Pamela Gonzalez and My Tot Clock
By Pamela Gonzalez
My name is Pamela Gonzalez, and I am the inventor of My Tot Clock. People often ask me how I came up with the idea for my product. My answer is easy…sleep deprivation was the mother of my invention!
It all started four years ago when my oldest son Gabriel was only 2-years old. His new little brother Anthony arrived and took over the baby room, along with everything in it…including the sacred crib. Gabriel was a great sleeper in his crib, but when he got into his big boy bed, all bets were off. He became a master negotiator before bedtime, he required mommy to be in the room before he would fall asleep, he would wake up in the middle of the night (sometimes multiple times), and finally he would end up in our bed.
This became our routine, which was 100% created by a mommy who didn’t have the heart or the strength to let her big boy keep crying it out. One night…or should I say the wee hours of the morning…I was putting Gabriel back to bed for the 2nd or 3rd time, when it dawned on me that the problem wasn’t that Gabriel loved waking up in the middle of the night and disturbing everyone’s sleep, but that he had no idea what time it was!
Is the Sun Up?
So, I came up with what I thought was a great idea! I would tell Gabriel that he couldn’t get out of bed until the sun woke up. Genius move, right? Well, not exactly. Gabriel woke up every hour to tell me that the sun was awake! I knew I needed something better than the sun to solve this problem! I needed to buy one of those clocks. You know, one of those clocks that changes colors, so children would know when to sleep and when it’s okay to get out of bed. After putting Gabriel back down…again, I hit the Internet (hey, I was up already!), and I started searching for the magic clock! I searched, and searched to no avail. The clock was nowhere to be found, so I vowed that night to invent it!
I got busy…
Well, I got busy as we moms do, and I didn’t start working on my magic color-changing clock for over a year, although it never quite stopped gnawing at me. In the summer of 2006, I finally decided to sit down and put my thoughts on paper. Within a day or two, I had a full concept document that I was really excited about!
After putting the concept together, the next step was to figure out what this magic color-changing clock would look like. I invited my good friend Ben Yin (graphic designer extraordinaire!) to lunch to see what he could help me come up with. He had two little girls almost the same age as my boys, so he quickly grasped the concept and we started brainstorming ideas. We agreed on a throw-back style design with a changeable faceplate and a child-friendly handle. Now, I was really getting excited!
You can’t have a concept without a name, so I decided it was time to name my baby. Here were the top name ideas before I came up with the winner.
- Magic Color Clock
- Magic Time Machine
- Nighty-Night Clock
- Sleepy Time Clock
- Kid Klock
- Tike Time
- Tick Tock Toddler Clock
- Tick Tock Tot Clock
My Tot Clock
I started calling the concept Tick Tock Tot Clock, which sounded like a fun name, but I always worried that it was a bit of a tongue twister. Then, one night as I was settling into bed, it hit me…My Tot Clock! I got so excited, that I jumped out of bed and wrote it down. It had all the elements I was looking for…short, catchy, rhythmic, and descriptive. I also loved the word “My” since I wanted small children to love their clock as much as they loved their favorite “my” toys.
Just in case you were wondering, the logo and tag line came much, much later!
The Patent Process
OK…so now I have a concept document, complete with a visual of my product idea and a name! Now what? Obviously, I needed to PATENT it! I picked up all the “patent it yourself” books, read most of them, and decided to hire an attorney! I conducted interviews with half a dozen patent attorneys in the Dallas area and finally decided to hire a very well-respected sole-practitioner named Michael Diaz.
Mike and I worked hard to complete the Provisional Patent Application (PPA), which essentially allows you to date-stamp your idea until you have the time and money to submit the much more extensive Patent Application (PA). Although I had a year to submit the real-deal, I was so anxious to get things cooking that I went ahead and submitted it a few weeks later. Mike, being one of the good guys, only charged me for the PA. Thanks Mike!
In the process of submitting the Patent Application, we also went ahead and submitted the Trademark application for My Tot Clock, which I’m happy to say, has officially issued! The Patent Application is still in the works (two long years later).
The Good News
The good news is that you don’t actually need a patent to develop a product; you just need one to protect it. The bad news is that it doesn’t take much for the copy-cats to design around your patent (or your product) if motivated to do so…as I unfortunately learned the hard way. Keep reading…
At this point, I am starting to spend some serious time and money on my concept, so I decided it was time to start a company and reap the tax benefits! I thought through lots of company names and settled on White Dove Innovations as a tribute to my mother who passed away in 2004 from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). I know she would have been very excited about this product and very proud of her daughter for pursuing it.
White Dove Innovation, LLC
After settling on a name, I submitted my DBA (Doing Business As) application, and I was in business! A couple of months later, I decided to file my company as a Limited Liability Corporation. White Dove Innovation, LLC was officially born, complete with an Employer Identification Number (EIN), a bank account, a P.O. Box, a telephone number and business cards!
Why, do you ask, did I feel I needed a P.O. Box and a telephone number? How else was I going to get junk mail and phone solicitors? Hey, it didn’t matter. I was basking in the glory of being Pamela S. Gonzalez, President of White Dove Innovations, LLC! My mama would have been very proud!
OK…so now I have a concept document, complete with a visual of my product idea AND a patent application! Now what? Obviously, I needed to SELL my idea to a company that could actually build and market it, right?
From everything I read, I knew the big boys were mostly out of reach, so I started researching the 2nd and 3rd tier players. I prioritized the players based on product line, distribution, and willingness to evaluate independent ideas. Then I decided to approach the first company on my list!
Submitting the paperwork
I submitted all the paperwork to the process owner (aka “gatekeeper”) and waited…and waited…and waited. I finally called to inquire about the status of my submission. She said that they were extremely backlogged and wouldn’t have an opportunity to review it for 9 months! Of course, being a new starry-eyed inventor, 9 months seemed like a lifetime to me, so at 2:00 that morning (when I was putting Gabriel back to sleep…again), I sent an email to the president of the company. To my amazement, he wrote to me a couple of hours later (4:00 in the morning!) and said that his VP of Product Development would be in touch!
Two days later, the VP of Product Development called me! We had many great chats and tons of emails over the next couple of months. He said they were very interested in the product idea but were in the process of a major company restructuring, so they wouldn’t be able to focus on it for another 6 months. Well, I was a Mommy on a Mission, who had no intention of waiting 6 months, so I decided to build it myself!
Warning to my Online Friends: The VP of Product Development ended up going to another company and taking my idea with him, even though we had a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in place and my patent was pending. In the fall of 2008, his new company launched a product that was extremely similar toMy Tot Clock. I guess they thought they could design around my product and get away with it. Thankfully, they’re missing a few key features (like the great bedtime stories and lullabies!). They may have made the steak, but they completely overlooked the sizzle!
My First Prototype
As part of the 2-month dance with the aforementioned company, I was asked to prove that my concept would actually work. In my heart I knew it would, but they wanted real proof! Mommy’s Intuition isn’t enough in the business world, so I had to build a prototype!
The very first prototype I built was made from digital timers, nightlights, and a CD clock radio. I plugged the first timer into the blue nightlight and set the bedtime. Next, I plugged the second timer into the green nightlight and set the waketime. Finally, I set the alarm on the CD clock radio to the same waketime and voila! We were in business! (p.s. I also threw in a red nightlight to test the timeout concept…worked great!)
Time to Prove the Concept
Now that we had a real working prototype, it was time to prove the concept! My wonderful husband and I made 10 prototypes and recruited all our friends with small children to participate in our little test. We promised to serve margaritas, so it wasn’t too hard to get them interested!
The next step was to run the test and document the results. We setup the prototype in our boys’ room, got them ready for bed, and started the fun task of explaining to them how their new magic lights were going to work. Anthony, who had just turned 2, could describe the colors and seemed to take it all in stride. Gabriel, who was almost 4, quickly understood the concept, but was still a little suspicious of this new contraption in his room. Take a look for yourself!
The First Night
When the light turned blue, we put the boys down and left the room. This was completely outside of their routine and did not make our 2-year-old very happy. He wanted Mommy to rock him to sleep as usual, but I stayed tough and calmly reinforced the blue light / green light concept. Big boy Gabriel was sad but brave. Anthony screamed for 40 minutes (!) and finally fell asleep.
Although getting the boys to sleep the first night wasn’t 100% successful, keeping them in bed was! Both boys slept in their own beds the ENTIRE night without calling out even once, and that was a FIRST for our family! They were so proud, and we were beyond thrilled!
On the second night, Anthony cried for 15 minutes before falling asleep. Gabriel was very calm and cooperative. By the third night, they both went right to bed when the blue light turned on without so much as a peep! This became our new, wonderful sleep routine!
Successful Proof of Concept
The Proof-of-Concept was a huge success! Children who had never slept in their own beds were sleeping on their own within the first few nights. They were no longer waking up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning. They weren’t negotiating. So they were waking up better rested and so were their parents! We were definitely on to something!
Now, we needed to figure out how big the market was. We started out by searching for existing research (known as secondary research), and we found plenty! Our favorite statistics included:
- Juvenile Products Annual Sales: $7.1 Billion1
- Annual Market Growth: 8%1
- # of U.S. Children Ages 2 – 5: 16 Million2
- # of U.S. Babies Born Each Year: 4 Million2
- # of Licensed U.S. Child Care Centers and Pre-K Programs: 180,5443
We then decided to conduct our own survey (primary research) to understand just how many toddlers (ages 2 – 5) experienced various sleep issues. We setup an online survey using SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com) called “The 60-Second Toddler Sleep Survey.” Within 2 weeks, we collected nearly 300 responses from people throughout the country!
Here is what we learned:
- Toddler Sleep Study Statistics (Ages 2 – 5)
- 70% of Toddlers Negotiate Before Going to Sleep
- 35% of Toddlers Sleep With Their Parents Part of the Night
- 20% of Toddlers Sleep With Their Parents All Night
- 50% of Toddlers Wake Up in the Middle of the Night
- 40% of Toddlers Wake Too Early on Weekdays
- 60% of Toddlers Wake Too Early on Weekends
We were thrilled with what we learned through our research and decided it was promising enough to continue the journey!
Time to Hire an Engineer
Now that we have proven the concept and gathered promising market research, it was time to hire an Engineer who could create something a little more marketable than my contraption of nightlights and timers! After an Internet search and several interviews later, I decided to hire Innoquest, a Design/Engineering/Manufacturing firm out of Woodstock, Illinois (www.innoquestinc.com).
I knew when I talked to the president of Innoquest, Bill Hughes, that I had my guy. He asked all the right questions, immediately identified some possible challenges, and just had a way about him that I really liked. He became my right-hand for the next several months and continues to be a trusted advisor today.
Within a couple of months, not only did Innoquest come up with the technical design for My Tot Clock, but they also developed 20 prototypes for use in our field studies and tradeshows. I can’t begin to explain the excitement I felt when I pulled the first working prototype out of the box. All I could think was, “Wow…these littles puppies are going to be sitting on store shelves one day!” I was practically floating!
Then, I actually put one of the prototypes in my boys’ room! They had been using their nightlights and timers contraption for 5 months now and were deserving of the real deal! They loved their new Tot Clock…everything about it, the lights, the story, the music, the handle, everything! Their reaction was more than I could have hoped for. I was overjoyed!
A great big Thank You to Bill and the Innoquest team!
Testing the “Real” market
Once we had working prototypes, we decided to test the “real” market! So, in April 2007 we headed to none other than the Juvenile Products Manufucturing Association (JPMA) tradeshow in Orlando, Florida. We wanted to find out if the industry would welcome our product with open arms. To our delight, we picked up over 100 business cards from chain buyers, store owners, catalogs, e-tailers, and sales reps, all of whom were interested in knowing more about My Tot Clock!
My husband and I had a fantastic time at the tradeshow and the results were exactly what the doctor ordered to keep us energized as we continued the journey. Now it was it was time to get really serious and find a manufacturer!
I had actually been interviewing manufacturers for a couple of months by the time we hit the trade show and was down to a short-list of two. To my excitement, there were two exhibitors at the tradeshow that were actual customers of the manufacturers on my short-list!
Meeting the Exhibitors
When the show started winding down, I decided to take a little break to visit the exhibitors. I waited for a good time to introduce myself and let them know that I was in the process of interviewing their manufacturers. I asked if they had a few minutes to discuss their experience with these companies. They were more than happy to tell me everything I wanted to know and then some. To my excitement, both exhibitors provided A+ recommendations on the two manufacturers! What a blessing to have met these exhibitors. Now I had peace-of-mind knowing that both manufacturers were upstanding companies and good partners to their customers. Time to focus on the deal!
After nearly two months of back-and-forth with the manufacturers, I finally received detailed quotes for the Non-Recurring costs (engineering,programming and tooling) and the Production costs of the product. They were within 10% of each other…and 50% higher than I hoped! I decided to bring in a 3rd manufacturer to validate the cost estimates, and wouldn’t you know…they were also right in line with the first two quotes. I had to reset my expectations.
Deciding on a Manufacturer
I finally decided on Innovation Design Products (IDP) as the manufacturer for My Tot Clock. Their quote was very competitive, but what made them really stand out was their work ethic throughout the entire sales cycle. They worked hard…I mean really, really hard to prove to me that they were capable of building my product. They worked through most of the big issues during the sales cycle and already had solutions! I also appreciated that their quotes were detailed and easy to understand and felt like I knew what I was getting with this company. I felt good about them!
So, we signed a deal and got started! I was assigned my very own Project Manager, Ringo Ling from Hong Kong. Ringo and his team of engineers, programmers, quality assurance specialists, etc., have done a tremendous job as we have built My Tot Clock together!
At nearly 15 months, the development of My Tot Clock was a test in patience and perserverence. In my own naïve thinking, I was convinced we could produce My Tot Clock in 6 months…easy! Well, product development is never easy, and there is always a bump or two in the road. For us, there were a few more than that!
Our first challenge was with the lights. We had to come up with a cost-effective way to illuminate the various lights uniformly across the full surface of the clock. The IDP engineers found a great material that would capture and distribute the lights evenly, and we were able to print the clock right on it!
Our next challenge was to find a way to keep the digital clock and the analog clock in-sync. Although it would have been much simpler to exclude the analog clock completely (use color only) or implement an analog-like digital clock in the front (which aren’t child-friendly), I stuck to my guns until we found a solution! My engineers worked together (Bill Hughes and IDP) to come up with a way for the digital clock to send a volt pulse to the analog clock motor at the top of each hour. Voila…we had synchronization!
The programming of My Tot Clock was by far the most time-consuming task of all. We spent months programming/testing/re-programming/re-testing until we got it just right! All the functions operate beautifully together…just like clock-work!
Tot Clock Treasures
Although the programming took the longest amount of time, it was the Tot Clock Treasures that nearly did me in. In my own naïve thinking (again!), I was convinced we could implement an MP3 solution and play bedtime stories, lullabies, and wake songs of any size and length we desired. Although I wanted to start off with child-friendly cartridges, I also planned to set the product up for future digital downloads! It was going to be great! But, that kind of greatness comes at a great big price and would have easily priced My Tot Clock out of the market, and I simply couldn’t let that happen.
My engineers worked through this issue diligently until they found a 32mb chipset that would allow us to deliver an 8 minute bedtime story + lullabies + a wake song + white noise…for the right price! Now our challenge was to get all the content small enough to fit on the chip!
Now that we had the right chip, we had to find the right content to put on it. I went through my children’s CD collection and found that most of their music was produced by Twin Sisters Productions (www.twinsisters.com), so I called them! Why not start at the very top, right?
Ms. Karen Hildebrand
I was able to speak to one of the sisters right away, Ms. Karen Hildebrand. Karen was a super nice lady, very professional and very excited about my product. We agreed on a licensing deal for her music and bedtime stories and we were in business!
I also found a wonderful bedtime story called Welcome to Children’s Dreamland by writer/illustrator Ashley Paris. The minute I heard it, I smiled a great big smile and thought what a perfect story for My Tot Clock. It’s filled with positive, loving messages read in a slow, almost hypnotic way. I loved it…and so did my little testers!
Unfortunately, the dozens of fabulous bedtime stories, beautiful lullabies, and fun wake songs were too big to fit on our 32mb chip. I needed to find an industry expert to down-sample the content, and I found them…right in my back yard!
The Dallas Audio Post Group (www.dallasaudiopost.com) is a leader in sound engineering, not only in toys, but also film, television, and radio. Roy Machado, the founder, explained all the limitations of the chipset. He then came up with an approach to deliver the best possible results and worked directly with the manufacturer to make it happen!
Thanks to Twin Sisters Production, Ashley Paris, The Dallas Audio Post Group, and IDP, we are producing 7 fabulous Tot Clock Treasures as part of the launch! Children are going to love picking their favorite bedtime story and plugging it in all by themselves. Say goodbye to night-time negotiations!
Art Director, Joe Potter
As you can see, I have had many business partners throughout this journey, but through it all there has been one constant (other than my husband of course!), and that is my Art Director, Joe Potter (www.joepotter.com).
I found Joe through Elance, which is a must-use service for any entrepreneur that connects buyers with service providers via the Internet. Of all the freelance graphic designers I spoke to, Joe was the only one who had experience with all areas I was seeking (website, marketing materials, product labels, packaging design, logos, you name it!).
From Day 1, Joe did not disappoint! Not only has his work been top-notch, but he is truly one of the nicest people I have never met. Even when we’re on draft 20 of a deliverable, he always keeps his positive, upbeat attitude. Thank you for all you do, Joe!
In order for Joe to finalize all his deliverables, he needed pictures…lots and lots of pictures! Prior to the Trade Show, I hired a local commercial photographer to take a few shots of the early prototype. The cost was a whopping $500 for two shots! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury of time, so I paid the money and made a note to self…find a cheaper photographer!
I also had to hire a photographer to take shots of children sleeping, waking, etc. for the website and packaging. I found a local photographer named Dan Walters (www.applecreekphoto.com). The minute I met him, I knew he would be great with children, so I hired him! Just as suspected, Dan had the patience of a saint and somehow managed to get some great shots of three very active tots!If you’re wondering who developed our fabulous website, it was Cratima Interactive (www.cratima.com) out of Bucharest, Romania! Like Joe Potter, I found Cratima on Elance, and I am so very thankful I did. They have been wonderful to work with…fast, professional, highly skilled, and very focused on customer satisfaction. My project manager, Alina Lupu has kept everything moving forward, even when I started to run out of steam!
On December 8, 2008, the first 6 units off the assembly line were inspected and the factory was released for Production!!
It has now been two years since I started working on My Tot Clock, and we’re finally ready to launch! Oh happy, blessed day!!
Give the Gift of Better Sleep
We hope you will be among the first to give your family the gift of better sleep through a fun, innovative, child-inspired product! Thank you for sharing in Our Story!A great big, loving thank you to my wonderful husband, or as he calls himself, the Vice President of Stuff (VPS) for White Dove Innovations. He has been my rock, my support, and my sanity throughout this journey and has selflessly picked up the pieces at home while I pursued my dream.
Thank you to my dear family and friends for the constant encouragement and support. Not once did they tell me I was crazy!Thank you to my precious children,Gabriel and Anthony, for being such horrible little sleepers…and the inspiration for My Tot Clock!
Thank you to all the wonderful focus group mothers and the cute little testers!
To my mentors and dear friends Todd Price and Jon Feld thank you for all their wonderful guidance.
Finally, thank you to all my online mentors at www.inventored.org who have been a tremendous source of learning and inspiration!
And of course, thank you to God for laying out the path, giving me a little push, and lighting every step of the way!Thank you to all my partners who helped me bring this product to market!
More information about My Tot Clock and where to purchase it can be found at www.mytotclock.com.