BIG business often means big headaches.
How do two average, knockabout Australian blokes turn a business idea into a global reality?
“Resilience,’’ is the simple answer of Leigh Warren.
Leigh is one of the two men, along with Adam Dubrich, who came up with the simple idea of sticking a set of cricket stumps on a cooler to play beach cricket with a minimum of fuss.
“My mate Adam and I had a great idea but no expertise on how to make it become a reality,’’ Leigh said.
“So we persevered, we made mistakes – which we didn’t even know were mistakes at the time. We got knocked down again and again. Getting back up, dusting yourself off and going again was the answer for us.
“We became resilient and we gained confidence from the fact we did keep on getting back up off the canvas.’’
Both aged in their 30s, Leigh and Adam became mates while working as sales representatives for Cadbury Schweppes in South Australia. While their careers took different paths their friendship endured.
In 2007 they were enjoying a day at Moonta Bay in South Australia – playing a game of beach cricket.
“I remember thinking to myself wouldn’t it be great if you could have a set of cricket stumps on your cooler,’’ Leigh recalled.
Eight years after the original idea the two mates are still trying to mass-produce their idea in to a commercial reality.
The first step started with a simple Google search.
“The first thing anyone thinks after having a great idea is how to protect that idea, so other people can’t pinch it or make money out of it,’’ he said.
“So I did a Google search for patent lawyers. Someone who can legally protect an idea and put it down on paper.’’
He soon found a patent lawyer in the heart of Adelaide and made his appointment.
“I was really excited about meeting with the patent lawyer. I remember thinking once I have this signed away we were going to make a killing,’’ Leigh said.
“Unfortunately the patent lawyer basically laughed me out of his office. He told me I couldn’t patent something like a cooler with cricket stumps.
“I remember feeling devastated - but it also put a fire in my belly, because the guy didn’t get the idea, didn’t bother to want to do a patent search on it and was so dismissive of me.’’
Leigh decided to try again and found another patent lawyer. This time the meeting went much better.
“The next guy was very excited and keen to help us. I came back in a couple of weeks and he said he done some searching and there was nothing in the world around that was similar to my idea. So we patented the idea and we had the first step underway.’’
The next obvious step was manufacture.
“I realised we had to have some kind schematic of the cooler, so we could show a manufacturer ‘this is what we want you to build’.’’
“I spoke to an old school friend of mine who was a graphic designer and he drew up the cooler. He got it right first time, it was exactly how I had pictured it.’’
Armed with the drawing Leigh and Adam went in search of a manufacturer in Australia.
“The quotes we got to create a mould of the cooler and to tool-up ranged from $800,000 to $1 million. This just wasn’t viable for us, so we had to consider getting them built in another country.’’
They approached David Lawson, a business acquaintance of Leigh’s, because David had significant experience in business dealings with Asia for more than 20 years.
David helped them obtain three quotes from factories in China – the cheapest being around $25,000.
“When that happened we thought “great, now we are really off and running’’.
The manufacturer sent about 20 prototypes back to Australia over the course of the next three years.
“They were all terrible,’’ Leigh said. “Wheels were falling off, the stumps were broken, hinges didn’t work and the joinery was very poor.
“Eventually we just had to pull the plug and kiss the $25,000 goodbye and start all over again.’’
The trio visited China in person and again spoke to three different factories and received three different quotes.
“This time we didn’t just take the cheapest on offer,’’ Leigh said.
“We looked in to the factory, spoke to the manager, told them what we wanted to achieve and then went ahead. This time the bill was for $35,000.
“It was also quite difficult trying to explain the concept of cricket to Chinese people, they have no understanding of it whatsoever.
“None of us had taken out a loan to pay for the costs associated with our idea, the money came from our savings, tax returns and our wages. It was a bit scary spending so much money. It seemed like an endless amount of bills coming our way, especially through our intellectual property renewal costs and our prototypes and tooling costs.’’
However, the next factory was a major improvement. And the prototypes they received back in Australia were on the right track. A further three years of product testing and improving the design finally resulted in success.
The business partners also decided to employ a company in China to ensure quality control of the products as well as having a Chinese lawyer draw up a contract between the parties.
“We still had some little problems, like the stickers falling off every cooler. I think I spent a month gluing stickers back on to 900 coolers every weekend and weeknight after work,” Leigh said, adding that all three of the men maintained their full time jobs. ‘There were months when I was only getting two or three hours of sleep a night.”
Now that their product design and manufacture had reached a commercial level they needed to create a retail outlet.
“We wanted a website to sell the coolers through, but we didn’t have the expertise to create one,” said Leigh. “So again, we found a friend who knew how to do that and he helped create it. Then we found another friend who was a journalist and she helped put out press releases and dealt with the media to help get the message out there.”
Almost immediately the number of pre-orders on their website was growing faster than they could make the coolers, which they sell for $89.95.
“We increased our orders from 900, to 2000 to 5000. When we asked for 5000 the factory manager said he just didn’t have the capacity to make that many.
“And then the factory went bankrupt.
“We thought ‘here we go again, another hurdle to overcome’.”
But the factory was taken over by receivers and sold to a couple who had bought the factory for their son, said Leigh. “Immediately the production costs went up and the same problem of capacity remained. They just weren’t big enough to make as many as we wanted.
“We had to upscale in a big way. We weren’t even really meeting the orders we received from our website and we wanted to mass produce the coolers so a big retailer could stock and sell them for us,” he said.
So back to China they went, meeting with a couple more factories to see what they could do to achieve the manufacturing numbers they needed.
The cooler currently consists of 42 individual parts, design changes are underway to reduce this number to greatly improve assembly time and lower manufacturing cost.
Earlier this year Leigh and Adam also appeared on the reality TV show “Shark Tank” to try and win more investment money.
On “Shark Tank”, Naomi Simson (owner and founder of Red Balloon) said she was impressed with their passion and the fact they are “deeply excited by the possibility of what their product can do not just in Australia but for every cricket loving nation on the planet”. But she also cautioned that at the early stages “there are no real company logistics behind it”. In the end her enthusiasm won out and she offered the team $80,000 for a 20 per cent stake in their business as well as a $200,000 loan.
“That was an experience in itself,’’ Leigh said. “We are currently working with Naomi and we will see where that leads us.”