Sometimes, the best business ideas are staring you right in the face; you only have to look hard to see them.
In 2002, college classmates Morgen Newman, John Goscha and Jeff Avallon were brainstorming for a project in their entrepreneurship class at Babson College in Massachusetts. But as their creative juices were still pumping high, the whiteboard was already filled to the brim with their writings.
That’s when the idea hit them: why should their creativity be limited by the size of the whiteboard? Why not turn surfaces such as walls, tables, desks or even the whole corporate office into one big giant whiteboard?
Their business, IdeaPaint http://www.ideapaint.com, was then born. They aimed to produce a special whiteboard paint that will make it easy to paint on any smooth surface to turn it into a dry erase writing surface.
Thinking about the product and developing the right formula, however, proved to be a stiff challenge. They envisioned their product as a paint that could be applied with a paint roller in a single coat. However, some of the specialty paint and chemical coating laboratories told them that it cannot be done as whiteboards are made using high-intensity ovens.
The Challenges of Developing the Product
Lucky for them, they found a laboratory in Michigan where the scientists were willing to give their plan a shot and even cover some of the development costs. They spent about four years fine-tuning their product.
Even after the formula was ready, the business faced stiff competition from big manufacturers in the $1 billion whiteboard marker. One competitor, Rust-Oleum, already had a dry-erase paint product sold in stores such as Target, although their product is geared to home users and must be applied in multiple coats.
Another factor working for the partners – they have the resources to pursue their dream.
Unlike most small businesses starting a business, IdeaPaint is a well-funded startup. It started with capital of about $1 million from family, friends and a few angel investors.
The startup has received funding from venture capitalists and angel investors. In late 2008 during its first funding round, it received about $5 million from Breakaway Ventures. It also received $3.3 million from angel investors such as Todd Krasnow, one of the original management team of Staples Inc., in late 2009. In June 2010, IdeaPaint raised $1.87 million from investors. (Source: “IdeaPaint mixes up a $1.87M new funding round,“ Rodney H. Brown, MassHighTech.com http://www.masshightech.com/stories/2010/07/05/daily2-IdeaPaint-mixes-up-a-187M-new-funding-round.html)
Next Steps for IdeaPaint
The founders finally launched IdeaPaint in 2008 at an architectural trade show. To generate buzz, they painted 3,000 square feet of the Chicago Merchandise Mart and hired muralists to draw on the walls. Requests soon flooded in.
Currently, they have three major markets for IdeaPaint: work, home and school. In this day and age of budget cuts, the idea of using a single coat of paint and getting rid of the blackboards and whiteboards that need to be constantly replaced and refurbished hit the right nerve in many school systems.
Their product is also very useful to home-based entrepreneurs. Paint your home office wall with IdeaPaint, and you can scribble your to-do list and ideas on the wall! For moms with little kids, the wall can be your kids’ doodle central.
Called by many as a breakthrough technology, they now have about 20,000 businesses using the paint including Comedy Central, Reebok, Harvard University, and Microsoft, even the CIA. The business is experiencing double-digit revenue growth, even in this bad economy. [Read how they are using social media to generate leads, create buzz and increase sales]
Now with 17 employees, IdeaPaint is expanding to hospitals and and selling the paint in retail stores this summer. The founders were even named last year in Inc . magazine’s 30 Under 30: America’s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs List.
When you look at the fast success the company is enjoying, sometimes you’d ask yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”