In this episode of Innovation Capital
This episode will look at the patent system and the challenges faced by innovators to turn an idea into reality. Mandy Haberman will tell us her innovation story and how she made bold moves to grab industry attention and secure her position in the market.
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Ray Chohan: Welcome to Innovation Capital, Mandy. I’m really excited to have you join us today and would love to kick off with your story, Mandy, as a successful British female inventor, entrepreneur, and how you ended up in the wonderful world of technology and IP.
Mandy Haberman: Okay! Well, it’s quite a story, and it goes back to the early 1980’s and makes me feel incredibly old. I started out as a graphic designer, and then I had my three kids, and becoming an inventor was never the plan. Instead, it just was a response to circumstances and opportunities.
My youngest daughter was born with some problems, and she couldn’t feed. She was fed with tubes and so forth. As a parent, I had to improvise and find a way to feed her in order to take her home from hospital. That’s really where it all started. My improvised idea worked, and then I felt that I was in a privileged position in a way. I had a design background, and that background helped me with problem-solving. I found a solution to the problem, but I didn’t really look at it as a commercial opportunity, because that certainly wasn’t the case at the time.
I just felt strongly that there ought to be a product out there to help babies that couldn’t feed. So, I took my seed idea and developed it into a product. Commercial companies weren’t interested because it was a niche market, and that’s kind of how I became an entrepreneur. It was out of necessity because I really wanted to get that product out there. And it was down to me to do it.
That was my first touch with intellectual property. And it came in very handy for what happened next, when I developed something which was called the Anywayup Cup, which was the world’s first totally non-spill children’s training cup. Prior to that, cups had always a bit like watering cans, your child would drink from it, and then turn upside down and sprinkle it all over the floor. So, I developed one that was controlled by valves. And that’s really when I got into the whole IP thing — international patenting and patents, enforcement, lawsuits and everything else. That’s how it happened. It was never a planned career choice. Instead, it was a way of responding to opportunities.
Ray: That’s fascinating — being able to find the unique inspiration to invent and address a pain point that you are personally experiencing. We work with so many leaders who have built great startup companies, or larger businesses, where the genesis is a personal pain.
Here at PatSnap, we’re looking at diversity and gender equality, it’s top-of-mind for us both externally with our customers, and internally with our staff. In terms of your experience, what were some of the nuances and challenges (if you experienced them) around being a female entrepreneur, a parent, and trying to scale a business, and get buy-in from the from the tech community?
Mandy: The challenges were twofold. First, the challenges any mom with a young family faces when trying to work, and build a business — the juggling act, if you like. The second set of challenges were synonymous with what any entrepreneur faces, I think. Because I’ve always been my own boss, I’ve never been in a corporate situation where I felt discriminated against for being a woman. In fact, it’s never really crossed my mind. It’s never been in my head that I’m at a disadvantage because I’m a woman.
I mean there were certainly difficulties associated with being a young mom. My husband worked nine to five, and I was at home doing business meetings with a toddler in my lap. I remember one experience in particular — I was meeting with a consultant to discuss the Haberman Feeder, and the medical issues I was trying to solve. I had all my papers, and everything organized. And as my toddler sat on the floor, she suddenly threw all of the papers up in the air. Everything became a lot less formal after that. Also, these were the days before mobile phones. There were many times I’d run into issues when trying to get back from picking my children up from nursery school, such as getting stuck on trains. It was nerve wracking. But, every mom has those problems when trying to work, so it’s not specific to IP.
Ray: Thinking about IP is rare as an early-stage startup company, especially if it’s not something you’re aware of or familiar with. What was it like when you were building your business?
Mandy: I must have been advised to do a search because I went along to what was then the pattern library. In the library, you had to climb up ladders and get these massive dusty volumes down from the shelves and pour over them. I spent about three days searching the patent database, or the volumes anyway, to see if there was any prior art. And I think that’s a really important first step, and it’s something many people overlook, right from the beginning. I feel there is absolutely no point in spending time, effort, and energy developing something and putting money into it only to find out that you’ve kind of reinvented the wheel.
Now, because I had absolutely no experience, I didn’t look at the bigger picture. I saw this as my invention, and figured I’d have a UK patent, and maybe a UK trademark. It didn’t occur to me that this might grow, and I’d need patents elsewhere. And, I learned that the hard way because the Hayden Feeder was really successful in its field, and when orders started coming in from abroad.
My house was full of boxes, and I had three children under three at home, and it was crazy, and something had to give. I wanted to license out the export side, but I only had a UK patent. Fortunately, I had the technical know-how and the trade secrets. I managed to find a Swiss company to license the overseas side to, based on the know-how and the trademark. And it grew from there, it wasn’t huge, but it gave me a steady small income for many years. It also financed my next project, the Anywayup Cup, which turned out to be a huge commercial success.
From that experience, I learned the importance of intellectual property. So, when I did the Anywayup Cup, I had PCT’s and applied for patents in all my major markets. I couldn’t afford to go worldwide so I worked out the most important markets, and I got patent protection in those countries. I sort of worked on the principle that if someone was going to set up a copycat product in China and sell it into other countries, I probably wouldn’t know about it anyway. And that that strategy worked very well. I also learned how important trademarks are. Having to enforce my patents through the court, I realized how volatile the market could be. When you file a patent, you should include everything you can around it. Trademarks, design rights, and everything else. My patents caused me a lot of aggravation over the years, but the trademarks sit there quietly, and they earn money, and they provide a good rule of intellectual property. You can lose a patent if you have a dispute with someone in court, but your brand goes on. And that really summarizes the importance of a trademark, and it took me a while to learn that.
Ray: Also, Mandy, jumping into the world of licensing, what did that initial process look like? It seems like you made a clear decision not to just scale out a manufacturing facility and go direct to consumer, and I’m guessing you a created a partnership with a player in the market. Can you walk us through that journey? Because that sounds fascinating.
Mandy: I’ve learned a lot of lessons as I’ve gone along. When I started out, I had no intention of setting up my own company and selling products to consumers. Entrepreneurship wasn’t a fashionable or popular thing to do back in the 1980’s. Instead, if you got an idea, you’d license it out to a big company, and sit back and collect royalties. But the reality is, I learned that big companies, they might get very excited about your intellectual property, but they would far rather not have risk. Instead, they would rather wait for you to spend your money, get it to the market, and see how it goes. And then, if it’s successful, they would talk to you about licensing or infringe, and be forced to talk to you about licensing. It’s very difficult to get something licensed until you’ve proven it in the market.
The way I work is to begin by bringing the product to the market, even if it’s only in a small way, and to get consumer endorsements. Once the market-place need has been proven, then I talk to people about licensing. Once you gain a reputation for successful innovation, then there are more opportunities that come your way.
Recently, I’ve formed a very exciting partnership with a major Asian company, and I’m creating products for them. I’m innovating, I’m the IP, but it’s for this particular company. However, up until that point, I have found that companies are quite cynical about the IP if it’s not invented here. So, if you’re the little guy, and you have IP, and you’re offering it to a major company, they can be quite cynical. The first thing they’re going to do is try to figure out whether or not they can get around the patent. If they can, they will. And if they can’t, or if they’re ethical, they’ll talk to you about a license. If they’re not ethical, then they will infringe and wait to see what you’re going to do about it.
Ray: Now, with the Anywayup Cup, what was that like? It sounds like a huge success — globally — from what we’ve learned about that particular invention. What did the formative years look like when it was ramping, the sales were going well, and with the initial excitement when it landed on the market? I know you won the Millennium Product of the Year in 2000, as well as numerous other awards. Can you walk the audience through those first few years?
Mandy: It was quite extraordinary. When I started, I created my working prototype, and I went to see a number of commercial companies in the UK and in mainland Europe to secure a licensing deal. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. But, none of them agreed to a licensing deal, or the ones that were interested weren’t offering sensible numbers. I did have one company that expressed interest and seemed really excited about my prototype. However, they stopped returning my calls, and didn’t’ return my prototype.
I ended up walking around with a cup in my bag for about a year, full of juice, of course, not spilling. It was madness. I knew I had something that would sell well because everybody that tried the working model that I’d created said, “When can we have it? We want one, we want one.”
I knew a cup that saved mums from having to spend hours mopping the floor every day was going to be a success. But I couldn’t find the right people. I couldn’t find the right partners. In the end, I teamed up with two marketing entrepreneurs. They said, “Forget about the licensing, take it to a couple of tradeshows and see what the response is.” This was before everyone was online, so we did the tradeshow, and it was phenomenal.
We ended up getting £10,000 worth of advanced sales, because it wasn’t actually in production yet. Given that the cup was priced at £2.99, getting to £10,000 of sales from a two-day tradeshow gave us a taste of what was to come.
After that, it was chaos. I spent three months basically sleeping on the floor of a local factory until we had our tooling made. At the end of the three months, we were able to transform our working model into full production. That’s extraordinary. I mean, I don’t know how on earth we did it. But that’s what we did.
And we started off by supplying the people that ordered from the shows, and they were mostly people that ran nurseries and people that ran small shops. But we knew that in order to be viable as a commercial product, we needed to get our product into the supermarkets. We sent them fliers, and pictures, and pricelists and everything else. However, none of them were interested because we were a one-product company. I guess it was a standard response, and the things we sent basically ended up in the wastebin. I thought, “This is mad. I know I’ve got a fantastic product, and I know it’s going to sell. I’ve got to get it on the shelves.”
Now, obviously this is pre-online sales. That’s why supermarkets were so important. So, because they already said no, we decided to take a very big gamble. A massive, massive risk. We took one of my cups, filled it with black currant juice, put the lid on, and we put it inside a white shoe box with no cling film, or plastic bags or anything like that. It was just a cup full of juice rolling around in the white cardboard box. Then, we sent it through the post office to the head of Tesco’s (one of the main supermarket chains in the UK). We put a note inside that said, “If this box arrives as a soggy mess, then you know we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. But if it arrives and it hasn’t spilt, can you give us a call?”
We sent it through the Royal Mail, and of course anything could have happened! It could have got crushed; we could have been sued by the post office. I mean, we were bonkers. It was madness. As we waited for a response, my colleagues were chain smoking, because that’s what people did then, and I was chewing my nails. Four days later, the phone rang. It was the head of buying at Tesco’s ringing us, which was extraordinary.
She said, “This is amazing. I want it.” We were on the shelves within a couple of months. We could have sent her all the literature, and we could have tried to send a video, but it would have made no difference. By putting the magic in her hands, she got it. She understood what it was all about. It was amazing.
There was a hole in the spout, and she could see the juice through the hole. Yet, it all stayed in the cup, and not a drop spilled. And then, it took off from there. I mean, it was phenomenal. And I don’t think we even wrote a business plan because the numbers just kept changing so dramatically. We were off the scale all the time — sales doubled, quadrupled, and just went berserk. We ended up we ended up with 40% market share in the UK. It was crazy.
Ray: That sounds absolutely insane, Mandy. So just pausing there, who was the person that came up with that idea of putting the Anywayup Cup in a shoe box and sending it out to the head of the decision maker at Tesco’s? I’d love to hear that story because it sounds like a stroke of genius.
Mandy: My three colleagues and I were discussing ideas, one of them was a marketing man. We ended up coming up with the idea all together. It was crazy — not something I would advise anybody to do!
Ray: It’s interesting because I believe there’s even a book composed on Tesco (or one of the big supermarkets), and how difficult it is to get inside. It’s the playbook on how to penetrate that scale of an organization. So, I just want to synthesize this — from getting that reply from the decision making at Tesco, to being on the shelves and ramping sales to six or seven figures, what was that timeline?
Mandy: Well, put it this way: We launched the cart, and we were in Tesco’s in that first year. By the end of the first year, we’d sold half a million cups. And that was only after being on the shelves for nine months. Then our sales went up to two million, followed by four million. Once we got to the four million mark, that’s when the infringement occurred.
If you remember from earlier, that company I spoke with that was initially excited about my prototypes — well, they never returned my prototypes to me, never returned my calls, and then came into the market that was nearly identical to my early prototype. It was ridiculous. They were a big, very well-known brand and when they launched that product, they took two-thirds of our sales practically overnight.
We had to decide what to do about it, and ultimately ended up choosing to enforce the patents in court and stop them. Once we did that, we started getting into 10 million in sales.
Ray: Wow — so post Tesco, did it go global with other big box players?
Mandy: Yeah, so sometime before our second year, we licensed a big American company. They were using my technology and making their own product. They were selling in addition to what our brand was selling as well. So, when I say we got into 10 million in sales, I mean overall with that licensing as well.
The Anywayup Cup revolutionized the trainer cup market. By around the year 2000, after three years on the market, infringements started in America. By the time we were gathering evidence and enforcing our patent there, there were around 14 million cups using my technology and being sold everywhere. It was massive.
Ray: Okay, so now, we’re playing a different game, right? Because now, you’re the target. You’re crushing it in terms of sales volume, and finding success, but you’re having to defend your IP. How did you and your team get your arms around that during those years?
Obviously, it looks like the first situation you guys were successful in enforcing your IP, but was it fighting fires everywhere for a number of years? And if so, how did you guys tackle that and make sure that you are enforcing and scaling the business?
Mandy: Various things happened along the way. When I did the UK litigation, I had licensed to my colleagues. So, I wasn’t running that business. I wasn’t a shareholder in that business, but I own the IP. So, we did that litigation together. We had infringements happening in Europe, but my colleagues didn’t want to get involved with further patent enforcement because it’s usually risky, and financially risky. So, it was down to me to enforce the patent rights.
I did an action in the Netherlands with something called a ‘Court Getting Procedure,’ which was really clever because instead of a big, expensive courtroom, it was a small hearing in front of the judge. This kept the costs down. And the great thing about this procedure was that it rolled in the manufacturer who was in Thailand, and even though I didn’t have a Thai patent this Thai company was selling infringing product through a lot of different small distributors all over Europe. By doing it in the Netherlands, I took action against one of the distributors. It rolled in the manufacturer, which was fantastic because otherwise I could have stopped one distributor, and then another one would have popped up, and then another one would have popped up, it would have been a nightmare. So, I did that.
And then in America where we had our licensee, and they looked at taking action against an infringement thing going on, but because of their shareholders and the risks, they decided against it. So, then it fell to me to make the decision whether or not to do it. The infringers had a much greater market share than my licensee had. So actually, there was a lot to be made out of enforcing the rights. In the UK, taking legal action is horrendously expensive, particularly if you’re doing it in your own personal name. I mean, I had to risk my house, I had to risk my kids’ education, and we would have been bankrupt if I’d have lost — thank God I won! But in America, you can times that by about four or five, it’s hugely expensive, and it can go on for years and years. Fortunately, I managed to find a law firm who was willing to take on partial contingency, which meant that my exposure was capped. I had to pay the court fees, but I didn’t have to pay my legal costs — they would cover the legal costs. And that made it feasible. So, I was able to take action against two major infringers, and it all ended very happily, put it that way.
Ray: With young children, lots to manage at home, not to mention venturing into a world where you’re scaling unprecedented sales, and enforcing patent rights globally, what was it like balance it all? And how did you navigate the challenge?
Mandy: It’s all about finding the right team of people. I’ve always worked from home, and now that we’re in a pandemic and everybody’s working from home, but this has always been my work experience. I’ve found working from home is what has enabled me to have a good work life balance. And thank God for mobile phones because I can be doing the school run or whatever and nobody knows I’m not in the office because I’m still working. I think what is hugely important is to know what you want from life.
Having balance between family and work has always been essential for me. It might be a male/female thing, I don’t know, but I look at James Dyson who is a similar age to me. When he started his vacuum cleaners, I was starting with my Anywayup Cup. We were both trekking on a similar path. He was fighting against infringements and working out of a shed in his garden. I was fighting infringements and working from home.
My ambition, of course, was to make lots of money. But I never saw myself as having a global business and making millions. My perspective was much smaller. James on the other hand, his perspective was much bigger, and he was out to conquer the world. I never wanted to conquer the world. So, I made my millions and that’s fine. He went global, he conquered the world and is worth billions now. And that might be a male/female difference, I don’t know. But my ambition was never to have a massive global business and be floating on the stock exchange.
Ray: I see, so you already had a perspective about how you’d like to shape your business and have a healthy work-life balance.
Mandy: Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, as it is, it grew beyond my wildest expectations and my wildest dreams. Now, had I had that sort of huge ambition, I might have made some different decisions along the way. That said, I’m happy. I’m happy with my lifestyle, with my life, and with how things have turned out. That’s why I believe it’s important to know what you want from life.
Ray: Once we finish this conversation, I’m going to run downstairs and tell my wife because my son probably uses your technology! I had no idea. The other day, he was holding a cup on our sofa and I was saying to my wife, “Honey, grab Carter!”
The product market fit is a complete no brainer. I can see how back in 1999 or 2000 when the Tesco’s buyer quickly replied and expressed interest. Where are you now in the journey? From 2018 onwards, is the business still scaling the same way (as the product market fit still compelling), and are the numbers still growing?
Mandy: Well, the Anywayup Cup patents have now expired. But the technology is still being used worldwide. These days, non-spill valve trainer cups are the standard. They’re everywhere. That was kind of my bit for humanity, and to change the market.
But I’ve moved on since then. I’ve done a baby’s feeding bottle which addresses the whole obesity problem. Because obesity starts right from the very early months of life from overfeeding with bottles. Although babies are born with an instinct to stop feeding when full, this instinct gets compromised when they’re fed too much, too fast with bottles. So, I developed a bottle that worked in the same way as a breast works. And the baby has to actively suckle to feed. That technology was licensed out and sold globally. But you know, you’ve got to find the right product at the right time. We’re at a time now where bottle feeding is so frowned upon. And so, to market a bottle, even if it’s much, much better than any other bottle and makes the baby feed in the same way as they would be from the breast, it became a very difficult sell.
Ultimately, you have to know when to let go. I put an awful lot of money and an awful lot of effort into that project. But the timing was just wrong. But, because of doing that, it led me to being at a particular trade fair in Cologne. I was there because of that bottle and I had meetings because of that bottle. That show led to the most amazing opportunity, which is what I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, which is creating new products for a very major Asian company. I created the intellectual property, they are setting up the tools, and it’s going to be released either later this year or early 2022. And they have huge, huge distribution. I mean, the numbers are phenomenal. To me, it’s a marriage made in heaven. I get to innovate and create products, which is what I’m best at. They distrubute and sell the products, which is what they’re best at.
Ray: And what is that technology? Are you at liberty to share this new exciting project, Mandy?
Mandy: Yes, and no. It’s all in the realm of infant feeding, because that’s where I specialize, and that’s all I can share at the moment.
Ray: Brilliant. Well, it’s great news because you’re in the APAC market. It’s a geography we’ve been in since 2008, and it is growing rapidly. That sounds like it will be a great part of your adventure. Now, on a broader level, you’ve had these absolute smash hits along your journey, and what’s interesting is it seems like you’ve been able to shape the business in a way where you focus on what you love to do.
Ray: Not many entrepreneurs are as clear minded as you, Mandy, where they’ve got this clear conviction and clarity on what they enjoy and don’t enjoy. It seems like you made that decision really early on in your journey, which is quite rare. I’m curious, how did that occur?
Mandy: Remember when I said I met someone when I was doing the feeder who told me to see a patent agent? Well, this guy was an IP lawyer, but he retired. What he enjoyed doing the most was acting as a consultant to help people decisions about what they want to achieve. I had a session with him, and he’s been very instrumental in my life. He asked me about my goals, and what I really wanted out of life. He got me to think about those questions.
Life isn’t all about making more and more money and getting bigger and bigger. Of course, it can be for some people. Sometimes, that’s what makes people happy. But that’s not what I wanted from life. He encouraged me to focus on what it was that pressed my buttons — the important things that mattered to me, which was my family. Being able to be with my family, and now my grandchildren, and spend time with them, the important things before this awful pandemic. We have a place in France and we enjoy going over there and spending time in the sun. That’s what quality of life is about. What’s the point in growing and growing? If that gives you pleasure, it’s absolutely fine. But otherwise, you need to know what makes you happy.
Ray: You’ve had a whole series of successes, and now you’ve got this really exciting project in Asia. Can you talk to us about your day-to-day, and how you spend your time?
Mandy: I’m still running my team from home, obviously, now everybody’s working from home. I have a team of people who are engineers, designers, and I have my CEO, who gets the funding and sorts all of those things out. I focus on the bits I’m best at, and my team fills in the gaps and does the things I don’t really want to do. I do the innovation, and identify where there are problems, and then come up with solutions. From there, I work with my designers and enginers.I do the innovation, and identify where there are problems, and then come up with solutions. From there, I work with my designers and enginers. It’s a very nice, very comfortable way of working.
Ray: Mandy, it seems like you’ve been prolific with that methodology. Now, when it comes to surfacing and trying to understand unmet needs, and then wrap that into design, is there a process that you’ve deployed throughout the years, which leads to your secret sauce?
Mandy: Well, my methodology is firstly, identifying the need, the opportunity, or the problem —whatever you want to call it. Then it’s very quickly into searching patent databases, which, of course, so much easier now. I look online as well, because not everything gets patented. So, you know, there are things that our prior use as well as prior art. I’m also a very hands-on person, so I start by making models to get what’s in my head into something tangible in my hands.
Then I start working from that point, and it’s very much about proving the concept. So, I’ve got this idea, and I think it might work like this, and how does it really work? I get the concept sorted, and then I get my engineers and designers involved. I communicate what it is I’m after, and they do the next step. They do all of this computerized stuff such as the modeling and stress testing.
Years ago, I would go from making a sort of hotchpotch model, to then having certain bits and pieces made for me to try out so that I could develop a prototype. And a lot of it now is done on the computer, and the modeling and everything else. And it will go from the what’s on the CAD, it will then go into pre-production prototype tuning. And that’s basically how it goes.
IP is a huge part of it all. I do the initial searching myself, and when I think we’re onto something that might have legs, I’ll do the next step and get the concept so that I’ve got something I can talk about to a patent agent about. I also talk to my engineers, and make sure what I’m suggesting is going to be feasible.
Once I have the green like, I talk to a patent agent. In the UK, a lot of the Intellectual Property Office stuff is online now, and they’re digitizing everything. So more and more, you’ll be able to do things yourself before having to employ an IP professional, which is great.
Then I talk to my IP attorney and work out a strategy. I’ll do an invention record, which they then work from when I’m at a stage where I think, “Yes, we think we have a patent. We can work on this.”
Often what happens is you start working on something, including the engineering, and as the months go by the product morphs and changes. If you patent too early, you find the pattern might be slightly different. In my own experience, there have been several instances where I patented to get the earliest priority date and then I found that I had to do a second patent because everything I wanted was not in the first patent. Of course, that can get it expensive. It’s a real balance on timing because you want to get an early priority date, but it’s also working out when to file for a patent. You want to know there’s a revenue stream in sight so that you don’t end up spending a lot of money before you know that there’s going to be money coming in. Patents get very expensive, so timing is extremely important.
Ray: This is absolute gold dust, because we have so many listeners who will see you as a role model — especially early-stage entrepreneurs. As an organization, we’ve recently focused on working with early-stage startups, people, folks in the garage, and I know what you’re saying will really resonate with them.
Now, I know you’ve got a bunch of other successes as well, but in those early years when you’ve got the design, and filed your patents, what was it like in terms of building a team and recruiting? Did you have recruitment experience on? Did you think, “Yeah, I’ve got to hire that engineer, they’re an expert at CAD. And now I’ve got to hire someone in business development and marketing”. What did that process and that journey look like when you’re trying to recruit and build your team?
Mandy: I’ve never gone through any formal recruitment agencies. It’s all about networking. You get introduced to people, and maybe they’re not the right person, but you have a conversation and that leads you to somebody else.
I’m sure there are better, quicker ways. But that’s how I’ve always worked because everything depending on finding the right people. And it is so easy to find the wrong people and the wrong partners. And believe me, and I’ve had my fair share of wrong partners.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it’s about having conversations and being introduced to people. And then, when you meet the right person, somehow, you know, they’re the right person. My current CEO is a perfect example of this. I met him through a chance meeting I was having with a solicitor about something completely different. We were discussing wills or something. He asked me how business was going, and I explained where we were, and what we were doing, and told him I was looking for a new CEO. He told me about his friend who works as a CEO, and how successful he’d been in the states. He mentioned his friend was looking to work with small companies. So, it’s this sort of chance comment. We met, and I thought, “You know what? This is exactly what I need!”
It wasn’t somebody who was just going to do more of the same in the same way that we’d done things before. It was somebody who was looking at it from a completely different perspective. And it just clicked, and it worked. And we work really well together.
Similarly, I was introduced to my chief engineer when I was helping out another mom who had an idea and was trying to bring her product to market. I was mentoring her and working with her a bit. The person who connected us said, “There’s this guy who I think might be useful to you.” Now, I’ve been working with that guy for about 10 years now. I think when it’s right, it works. And when it’s not right, you know pretty quickly.
Ray: Are you still working with the same team today?
Mandy: My engineer is still the head of engineering, and I’m working with a new CEO. Another thing that’s worked really well for me is rather than employing, say a whole team of designers, and keeping everyone salaried, I keep a loose network where I can call upon different expertise as I need it. Different projects require different skills and different experience. This way, I don’t become a massive company having to keep everyone salaried. And I don’t become a company that one design team that deals with every single project, because they may not be the right people to deal with that project. Keeping this sort of loose knit network, and pulling in people as I need them, I find that works much better for me.
Ray: Where do you see yourself now in the next four or five years? You’ve had this spectacular journey from 1980, with your first invention, and in the early 90s, and mid 90’s with the Anywayup Cup. Where is Mandy Haberman in 2024?
Mandy: The products will be launched in Asia and hopefully going global, and not just within Asia, because they’re capable of doing that. I own all that IP, which is great. And I’m working on two other projects, which, if they take off, I think it’ll be very exciting.
I see myself as continuing to create intellectual property, and I think I will eventually retire. I mean, I thought I’d retired six years ago, but I didn’t. I’m not sure I can turn off the inventing part of my brain to just sort of sit back and not think of new things. I think I’ll always be thinking new things. I enjoy it too much.
Ray: Where does this come from, Mandy? This creative mind? Is it family upbringing, or someone who inspired you when you at the early part of your career? Have you reflected on why you’re built the way you’re built?
Mandy: I was always creative. I was good at art, and even as a very small child, I was winning awards and things like that. So, the creativity was there. My mother was very creative as well. But I think that my skill is more about problem solving. And it’s a creative approach to problem solving. So that’s kind of how my creativity has manifest.
There’s also a deeply personal side, as I look at my upbringing as a child. My parents were frightened by problems, and if something went wrong, they would just carry on with the problem. And I think it was an aversion to that, from what I saw around me as a child, that made me have the need to find solutions. So, I think I think it’s quite a sort of deep psychological thing about problem solving. I can’t stop myself doing it.
Ray: You’re wired to problem solve. When I meet entrepreneurs who’ve achieved what you’ve achieved, there is some story behind why they’re wired the way they are. It’s mind boggling. There’s so much in a mindset, and in the drive required to achieve what you’ve achieved. So, I think our audience will be fascinated to hear the story behind your mindset.
Mandy: I think you need a huge amount of determination and balls, quite frankly, to get there. But I think it’s driven by passion. I started out when I started out with the Haberman Feeder. Firstly, because of the experience I had with my baby, and these problems where she was failing to thrive. She became skeletal. It was awful. Anybody that goes through the experience of having a child with problems and illness, it tears you apart. And I felt really angry and passionate that there was nothing in the market that would work for her to feed her. And that’s what drove me forward, to turn it into a product.
I raised about £20,000, and this was back in the mid 80’s. I wrote to companies and told them about my daughter. I told them what I wanted to do without sharing details of the invention. I felt I had a solution, and I wanted to create a product. In those days, companies just gave money, and I raised £20,000. I think part of the drive was I felt a responsibility, and when I took in the money, I knew I needed to have something to show for it. I couldn’t not do it. That was a strong striver for me.
Ray: Thank you for being so passionate and sharing your story. Obviously, you went through a challenge as a young parent, and completely understanding that must have been such a difficult time, you were proactive. I would say most people, say 95 percent, are not thinking of solutions, inventing, and in the mindset of, “I’m going to tackle this problem. I’m not going to sit here and, and moan and have self-pity. I’m going to be proactive, positive and, try to create something good out of this situation.”
Where do you get that from? Because not everyone’s built that way. Have you ever reflected on why you have that positive, growth mindset?
Mandy: I don’t know, that’s me. I can’t see your problem, and then not do something about it. I know lots of people have brilliant, brilliant ideas but, don’t take them forward. I think you need a driving force behind your idea if you want to get here, because it’s a roller coaster. Sometimes, you do bang your head on a brick wall for hours. It’s not all fun and games and glory. There are a lot of tears, blood and sweat along the way.
I think maybe deep inside me, there has always been this need to be successful. I’ve never been one to leave something half done. I find that really hard. And, that also relates to knowing when to stop and let something go, I find that really hard. Sometimes, you can be working on something and you’re so tied up with it, that it becomes very difficult to look at it objectively. And I think you have be able to look at it objectively and ask, “Why am I doing this? Am I doing this for vanity?”
A lot of people do things for vanity. They take out a patent because they think, “Oh! I’ve got a patent. This is my thing.” But you know, it’s never going to make any money.
I think objectively, you want to solve problems for people, you want to create solutions, and you want to make life better. But you can only do that if it’s viable and going to make enough money to make it worthwhile to do it. If it’s not, you’re holding on to nothing. You have to have that objectivity, and the passion too.
For me, I think the drive to succeed is what pushed me on with the bottle business. It was such a great product, and there was a market for it. But we licensed to a company that sat on it and did nothing. It was not a good story. I ended up being the last man standing, and once I was the last man standing, I was able to turn everything around. That’s how this whole Asian partner company situation came along.
Ray: What is your advice to young entrepreneurs who have seen what you’ve achieved, like some James Dyson, they’re creative and inventive, and they feel like they’ve got the grip, but they’re at the beginning of their journey? What would be your one or two killer tips, considering the environment we’re in now, to make their dream a reality and, and potentially achieve what you’ve achieved within industry?
Mandy: I think the big thing is, do your homework. Make sure when you start out, and you have this idea you’re in love with, that you’re not kidding yourself. Make sure people are really going to want whatever the product or service and will put their hands in their pocket to buy it. Because if there is an easier way of solving the problem, or a cheaper way of solving the problem, particularly post-pandemic when money is going to be tight, then that’s what they’ll do. They won’t buy your product if they can work around it.
That’s why it’s important to be really objective. And, as I said before, the first thing you’ve got to do is do a really good search of prior use and prior art to make sure that you’re not reinventing the wheel, and also to make sure you’ve got something that has USP and is unique before you start.
I think those are the most important things. Also, it’s International Women’s Day, and I don’t know whether it’s just more, or whether it’s women in general, but I think when women achieve something great, we don’t focus on what we’ve achieved. Now, I can only speak for myself, but this is what I think. It seems like we move the goalposts with it. But, it’s so important to pat yourself on the back occasionally. You know, I take huge pride in what my kids achieve and what my husband has achieved. And I don’t focus enough and actually take enough pride in what I’ve achieved — my husband does, he’s hugely proud of me, it’s great. But I think for women, it’s really important not to underestimate your abilities.
You can fly as high as you care to dream. But have ambition. Don’t underestimate what you can achieve. And when you do achieve something, recognize it. Recognize that you’ve achieved something fantastic.
Ray: This is so strange, you’ve mentioned taking a moment to stand still, pause and celebrate. So, PatSnap, fingers crossed you’ll see this in the press soon — we’ve achieved a pretty insane milestone as a business recently. And we were having that discussion literally today because myself, the founder of PatSnap, and the founding team, combined we’ve been working toward this mission for nearly 42 years.
It’s a long time and I sometimes message him on WhatsApp because it’s been a while since we’ve all been in person together. We’re all at home now — the founding team are in Singapore and China, and I’m here in the UK in Greater London.
And I sometimes I message them and say, “Hey, how are things? I miss you we, and we should celebrate.” But we don’t do it enough. We were talking about that today. We need to enjoy the blood, sweat and tears we’ve been through. I think I need to invite you to one of our team talks, Mandy, if you’re up for it. Because there could be a whole book about standing still and celebrating what you’ve achieve. It’s not always, “Oh! I’ve got to do this thing now that I’ve achieved that.”
Mandy: Don’t keep moving the goalposts.
Ray: Mandy, I’ve really enjoyed the exchange today. Let’s have a bit of fun now, a quick fire round if you will. In terms of books, what have you most gifted or highly recommended as a purchase?
Mandy: I’m going to say a book, which I haven’t actually read yet, but I want to read, which is the biography of Josephine Baker. I’m fascinated by her. I’ve always found her fascinating when I’ve seen pictures of her. She was an African American, who was incredibly talented, and she was an innovative performer. She created a new way of performing. So, she was hugely successful. She came from St. Louis, and very as poor as poor can be. And she became the richest black woman in the world. That’s quite an achievement. Not only was she this amazing performer, but she became a spy to help in the war effort in World War II. Afterwards, she became a political activist for racial equality, and she created something called the Rainbow Tribe. I just think she’s such a fascinating, amazing woman. And I’m not even sure that young people today will have heard of her. I don’t know if the book is well written or not, I’m not making any rating recommendations, but I just want to learn about this lady because I think she’s fantastic.
Ray: Wow! And any other pieces in terms of business books or books focused around entrepreneurship?
Mandy: Well, there’s millions of business books around. I’m going to go a bit off-piste here, and recommend a book called More to Life Than Shoes: How to Kick Start Your Career and Change Your Life. It was written by my daughter, so a bit of a plug for her, but it’s about case studies of women who have achieved their dreams. And I tell you, I mean, I know my daughter wrote it — she’s the author. But, when I read it, it gave me goosebumps so many times. It’s about women who are not just in business, but who have all different dreams. There was one woman who wanted to be a skywalker, on the wings of an airplane. She had a dream to do this. And it’s women who have gone through battles and achieved their dreams, whatever those dreams were. I found it so inspiring and uplifting. It’s a wonderful book. So, I recommend that. More to Life Than Shoes: How to Kick Start Your Career and Change Your Life by Nadia Finer.
Ray: And extraterrestrial life, believer or non-believer, and why?
Mandy: Non-believer I’m afraid, because I’m a very practical person. Maybe, who knows, in another universe. When you invent something, you’ve got to know somebody on the other side of the world is having the same thought process as you at the same time. I learned that when I was negotiating with my US licensee, and they turned up a patent which when I first looked at the front of it, I thought, “That’s my patent!” It was so alike, in fact, it didn’t work. But if there is life in another universe, they’re probably sitting here having an interview like this right now.
Ray: Well, Mandy, I’ve really enjoyed hearing your story today. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with the team here at PatSnap. Let’s stay in touch because I truly don’t feel like today is long enough!
I’d love to invite you back if you’re open to it because I have so many questions swirling around in my mind that I want to ask you. But I want to be respectful of your time. So, if you’re open to it, we would love to do a part two.
Mandy: Yeah, that would be fun.
Ray: Awesome, Mandy. It’s been a real pleasure and I look forward to seeing you again soon.