From Motorcycle Mechanic to Millionaire success
When we think of ways to make money or how to create wealth, inventing is absolutely one of the top ways for the average person to become a millionaire. And often it is one of the fastest ways for a person to go from a medium income to a multi-millionaire income.
The story of Joe Markham and his dog toy is an American invention story. What I truly love about this story is Joe’s humble beginnings, and where he was at when he started his journey toward becoming wealthy. Joe was an auto mechanic. Specifically he worked on Volkswagens and motorcycles. Joe did not have an MBA degree from Columbia Business School like Shazi Visram did when she launched her multi-million dollar business. No, Joe Markham was an ordinary working guy like many Americans.
I say ordinary, but in reality I believe you still have to be extra-ordinary and above average to develop a dream and pursue it diligently until you turn it into a success. Anybody can be negative and go through life just working a job and accepting whatever life gives them. It takes a dreamer, a believer, to go out and work their butts off until they succeed at a much greater level.
While Joe may have been “just” an auto mechanic when he launched his invention and business, he had the dream of an entrepreneur and the desire to create wealth and expand his net worth beyond what he could ever do as a mechanic.
The story of Joe Markham has inspired and awed hopeful entrepreneurs for years primarily due to the utterly simplistic way in which he launched his million dollar business. Now make no mistake, as with many startups the road was long and fraught with setbacks, but ultimately perseverance and faith won out over fear and doubt.
Invention by chance
In 1970 Joe Markham was part owner of a Yamaha Motorcycle shop in Colorado. Joe was also the owner of a retired German Shepherd police dog from the Denver Police Department. Fritz the dog, had a fondness of chewing on rocks but Markham knew it was bad for his teeth. Markham would often try to get Fritz to chew on something just a little more teeth friendly, but Fritz still preferred rocks.
One day at the motorcycle shop Joe was working on the suspension of his Volks Wagon Bus. Upon removing a part of the suspension (most likely a CV Joint Rubber Boot) and placing it on the ground, Fritz took interest in it and began to chew. In a sense, Fritz the dog just invented what is now one of the most recognizable dog toys in the world, the Kong chew toy.
The road to Millions started off slow and elusive
Success however, was many years down the road. According to an Entrepreneur Magazine article many years ago, Markham initially had a partner in the venture but when things did not go well and they decided to part ways, Markham endured a lengthy court battle to retain the name and the rights to the Kong toy. While the original idea was born on that day in 1970, the first prototype would not be built until 1973, and the first sale would not be made until 1976.
Even after spending $1500 to get the first prototype made, Markham could not seem to get pet shop owners interested in the product. One store owner told him "Don't quit your day job, this will never fly." One of the things that helped Markham keep the faith during these early years was the knowledge that the pet dogs belonging to all his friends, loved the Kong toy. Markham knew that dogs liked it; he just had to convince people that their dogs would love the Kong toy.
Marketing risk pays off
As with many startups, Markham had to proceed with his own marketing plan, lacking the backing of a large company or corporation behind him. Markham scraped together about $3,000 and put together a TV commercial which ran late at night in about 15-20 spots. The commercial told consumers that the Kong toy was now available in their local pet supply stores. The only problem was that every store Markham had approached declined to carry the product, except one. The commercials were a success and pet supply stores in the area were flooded with request for the toy. The Kong toy was finally starting to see some success.
Millionaire status is slow but sure
Even now, Markham was not an instant millionaire. It would be 1983 before he would enter the Kong toy business full time, and even then he did not draw a salary for over a year and a half. Much of the Kong toy's early success was actually oversees in countries such as Israel, Japan, Australia and the U.K. But eventually success came full circle and today the Kong Company of Golden Colorado has sold over 50 million individual Kong toys, and in 2008 the company of 50 employees took in 7.6 million in sales.
Ways to make money- Talking points
A good percentage of invention or product ideas are inspired when the inventor sees something in nature, or observes a product in one industry and then re-purposes that product or design for another purpose. The Kong Ball was nothing more than a rubber car part that was re-purposed as a dog chew toy.
Joe Markham did not enjoy overnight success. He had some setbacks and some marketing challenges which he eventually overcame. But also remember when he launched his product it was long before the internet. In many ways the internet has leveled the playing field between the big companies and the little guy. If you truly have a great product or service that fills a need, you can realize success quicker today than ever before in history simply due to the internet and social media. Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door.
Invention still offers one of the best ways to create wealth and make money fast. It beats working a job for 40 or 50 years!