower Well, the reason that I came up with the shower caddy was not to hold all my stuff. It was to keep the shower curtain from blowing in from billowing in, there's a whole scientific thing that air you know, rises and falls and blows the shower curtain. So from I remember being a little girl and putting, you know, bottles of shampoo up against the shower curtain. So wouldn't blow in. So, but it's so in 1997, I decided I'm gonna get my life together, go to treatment, get out of treatment, that's when I'm like, Okay, I'm not messing around with these ideas anymore. I had all these ideas in my head, I'm gonna do something. So I had two or three ideas. Before I came up with before I actually worked on the shower cat, the hanging shower caddy. And one of them was something to put on your wrist and another one was for a household item to hide electrical cords. Cuz I had my own cleaning business when I was first sober. But I tried to do a lot of different things with it. I tried to show it to a lot of different companies. I just didn't know what I was doing. I would file provisional patents, I did learn how to do that to have that somewhat, you know, perceived ownership of something. And then in my head, I got married my husband and I've traveled around a lot and we ended up now I live in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington, DC. We're over in the eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. And there was an inventors group inventors network of the Capitol area that met We met once a month in the DC area. And I said I'm gonna go join that group. I don't know what I was going to find out or what I was going to learn, but I was gonna go join that group. And what I found with the group was that the networking it within that group is unbelievable. The speakers that we would have come in are fantastic. And the the topics that they would talk about were all over the board. So every time I went there, I would come back with my batteries recharged just a little bit more. And then I'm fortunate enough to live close enough to the United States Patent and Trademark Office which have events all the time. So I just started and they're free. For the most part. I don't think I ever paid for any of them. And I would go to these events

and before you get to that you talk a lot about studying and learning more about inventions on your own. Is there something during your that you study that helped you act on the idea? I mean, obviously you're you're passionate and inventors, you went to the patent office, you made these trips you joined in inventors group. But you know nobody is born with knowledge about the invention process. And that's something you had to learn yourself. Push yourself to learn about on your own.

Yeah, and back when I started in 2005 YouTube wasn't like loaded with videos. I don't even know I don't even know if I heard of YouTube. I don't even know how long YouTube's been around but All right. I think it was mostly just research. Reading, it was very overwhelming to me, I have a very short attention span. I don't comprehend. I don't have a learning disability, but I don't comprehend things, I get very overwhelmed very quickly with things that I don't understand. So I think it was like trade magazines, internet, of course, and then really go into that inventors network or the capital area meeting with those seasoned inventors, every month, because we would have people who just came in like me, and then we would have people that had, you know, five or six patents who were on the market. And then there was patent attorneys and patent researchers, and just getting dribs and drabs of information over the years has helped me. There's I can't say enough about joining an inventors group, and networking with those other like minded people.

So that's it, when you say it recharges your batteries. And I want to jump ahead because this is something that we absolutely can't run out of time on. Because I've read somewhere that you've you've pitched to 52 companies. Oh, yeah. And they all said no, before you got the Yes. And that, you know, tell us about that. I mean, that's gotta be would you say recharge batteries? Something like that would drain anybody's batteries to keep getting nose? And what have you? Where did you get the courage to keep going the gumption, the Gall, whatever it is to say, You know what, you 52 are wrong. There's somebody out there, that's going to see the value in my idea. And I'm going to keep going.

How did I do that? Well, let me tell you getting knows when people say no to your idea when you're showing it to them, and they say no, we don't nobody ever was mean about it like that shocks. That's terrible. We don't want it but they were, you know, the nose just kept coming in. I knew that it was a good product. And I knew that it solved a problem. It originally was designed to solve the problem with the shower curtain blow in. Because when you go I have my first prototype here. So it starts on the top, it has the grommets to hang on the shower curtain, right. And then when you go, it's long. And then there's two pot, it's my very first prototype I got. And then when you put a heavy item in the bottom pocket, it hangs on the inside of the shower curtain, it keeps the shower curtain from blowing in. So I knew that was a problem because there was other inventions out there stuff that magnets weights, bug, shower curtains, all that stuff. I just knew it was a good idea. I just knew it. And I wasn't going to stop until I exhausted every one every avenue possible. And you know how many I gotta tell you how many times I said, What am I doing? This is stupid. But my husband would say, then it's a good idea. Just Just keep going, keep going. And I just kept repeating in my head, I will not quit, I will not quit, I will not quit. But I had to learn, you know, how do you pitch a product to a company? How do you present yourself as a professional and as a professional inventor? That was something that I really had to learn how to do and how do I not waste their time and get that product in front of them? So 52 I actually contacted about 80 companies, a little over 80 companies 52 of them actually said no. Two of those 53 of those 52 wanted to see a prototype and then said no. And the 53rd company said yes, we liked that idea. Let's get on the phone. Let's start talking. So we started talking now meanwhile, I did have a good provisional patent filed. So I was able to show it without you know, at least at least not worrying about you know, not doing my due diligence before I start to show it to people. And then the company that I licensed it to said yes. And it went from there into you know, let's see what we can get it manufactured for let's see if it's cost effective. We know we can make it because there's other things out there like it. The difference with my shower caddy is the design of it. Square mesh shower case, mine is very long. It has two purposes, holds all your stuff and hides it all behind the shower curtain. And then it keeps the shower from from going and if that's a problem that you have.

Yeah. Obviously I've seen some really crude solutions to that like even Velcro. There's sometimes you'll find Velcro and that's it's messy hair gets stuck in it. It's yeah, it loses its stick after a while. You know, there's all these, like people are struggling with this. And just doing they say necessity is the mother of invention just trying to do what they can. And here you come up with an elegant, beautiful solution that doesn't damage anything. It doesn't leave any residue and it doesn't and it's durable. But, you know, as an individual inventor, you don't have the capabilities of having this perfect, beautiful prototype right? From the get go. Right? So that was your first prototype. Tell us about iterations, like how do you go back and do it, you know, I know this is WD 40, for example, this this lubricant, the reason it's called WD 40, stands for water displacement formula, 40, it took them 40 attempts, tell us about your journey in prototyping and trying to get the product made.

Well, of course, I did the first prototype, it worked great. Um, then I designed it a little bit more, I put some more pot like the first one, I just started with one pocket, then two, then three, then pour, so that I could get all that product off the back of my bathtub wall and into the shower caddy. And then I decorated it on the side, you know, puts a little extra, you know, making it look a little bit more appealing, not like a shower. But me but. And then I got the perfect kind of prototype that I thought would work. And that's the one that I pitched to the companies now to the company, or all the companies but the company that license it, they actually took the product and made it better. And that every variation of what they did is still my product. It's still mine. So that was kind of a plus on that I have the final package. Yeah. So it's pretty. I mean, they one thing about licensing an idea to a company is they do everything.

Royalty. Yeah, they did the packaging, they do the the branding and all of that. Yeah,

well, everything. They do the packaging, the manufacturing, the packaging, the shipping over here, the distribution to all their places. I mean, right now, on Amazon zoo, Lilly, Ltd, commodities. Couple other places. It's not in any retail stores yet. And it was supposed to show at the Chicago housewares show in March, but that was not did not happen because of COVID. So hopefully, that'll happen again in March this year. And it'll show because that's where they really get to show it to all the buyers. Right?

Well, I mean, the funny thing is, I mean, the world is, you know, it's kind of strange these days is that, you know, retail stores are basically virtual stores for the most part. Yeah. Anyway, I mean, this pandemic is going to have a permanent impact on how products are sold. I mean, there's no way that after this is over, that retail is going to recover and go on the same way it's been before. I mean, so Amazon is, is basically the new Walmart, for the most part, for a lot of Americans, it's becoming the way they do their shopping. So this is not to say don't don't move on to retail, but it's certainly not the, what it used to be even a year ago, much less five, five or 10 years ago.

Yeah, and I know that retail or online sales are out off the chart at this point, people companies, I just listened to a webinar of a company and he said, you know, his sales were always okay. During COVID. They're just off the chart, you know. So anyway, so I, you know, it's been a long journey. And this has been a long journey. I mean, I came up with my idea. I'm not quite sure when but I'm gonna say was about eight years ago, is when I started on this product eight years ago, because I was living in a different house. I've been in this house for seven years. And it finally hit the market last year in 2018. It took a year for them to actually get it, you know, I signed I signed a licensing deal in October of 17. And it took them a year to get it on the market. So it's not and this is a simplest product, it's a cotton sell product, there's like nothing, that's what was really appealing and really simple. And but it took them that long. And it's going to be another two years, maybe before we really see some, you know, growth. One thing I like to see is that, you know, you can you can have a product and you can get it on the market. But if nobody reads If nobody buys it, and stores don't reorder it, it's gonna die a slow death. And so I'm Yeah, so it's been a long journey. And, you know, I guess, you know, the moral of the story is, you know, don't quit and don't, don't let your past define your future. They say.

Yeah, and also I mean, especially when you say 52 companies actually said no, and you pitch the ad. As a reminder to all inventors remind them how many yeses Do you really need one?

That's it, you know, my 52 companies said no, but I got into 52 companies and I was very professional. I you know, I learned how to be very prepared. Rational, very short, very right to the point. So I have other products that I'm working on with myself with a couple other inventors that I already now have 52 companies that I can contact because I have their email addresses. They know who I am. They know I'm not a crazy inventor, lady. Right? Yeah, it's gonna hound them and, you know, stalk them and begging them to take the product. So next time I need to pitch an idea, a product to them, they're going to open up that email. So was those 52 knows? Worth it was worth it. I got into 52 companies that

know who Dana noses. Right, right. I mean, even to get to a note, like there's a decision maker whose you are able to get to that steps in and says, You know what, this is just not. And sometimes the nose not a reflection on the invention as much as it is that it's not right for their company. So that doesn't mean it's not right for anybody. It's just not not for them, it doesn't fit in with what they're selling. And I

got a lot of really, really good feedback from some of those nose. And they were all not not one person was mean, or rude or ignorant or condescending, they were all very professional. And for the most part, you know, no, it's not right for our comprehend No, we're not looking at new products right now. Or this will not or we have something like it or you know, but one thing, when I did pitch it to the one company I license it to, they got back to me the very next day, and said, let's get on the phone. And then the ball just kept rolling. And I do know that companies, you can have the best product in the world. But if you're hard to work with, they're not going to work with you. So I had to learn how to present myself professional as kind of quirky and crazy as I am. But that's just my style. But I had to learn how to present myself as a professional inventor.

Right. And that's, you know, one of the things you you mentioned, and there's a lot of that you did not get that nobody was mean from the companies you pitch to, or condescending. But having done this for 25 years, I know a lot of inventors do hear a lot of negative comments not about the inventor, but about the product like this doesn't stand a chance this is never gonna meet from not from companies. But did you have to face that because we all have friends and family and people in our circle. That didn't even look at you. You mentioned that crazy inventor lady, did you have naysayers that were like Dana, what are you doing go you know, get get stick to a normal day job and give up on this.

I learned very early on in the process, to not talk to my invention about people who who don't know what they're talking about. You know, that? I don't talk and that's why I love doing these kinds of things. Because I get to talk about my adventures on a day to day basis. I don't hang out with inventors. They're not in my world. They're not my friends. You know, periodically, they'll say, Hey, how's that shower caddy thing? Dude, I'm like, Okay. And that's all I really think they really want to hear. I mean, they want to see me do well, but they don't really want to talk about it, because that's just not their thing. So I really didn't hear that much. Because I I think I learned early on in the process of inventing, watch who you talk to about it.

Yeah, so inventors do have to, you have to protect your mindset, because it's hard to stay positive. And you're right, if you if you if inventors start talking about their idea to people who can't relate, they're not going to see potential in you because they don't see potential in themselves of doing something like this. So that's good advice that you know, you have to be very careful about who you share your invent invention to not just from a patent attorney standpoint, because obviously you share your idea, somebody else might go and file a patent for it first. So that's a that's a major. This is a risk a lot of people don't think about you share it with the wrong people. And they just might deflate your enthusiasm for the idea. And especially if it's somebody that's close somebody you trust, if it's a family member you respect when they look down on your idea for a lot of inventors that's the end of the line for them. It's hard to keep getting nose it's one thing if it's a stranger, you know 52 nose from licensing companies, but 50 But you know, once you start getting those from your spouse, your kids your parents, your mom when mom says no to your idea, that's hard. But you've been very fortunate your husband's is a strong supporter of this idea.

He's a saint he puts up with all my crazy inventing whatever What are you doing now? Oh, I'm just invent he say you say it hasn't even asked me before. You know, I did something early on with the shower caddies, I did do a test market. Now I was fortunate I can make a seamstress so I can make my own prototypes. So I was able to make I made 1515 of these and I got total strangers As to sign, nondisclosure. And then, you know, explaining to them, I didn't explain it to them, I got friends of friends to test it. And 14 out of 15 loved it. The 15th person, why didn't you like it? And she said, Well, I really don't have the problem with the shower curtain blown. And I don't have a lot of clutter in my shower. Well, they shouldn't have even been in a test market. It's like asking me to test a cat product when I don't have a cat. And then I say, Oh, I didn't like it. So we kind of just hooked up the other. The other 14 people said they loved it. You know, and so I knew, you know, I just, I just, you know, when you know, but I had to be realistic. I had to be realistic. But I just knew, and I wasn't gonna quit, I wasn't gonna quit until I exhausted every single company that could possibly look at this. And then I possibly want to just manufacture myself, but I do not want to venture a company. I own a company, I own a tuxedo rental business. And I do not want to own another business at all ever.

Yeah. So the nice thing about licensing is that like, as you said before, they take care of the day to day running the operations, everything else, and you get to be the idea person, and you have other products as well in the works. Real quick, I want to ask our moderator, Jenny, if you can put a link to our private Facebook group because we're about to run out of time. But any questions that we can't get to if we want to anyone can visit the inventors mastermind. It's a private group on Facebook. And Dana, you're of course welcome to, to join, and Jenny will get you information there as well. With the few minutes we have left, is there any piece of advice you would have for a beginning investor that you wish somebody would have gotten to you before, that you wish you would have heard somewhere else and didn't have to learn the hard way from these inventor groups or directly going to the patent office?

Oh, and I also got went to an invention submission company, they got me that's my rite of passage. Right to passage. Find a mentor. And follow them find somebody who's walked the path you want to walk whatever path it is, we don't know, you know, I don't know what what kind of inventing anybody wants to do, where they want to go, find somebody who's done what you did what you want to do, and follow their path. They've already paved it for us, we do not have to recreate the wheel. I spent many, many years running around in circles, not knowing what I was doing. And I didn't have anybody in my corner or anybody to just guide me, you know, Do this, do this, read this, watch this, do this, you know, but get educated, get educated at whatever it is, educate yourself about where you know what path you're gonna go down.

Ya know, that's all of that is great advice, and especially the part about invention, submission type corporations, there's all these scams and frauds out there. I talk a lot about this and warn inventors on the inventors mastermind on Facebook. And in fact, the patent office is trying really hard to get the word out they have a brochure they've put out with warning signs of the proper companies to that can help you because there are a lot of sharks and not in a good way, not sharks that invest not like the Shark Tank sharks, but that people are just out to scam inventors and take advantage of their enthusiasm for their idea. So then speaking of sharks, again for those of our viewers, October 28, to the 30th and we're going to have more information on Kevin Harrington he is going to be with us speaking about his journey in bringing 500 products to market and wood sales are $5 billion that's October 28 to 30th the largest inventor summit virtual inventor summit ever in we'll have eight or nine other inventors also talking about their their fascinating journeys. So Dana, it's I can't tell you how much of an honor it is to have you here, the impact you've had and the I guess the obstacles you've had to overcome to bring your idea to market is an inspiration to inventors everywhere, especially anybody that believes that has got this image of what the perfect inventor looks like, and what kind of background they have what kind of education training all of this it's not you know, it's you know, no, it's not the typically what people would imagine just like you say about the Wright brothers I mean, that's that they're not the typical inventor like Mark Zuckerberg. With Facebook, like he's, you know, college students, even Amazon Jeff Bezos so mean his start, like it's, I once saw this. This I created a graphic and I have it on my Facebook page of the First offices of a lot of fortune 500 companies today and they're not they're not polished offices, their garages the garage inventor is made fun of often I mean the you can hear crazy inventor lady or crazy inventor guy. But Sara Blakely is the world's youngest female billionaire in her idea is basically more comfortable pantyhose. And she she faced a problem. She's addressing herself. She's selling fax machines door to door and the Florida heat and solved it herself. And decided not to quit and pursued it. And in the same thing with you. I mean, you this was a something you were looking for, as a solution for yourself. If you found something that worked great. You just buy it. And that would be the end of it. You wouldn't prefer go on and, and follow this route. But

that's a great thing, too. I couldn't find anything like this. I couldn't find it. Probably if I can find it. I would have bought it and what moved on but I couldn't find anything like this. So that's like, oh, okay, well, let's, let's get let's make this happen. Yeah. And I have to say, You know what, I? I'm pretty proud of myself. You know, I am. I mean, it's a big accomplishment to keep going. Yeah. So thank you so much for having me on here. And, and I hope I hope somebody got something out of it. I know there's some questions, but they can go on Facebook and ask them.

Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

I'm gonna hop on there. And they can ask me any questions they want. Okay.

And then you can put your contact information there as well. So if they feel comfortable with that, they can reach out through it like, so. Terrific. Thank you so much for joining. And for everybody else. Happy Friday. Enjoy your weekend. And we'll see you next Friday, October night q&a for the patent professor. So I'll come on any questions about patents, provisional patents, trademarks, copyrights, bring them all on October 9 and October 28 to 30th. Sign up for the inventors Summit and the Facebook page. We'll have more information on that as well. So

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