It seems like you can't visit a tourist trap nowadays without being whacked by some traveler's selfie stick. But years before the word "selfie" made its way into the dictionary, one entrepreneur saw opportunity where others saw just a camera attached to a weird-looking ski pole.
"When I first started selling these things, I got a lot of ridicule. It was before the iPhone, and we didn't have a phrase to describe quick self-portraits with point-and-shoots back then," Toronto-based entrepreneur Wayne Fromm tells Inc. In 2006, Fromm approached the Henry's camera store chain in Canada and B&H's SuperStore in New York City with his latest invention, the QuikPod, an extendable monopod that photographers could hold with one hand to take a photo of themselves and their surroundings.
Fromm's original QuikPod eventually went on to be featured in QVC, Oprah's Favorite Things, and Dragon's Den (the Canadian version of Shark Tank). But it was just in the past two years, after smartphone cameras propelled mass selfie-taking, that the Quik Pod and other similar selfie sticks surfaced as a hot item on holiday gift lists, one that's available at Target and Best Buy and on Amazon.
Selfie sticks continue to have their critics. South Korea has even banned the ones equipped with Bluetooth capabilities. But Fromm believes the QuikPod's utility will ensure it's more than a fad. "Just think of when sunglasses were invented. I'm sure a lot of people thought they looked stupid at first," he says.
Along with critics, the QuikPod's newfound popularity has attracted more than its fair share of competitors looking to profit from the selfie phenomenon. Many knockoff selfie sticks have come onto the market, especially in Asia, where tourists have been far less self-conscious when wielding one of these products in public.
"There was a knockoff in a store once, and not only did they copy my product but they even used my daughter's photo in the packaging," Fromm says. After obtaining the design and utility patent for this type of monopod, Fromm spent seven years fighting copycats with legal notices and expensive lawyer fees. Eventually he gave up and decided to focus instead on making the QuikPod the highest-quality selfie stick on the market.
"I don't pay much attention to the low-end stuff," Fromm says. "Who's going to want to mount their expensive camera or phone with memories from their once-in-a-lifetime expedition on a cheap stick?"
Fromm is also banking on the fact that the QuikPod came first. He says he first got the idea in 2002, when he was traveling in Europe with his daughter and became concerned about asking strangers to take a picture of them. It was a time before remote control shutters, when taking a selfie took minutes of preparation and arrangements.
An inventor who designed interactive toys for Disney in the 1990s, Fromm saw this as a big problem, especially for travelers, and came up with a clever solution. He then spent the next two years developing the proof of concept for the QuikPod. He personally tested his device by freezing it, keeping it for 30 days submerged in sea salt, and running it under 1,000-pound tractor tires.
"The QuikPod is being used by people who go on Arctic expeditions and by deep underwater divers. They need to be able to hold up in tough environments," Fromm says. This is especially important considering the type of consumers Fromm is really after: serious photographers, athletes, and extreme sports fanatics.
Fromm now sells several versions of the QuikPod for smartphones, DSLR cameras, point-and-shoots, and GoPros. In fact, Fromm is particularly impressed with how far Nick Woodman has taken GoPro, citing how well the brand has managed to top the knockoffs by delivering a quality product. It's a strategy QuikPod hopes to follow.
"Having worked with Disney, you learn not to cut corners," Fromm says. "I have parents who come up to me 25 years later saying how their Beauty and the Beast talking mirror from when they were kids still works, and they are passing it down to their own children."