- Tell us something about yourself, your background
Hello! My name is Mike Van Horst the inventor of “Push and Hang”. Although I have become rather successful with my product, it didn’t start out like that for me. This is my story.
A little about myself; I worked for a Fortune “500” company where I was presented the “Presidents Award” for innovative packaging. I have been restoring vintage cars for over 20 years, I used to live in a water tower (like those you see on a farm), and I was at one time a stuntman.
- What is the product you invented:
- How/Why did you start inventing. What set you off?
It all started when I was pretty young, I used to watch my father use his hands all the time. He was very mechanically inclined. Talk about “DIY” everything was “DIY” when it comes to my father. It was hard times back then, with very little income and 5 siblings you learned how to do and make most things yourself.
When I was a child my friends used to call me “MacGyver”. Remember that TV show where the guy took items he found and made them into things to combat the bad guys? Well, that was me always trying to see if I could take something and make it simpler and easier for people to use. When I was young my father told me one thing he said, “Michael, think with your hands and the mind will follow”. I thought that was really interesting, but the more that I took things apart and put them back together it made sense. I have kept that advice close to me even today.
I guess you could say in a way, I do you have a little bit of family history in the entrepreneurship or product developer area. My father comes from a generation of engineers that worked for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. His father, sister All worked for Firestone Rubber in California. My father designed and engineered the fuel cell bladder for all the Indy Race Cars. Back in those days during the 50s sixties and earlier, every time you saw a wreck on the racetrack you would notice the car would either blow up or catch on fire. My father developed a fuel cell bladder that fit inside the gas tank so that when you got into a crash on the racetrack, the car did not incur those types of damage and cause major injuries to the drivers. They’re still using that bladder in today’s racing.
- How did you get from idea to finished product?
I left the corporate world in the ’90’s and became a top producer in Real Estate. It was at that time that I had my “Ah Ha” moment for my product “Push and Hang”. For years I’d see people struggling with this not only my wife but even myself at times. Hanging a picture on the wall should be easy, it’s only two nails, right? We all spend literally minutes and to hours on this seemingly simple task. Making sure that we grab all those tools needed and spend all this time trying to get it level and get the holes marked so that we could hang a picture only to find out that it still came out all crooked and uneven why is that? It’s so frustrating.
I would often be asked back over to my client’s homes after I closed on it, and the first thing I would see would be the pictures laying on the floor next to the wall in the hallway. I would ask why haven’t you hung any of your artwork up on the walls, it’s the one thing that make brings your house together? They would always say, Mike I don’t have time, I can’t find my tools and I just I don’t want to deal with it right now.
So, it began. I started out thinking about another marking tool that you can use to simply mark where the holes needed onto the wall so you can hang your picture. Something that would make it easier than the currently out there on the market. I started out with these crazy alien looking glasses that you would put on. It actually had an infrared laser beam on both sides that would shoot up on the wall so that you knew exactly where to mark the holes for your picture. It was kind of interesting because your head on the human body is self-leveling so it was kind of cool looking, but it probably wasn’t something that would have resonated with the general public. My wife just looked at me and laughed, and thought I was crazy. So I just scratched the idea.
I did my homework and decided the world doesn’t need another marking tool, there’s literally hundreds of them out there. I said to myself, why hasn’t nobody actually taken it one step further and put the nails in the wall for you? It seemed simple we’ve been doing this nail hammer, nail hammer routine since literally the beginning of time.
I immediately went out to the garage found a piece of wood and a couple of pieces of metal and an old knob from the kitchen cabinet and I started building my first prototype for “Push and Hang”. I tried to figure out the correct angle while inserting the nail. I wanted it to be just that simple, something similar to using a stapler. Something that you could just walk up to the wall with a simple punch like motion, walk away and hang your picture.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, 9 prototypes later, and I was finally able to introduce Push and Hang. It took me awhile to get it just right. My first prototype was pretty crude it just goes to show you that you don’t need to have something that’s really elaborate you just need to have some sort of concept of a working item. There are people out there that will actually do some working drawings of a prototype very inexpensively, look for someone that has access to a 3D printer. They’re readily available so you can actually make things up rather simply without spending so much money, it’s not like it used to be so take advantage of it. You are just getting started, you don’t even have to have a physical prototype, a drawing will work just fine.
I was so excited and thought wow this is cool. I started looking into where I could present my product at trade shows, different inventor events, things like that. I found a trade show coming up called the “National Hardware” Show in Las Vegas. I was not aware they had a show like this. I didn’t know anything about trade shows, so I started to look into it and found out they had what they called an “Inventor Spotlight Pavilion” which was fantastic! So, I immediately called and reserved my booth. I was also able to get it for a third of the cost of the corporate booths on the main floor. My wife and I started ordering things that we thought we might need plenty of flyers, cards, and banners everything we might need in our booth. By the way my wife is my biggest fan even today she is my biggest supporter of my crazy inventions, the good and the bad ones. I even made what I call my “Traveling living room wall” which was made out of 2×4’s and sheetrock, something I could use as a demo display in my booth. We loaded up the van and headed into Las Vegas. We ended up with a corner booth right next to the stage where they were having pitch competitions throughout the event.
As soon as the doors opened, we started demoing like crazy! We met a lot of great people. This one guy in particular walked up and said, interesting product, have you thought of entering the pitch competition? That guy ended up being “Warren Tuttle” of Lifetime Brands.
It was my turn to get up and present my pitch. It was pretty crazy, first time I ever got up in front of a lot people excited to hear what my product was all about. There were five judges up on stage, then it was go time. You literally had two minutes to present your product. Once I finished there was hardly any questions to be asked as they were are all so excited about the product, I was kind of overwhelmed. I had three or four different people rushing up to me literally telling how much money they were go to make me. After the frenzy I was contacted by a “DRTV” company that wanted to run with my product! Right then I knew I had validation on my product
I thought I just hit the lottery a “DRTV” company wow this is incredible, so weeks went by and we did some testing on social media and we even produced an info commercial. All the numbers were coming back great and then for some reason, silence. It seemed to just come to a halt! Some of the conversion numbers were not what we wanted, and we had a little problem getting a price point down to where we could hit that 4 or 5 times factor. Soon after, the deal was scrapped.
I even did casting calls 2 years in a row for “Shark Tank” both times I was called back. I went thru the grueling 6 month process each time hoping for a slot. And then the dreaded call, sorry but you have been cut this year.
Every time I had another setback it just meant that I had to push forward even harder!
So, there I was starting from literally Ground Zero. I thought I was on the highroad to success with the pitch competition and hooking up with the DR TV company. Now I had to take a step back, I had to learn and teach myself the inventing process. I started searching the Internet looking up other people that have gone through what I was going through and also tried to look up some mentorship programs on what to do in this situation as a new Inventor.
I came across this company called “InventRight” so I started the mentorship program. After speaking with one of its founders, Stephen Key. I soon realized that with inventing is not just a hobby, It’s a process. It’s putting the right people in place and following that process through to the end!
Not only did I learn how to write my own “PPA” but I also learned how to make a sell sheet, contact and communicate with different prospective buyers, and get inside big box retailers. It was during this time that I also learned how to write my own “PPA’s”. Since then I have received 3 patents on my product. After 50 plus “No’s” I was determined not to give up! Through it all, it helped me land my first licensing deal. The company was “Hangman Products”, I even wrote my very own licensing agreement.
It was 2019 when we were back at the “Homewares” show in in Chicago I was demoing like crazy that day, we must have demoed close to 15,000 times that week. Every few minutes somebody would come up to demo my product. It was very exciting to see so many people come through the booth that week, but the ones that stood out were reps for “QVC” and HSN” and the Home Shopping Network. We had a great conversation and ended up signing with them.
We had landed some smaller retailers and finally had our product on store shelves. Sales were slow at first, it was the demos that got everyone excited. I knew if I got a shot on air people would be excited about it and buy it! Soon I was on a plane to Philadelphia back to the “QVC” studios and training to be a guest host for an on-air segment.
Months went by and we finally got the call, we were approved to go on air. Oh my gosh now what? We had to make sure that we had enough product on hand to fill the orders if by chance we had a good airing. It took a little while to get everything in order and packaged up from our manufacturer.
By now it was February 2020, weeks before “Covid,” and my air date was mid-March. Well, you guessed it no on air in person guess hosting. “Covid” was in full swing and the studios were in lock down. The next call was that they were switching everyone over to “Skype” call in segments. Ugg! I so wanted to have my debut on set with the host.
It was the night before airtime, I had a 3 AM wake up call. I was to go on at 4 AM that’s the funny thing about going on home shopping channels there’s no set time about when you go on.
All of a sudden you hear the producer say, you’re up next. Now it’s go time, your first segment is usually 8 minutes long. It’s live so there are no do overs, once you start it doesn’t matter if there’s any hiccups or you make a small mistake, they keep rolling you’re just trying to get through the eight minutes and it goes like a blink of an eye. Then you tell yourself what? That’s it, it’s over? It was nerve racking but a lot of fun! I was able to work with “Dan Hughes” he was the gentleman that worked with me in my training class when I was back at the QVC studios, what a wonderful host that first airing was a “Sell Out”!
We were more than a bit concerned about how our sales would go since it was right smack in the middle of “Covid” everybody was on lockdown. I often wondered will buyers spend discretionary income during this pandemic. We were very blessed that the viewers stepped up and were buying “Push and Hang”!
You don’t know exactly how you did until the following day when they had the final numbers of the show. That’s how they evaluate whether or not you will be returning for another segment on air. It’s all about how many dollars per minute sold, not about how many units sold. Fortunately, we were able to return for repeat showings, and since then we also hooked up with “HSN” the Home Shopping Channel. We had to change our product a bit to compete on both channels normally they don’t like to compete against each other unless you’ve had a small change in the product say size, color or offer a different packaging bundle. Now that “HSN” is owned by “QVC” they’re all part of the same family.
I am very humbled that after almost a year, now 2021 we are happy to say that we are a regular on both platforms and doing well.
- Let us know of useful resources that helped you i.e. Books, websites, software etc
- Invent it Sell it Bank it by Lori Greiner
- Become a Professional Inventor by Stephen Key
- Inventor Confidential by Warren Tuttle
- Where are you now? Do you have anything to tell new inventors?
My passion is helping “Newbies” get through a lot of the pit falls that I had to endure by mentoring, coaching and speaking to Inventor groups all over.
I look forward to what the future will bring and the challenges along with it. Inventing is a process. There is no get rich quick formula for Inventors/Entrepreneurs! You have to put the time in and the hard work.
“First to Market” means just that, not when I have time next week to get around to it!
I leave you with this, Believe in yourself! Believe in your product! And Believe in the process! Your dedication and persistence will pay off.
- Website: Click HERE
–End of Interview–
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