A Eureka Moment: What to Do Next
When I came across the obituary of Milton Levine, it struck a chord deep within me.
Here was a 43-year-old salesman of toys and novelties watching some ants at a July 4, 1956 picnic when he suddenly saw his future—the ant farm—a 6” x 9” two-sided plastic frame with sand, tunnels and live ants busily doing their thing as mesmerized kids watch and learn.
A half-century later, kids are still enthralled with ant farms. The basic model sells for $10.99.
Last year, Levine sold his business for $20 million. His website, UncleMilton.com has a slew of wonderful scientific gadgets for kids.
Milton Levine—described by one magazine writer as “anty-establishment”―gave pleasure (and inspiration) to millions of kids, made pots of money, obviously had great fun and went to the great beyond at 97.
Life doesn’t get any better than that!
So what does a fledgling entrepreneur do following a “eureka moment?”
How do you translate an idea into a profitable business?
My suggestion: go the dry test route.
I spent 15 years creating dry tests for clients and my own little business—the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service—started out life as a dry test.
Technically the dry test is illegal, but many years ago I discovered a possible loophole.
A number of famous businesses were launched with one product and small test ads in magazines and newspapers that were read by likely prospects:
• In 1951, Lillian Katz took $2,000 of wedding gift money and placed a small ad in Seventeen magazine for $495 offering a purse and belt with free monogramming. Her investment in ad space generated 6,450 orders and $32,000 in sales. The Lillian Vernon catalog was born.
• In 1977, Richard Thalheimer, then a young office supplies salesman and occasional lawyer, used to jog in San Francisco and keep track of his progress on a wristwatch that had been specially designed for runners. All who jog should have this item, Thalheimer reasoned. So he cut a deal with the manufacturer and had designer Steve Sugar craft an ad offering the watch for $69 in Runner’s World under the corporate moniker The Sharper Image. The ad generated $300,000 the first year, and the rest is history.