Most of us have likely watched the TV show Shark Tank where people with innovative ideas make a pitch to a panel of investors in hope of taking their new product to the next level. It’s always entertaining to see the wide-variety of products, but what does it really take to go from an “idea” to market?
Ann and Corey Schaub, owners of LilliPad Marine, know a thing or two about turning ideas into successful products in the marine industry. The Schaubs started designing their flagship product, a diving board for boats in 2012, which is now known as the LilliPad Diving Board. By 2016, both Ann and Corey had left their corporate careers to pursue their new business full-time.
As big fans of Shark Tank themselves, Ann explained that something that really stuck with them when they first started their own business was something Mr. Wonderful said, “It isn’t a hobby—it’s a business.” This helped the Schaubs realize that in order to be successful, they needed to give their business 100 percent.
Ann and Corey built their product and company from the ground up. They had no relationships in the marine industry but quickly found that many experiences in their life provided the tools they needed to succeed. With their first product gaining traction, the Schaub’s contemplated what was next.
Although the two had many ideas of their own, they were also approached by several other inventors with product concepts. One idea was brought to Corey’s attention by a friend, John Merrifield, who had designed a simple dock mounted funnel system to assist with transferring fuel from 5-gallon gas cans into his boat and PWCs. John knew the funnel was something the marine industry needed but he didn’t feel he had the tools to bring it to market like Corey and Ann did.
Growing up in Michigan and boating on inland lakes with no fuel docks meant that the Schaubs were not strangers to fueling their watercraft with 5-gallon gas cans. They were familiar with the frustration of the “new-style” of gas-cans.
“They feature no vent hole and a very confusing nozzle which causes gas to spill everywhere,” laughed Ann sarcastically. Combined with fuel fills on boats that require owners to straddle the dock and boat with a heavy gas can, this is a recipe for disaster and not a fun way to start a day of boating.
Ann and Corey stressed that an important question everyone needs to ask themselves when they’re first starting out is whether they have the skills to do things on their own or whether they have the money to hire people to do the things they need done.
“My guess is that most inventors turn entrepreneurs don’t have an endless checkbook which allows them to hire others to perform all of the tasks that need to be completed,” said Ann. “Therefore, it’s essential to know your skills and limitations and to be ready to get creative to get things accomplished. The product design process, patents, creating a website, marketing materials, social media, sales, travel expenses, boat show costs and so much more, are very expensive.”
Luckily for Ann and Corey, both of their skill sets compliment the other in the design process since Corey has a mind inclined toward engineering and Ann has a talent for aesthetics. As a team, Ann and Corey redesigned the marine funnel to be both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional. The Schaubs worked through a process of mocking up the funnel and testing it on their own and then looked to their son, Austin, who studies mechanical engineering, to create CAD drawings to send their manufacturer.
From there, the manufacturer produced samples which were tested and tweaked until the product met the Schaub’s high standard of quality. Moving forward, they started with a small order and opened every single solitary box for the first several hundred to ensure that each unit produced met their expectation of quality before being sent to a customer.
The Schaubs said the hardest part of getting their products to the market wasn’t the design process but getting the product in front of the dealers and the end users. Before their diving board they hadn’t been in the marine industry, so the process of reaching out to dealers and distributors meant cold calls.
“We were very fortunate to win an Innovation Award at the Miami International Boat show with our LilliPad Diving Board and this made the process of cold calling much easier,” said Ann.
Now that they’ve established themselves, it’s a lot easier to introduce new products. They said it was a breath of fresh air with the Marine Funnel to be able to pick up the phone with somebody they’re already working with and tell them they had a new product.
That’s not to say it’s all fun and games now. Far from it. The Schaubs never stop working. Luckily, both Ann and Corey have the necessary work ethic that’s crucial when owning your own business and being your own boss.
“We’re always working,” added Ann. “We enjoy it and love it—that’s why we do it—but we’re always working.
A Rewarding Experience
In the end, it’s been incredibly rewarding for the Schaubs to experience the results of all their hard work. They love seeing their products find happy owners and hearing about how people enjoy their Diving Board and Marine Funnel.
“It’ll bring a smile to my face every single time someone talks about their family having fun jumping off the Diving Board on their boat or if we’re tooling around on a lake and see a funnel on someone’s dock,” shared Corey.
They’ve also been able to see many places around the country and world on their journey to market their products. They love working at the boat shows and rubbing elbows with people that share their same passions. In fact, they have their third product coming out late this year, so keep your eyes peeled!
“It’s so rewarding to be part of an industry that we truly love and it makes our job not feel so much like work,” smiled Ann.
For more information visit LilliPad Marine