The Zeta Launcher brings surprise and mystery to futuristic toy cars with magnetic propulsion.
Zeta Launcher is a toy that is safe and easy to use for ages 4+ that not only launches a small car using only permanent magnets (no batteries, no electricity nor springs), but also “vacuums” it up a small ramp, auto-adjusts it and locks it in place for re-launch.
Pebblebrook Toys (maker of the Zeta Launcher) is one of the featured exhibitors at the DaVinci Inventor Showcase, which takes place on Oct 13, 2012 at the Denver Merchandise Mart, so come and check out this along with an amazing selection of other unique inventions!
Recently, company founder Jeff Cook took time to answer a few questions about their magnetic propulsion mechanism, having a 3-man CAD team, and their Zeta Reticuli origins…
1. What was the defining moment that led you to create this product? What problem does it solve?
The defining moment was this past Christmas 2011, browsing through the magnetically connected, wooden toy train section at the toy store with my [then] 3-YR old son. I was floored at the prices they were selling for, wondering why parents continue to pay such pricey sums for these vintage-styled products. Until I gave in and purchased one myself, I couldn’t bring myself to figure it out. Only after watching my son playing with it thereafter, I began a study into what aspects of it appealed to him most. I put together a list of criteria that I could define across many successful toys through history and came up with two attributes those wooden train sets were still missing: 1) more mystery to their function (how Slinky walks down the steps for instance) and 2) more surprise (like a Jack-in-a-Box). I had already discovered the magnetic propulsion mechanism a few months prior, but now I had an application for it: “Zeta Launcher”, the first product of the [hopefully many] “Zeta Trax” line of toys.
2. After you came up with the idea, how did you size up the market and decide who your customers would be?
I knew there was already too much competition in the 1-3 yr old group who those train sets were selling to, and this toy would be too difficult to use for that age anyway, so I focused on ages who had already out-grown those train sets, but remember being drawn to them when they were younger. There also was too much competition for those having a limited budget to market just about any toy comparable unless it was truly different and involved something patentable that the major toy companies didn’t already have. There was no way I could swim with the sharks, so I dug and filled my own neighboring lake instead.
3. How did you go about naming your product?
Since the design of the car had certain restrictions due to the magnetic propulsion mechanism, the car began to take on odd aesthetic characteristics. It began to look more sci-fi than anything else. I wanted to keep the same train track idea for future products, and then went online to see where most sci-fi enthusiasts believe likely regions of space where ET’s may be visiting us from. Most of these believers are bent on the Zeta Reticuli star system, so “Zeta Trax” was almost an immediate decision. Then when I decided a simple stand-alone launcher would be easier to market than a full line of Zeta Trax products, the name “Zeta Launcher” was fairly easy to derive.
4. How long did it take you to create you initial prototype, and what problems did you run into along the way?
It seemed to take forever, but in the larger scheme, it was probably more like a matter of months. The biggest problem was learning the 3D modeling software, so I sought outside help. At first no single engineering firm in town would help, even offering them extravagant sums of money (with respect to the few hours they could complete the project to our spec), as they were simply too busy with their multi-million dollar clients. So, I sought help from another engineer I knew, and a 2D designer nephew of mine, and we hammered through it. Now our 3-man CAD team functions like a well-oiled machine.
5. Funding a new idea is always tricky. How did you go about lining up the money you needed?
Actually, the most difficult thing is to get that first person to believe in you. But once a single investor comes in, if the product is interesting and marketable enough, the rest can take on a life of its own. I believe the most important way an inventor should present his or herself to an investor is by staying excited but relaxed, friendly but serious and confident but honest. The balance between those contrasts is what it seems to me the investors are most drawn to, perhaps even more so than the profits…they already know how to make profits; they just want good products and good people. But before you speak with anyone, you had better have a solid and workable plan and know it like the back of your hand. Inventor-investor relations is probably 1% presentation and 99% Q&A.
6. Is this a product you’d like to produce and sell yourself, or are you wanting to license it to someone else? And if so, who?
This one is too fun to hand off to someone else so quickly. However, there are numerous other potential applications of the mechanism outside the line of toys, and I will certainly consider any such offers/licenses for other markets.
7. What all channels are you using to market your product?
Anything and everything, but largely web marketing, as this is my expertise and what I used to make a living at back in the Internet boom-crash in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
8. How many people do you currently have involved in your business?
I think we’re at nine that are involved in one way or another, but it’s difficult to say, as there are about twenty more who have repeatedly expressed interest in working with us as soon as and if we acquire the means to pay all of them. Most people in life are pretty miserable at their jobs, and a toy company seems to appeal to many as a more fun and rewarding opportunity, even if they haven’t typically ever thought about children’s toys before.
9. How do you define success? What would hitting a “home run” look like in your mind?
“Zeta Trax” the movie of course!
10. Where do people go to find out more about your product?