Office chair caster wheels are a lot like number 2 pencils. They've served millions of people, but have they had a real redesign lately? Ha, not so much. Yet Ukrainian startup Stealtho made applying some much-needed innovation to this humble product its mission. The initial result? A Kickstarter campaign funded in just 18 hours.
Stealtho started out asking for a modest $15,000. But the changes the company proposed were so attractive to investors that, by the time the Kickstarter finally closed, the company had raised $138,620, a full 824 percent more than it had set out to acquire (924 percent total funding). The company hopes to recreate that success with a second campaign, this time on Indiegogo.
What Stealtho fixed for you
Typical caster wheels have a handful of super annoying problems. Namely, they damage flooring and can get caught, usually only last 12 to 15 years, and aren't ergonomically designed. Plus, they often become bound or sticky over time from collecting dust, hair, and other debris. So the Stealtho team reworked major features--for example, curving the locking mechanism and lowering the wheel height--to get a more durable, functional, and comfortable design that's much better at correctly distributing your weight. The design also prevents the loss of unsecured ball bearings and keeps the wheels clean.
But maybe the biggest aha! moment for Stealtho for the product was the use of elastic polyurethane. This material results in a wheel that's exceptionally quiet as it moves. It also allows the wheel to navigate over obstacles like your typical office cables. Stealtho then combined the elastic polyurethane with strontium aluminate, a luminophore that can give off light, at a level of about 20 percent. It increases the wheel's wear, as well as makes the wheel glow in the dark. This combination of durability and "no stumble" is what gave Stealtho the basis for its patent (currently pending).
But even as Stealtho made these modifications, the company stayed aware of other basic needs. The main body of the product, for example, is heavy-duty aviation steel, which means the wheels can support up to 660 pounds. The dimensions of the stem are standard, which means you can install the wheels on just about any office chair you've got.
From concept to sales
Eugene Bilych, Stealtho's sales manager, says the Stealtho team was inspired to create the new wheels after looking at other options on the market. By June 2017, they were conducting user interviews and analyzing reviews from competitors' sales, and through that feedback, they figured out that customers weren't after anything especially complicated. They simply wanted a more aesthetically pleasing design, along with higher quality. The team worked out its conceptual drawings, engineering, and industrial design and started sourcing contract manufacturers through the rest of the year. By December, they had a prototype. It took a few more months to finalize a patent and test the product, but by April, they were ready for Kickstarter.
"The difficult moment we faced," Bilych says, "[was] dialogues with the backers about the significant differences of our Stealtho wheels from the [wheels on Amazon], over which the team of our engineers worked."
In other words, the team had to convince investors that Stealtho really had reinvented the wheel. But backers were drawn to the idea of replacing basic plastic wheels for something much more modern and innovative. The concept, Bilych says, fits with the desire we currently have to change simple things for the better to make a bigger difference in the world. Now, with the backers' support, Stealtho is negotiating with retail market and trade networks. The company hopes to sell the wheels on major platforms like Amazon, Walmart, and eBay.
A lesson to roll into your mind and memorize
Vitaliy Savriga, Stealtho's CEO owner & founder, says the most valuable takeaway for other entrepreneurs is that it's critical to analyze other products on the market. You can use simple, public tools like competitor reviews, like Stealtho did, to figure out what the strong and weak points of items are. And once you know what could be improved, you have an opening to innovate and come up with something different. In this sense, Stealtho's story is a prime example of how, with the right combination of research and creativity, even seemingly ubiquitous or "unchangeable" products can offer massive business and profit potential.
The reality is, as many professionals have asserted, most innovation doesn't result in something 100 percent new. Most innovation creates small, incremental changes to the items we use every day--like caster wheels. You can see disruption, then, as merely the point at which you've gone through enough increments to force your industry to shift operation or direction. So be present in the moment. Observe. The odds are good that there's something you could rework right in front of you, and that if you work long enough, no one will want to go back.