Sometimes innovation is best left to the dogs. At least, that was the case for Doug Danforth.
Danforth had been CEO of Midland Loan Services, a subsidiary of PNC Bank in Overland Park. He was running the show. In 2009, the industry had seen better days, and he might have been ready to retire and spend a little more time with the family and with his dogs—Atticus, a yellow lab, and beagles Marley and Molly. Instead, those dogs were Danforth’s inspiration for a new product and company.
Every year, Danforth would dutifully change their dog tags with updated vaccination or contact information. And every year he was frustrated by the process—especially the challenging metal connector that he would later learn is called a “split ring.” Even with tools, it was often an ordeal.
“This is a problem that perhaps needs a better solution,” he thought. “And that was the genesis.”
In 2013, after years of research, hundreds of prototypes, and consultation with lawyers, veterinarians and family, Danforth’s new company began selling LINKS-IT pet tag connectors. Today, they’re sold online and in a growing number of stores and veterinary offices. And the company is rolling out a second product, a colorful plastic tag called Pawdentify.
Danforth spoke with KCUR as part of the Innovation KC series. Here are some of his thoughts on innovation and entrepreneurship as it played out in his business—and his life:
On his becoming an entrepreneur
My background is in banking. It happens that my father is a mechanical engineer; I think I have some of those tendencies. But really the short answer to your question is that I met a team of people, including machinists, plastics engineers, material scientists, who helped us develop this product, but that was sort of phase two. Phase one, identifying experts, in our case, five different veterinarians. [My contribution was] identifying the problem, and then probably even more important than that was developing this team, in most cases of experts, not only in engineers, not only veterinarians, but accountants, lawyers, intellectual property patent and trademark experts, assembling the team who sort of rallied around this idea.
On unexpected challenges
Members of my team have said that this venture has been charmed by virtue of the people we've met, the companies that have partnered with us, but... It doesn't feel that way all the time. I've commented that this has taken us twice as long, cost twice as much to develop as we expected, and I believe that's par for the course. So we developed dozens of prototypes. We spent a year pursuing one technology that ultimately didn't work. We scrapped it and started over, essentially. So there are just repeated challenges.
On being five years into the company's life
I would describe this stage as harvesting the five years of work on behalf of the team. Harvesting the investment we have made. To essentially take these two products and make them available to the world. Make it known to the world. Satisfy the needs for better pet ID. And essentially commercialize the product. We're in the commercialization phase.
On the impact of being innovative on his life and lifestyle
I was at a point in my career where I could step out of the corporate world. I had some financial cushion that enabled me to take what in retrospect was an incredible gamble. We didn't know if we could come up with a product, let alone create any interest or have any interest on the part of our customers. And then for the last five years, I've not had a vacation. Had, most importantly, there's rarely a time when one is not thinking about his or her new venture, so it's all consuming, I would say, in a way that almost can't be imagined by someone who works sort of a typical job.
This interview was part of Innovation KC, a series of conversations about innovation and innovators in Kansas City. To suggest Kansas City innovators for future interviews, send us an email, tweet us, or find us on Facebook.