"I'll never forget having a check come in the mail from Wal-Mart for a million dollars. I mean it was the most incredible experience."
What's fascinating about their story isn't the fact that they made a lot of money. It's that their story could easily be your story.
Dennis and Mary Lou built their empire without any prior business experience, connections, or particular expertise in the industries they were entering. In fact, Dennis told me that at one point with his background as an architect and Mary Lou's as a teacher, it was like "the blind leading the blind."
But it was their awareness in recognizing universal problems, and then their pursuit of creating simple solutions for them, that fueled their success. If you follow the same process, you could be relishing in the experience of getting your first million dollar check, too.
1. Connect a problem to a potential solution
Business is about solving problems. And there is an abundance of problems you encounter on a regular basis. You just have to start getting in the habit of recognizing them as opportunities.
That's what the Greens did with one of their hit products:
"I was driving Dennis' car, and he was away in New York at a trade show. And it smelled horrible. And he called, and I said 'Dennis, we're not going to have any friends if you drive them in this car.' And he said 'Oh it must be my gym bag in the back. And at that moment, Dennis, I think, said 'I think there's a product there."
Later that evening, the couple spent an hour on the phone brainstorming product ideas that could solve their smelly challenge.
The next time you encounter a pesky problem, don't just get annoyed. Take some time out to make a list of ideas that could be a solution.
2. Break down the steps
As mentioned, the Greens didn't have any prior experience with air fresheners and developing scents. But they didn't let that deter them from tackling the problem.
Instead, they took a methodical approach to figuring out what steps they needed to take, and what questions they would need to ask and get answered to bring their product to life.
After they had identified the problem, then they broke down everything they needed to do into parts to lay out what would be involved.
When you start to go through this process, don't get overwhelmed or discouraged if the size of the task seems gigantic. Just break down what you think needs to be accomplished into smaller chunks, and then start to tackle each of them one by one.
According to Dennis, a great way to do that is to get curious:
"...just asking questions. And asking more questions and more questions. And every question leads you to another question. And that's how you do it."
Eventually, you'll know what you need to do to move forward.
3. Ask for help along the way
The Greens used their amateur status in the industries they were working with to get help from some of the major players. Mary Lou noted:
"We've had tremendous experience in people wanting to help us in any way that they can."
While working to learn more about air fresheners, they contacted a fragrance manufacturer and told them what they were trying to accomplish. The company told them what they needed to do and even sent them samples to help them along.
When they needed to learn about how to make plastic, they contacted an injection molder, who showed them how the process worked.
As you work to bring your breakthrough product to market, don't be afraid to embrace the beginner's mind. Reach out to those that are knowledgeable. You'd be surprised (as the Greens were) with how willing they are to help.
A year after brainstorming ideas for their smelly gym bag, the Greens brought their solution, Sneaker Balls, to market. Later on, they turned it into a car air freshener and put a happy face on it and took it to Wal-Mart. They ended up selling $8 million worth of product.
Remember, Dennis and Mary Lou's story could be your story. A year from now you could be the one making millions.
So start looking at the everyday universal problems you encounter as opportunities. It could lead to a lifetime of incredible experiences for you. And millions of dollars, too.