Anyone who’s ever tried to blow up a traditional air bed using only the capacity of their lungs knows what a tiring task it can be. Not only are many attempts aborted before the things are fully inflated, but the toggles usually included aren’t the most hygenic, especially if users are taking turns to have a go at blowing it up. Sure that there must be a better solution, Windcatcher co-founder Ryan Frayne set about researching new possibilities and developed the technology that magnifies each breath to inflate an air bed in seconds.
Ryan has been developing new products and solutions to common problems for the past five years, including ZipIt – an adhesive tape for sealing boxes with the ability to be easily resealed – and LiquidLoc – a resealable pouch for fluids. However, the Windcatcher has proved to be his breakout hit with consumers. We spoke to him to find out how Kickstarter – and a bit of luck – helped him succeed.
1.Where did the idea for the Windcatcher come from?
I was at the beach with my family and we all had inflatable rafts/mats that we were trying to inflate. I gave up after just a couple breaths because I saw it was going to take forever. My brother kept going for 30 seconds or so until he also got fed up. He ranted for a bit about how ridiculous inflating these mats (and really anything) was, which reinforced my idea that this would be a good problem to solve. So when I got back to Portland, I started looking for a solution. After a lot of trial and error I was lucky enough to stumble upon a pretty compelling solution.
2. Can you describe a typical working day?
There’s nothing typical about my work days right now. Thanks to Kickstarter and articles like the one on Springwise, we’re pretty overwhelmed by the demand. It has been really awesome but there’s just not that “typical” or predictable work day right now.
Every day does include me going through my emails and checking out Basecamp for any updates from Zeke and Rob (co-founders). Based on those emails and Basecamp, I’ll add more stuff to my to-do list.
3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on the Windcatcher
Because there is no typical work day or even a typical work week, what I’ll do to unwind is completely random too. Lately I’ll watch The Dog Whisperer, a standup comedy clip, or just listen to Pandora radio.
4. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?
Haha. Luck. Seriously.
I’ve worked just as hard on other inventions but with Windcatcher I got really lucky. It’s the type of invention that seems to sell itself. I didn’t set out to make a product that was highly demonstrable and well suited get people’s attention on platforms like Kickstarter or in blog posts. It’s just luck that that’s the case.
I was also lucky that our Kickstarter campaign did as well as it did. Had we not gotten picked as a staff pick or been picked up by Core 77 and GizMag, the Windcatcher may never have gone on to grab the attention that it did.
Both successful and not so successful entrepreneurs work really hard. The only thing that separates success from failure is how lucky you happen to get.
5. What excited you when building your business?
Developing the idea is the fun part. It’s everything else that will give you a headache if you let it.
6. What motivates you to keep going?
No matter how stressed or frustrated I get or how much work needs to get done, it is always 100 times more enjoyable working for myself than working for someone else. So the desire to keep working for myself and never having to go back to having a normal job definitely keeps me going.
I’d also like to see the Windcatcher technology integrated into every inflatable object that can benefit from it. The desire to see that happen keeps me going too.
Plus the support from our Kickstarter backers and fans of Windcatcher is also really awesome! It’s more amazing than anything I could have hoped for.
7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I think it’s important to learn from mistakes but I never regret making them.
While I was working on what would eventually become Windcatcher, I was also working on another invention called LiquidLoc. There were a couple of companies that showed an interest in the invention including Kraft Foods. After talking with a person a Kraft a couple of times, they asked if I’d be interested in doing some consulting work. I was so excited about the idea that I told them I didn’t really care about the money, I just wanted a chance to develop more products. The instant I said it I could tell the mood had changed. I guess they took my lack of monetary drive as a sign I wasn’t serious. Of course not being driven by money and not caring are very different things. But in any case, they never called me back and stopped returning any of my phone calls or emails.
At first, I was really bummed that I may have thrown away my best chance of finally becoming a full time product developer. But the truth is that if I had gotten that consulting job, I probably would have shelved Windcatcher, which in hindsight is obviously a much more promising invention.
So I wouldn’t change a thing. Because like my mistake with Kraft Foods, what seems like a mistake at the time may really be a blessing in disguise.
8. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?
Five years is a lifetime away. Within two years, we plan to license the Windcatcher technology to the major players within the camping gear, pool toys, kite surfing, and medical/emergency equipment markets.
To get there, we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing; using our flagship product, the Windcatcher Air Pad to showcase the technology to the world.
9. If you weren’t working on the Windcatcher, what would you be doing?
The same thing I did before Windcatcher; working at a crappy job just to pay the bills while inventing new products in the hope that one of them would be a success.
10. Tell Springwise a secret…
It’s a secret to everybody
11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you’re thinking about doing a Kickstarter to launch your product, stop thinking about it and do it! It is absolutely that best way to launch a consumer product.