Last month we celebrated the 3 year anniversary of the birth of what is now the Flippy Cup...Hooray!
Developing new products is most definitely a marathon, not a sprint, and it's been an incredible journey so far as we get closer to launch. There have been ups and downs and we've learnt heaps along the way.
People often say ideas are nothing without execution, and they're often right. But what they don't say is that great ideas can change lives and inspire new journeys. The idea behind the Flippy Cup has snowballed into what has become our baby innovation company, VILO Baby, and we have no plan on slowing down any time soon.
Day 0: The Original Problem
It was 2013 and I had recently commenced an online course to learn how to invent successfully. I'd always known that creating new products was something I wanted to do, and the opportunity to do this at the company I was working for as an engineer was slowly slipping away.
I was on the hunt for a new invention idea to put the course to good use, and rummaging around in the kitchen I came across a container filled with stray kids cup parts. I decided that I would address a problem that related to my 2 year old son - a product for toddlers. Many parents will agree with me on this one: when it comes to kids cups and bottles, there are just way too many parts! Not only that, but you need to buy different sized bottles, different teets for those bottles, sippy cups, straw cups, training cups...the list goes on! I immediately knew there must be a better way.
Unlike my first attempt at inventing with the course, I consciously decided to lead with a problem this time, instead of the idea. Note to inventors, designers and entrepreneurs: always lead with the problem!
With the problem front of mind, I started sketching out possible solutions and it started occupying every spare moment I had.
Day 1: One Cup of Coffee, One Golden Solution
The next day, I followed my normal routine with a coffee at 8.20 from Soul Origin beneath my office before starting at 8.30. I could never have guessed that one part of my daily routine would turn out to be my one way ticket on an incredible journey.
As I went up to my office I had a number of different potential solutions floating around in my head, but none of them solved the problem. I started to sketch some concepts down and in quick time finished the last drop of my morning brew. To get every last drip out, I popped off the plastic lid and finished the rest before dropping the lid back onto the cup...upside down. To this day I cannot explain why I did this, but it so happened that the disposable coffee cup lid fit perfectly well upside down, as if it was designed for this. All of a sudden it clicked and I had my solution: a training cup with a flipping lid.
That night, I got to work building the first prototype.
Night 1: A crude prototype
I gathered a foam cup and sticky tape and in no more than 10 minutes I had my first working prototype. It was extremely ugly, but worked perfectly. In one orientation the lid was a sippy cup, and flipped over it transformed into a training cup that would slow the flow of liquid and help them learn how to drink from a rim without spilling out completely. I took some photos and came up with a name: the Sip & Flip Cup.
Fast forward a few days and with some photoshopping, I applied for a provisional patent application, put together a one-page sell sheet and started approaching baby companies that might be interested to take it on. With just the second baby company I contacted, I had a bite!
The 6 month Licensing Journey
Over more than 6 months I communicated and negotiated back and forth with the baby company (that shall remain nameless) before eventually closing a licensing deal with them. They paid upfront a licensing fee to cover the full patent, and breathed a massive sigh of relief...I could actually call myself a successful inventor!
I felt like my job was done and all I had to do was wait for my royalty cheques in the mail when it finally hit the shelves in 2016...right?
Counting chickens: the exit clause
Another 6 months rolled on past and up to this point I was receiving periodical updates on their progress. Then all of a sudden the updates stopped. It was mid-2015 with 2016 around the corner, and I received the news I had been dreading.
The company had decided to revert to the termination clause in our agreement, the very clause they had asked to put in just before we signed. The clause that shattered my hopes and dreams.
At the time I was furious...were they just sitting on my patent the whole time? Were they planning to steal the IP? How could they do this!?
Determined not to be defeated, I decided I would push on and bring it to market myself.
Picking up the pieces, starting fresh with the Flippy
In 2016 I formed VILO Baby as the vehicle to help give new birth to the Sip & Flip Cup, which we decided to rename the Flippy Cup. With the IP full rights returned and determined not to give up, we took it as an opportunity to regain control and give it the chance it deserved to succeed.
We spent months finding the right manufacturing partner, product designers and engineers, and importantly we returned to the original vision for the cup - a simple cup for kids that could be used for multiple stages of their development, one that was high quality, looked great, and would last.
One year later, we are on the home stretch and we've learnt the tricks of the manufacturing trade along the way. We've been busy organizing the packaging, distribution channels, product quality testing, operations and marketing, and building up the VILO Baby brand. We're on the home stretch and we're excited to help toddlers around the world with this product innovation, as well as many more to come.