Ok, so Jim Shaikh, the inventor of the Yoomi baby bottle is not a woman, but I was so inspired by his story at the Booming Baby Business event at the British Library on Tuesday, that I thought I would share some of his story with you and the advice and learning that he got along the way. His story is a real exercise of persistence and patience.
Jim is an engineer and a father and he had his eureka moment at 3:00 am on cold dark morning in 2002 as he was putting his new born son’s milk in a pot of boiling water and then going through a frustrating process of overheating the milk and having to cool it down under the tap. Jim was convinced that there had to be a better way!
That was the beginning of what has been a 6 year journey and has now resulted in his innovative baby bottle being launched at John Lewis. This article outlines his journey and the steps he took along the way.
Step 1: The great idea
It took Jim 2 years (!) to develop the idea for what was to become a new way to heat baby milk. After that early morning frustration, the idea buzzed around his head and he couldn’t let it go. He knew that there had to be a better way.
Advice from Jim: Ideas are ten a penny it is business opportunities have value. You can have a great product and then you need to turn that into a business opportunity. It has to have value or you are just playing at it.
Step 2: Research your market
Jim used the facilities at the BIPC at the British Library and looked very closely at the market. The type of research he conducted included, the size of the market, the key players, who owns the market. A lot of entrepreneurs are very wary of telling other people their ideas but Jim was spouting his ideas to everyone to find what would stick. He wanted to understand; where was the need and where was the desire.
Advice from Jim: Use as much testing as possible. You have to test it. Discover what the problem is. In my case, I had to figure out whether the problem I was experiencing was actually a problem for other people? Don’t be precious about your idea as your idea will inevitably change. I moved from idea to idea and kept testing with the mothers in my community. The great thing was it was all free.
Step 3: Protect your idea
Make sure you patent your idea, but do it at the right time. In Jim’s case he patented the idea that he would only heat the milk that the baby drinks. The Yoomi bottle uses a clicker on the side of the teat which starts the heater which only heats the milk as it passes through the teat. This allows the milk to stay cool in the bottle. So, after the first 2 years, the only thing that Jim had to show for his time was the patent.
Advice from Jim: Invest in a good IP lawyer. It cost Jim £3000 for the patent, but it is now the greatest asset in his business. Retailers won’t take you seriously unless you have a patent.
Step 4: Proof of Concept
Now that Jim had the patent, there were two routes he could have gone down. He could either license the patent to one of the big manufacturers, or he could do it himself. He decided to do it himself. But now he had to prove the concept. Had to create a working model to prove it would work.
Advice from Jim: You don’t need to wait until you have a working model to get a patent without having a working model. It’s important to invest in the design, but it doesn’t need to be cash. You can offer equity if money is an issue.
Step 5: Get some money to prove concept!
Like many entrepreneurs Jim did not have the money to research and develop his product. Thankfully he was able to get some money from the London Development Agency to research and develop his product.
He managed to get £60-70k in grant money which he could put into developing the product. With his grant in hand he then went out to raise money from Angel Investors. His view on this was that there was no way to raise the money through other means, so even though it meant giving up equity, the net result was worth it. He spent a year treading the boards and now has 29 investors in his business. Now he could really get started.
Advice from Jim: Put together a strong business plan and REALLY know your figures. Before speaking to investors know how you are going to convert your money. How is your business going to work so that the angel investors can get their return. They are generally looking for 5 x their original investment in return for the risk that they are taking. Normally investors look to get out within 3-5 years and you need to be clear on how they will get their return back. Ask yourself, would you invest your grandmother’s nest egg in their business. When you are in front of investors make sure you sell the story and be credible; you have to have all the numbers at your fingertips. If money is an issue be creative about how you get the result that you’re looking for. For example Jim gave away some equity to a design house in exchange for their work on the design of his product.
Step 6: Keep going!
After 6 years from idea to product creation, Jim is now selling his Yoomi baby bottles in John Lewis for £22 each. Many people expect business success to happen instantly, but often it takes much longer than expected. Through persistence, self belief and perseverance, it is possible to achieve your dreams.
You can see a video of Jim sharing his story on this video here