A sense of success: John Osher
What do Hasbro, Gerber, and Proctor & Gamble have in common? They all bought businesses started by John Osher. Toys, baby products, and the bestselling SpinBrush toothbrush are only some of the concepts that Osher has launched into successful ventures. He's been starting businesses since the age of eight, and believes he possesses a unique worldview-just as a comedian sees humor in the everyday, Osher sees opportunity.
People have caught on, and now Osher is surrounded by great ideas-aspiring inventors send him their plans and he mentors student teams. However, Osher is quick to point out that it's the opportunity that matters, not the idea. There are tons of good ideas, Osher says, that shouldn't be pursued.
Osher has developed a long list of criteria to distinguish a worthwhile opportunity, but the essence is captured in three points: (1) there must be a need which will be satisfied; (2) there must be a way to satisfy the need; and (3) there must be a way to communicate the product's value.
These three criteria guided him in the development of the SpinBrush.
According to Osher, the electronic toothbrush was a superior innovation, but one that only rich people could afford; he realized there was a need for an inexpensive version for ordinary consumers. But such an innovation would only be accepted if it could sell for just a few dollars more than a manual brush, and there had to be an easy way to connect the product with customers. After his design team came up with a model that could retail for five dollars or less, they developed "try me" packaging, enabling shoppers to observe the spinning action in the store. The product took off, and the two separate elements were crucial in that success: if the cost had been higher, or expensive advertising was needed to promote it, Osher is convinced that the opportunity would have been lost.
Along with an idea, an entrepreneur must have guts and skills (and a skilled team) to execute it. According to Osher, people driven to start new ventures are born with a personality that makes them inclined to say, "I'm going to do it, and lead, and find a way." They are natural leaders who organize others and garner the resources to make things happen. However, it's ultimately not drive that matters the most. Osher believes that a flawed product, rather than poor execution, is the demise of most failed businesses. Paradoxically, one can make mistakes only if the idea is truly feasible.
This notion of viability is the pinnacle of Osher's product development philosophy. Too often, inventors rush to commercialize an idea. More time and energy should be focused on understanding the market and adapting the product until it is a perfect fit. This process involves examining current products and testing the atmosphere in the industry and the retail environment. The inventor must be open to criticism and be willing to continually shift and make changes in response to better information.
Although Osher has sold many of his businesses, he doesn't focus on creating good acquisition targets. His advice is to build value. "Don't build a one-shot wonder product. A valuable business will have a good product, a proprietary position, and will be profitable, with staying products. Once this is achieved, the owner can choose how to proceed." If the choice is to sell, Osher advises to "do your homework to find the right match." In the case of SpinBrush, Osher examined the industry and discovered that Crest, one of Proctor & Gamble's most prominent brands, had fallen behind its competitor, Colgate. This made SpinBrush a good strategic fit for P&G, who paid handsomely for the opportunity to revive its brand with the popular product.
The SpinBrush journey was unique for Osher because it was almost flawless. His experience makes him an expert in business creation; but he expects future ventures will run less smoothly. Despite that reality, you can look for Osher's next product on the shelf soon...when the opportunity is just right.