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Meet The Inventors: Ryan Pamplin of of BlendJet, On How To Go From Idea To Store Shelf

I’ve found the key to my success is unwavering persistence, with a willingness to pivot when I don’t have lightning in a bottle. At this stage in my career, I feel like I know lightning in a bottle when I see it, and I know when to go all-in. From the moment of inception, I was 100% confident that BlendJet was going to be a winner, and I was willing to bet everything I had on making it work, which is why John and I funded the production of the first 7,000 units ourselves. A lifetime of curiosity has taught me a great deal about the manufacturing processes, electronics, programming, business, and so many other little things that together are the accumulation of knowledge that I needed to pull this off.

As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Pamplin, the inventor of BlendJet, the original portable blender.

Ryan is an exited entrepreneur, award winning creative, and technologist. He’s given keynotes alongside tech and business leaders including Steve Wozniak and Bob Iger.

He produced a Super Bowl commercial and was nominated for an EMMY. He started a creative agency that made TV and digital video ads for dozens of Fortune 500 brands. Ryan co-founded BrandAds, the first software for measuring video ads online, which was acquired by Extreme Reach. He was also a pioneer in the emerging field of augmented reality.

At a high point in his life and career, Ryan had a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to function for months, and put him on medical leave for a year. During recovery, Ryan used smoothies and protein shakes to help him recover. He became inspired to use his entrepreneurial abilities to help other people live longer and healthier lives.

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 spent the early part of my childhood surrounded by the entertainment business. My mom was the star of a TV show called “GLOW,” which was recently remade on Netflix. Betty Giplin plays my mom and her baby in the show is me. As a kid, I was constantly around adults, and ended up learning to talk business at a young age. Looking back, I’m sure that heavily influenced my career path.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Walt Disney once said: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” As a kid I loved watching and practicing magic, and making the seemingly impossible happen right in front of my eyes. I find the same joy in my career. People tell me things can’t be done, and then I work really hard to do them. I cherish the journey.

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?

The film “Almost Famous” had a huge impact on me in 2000, and I still love it today. It’s loosely based on the true story of the filmmaker Cameron Crowe. The lead is a teenage nerd (just like I was) who finds himself talking on the phone in a fake deep voice, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, and traveling around the country with rockstars. I was always told I could do and be anything I wanted to be, and this beautiful movie depicted a young person doing more than he was expected to be able to do at his age, which was inspiring. Diving into various online businesses as a kid during the dawn of the internet age taught me so much so quickly, and that’s been the foundation of my career.

There’s a lot of prerequisite knowledge that enables my success, which I’ve been building up throughout my life. There are a few books that will change the course of your life if they’re relevant to you.

If you’re building something consumer-facing, read Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness.” The book will teach you the fundamentals of how you must treat your customers to build brand loyalty. Tony was the CEO of Zappos, which he sold to Amazon for $1.2B in 2009. That book convinced me to leave my own company post-acquisition, six months before I was fully vested, to become an executive at another company, one in which Tony ended up investing. That decision was thanks to one of the major lessons in the book about opportunity cost and giving up something big for something bigger.

If you’re building a B2B business, like a software company, read Aaron Ross’s book “Predictable Revenue.” This book is the reason your work email is flooded with targeted emails from software companies. It’s a killer book and strategy, and it still works. I took a previous startup from zero revenue with no sales experience to $5 million in the first year with Aaron’s book as my guide. Aaron created this strategy at Salesforce as an entry level guy, and worked his way up to the top, revolutionizing the way their software was sold, and skyrocketing their overall revenue.

If you plan to raise venture capital or sell your company, you must read “Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist” by Brad Feld. It’s a hearty read, kind of like a college textbook, that you will need to read multiple times, and will find yourself referencing time and time again. Brad is a well-known and respected VC with his own fund, Foundry Group, and is very pro-entrepreneur. No VC puts it all out there on the table like he does. It would take you decades of experience to accumulate all of the knowledge Brad drops in the book, and if you absorb it all, you’ll be smarter than your lawyer and VC.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

The short story is that I slammed my head into a concrete pillar. The long story is that in true Silicon Valley style, I was watching my Tesla park itself in a tight spot in my garage. I was also in a rush, so I was running backwards at the same time while looking back, then flipped around quickly, and slammed full speed into the pillar with my head. I ended up with a serious head injury that put me on medical leave for a year, during which time the company I’d been a part of was acquired.

For the first several months I couldn’t do anything — no TV, phone, computer, or even reading. I lost my wits and didn’t know if I’d ever fully recover. It was a drawn-out and terrifying ordeal to live through. I made daily smoothies and protein shakes to try to give my body the nutrients I needed to get better.

When I was well enough, I reconnected with my old buddy John Zheng, and he asked what I was going to do next. He’d spent the last decade crushing it with his own agency running social ads for some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, so I responded confidently on a whim that I was going to work with him. He asked what we were going to work on and all I knew was that I wanted to create something that would help people live longer and healthier lives. We went down a rabbit hole of ideas. He mentioned working out and buying a smoothie with a protein scoop for $7 each day, and commented that he wished he could somehow instantly have a smoothie anywhere. I felt confident that if we could build a holographic computer at my last company, we could definitely build a portable blender, and thus, BlendJet was born.

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. How did you overcome this challenge?

I’ve found the key to my success is unwavering persistence, with a willingness to pivot when I don’t have lightning in a bottle. At this stage in my career, I feel like I know lightning in a bottle when I see it, and I know when to go all-in. From the moment of inception, I was 100% confident that BlendJet was going to be a winner, and I was willing to bet everything I had on making it work, which is why John and I funded the production of the first 7,000 units ourselves. A lifetime of curiosity has taught me a great deal about the manufacturing processes, electronics, programming, business, and so many other little things that together are the accumulation of knowledge that I needed to pull this off. Another hugely important aspect to this was finding amazing people, getting them to drink the Kool-Aid (or in our case, the smoothies), and to become irrationally committed to changing the world with us.

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?

They say ideas are a dime a dozen. Any time I have a great idea for a product, I write it down. It’s fairly typical that they become real products. I look at that as validation of my ability to recognize good ideas, and I don’t let it bug me too much. I know the real challenge is execution, not ideation. I’ve had to take 100,000 little steps to get BlendJet where it is today, and I’m ready to take 1 million more.

The simplest way is to know if your idea is unique is to Google it. If you search hard and can’t find it, chances are that no one else will, either.

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

Elon Musk, circa 2010. I’ve believed in Elon and Tesla long before most people knew his name. He’s gone from wealthy from PayPal to all-in on Tesla, to cash poor and flying on Southwest, to one of the wealthiest people in the world. I don’t think any of that really matters to him. I think he’s motivated to innovate and is driven by and obsessed with making the impossible possible.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? 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.

I knew that I wanted to do something that would actually help people, because of my accident, and when you help people, other people want to help you too.

I picked a co-founder I trust and who is at the top of his field of social marketing. John and his rare skill set are an essential ingredient for success.

I fully believed that we would be successful, and so did John. Every single hire we’ve made also believes; it’s a prerequisite. We’re a passionate group, and we’re able to move mountains together.

Find an amazing patent attorney, ideally one who used to work at the USPTO as a patent examiner. The best choice is to work with someone who has impressive clients with valuable patents. You want both design (for stopping copycats) and utility patents. Getting a worthless patent is easy, getting a valuable patent is hard. If you’re having trouble finding a good patent attorney, look up your favorite companies’ patents on USPTO.gov and you’ll find their lawyers’ contact information.

Make sure to file trademarks for your company and product names. You can file them directly with the USPTO for $225 on USPTO.gov. If you can start a company, you can do it yourself. If you get a complicated Office Action, then you pay a trademark attorney to help you, but many can be resolved over the phone with the USPTO examiner for free. If you plan to expand internationally, you can file for international trademarks cost effectively through the Madrid Agreement, which you’ll want an experienced trademark lawyer to do.

There are tons of ways to find a factory these days. You should ask people you know, or cold message people on LinkedIn who are consultants that used to work at companies relevant to what you want to make.

To find a factory for electronics, it’s ideal to visit China and see the operation in person. No factory will take you seriously without sending them lots of money or making an in-person visit, or ultimately both. When you scale you need that factory to dedicate themselves to you. If they can’t, you need to find another partner or you won’t be able to grow at pivotal moments.

These days you can skip retail and go straight to the consumer. Set up a Shopify site, and you’re rocking and rolling as a DTC brand. The best way to get a meeting with a retailer is to do very well without them. They will see your success and come to you. You will also hear from rep firms. Many are very good, and working with them is often better than working directly with retailers, because they have more sway and experience. Always check references.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we created JetPack, our ready-to-blend smoothie, I thought I was going to formulate them myself in our office kitchen. We ended up hiring the team behind many of the most iconic specialty beverages on the market. We went on to sell over $1 million worth of JetPacks on launch day. The team still makes fun of me for that.

The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

The scariest thing was sending boatloads of money to our factory for the first production run, and hoping and praying that our product would eventually show up and meet our expectations.

Amazingly, we sold out within the first three weeks. A new problem emerged: we didn’t have additional inventory and had to make more quickly. We went months without anything to sell. We could have grown much faster if we had better anticipated the demand, or reacted to the traction faster.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Get design patents within the first year. They’re very cheap, low thousands of dollars, and you can use them to shut down copycats with takedown notices to marketplaces and platforms. People will inevitably try to steal a piece of your pie when they see your success.

Sea shipping from overseas takes about a month when you factor in customs. Air freight is not overnight, and it’s prohibitively expensive, especially now. Once you get moving you have to find capital to float your inventory while it floats to you. Once your factory trusts you, after the first few big payments, you can ask them for 50% up front, 50% on delivery, and eventually they may offer you better terms to help you scale.

Design your product with the shipping method in mind. If you can’t afford to offer free shipping, you should consider raising your price. Everyone wants free shipping, and without it your conversion rate will suffer.

Ask your customers what they want, and keep asking. Make what they want, when you have statistically significant data, but also anticipate their needs and give them what they want before they ask for it. Many of BlendJet’s colors, flavors, and other ideas were chosen because our customers voted for them on our post-purchase survey on our checkout page, and some because we use our product a ton and know what we want for ourselves.

Your product should come in multiple colors. Color changes the decision-making process from, “Should I buy this product?” to “Which color should I buy?” Test colors and introduce new ones often. Use Google Optimize and split test everything, including how many colors you should offer at a time and in what order.

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?

Ask yourself if you’d buy the thing yourself, and how much you’d pay for it. Ask other people the same. Validate that you’ve got real demand, and try to understand who your target audience is. Ideally, you’re building something to solve a problem you have, and it’s a pain that many other people have too.

Make sure others aren’t already doing what you’re doing, or at least that they’re not doing it well, otherwise you’re going into an uphill battle. If your product sells for $99, you’re going to need to manufacture it for a tiny fraction of that price, because the bulk of your selling price will go into customer acquisition, shipping, and other overhead. You also need to ensure you’ve got enough margin for retailers which is typically 40% to 60%.

At scale you will want brick and mortar because it still captures the majority of consumer spending. If your product is too expensive to manufacture and sell at a compelling price, then your concept might need work.

Once you know you’ve got the right idea, figure out how to make the first version of your product in prototype form. Hand make it or 3D print it. Iterate endlessly until you can’t make it better.

Pick an excellent name and get your name dot com. Most obvious names are taken, so buy something good at a premium and prove your heart is in the venture, or get really creative. Whichever way you go, try to keep it under 11 characters, or the memorability will suffer. Also file a trademark on your name.

Find your factory. Launch an eCommerce site. Give away your product to lots of people with at least 10,000 engaged followers who resemble your target audience. If they like your product and tell people to go to your website, they will, and you’ll be in business. The next step is to tackle Facebook Ads.

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?

Good agencies in any category are difficult to come by. It’s hard to retain incredibly talented people at any large agency. Often small boutiques are great. But always check references. If you hear of lawsuits, IP theft, or other bad blood, run away. Don’t ever let someone else own your IP. Always get a signed NDA before sharing your ideas with them.

Before you enter into any agreements, find an experienced lawyer with an impressive client list. Sell them on your vision, negotiate a startup deal or even give them a small amount of equity, and get their help for dramatically reduced rates. You’re going to need lawyers nearly everyday as you scale past a certain point.

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’ve done both in my career. Not raising is more fun and fulfilling, and much greater pressure, which I think can yield better results for some people. The pressure probably helps me. I’m okay with a modest salary and the delayed gratification. You may find enough traction that you value the equity too much to sell it to a VC, so you bootstrap all the way to the finish line, and capture all of that upside for your team. If you do raise VC money, you are giving up control in many cases, but if you choose the right VC with a great track record, that might set you up for even more success. If you can get really smart money that comes with an amazing network, boosts your credibility, and sets a premium valuation for you, then that sounds like a win to me.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The advertising technology I created earlier in my career helped sell more Happy Meals, and I’m vegan, so that went against my personal values. I gave our platform to animal rights organizations to use for free, to repent. I know the biggest problem with personal health is caused by bad food choices because they’re often more convenient than healthy ones. With BlendJet we’re not competing with other blenders, we’re competing with drive-throughs, and our customers are going to live longer and healthier lives because of our products’ impact on their daily eating habits.

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 like to inspire people to be kind to each other and try to enjoy their lives. There are amazing things that happen every day in each of our lives worth enjoying. You won’t live forever, unless Elon figures that out, so don’t waste any of your time on non-essential things you don’t enjoy.

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.

This is a very difficult one for you to guess, but I’m going to have to say Elon Musk. What’s not to love about the guy? His flamethrowers are making the world a better place. He’s the modern Howard Hughes and is rapidly changing our world more than any other human. I don’t need anything from him (I would love to use Tesla batteries in our products), but I would certainly love to learn from him. I actually had a meeting scheduled with Elon to show him a demo of a holographic computer a few years back and went to Tesla for it, but he got held up in another meeting and didn’t make it. I’m looking forward to next time.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Tyler Gallagher

Tyler Gallagher

CEO and Founder of Regal Assets

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