As a student at University of Maryland, Obidi Orakwusi needed a summer job but couldn't find one without a car. He decided he would create a job for himself and sketched the first concept of the Mega Bar on the back of a job application. Three years later, the Mega Bar is much more than an idea. The compact and versatile fitness product is almost done with a successful Kickstarter campaign and is well on its way to revolutionizing at-home fitness.
How did you go about designing a product?
The design process for the Mega Bar was fueled by the desire to help a friend stay consistent with his health goals. My friend was very enthusiastic about getting healthy, but he had no gym membership or home equipment to use during school breaks. I knew that the product would be helpful to anyone with the same problem my friend had. We all have a desire to be healthy, but we aren't always able to stay consistent due to a busy schedule or lack of access to a fitness center. I created a product to save people time, space, and money. Mega Bar is compact and versatile enough to replicate every resistance exercise that can be done at a fitness center, but in a home, office, or any small space.
How did you balance being an entrepreneur and a full-time student?
You might not think you have time in college, but undergrad is probably the only period in your life where you will have the freest time. There are so many resources on college campuses that can help you bring your idea to life. It's all about time management, because once you enter the real world, you are no longer managing time, but time is managing you. The earlier you start, the more opportunities you have to get it right.
Did you work with a team to develop your product?
I went through most of the product development process without a team. I needed to get a patent, so I kept the entire product development process a secret. I did so because the patent office had just changed their rules from a first to invent system to a first to file system, which meant whoever submitted a patent application first had control over the invention. Being a college student with very little resources, I kept what I was doing a secret because I knew anyone with deeper pockets could file a patent before I did. One of the few people I told was a mechanical engineer who worked on campus. I asked him to review my structural design and dimension calculations to make sure that it was all going to work properly. Once my calculations were all good, I transitioned into developing a working model. But first, I had to hire an industrial engineering firm to create a computer model of my dimensions for manufacturing because I didn't have the software. I reached out to a few firms, but ultimately chose one that offered an NDA before they ever asked about the details. Once the computer model was finished, the Mega Bar was ready to manufacture.
What have been your greatest obstacles and how have you overcome them?
My greatest obstacle has been the lack of funding, which ultimately affects the ability to have a strong marketing strategy. You can have a product that everybody would love, but if you don't have the resources to market it, then no one will be able to find it. It's funny because when I first started designing the Mega Bar, I thought, "Wow this is going to be such a great product. It's going to help so many people and all I have to do is just finish up product development and the website."
I thought product development was going to be the hardest part because every detail has to be so accurate for a physical product. The physics, the structural engineering, and the material science take time to get right, but it turned out that was actually the easiest period. The hardest period started once it was time to show more than one person what the product could do. It's not hard to identify the customer once you understand what their needs are, but it is hard to find a way to reach that customer effectively. I'm still on the path to completely overcoming the marketing obstacle, but social media has been a great tool that I'm using for a free marketing strategy.
How did you realize who your target customer was?
It was trial and error. I had to identify the demographic that would understand the value and price without too much explanation. I had just started an entrepreneurship class at UMD and they wanted us to interview five potential customers. I stood in front of the recreation center to show any students that gave me their attention a video of how the Mega Bar works. I ended up interviewing over 120 students in a month, and that process helped me understand that the demographic of 18-22 year-olds was not my ideal market. They loved the versatility and design of the product, but they couldn't afford it because most of them didn't have jobs. They were also not limited by time because they usually had three hours of classes a day and were within walking distance to the recreation center. With that knowledge, I shifted the focus to a market of working professionals who had money, but limited time. I knew that they would appreciate a compact and versatile product that would help them stay consistent with their health goals at anytime.
How did you get startup funds?
Most of the money came from a work study job l had at a computer lab on campus. There was nowhere else to earn money because it was too early for people to understand my vision; most people just thought I was a crazy kid with a bunch of drawings and a plastic model. I saved every check that I got from that work study job, and by the end of the school year, I had enough funds to put into finishing product development. After that, I won my first competition from my school's Dingman entrepreneurship program. It was really great timing because I used half of the cash award to pay the issue fee for the first patent, which led to the arrival of the patent at my door on my birthday last year.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who want to turn an idea into a patented product?
Do a lot of research on your idea to find out what already exists. You don't want to go deep into developing a product that already has a patent. One thing I did when I started developing the Mega Bar was to search the patent database to see what was out there. Anytime I felt that something looked similar, I would go back to the drawing board. Once you know that your idea doesn't already exist, it is time to push forward with it. You just need to stick with the idea and keep product development consistent so that you can build a working prototype and then patent the product.
What will Gym Supreme and the Mega Bar look like in five years?
In five years, the Mega Bar will be the most popular fitness product on the market that helps people stay consistent with resistance exercises. By that time, Gym Supreme will have new products on the market too. Gym Supreme is going to fuse design and technology to create the best fitness products that help us all stay consistent with our health goals. The mission is not to just create great products; it is to create products with a purpose, products that give us access to health so that we can all Lift Good, Live Good, Look Good®. We only live once and being in good health is how we are able to live our best life.
Thanks to Obidi for sharing his journey, passion, and ingenuity with entrepreneurs young and old. You can support Obidi's Kickstarter campaign until December 31, 2014.