Barzvi first had the idea for her 2-in-1 foot scrubber while in the shower, realizing that combining a pumice stone with cleansing soap in a single device could make removing calluses a lot quicker and easier. “The lightbulb went off,” Barzvi says. “It wasn’t something revolutionary. I didn’t invent electricity, but the convenience of having a 2 in 1 product was so great to me, and I felt like if I loved it so much I knew other people would too.” So she set out on the first step of the journey many fledgling inventors take: pitching to an informercial company.
“They loved my product and said it had the potential to generate $2M in its first year. All I had to do was invest $35k to get it off the ground.”
However, this figure didn’t account for the media she was expected to spend to promote My Solemate. Eighteen months later there were still no sales to speak of. “Looking back, this was the first red flag”, Barzvi says. “The reality is, these companies don’t fully explain how the infomercial world works to newbies like myself, so it’s a bit of a scam. The whole launch was a disaster.”
Later, My Solemate appeared on Good Morning America and received positive reviews, lighting up Barzvi’s sales for several days - but the effect didn’t last and in fact drew the attention of another suitor who’d turn out to have ill intentions.
An established media company wanted to license the product, promising to invest $100,000 into advertising and give Barzvi a royalty on all sales. “Everything I dreamed of was finally happening,” Barzvi said. But the media company had no tangible experience selling physical products, and My Solemate was treated like an experiment. When the company’s efforts didn’t translate to sales, she hit pause on her dream and went back to her full-time job.
This is where Amazon changed Barzvi's story. In 2014, six long years after she invented My Solemate, she learnt about the world of selling on Amazon and soon launched My Solemate on the platform herself. “Within three weeks, My Solemate was a Top 10 seller within its product category,” Barzvi says. Since then, My Solemate has been ranked number one in its category several times and the product listing has amassed over 600 customer reviews.
Barzvi feels like there are big issues with the traditional industry that’s been set up around inventors. “The big problem is that most inventors and really excited about their own product, but don’t know who to trust,” she says. “Most companies make [inventors] sign exclusive agreements, and they’re good at convincing you that you’ve got the next Snuggie.”
But Barzvi is quick to point out that problems arise often due to systemic issues rather than bad actors. “The reality is most licensing companies are working with dozens of other products. So they may sit on your product, and won’t actually do anything with it. It’s not all about manipulation, often they are dealing with lots and lots of products every day. My main point is that you shouldn’t just hand over all the marketing off to someone else after you’ve invented the product.”
Amazon provides an antidote to such problems by leveling the playing field for inventors. There are parallels to publishing, another industry that’s been disrupted by Amazon. Inventors can connect directly with customers, start building a brand, and leverage this market validation when dealing with potential partners.
Barzvi says that while most inventors are still not thinking about Amazon as a launchpad for their products, it is relatively easy for individuals to set up. Inventors can launch their products quickly, and gauge market interest, rather than relying on other channels that require more investment and industry connections. However, it’s important to note that competition on Amazon is rife. “The barriers to entry is a lot higher on Amazon than when I started in 2014,” Barzvi says. “The key is differentiation, which is great for inventors. But ideally there should be multiple sales channels, with Amazon in the mix, as you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.”
The ultimate happy ending of Barzvi’s story is becoming more commonplace amongst product inventors. Turning to Amazon, and its ability to act not only as a distribution platform but a marketing channel as well, has changed the lives of others.
Chris Boerner, the inventor of a heavy-duty keychain pill fob called Cielo, also launched her product on Amazon to rave reviews by customers. Boerner invented the product after being diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease that requires daily doses of medication in pill form.
Barzvi has also started helping other inventors harness the power of Amazon. She helped Lerin Lockwood, the inventor of the Lion Latch jewelry tote to launch her product on Amazon. “Now she [Lockwood] is on the Grommet and was on Good Morning America’s Steals and Deals,” Barzvi says. “I am also working with two NYC police officers that I just helped launch their invention called the Beard Blanket which is doing very well.”
In terms of market validation, as of today there are few retail channels more important than Amazon. And despite ongoing concern about Amazon’s friendliness toward small businesses, Amazon is actually helping inventors in an industry that’s traditionally been clouded with mystique. “There’s this idea that after a new product has been licensed the inventor sits back and does nothing,” Barzvi says. “But this is a fantasy. No matter what path you take, the inventor is always working hard in the background.”