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Not As Seen on TV! Entrepreneurial Guru Advises Inventors

Jeanette Mulvey

AJ Khubani has a very important piece of advice for would-be inventors: Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose.

Khubani is the founder of TeleBrands Corp. whose “As Seen on TV” products are sold on television and in nearly every major retail chain in America and 120 other countries. He knows a thing or two about the risks of bringing new inventions to market.

“We’ve been in the business for 27 years,” Khubani said. “And even with all that experience, we still fail 90 percent of the time.”

Khubani has met with hundreds of inventors over the years. And, even with his expert eye, only a small percentage of the company’s products become a hit.

Nonetheless, TeleBrands has had its fair share of winners.

Khubani’s favorites include AmberVision sunglasses, which it launched in 1987 and which were the company’s first major hit with retailers; Safety Can, a can opener that leaves cans with dull edges when opened, and PedEgg, an oblong foot callous-removal tool that has turned out to be the company’s best-seller of all time.

Hooked early

Khubani followed his own advice when it came to starting TeleBrands. After finishing college in New Jersey and working as a bookkeeper at his father’s import business, Khubani invested just $20,000 to start his business in 1983.

“It was the worst recession in a long time and unemployment was  over 10 percent,” Khubani told BusinessNewsDaily. “It was a tough time for anyone graduating from college—like it is today.”

Khubani said he always had a love for gadgets. He bought his first product from a television advertisement when he was 11 years old. It was a Popeil Pocket Fisherman. After that, he was hooked, so to speak.

Today, his company partners with inventors in all phases of product development to help them bring their product to market. Once it is determined that the company will put its “As Seen on TV” name on the product, a royalty agreement is hammered out.

While Khubani won’t reveal how much the inventor gets, he will say that some inventors have reaped seven figures in royalties from “As Seen on TV” product sales. The PedEgg, its best-selling product, has sold 38 million units to date.

As seen in Las Vegas

Initially, the company met with inventors looking to pitch their ideas on a one-on-one basis. That process, however, proved time-consuming and inefficient. Since 2008, TeleBrands has been conducting “American Idol”-style showcases allowing inventors five minutes each to persuade TeleBrands to partner with them to produce their products.

The most recent event was held in Las Vegas in September. These Inventor’s Days have yielded some fruitful results for TeleBrands. Two of its popular products, Jupiter Jack, which allows your car radio to act as a speaker for your cell phone, and the Windshield Wonder, a tool for cleaning your car windshield, both were born out of TeleBrands’ Inventor’s Days.

Khubani said inventors bring ideas in all stages of development. Some come with just a crude prototype, while others have fully developed products with marketing campaigns and pre-produced television commercials.

But Khubani emphasized that this kind of commitment to an untested invention may be unwise.

“You don’t have to invest a lot of money up front,” said Khubani who sits on the Business Advisory Board at Montclair State University and chairs the Entrepreneurial Engineering program at Princeton University. “I try to dissuade people from investing a lot of money. The majority of inventions are not commercially viable.”

Instead, Khubani advises inventors to file a provisional patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which costs about $100. After that, Khubani said, inventors should spend their time showing their invention around to potential investors or partners to determine if it is viable.

Khubani pointed to another of the company’s successes as an example of starting small.

“The Go Duster was invented by a math teacher in Florida,” Khubani said. The prototype, which was constructed of a scrub brush handle duct-taped to a duster head, cost about $20. The provisional patent cost $106. The company ended up selling a million Go Dusters.

The bottom line, Khubani said, is “don’t spend more than you can afford because the odds are you’ll lose everything you invest.”

Jeanette Mulvey Member
<p>Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter <a href="" target="_blank">@jeanettebnd</a>.</p>