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Sitting Back on Your Heels

By Bruce Freeman

When you were a kid, did you ever wish you had wheels on the bottom of your shoes? Roger Adams, founder of Heeling Sports Ltd, of Carrollton, TX, did. He grew up in the roller skating industry (his parents owned a rink) but Roger broke the family mold and earned a master’s degree in psychology from Pacific Lutheran University. He had been working with people in serious crisis for years, but by the late ‘90s Roger was experiencing professional burn-out. He decided to take some time off, think things through, and decide what he was gong to do with the rest of his life. While renting a little house at the beach in California, he started to watch people skating up and down on in-line skates and skate boards. Soon he had an idea, for a shoe, that would allow you to walk normally or roll on wheels - on command.

Using a borrowed workshop, he set about making a prototype. He asked the local kids to help him test the shoes, and refined the idea with each successive try. One sunny afternoon, the air in the workshop was still, and Roger Adams experienced a moment of clarity where the right combination of design and inspiration came together. Time seemed to stop and he knew that this was it; the art and sport of “heeling,” or transitioning your weight back onto your heels with your feet in a position similar to skate boarding, was born.

Soon he connected with an angel investor who got him started with a patent attorney – one of the smartest things he believes he ever did. Since skating is an area where there are a large number of patents, it took a lot of research, money and over two years to get the patent protection (both domestically and internationally) that was needed. Why? Once the shoes became commercially available, word spread like wildfire amongst teens and “Heelys” as the shoes were called, became an instant phenomenon! Many large shoe manufacturers wanted (and many tried) to copy them. However, the financing for all this expensive patent work before the product was introduced, came in series of serendipitous events.

Roger had gone to Texas to meet with another investor when his car was rear-ended and caught fire. Everything was in that car - his prototype, his business plan - everything. It was so important to him that he crawled back in to grab everything he could lay his hands on. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, he was thinking, Well,welcome to Dallas! I hope it’s worth it! It was – he got some of the financing he needed to continue and grow the organization. Soon after that, the son of one of the patent attorneys showed a Heelys promotional video to a friend next door. The boys thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen. It turns out that his friend’s father was a venture capitalist. Presto investo - financing problems solved!

Heeling Sports hired executives from manufacturing, sporting goods sales and the shoe business to create a professional corporate structure right from the start. Current sales are at $100 million and over 3 million pairs of Heelys have been sold through 7000 athletic shoe, sporting goods and department, stores. Roger doesn’t feel burned-out anymore; he’s living the American dream!

Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom

Roger Adams says there is a magic in believing. He made believers out of others by taking them to malls and doing focus groups with kids. He was thrilled at how both boys and girls loved the shoes. Would be inventors should know that they can apply for a provisional patent, which while pending, helps protect the invention for one year, while implementation issues are worked out. You can show your invention to investors or even large companies with some legal recourse if anyone tries to copy your idea. At this time, Roger Adams and Heeling Sports are nearing 90 secondary patents on different aspects of the rolling shoes. At one time Roger had doubts about the high cost of all this patent work, but after successfully pursuing those who sought to copy his invention, he knows he did the right thing.  

Case History:

www.heelys.com

Entrepreneur’s Strategy:

Create and prototype a unique idea and patent it.

Could This Work For Me?

If it’s worth selling, it’s worth patenting.

 

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