Sharper Image founder Richard Thalheimer built a $669 million dollar enterprise by finding and hawking an odd array of items—ultrasonic rodent repellent, bulletproof vests, and something called "The Rock"—to the status-conscious, gadget-happy masses. The 58-year-old entrepreneur, who left the Sharper Image late last year after nearly thirty years at its helm, started the San Francisco-based firm while still in law school (the name referred to the quality of the copier paper he was selling). His first hit, in 1977, was a $69 runner's watch that he sold by mail and marketed in magazines ads. In 1982, the Sharper Image landed at number 15 on the Inc. 500 list, remaining on the list through 1985.
Over the past three decades, Thalheimer learned a lot about how to spot and market new products (he is credited with discovering such unlikely hits as the Razor scooter). Recently he agreed to lend his expertise to Inc. readers.
If you want to know how to turn your clever idea into a mass market phenomenon—from sourcing to writing ad copy—shoot an email to email@example.com. If your question is selected, Thalheimer will answer it in Inc.'s March issue.