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The Inventor of iFetch - An Interview with Denny Hamill

We receive many emails from readers on how to convert their inspiration or concept into an actual invention. We are hoping that our guest, Denny Hamill will be able to provide our readers with some insight on the process in creating a product from an idea.

Denny Hamill, along with his grandson Grant, invented the iFetch after their toy poodle Prancer continued to demand playing fetch even after the family members were exhausted. With a successful Kickstarter launch, they are ready to accept pre-orders and will be shipping out units in a few weeks.

Denny Hamill with his grandson Grant. Image used on their Kickstarter page.

Denny, please tell us a little about yourself and your background prior to creating the iFetch.
I am a physicist and worked for 30 years in a large multinational products company, including running large businesses. After I retired I have advised small technology startup companies, never thinking I would start one myself!

Kids say the darndest things. How did you know your grandson Denny was on to something when he proposed a machine to play fetch with the dog?
We thought it was funny at first and then thought why not, we could do that! 

Denny worked with two studios in developing the design and the prototype's mechanical mechanism.Your Kickstarter mentions developing a prototype and then working with Design:Edge and Pump Studios. Can you tell us more about this 3-year process? How did you create the prototype and what exactly did the contractor do with it?
Actually, Grant and I built a first prototype using a Hot Wheels accelerator toy, tearing it apart and asembling a ball thrower which we actually tried out with Prancer who liked it. After working through patent strategy and applications we first went to an industrial design company Design:Edge in Austin who worked with us to flesh out a design. They are responsible for the way iFetch looks! We then went to Pump, a mechanical design company in Austin as well, and went through three rounds of design/prototype/test, including of course testing with animals, before we released final designs to manufacturing. 

The product name, logo and iconic shape are all so well integrated into the purpose and function of the iFetch. Please tell us a bit about the branding process of your product.
We feel that the design and functionality together provide the uniqueness captured in the iFetch brand. D:E has continued involvement with us throughout the process helping us remain true to the brand image of iFetch making fetching fun and entertaining for dog and owner.

You have US and International patents pending and a trademarked brand. Many potential inventors are always concerned with protecting their intellectual properties. Maybe you can help shed some light on the process. What exactly is patented on the iFetch and how did you file the patents and the trademark?
It is very hard to say how much actual protection patents and trademarks provide, but we felt we needed to make sure we understood prior art and provided real differentiation from that art. We used a patent firm who we knew through another startup business and developed a strong patent covering a dog exercise and entertainment toy that interacts with the dog. We also filed a design patent covering the innovative, and cute, design that D:E developed with us.

The iFetch Kickstart campaign raised an impressive $88,221 in funds during it's 30-day run.Your team was able to launch a very successful Kickstarter program quadrupling your goal with an impressive $88,221 in funds raised. How did you go about marketing your campaign? How did you go about in preparing the promotional images and videos?
Well, we did talk with others who had had successful campaigns but we learned on the fly as well! D:E worked with us on the material for the Kickstarter Project site including especially the videos of dogs actually playing with iFetch. Those videos really capture the iFetch brand and people can't resist smiling and laughing when they see them. We also told the Hamill family story which contributed, we feel, to the success of the program. During the 30 day run, Grant also managed our Facebook site with contests, etc, to try to drive prople to the Kickstarter program.

Obviously, much of the design, prototype production and legal filings were done before your Kickstarter campaign. How did you initially finance the project? And how did you feel comfortable investing into you and your grandson’s wacky idea inspired by a dog?
Well, all the money was our own as a family and it was substantially more than the Kickstarter funds. It started small though, patenting and industrial design and as we progressed and talked with people it seemed we were on a good track. So as we progressed we felt more and more confident and the Kickstarter success was the validation that gave us the confidence to make the next big investments in manufacturing. The wacky idea became a reality!

Other than direct-to-consumer through your website, what distribution channels are you currently exploring? Did you incorporate these options in your plans when creating retail pricing?
We are actively pursuing distributors in countries where there is significant interest but shipping is very expensive. We are in discussion as well with pet stores, on-line sellers and distributors to determine most optimum selling channels for the product. We will be consummating those arrangements at the time of the Global Pet Expo.

The iFetch was awarded both Best Dog Product and Best in Show Product Award at the 2013 SuperZoo in Las Vegas, NV.You were recently awarded the Best in Show at SuperZoo and you announced plans to attend the Global Pet Expo in March. What was your experience at the trade shows? Did you find them to be helpful in generating potential sales? What were some of the reactions to your product? Do you have any advice to first-time exhibitors presenting their new product?
The SuperZoo show was so great for us. We had no knowledge of the industry at all (except as pet owners and what research we could do) and we learned so much there and made many contacts that we have been following up with ever since. We talked with distributors, Big Box buyers, boutique stores and a good number of other manufacturers like us. We gleaned information about pricing, margins, buying preferences, and much more really helping us better formulate our business plan. The main advice I would give was from the huge value our videos of dogs actually using iFetch provided in getting great responses to our booth! Videos showing your product in action with pets are most effective!

What were some of the obstacles up until now in creating the iFetch? Looking back, was there ever a time when you were less than hopeful in developing the product?
Not really, our confidence just kept growing.

At first, you projected having the units ready for delivery in November. However, the iFetch will be shipped in February. Of course, this is normal and anticipated with any project! What were some of the causes for delay and how could they have been avoided?
In my big-company product launch experience, iFetch experienced pretty normal schedule glitches. Remember the schedule presented at Kickstarter launce was as of late May. The final prototype testing and documentation handoff to manufacturing took a little longer than we first projected. This delayed the fabrication of molds so critical in low cost fabrication of all the plastic parts in the product. As they were completed and first molded parts approved we hit “Golden Week” in China where everything was shut down for a week. This was anticipated but came at a difficult poiunt in the schedule. Just as the factory was to startup again a typhoon hit Shanghai and power loss led to a loss of nearly another week. The final challenge became getting a container full of iFetch on a container ship bound for Austin in the crush of large companies trying to get thousands of containers out of China before the Coinese New Year shut down at the end of January. We actually have iFetch units on a container ship today headed for Houston!

The iFetch, invented by Denny and Grant Hamill, doubled its Kickstarter goal of $20,000 in the first 6 days of their campaign!In the development, crowdfunding and marketing process, was there a point when you realized that there was a strong possibility that the iFetch was going to become real? Maybe a moment where you felt everything was happening really fast?
After we exceeded 200% of our Kickstarter goal in the first 6 days!

Your grandson Grant is now a sophomore in college. What is he studying? How does he feel about the launch of the iFetch? Is he a local celebrity on campus or does he keep a low-profile?
Grant is studying Economics and International Studies. He has been very involved at major phases of the process and actively watching and learning through it all. He is have a great overall experience in college and is BMOC only because he is a neat kid not because of iFetch.

Is there anything you would like to add that might help our readers in developing their own invention?
Do good research on all the functions you need to use and choose the best partners. It actually helps greatly being in Austin where technology support for small startup companies is readily available!

Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate your insight and look forward to seeing the future of the iFetch!