CASE 1: M K Timer
Jim Kauffman gazed out the window of his office and thought again about his dilemma. Jim was the Dean of Students at a small southeastern college. He knew he should be concerning himself with the matters of student life at the college but his mind kept coming back to the product he and a partner had developed. They had reached a critical point in regard to the development and sale of that product and he was thoroughly confused as to what he should do.
The product that he and Rocky Ferron, his partner, had developed was a timing device that could be used as a teaching aid in baseball. The product, which they had named the MK Timer, was not a new concept but rather an improvement on an already existing product. Another company had developed a timing device under the trade name of the Jugg Gun. It measured the speed at which a baseball pitcher threw a ball. The MK Timer did that but it could also be used to measure the time required by a catcher to throw a ball to second base to catch a baserunner attempting to steal a base or the time it took a pitcher to throw to first base to hold a baserunner at that base. The product could do all this and Jim thought it could be sold for less than the existing products in the market.
Jim’s invention, as so many inventions often do, came about by accident. Shortly after assuming his role as Dean of Students at the college, the baseball coach had resigned. The Chancellor of the school, aware that Jim had played some baseball in college, asked him to take over the position until a new coach could be hired. Jim accepted the role with some hesitation but found once he started coaching that he really enjoyed it. He became totally absorbed in the job and searched for ways to improve his players’ performances. There is an old adage in baseball which states that eighty percent of the game is pitching. Jim believed strongly in that adage and he searched desperately for ways to improve the performance of his pitchers. In an effort to help his pitchers become more effective at changing the speed of their pitches he developed the MK Timer.
Successful pitchers are able to throw with speed and control and vary the speed of their pitches. The key to hitting a baseball is the timing of the batter. If a pitcher can disrupt a hitter’s timing by varying the speed of his pitches, he can be very successful. Jim was aware of this and he searched for a method he could use to train his pitchers to change the speed of the pitches they threw. He videotaped his pitchers to improve their throwing motions and in the process of reviewing the tapes, he discovered the importance of the release point of the throwing motion. He decided that timing a pitch from this point until the pitch reached the catcher’s glove could be a more effective way to teach how to change a pitch’s speed than the Jugg Gun.
Through experimentation, Jim developed the idea of a timing device that had three major elements. The first was a small pad which was placed on the pitcher’s rubber. The pitcher placed one foot on the pad and an electronic signal was sent when the pitcher released the ball from his hand. From observation, Jim had discovered that a pitcher’s foot came off the rubber at the same instant that the ball left his hand. The two motions were simultaneous. Therefore, if a timing device was attached to the rubber which could detect when all pressure was removed from it, an accurate measurement could be made.
The second element was a digital meter. It gave a reading of the speed at which the ball was thrown. The third element was a type of watch worn on the catcher’s wrist. It was a timing device that sent a signal to the digital meter. It recorded the time required for a pitch to travel from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove. The impact of the ball entering the catcher’s glove sent an impulse to the timing meter, which displayed the speed of the pitch. This three part system was quite simple and, Jim believed, just as effective as the existing technology being used to measure the speed of pitches.
When Jim and Rocky, an assistant coach, first developed the idea for the M K Timer they knew they had to have help in building it. Neither of them had any experience in electronics. The solution was to hire an engineering firm to construct a prototype for them. Jim and Rocky made an initial trip to an engineering office in Alabama to explain what they wanted and in a few months they returned to examine what had been developed. They tested the timer on the college’s baseball field and after their pitchers got used to the pressure pad on the pitching rubber, there were no problems. Jim was elated. He had developed a device that could help his players. His pitchers could now see immediately how fast they were throwing their fastballs, curves and, most important, their off speed pitches. Jim knew that varying the speed of two consecutive pitches by as little as five to seven miles per hour would make his pitchers much more difficult to hit.
An additional application for the timer was to record the time required for a catcher to throw to second or third base to keep an opposing baserunner from stealing a base. An accurate measure of the time required for the catcher to rise out of his crouch behind home plate and throw to a base would make it possible to compare times and see if the catcher could improve his speed. The device had a third application. This was to record the time required of a pitcher to throw to first base to keep a baserunner from stealing. Once timed properly, the pitcher could work on different aspects of this motion to improve his quickness and to make it more difficult for the baserunner to determine if the pitcher was throwing to first base or to home plate.
As Jim continued to work with the device, he began to realize that he might have a marketable product. If the device worked for his team, why not for other college baseball teams and also for women’s softball teams? There might even be a market for the product among high school teams and American Legion or other amateur teams. The technology was applicable to different types of baseball and softball teams and significantly less expensive than the existing product in the marketplace.
The most popular product presently in the market was the Jugg Gun, an electronic device held in the hand to measure the speed of a thrown pitch. All major league baseball teams owned at least one and often several of these devices. The minor league teams affiliated with the major league clubs typically have at least one Jugg Gun each also. There were 30 major league teams and approximately four minor league teams associated with each major league team. This represented a total professional market of 150 teams. Jim did not expect to be able to sell his device to this market segment. He believed the primary market for the M K Timer was the college market and a portion of the high school market. There were two other competitors in the marketplace besides the Jugg Gun, but they had experienced very limited success.
The strategy that Jim and Rocky developed for their product was to sell it for less than the existing products and to appeal primarily to colleges and high schools. Based on their discussions with the engineers who built the prototype, the MK Timer could be mass produced for a cost of less than $200.00. Jim and Rocky thought they could sell the device for $500.00. This would cover the initial marketing and distribution costs. This price was quite attractive when compared to price of $1500.00 which was be charged by the manufacturers of the Jugg Gun.
Jim decided that before he went any further with the development and marketing of this product he needed to do two things. First he needed to determine if he could patent the device so that he would have exclusive rights to its sales. Second, he needed to develop at least a rough estimate of the number of potential customers for the timer. He estimated that it could be sold to at least half of all colleges in the U.S. having baseball or softball teams. He had no idea, however, how many schools actually had teams. Many of the smaller schools with limited budgets might not be able to afford his product but certainly the Division I schools and many of the Division II schools could afford the timer. Also, if the men’s and women’s teams shared the device as a teaching tool, this would make it more affordable for the school.
Jim contacted a patent lawyer in the area. The attorney told him it would cost a minimum of $2500.00 to secure a patent for the timer. Jim was a bit shocked at this cost and settled for a limited search which cost approximately $750.00. After some analysis the attorney determined that Jim had a good chance of receiving a patent on the timer if he were willing to incur the expense.
At this point Jim was starting to realize the extent of the commitment he would have to make if he was going to try to market this device himself. He and his partner had already invested over $2,500.00 in this product and he estimated it would require an additional $5,000 to $7,000 to introduce the product into the marketplace. He had no real training in business. His academic background was in student affairs and not in management or marketing. His partner owned a small business but he had no experience in manufacturing or distribution. Also, Rocky was less committed to the timer than Jim. He now realized there was more to making this product a success then he had first thought and that he needed some additional guidance.
Jim and his partner discussed what their next step should be. They decided that attending the college baseball coaches’ national meeting would allow them to determine if there was actually interest among coaches for the device. Also, Jim hoped to enlist the aid of his college coach in endorsing the product.
Jim’s coach while he attended Florida State University had been a major league outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. After retirement from major league baseball he became a college coach and had become quite successful at the Florida school. He was well known among college coaches and if he were to endorse this product it could be a real boost to sales. If the coach liked the product then Jim planned to use his name in the sales efforts for the timer. He left for the conference with the M K Timer and with high hopes.
This was the first time that Jim had ever attended the national coaching conference and he felt a bit out of place. He was a baseball coach but only an interim one and at a very small school. He knew the coaches of the large schools by reputation only or as a result of watching the College World Series on television. Upon his arrival at the conference hotel, he contacted his old coach and asked if he might meet with him to discuss the timer. Coach Litwhiler was hesitant at first but when Jim explained to him how much time and effort he had invested in the product, he agreed to a demonstration.
Jim was a bit nervous as he rode the elevator up to the twelfth floor to Coach Litwhiler’s room. He knew this product had helped the players on his team but the trick was to convince his old coach in one evening that this was a viable product and one with which he should want to be associated.
After spending several minutes discussing the old college days with the coach and his new coaching position, Jim brought the conversation around to the timer. Coach Litwhiler wanted to know what made this product better than the existing timing devices in the market. Jim explained the multiple uses of the timer and how it could be sold for much less than the Jugg Gun. Litwhiler listened intently but did not say much. Finally, Jim asked if he would like to see a demonstration. The coach agreed but said he did not have time to go outside to see it demonstrated. Jim was a bit surprised by this but realized this was his one chance to demonstrate the product to Litwhiler, so he agreed.
He suggested they move out into the hall where there would be enough space to throw pitches. The pressure pad and electronic clock were set up and Jim had a friend serve as a catcher as he threw several pitches. To Jim’s amazement the clock would not register the speed of the pitches. He tried repeated throws and adjustments of all three elements of the system and nothing he did produced a proper reading. Jim was flabbergasted and could not understand why the timer did not work. Litwhiler said he was sorry but he could not possibly endorse a product that did not perform any better than this had. Jim took the timer back to his room and checked it for any loose parts or connections. He found none and was still baffled by the lack of performance. The next day he took it outside to test it and it worked properly.
It was not until two weeks later that Jim discovered why the timer had not worked in the hotel. He contacted the engineers who had built the prototype. After some tests they explained to him that the electronic impulse sent from the pressure pad was affected by the steel girders used to construct the multistory hotel. When used outside, as the product was designed to do, there was no problem. Unfortunately, Coach Litwhiler had only seen the feeble attempts inside the hotel.
Jim returned home deeply disappointed. He had failed to secure Litwhiler’s endorsement. Without it or some other well known coach or player’s endorsement, he knew it would be difficult to sell the timer. If he were to go forward with the device he would have to invest money to do a complete patent search. Also, he had to draw up a contract with a manufacturer to produce the product and he needed to determine where and to whom he would sell it. He knew he and his partner would have to invest an additional $5,000 to $7,000 to bring the product to market with no guarantee of success. Jim believed strongly in the product and he had even contemplated the possibility of taking a leave of absence from his job to devote all his time to the manufacture and sale of the MK Timer. This option involved the greatest risk. Jim still viewed himself as a college administrator and not an entrepreneur. There must be some way for him and his partner to introduce the timer into the market without changing careers.
- Does Jim have a product that can be sold successfully to colleges and universities or has he simply gotten carried away with this idea?
- What can Jim do to determine the potential sales for this product?
- How important is it for Jim to have a well known coach or player endorse this product?
- Should Jim try to manufacture this product himself or contract for a separate firm to perform this task?
What other options are available to Jim if he does not want to pursue manufacturing or marketing the timer?
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