Keith Jin, creator of Pebble Smart™ Doggie Doorbell makes it his mission “to bring more enjoyment to dog lovers and their dogs.” A creative spark, led to his innovative product that eliminates a stressor in dog owners’ livesdoggies scratching on the door to go in and out. Keith, a Eugene resident and software engineer, solved a problem in his own life, and now solves the same problem for people across the country and beyond. Just over a year ago, with the help of the Lane SBDC (Small Business Development Center) Keith launched Pebble Smart LLC, a pet products business.
A few years ago, Keith and his family were struggling with a daily irritant. Their whippet, Pebble, was continually scratching at the door. When talking about his dog, Keith explains, “… the door problem started driving a wedge in our relationship.” It reminded Keith of dog-owning friends, with attitudes of helplessness and resignation,who started resenting their pets. He didn’t want that.
The family tried existing pet door- metal bell on a handle. Each one had strengths and weaknesses. One, for example, was easy to train with, but couldn’t be heard. The only traditional doorbell, designed for use with the paw, was hard to learn. Keith could not train Pebble to use it.
Determined to improve the relationship with the family dog, Keith began experimenting with his own creations, hoping to come up with a doorbell that would work for Pebble. One night, as Keith was sleeping, he had a brainstorm. He woke up with the solution in mind. He built a prototype of his new design and it worked! Pebble easily learned how to use it. The family eliminated a stressor in their lives. They turned concern for the door into opportunities to praise Pebble for being so smart. Immediately, they were experiencing a better relationship with Pebble. Keith and his family wanted to share their innovation and help others turn problems into joyful and bonding experiences. However, the task of bringing the doorbell to market seemed daunting.
“The practical steps to bring a product to market can be overwhelming, especially for someone new to creating a business.”
Getting the right helpsomeone who honors your goals and values
In late 2010, Keith went online to research vending to national-chain stores. By chance, he saw a link for free business–development help. It took him to the website for SCORE, a national organization, funded by the Small Business Administration. The all-volunteer organization provides free business-advising locally and partners with the Lane SBDC. Keith met with a couple SCORE counselors, who later referred him on to Frank Plaisted, at the Lane SBDC.
Frank is the instructor/advisor of the New Product Development (NPD) Program at the Lane SBDC. He helps entrepreneurs and develop new products. Keith came to Frank with his product idea. According to Keith, Frank helped him to evaluate his product and advised him on the product helped Keith understand and make decisions regarding manufacturing alternatives, patents, trademarks, trade names and copyrights. With Frank’s help, Keith devoted over a year to research and design, before perfecting the doorbell.
“Frank is good at guiding without promoting his own agenda. He puts the client in the center and asks what the client needs.”
Frank describes how much he enjoyed working with Keith. “He always paid close attention, taking detailed notes and then following through and putting it to use. I never had to tell him the same thing twice. Keith was also very resourceful on his own–that really helps a lot. He didn’t completely rely on me, he went out and did his own research and work. Keith used the SBDC as it is best used, for advising and as a resource.”
Testing the product and community support
Keith spent a year talking to people. He showed the product around stores, dog parks, dogtraining classes and to dog therapists, receiving feedback and encouragement. Keith had a sense, in developing his product, that he was providing a valuable service. seeing “eyes light up” and hearing laughter as people watched Pebble ring the doorbell. The process and the joy people expressed over Keith’s invention helped him to crystalize his core values, which became helpful later when he began to market the product.
During the product testing period, Keith sold a dozen prototypes at a local pet shop. That was huge for Keith. Jody Maddox, the owner of Wags! Dog Emporium, on Coburg road, provided help and encouragement. She gave Keith valuable information on the pet product market and how retail stores purchase products and she continues to sell his Pebble Smart™ Doggie Doorbell. Keith graciously pays tribute to some of these organizations on the “Grateful Links” page of his website, PebbleSmart.com.
“The hurdle was going from the idea and building-samples stages to production. That was so hard… Having Frank and the SBDC is valuable, because they walk along this journey with you.”
Promoting and selling the product
During one of Keith’s visits to the on a Shoestring.” The workshop, on Guerrilla Marketing, is presented by nationally-known marketing expert, Bill Sarnoff. Keith attended the workshop and then met with Bill for additional advising.
Bill was helpful to Keith, in explaining how the distribution system works and how to work with buyers. Bill really market his new product. Keith adds, “I remember Bill asked, ‘Do you want to do it small or do it big? I said, Oh I don’t know, whatever…Bill said basically, ‘Aim high; you can shoot for a high goal .... We are going to make you a millionaire.’”
“Having someone who is successful in business, experienced, – they believe you can do it before you believe you can do it – that’s pretty special.”
As Keith perfected his product, Frank reviewed Doggie Doorbell packaging and followed up with Keith on Bill’s distribution conversations. He helped him address issues like calculating cost and building pricing structures for different channels of distribution. As one possible distribution option, Frank suggested using an online crowd funding platform, like Kickstarter.
Using social media
Acting on Frank’s suggestion, Keith developed an Indiegogo funding campaign around Christmas of 2012. His plan was to use the campaign as an awareness builder, for crowd sourcing as opposed to crowd funding. (Earlier that fall he secured funding and went into production.) The plan was to use Indiegogo to push the product out into the marketplace.
Still working as a web development consultant, Keith was able to build and publish his own website. However, Keith was not active in social media at the time, even though everyone had been telling him he needed to be. Keith did not even have a Facebook account. He had to learn how to use social media for the Indiegogo campaign. Keith set up a Facebook page and added Twitter later.
The social media links were crucial to the success of the Indiegogo campaign. Keith had a jumpstart on his online community. Contacts from the doggie-doorbell testing and development stage became Facebook Fans. Pebble also had with over 1200 dog friends. The spontaneous connection of dogs, who liked Pebble, was a fun surprise for Keith and his family.
Creating and posting a video was a requirement for the Indiegogo campaign. Keith produced it and the whole family got involved. The video became a great marketing tool and is still in use on the website today. Keith is certain that if he had not been required to create it for the campaign, he would not have it now. Like other elements of the campaign, “Creating the video was important to our process. It helped with internal organization, made us realize what we needed to do.”
Another part of the campaign developed out of one of Bill’s guerrilla marketing tips. He suggested that Keith try to get some free media coverage, with the hope of creating public awareness and future sales. A journalist friend of Keith’s helped write a press release. The release was wildly successful. Keith submitted the release to local TV stations; KVAL did a story and it was carried by CBS nationally. Then a dozen other news channels, nationwide, broadcasted the invention story. According to Keith, the press releases fed the success of the campaign.
Looking back, Keith says the Indiegogo campaign business. “The campaign project made us focus on what we wanted to show the customer. It forced us to be concise, simple… It forced us to craft our message for our customers–to bring more enjoyment to dog lovers and their dogs.”