Shark Tank star Aaron Krause -- the energetic inventor and founder of the bestselling sponge Scrub Daddy -- has been releasing new products at a relentless clip this year.
First, there was Eraser Daddy, Scrub Daddy's take on the famous eraser material popularized by Mr. Clean. Heat-compressed and dual-sided, Eraser Daddy is designed to last longer.
Two months ago, he launched Scour Daddy, which improves upon the typical scouring pad that has remained unchanged for decades. It was quickly picked up by every Walmart in the country.
Next up came Screen Daddy, a circular microfiber pad for cleaning your electronic devices that you can conveniently store directly on them. It's currently available in Bed Bath & Beyond as well as Kroger stores.
That's not it. On October 15th, Scrub Daddy will debut Scrub Daisy, an entirely new product line of interchangeable dish wand heads and an accompanying holder featuring Scrub Daddy's patented materials, on QVC.
Who knew the dishwashing category was so ripe for innovation?
During our phone conversation, Krause told me it's his passion for invention that fuels his momentum. I wasn't surprised. The first time I met the serial entrepreneur was at the International Home + Housewares show in Chicago a couple of years ago. We didn't know each other well, but he greeted me from behind his booth like an old friend and promptly launched into a product demo with so much enthusiasm I thought he might have mistaken me for a Walmart buyer. That's true passion.
"I love to create new products and reinvent categories. That's my goal," Krause confessed. "To have a product that came from my head on store shelves? The feeling is hard to explain, but it's like watching your child grow up and off to college. You're proud. What I do is really fun, and I enjoy it every day."
Krause holds new products to a high standard. "Everything we do has got to be game-changing, best in class, and something you enjoy looking at," he declared emphatically. "If we can't marry form and function and obtain some intellectual property, I'm not putting my brand on it."
Since his episode aired in 2012 and he secured the support of Lori Greiner, Scrub Daddy has sold well over $100 million dollars at retail.
I asked him to walk me through his creative process.
1. He keeps his eye out for problems to solve. "Necessity is the mother of invention. I constantly see problems. When I experience a problem that I don't like, I immediately start taking action. I think a lot of people are inventors, actually. They just fail to turn a fleeting moment into something concrete."
2. He uses email to record his ideas for new products. It's the easiest way for him to keep track.
3. He searches the Internet to determine if his idea already exists right away. "What is out there and available? I need to know," Krause explained.
4. If it doesn't, then he searches for prior art. Patented ideas frequently fail to make it to market, Krause pointed out. So he makes a point of studying what has been filed thoroughly. "As an inventor, I really respect intellectual property and go out of my way not to steal ideas."
Approximately 30 percent of the executive Scrub Daddy team's time is devoted to playing whack-a-mole with infringers, he said. "We're ripped off almost daily. It's sickening. It's ad nauseam... and a huge waste of time," he complained. "I can't stand it! I'd rather be inventing products."
5. If he likes what he sees, he contacts his attorney for a second opinion and to do another in-depth search. "Can my attorney get a patent with meaning? That's what I'm concerned about," Krause said. "Getting a patent is easy enough. Making sure your patent actually has value is another." If he can't obtain meaningful intellectual property, he's unlikely to move forward with the idea. "It makes me really nervous," he admitted. Most of the ideas he has for new products have already been invented, he added.
6. He quickly files some protection so he can begin doing research and development. "I don't wait. I immediately take the idea to the next level by sharing it with my engineers and graphic art department." For Krause, speed is of paramount importance.
In the beginning, the above steps were how most of Scrub Daddy's product line was conceived. Today, the company's next great idea is just as likely to come from an employee as it is from Krause himself.
Just the other day, Krause said, his senior vice-president of corporate operations approached him with an idea for a new kind of soap dispenser. "It was so unique and so patentable, I loved it," Krause gushed. "I told him I wanted to work with him on it, approved it, and started development." In a matter of weeks, renderings and a working prototype had been made. The company will begin making molds next month. "Everyone is getting in on the action now that they see it's possible to turn an idea into a product!"
He's also fostered a culture of innovation by embracing collaboration. His employees, who number about 16 people, all eat lunch together in a big boardroom every day. The result? Everyone shares ideas and talks about what they've been up to.
He credits the final design of Scrub Daisy, a set of interchangeable cleaning heads that look like flowers and matching vase-like container as a "huge team effort." The concept has been four years in the making, he admitted.
"We were trying to figure out what to do with the scrap material that results from cutting out Scrub Daddy's trademark eyes and smile," Krause said. Could the parts be pieced together and stuck on a wand? He ultimately redesigned the look of the vase based on the input of a customer service representative. When he showed an early prototype of Scrub Daisy to Greiner, she didn't hold back.
"Lori said, 'Aaron, I have to be honest with you. This doesn't look like a flower with petals, this looks like a toilet bowel cleaner.'" After Krause relayed her thoughts to his team when he was back in the office, the same employee -- his senior vice-president of corporate operations -- took it upon himself to create an alternative design for the scrubbing heads, which he appreciated greatly.
"It's much better that I hear feedback early and change before hitting the market," he pointed out.
When you surround yourself with "capable, confident, self-starting people" (which is how Krause describes his team) and an environment that's conducive to idea sharing, the sky is the limit.
At this moment in time, Krause is less interested in working with independent inventors who bring him their ideas for new products. Although his website features an invention disclosure form, he clarified that it's mostly a formality. He barely has enough time to run his business, he said, let alone focus on bringing others' ideas to market. In the future, that may change. "When I have the opportunity to pay it forward, I will," he promised.
In my opinion, by giving interviews that pull back the curtain and demystify the invention process like this one, he is already leading the way.