The Detention Invention
The year is 1987. Colin Roche is late to class at Palo Alto high-school… again. As a result, he gets sent to a breakfast club style all day Saturday detention… again. The kid next to him is probably daydreaming about what tattoo he wants to get next. Colin? He’s revolutionizing the pen industry and formulating a business idea that will haunt him for the next 15 years.
Borrowing a lighter from another student, he reconfigured a novelty robot pen that he had picked up at a flea market when the school briefly let the detained students out for lunch. The result was what looked like a Y shaped crutch for your index finger with a pen at its tip.
Colin’s father is a scientist that worked for NASA so invention was in his blood and a workshop was in his garage. “I felt like a mad scientist” reflects Colin today “I had this idea and I didn’t know where it would take me”. He tinkered with the design some more and then shelved it in his garage where it would remain for the next decade and a half.
The 15 year pitch
Colin never forgot about his pen idea. If you talked to him for more than 5 minutes he would undoubtedly tell you about how he was going to redefine how people write with his wishbone-shaped pen design.
One day Colin awoke from a nap he was taking to pick up the phone. He told his friend that he had just had a dream about the pen. His friend replied “are you still dreaming about thatpen again?”
That is when his dream started to take shape. He named his invention the PenAgain since it would be a reintroduction and redefinition of the pen and how we write. In 2001 Colin had lunch with his a good friend from college and engineer Bobby Ronsse. The discussion inevitably turned to the PenAgain. The basic premise was to design a pen that used the natural weight of your hand instead of pressure from a grip, making it easier to write for long periods of time.
The next day was Colin’s 30th birthday so as a birthday present for Colin, Bobby drew up some designs and sent them over. The point of no return had been crossed. The two friends each invested $5,000 in startup capital and began their business adventure.
Off to the races
After opening a few small accounts in Southern California the pair hit the tradeshow circuit. At their first major trade show in New York, they spent the night before in their hotel room super-gluing together the parts for 200 pens because an ultrasonic welder was not available.
Then in 2002, Newsweek magazine featured the pen in its “briefcase of the future,” a mention that brought 5,000 orders in three weeks. Roche had to call on family and friends to help stuff ink cartridges into pens and drove five laundry bags of pens to the post office to mail.
Later that year, the company landed its first major round of investments from some high profile private investors and started manufacturing the product in China.
In 2005 Colin and Bobby invested their last $15,000 to exhibit the PenAgain at a major tradeshow. There had recently been a hurricane that had swept through the area and another one was expected soon so less than half of the attendees showed up at the show. They still managed to get a meeting with the buyer from WalMart and eventually landed this prestigious account.
Later that year he Wall Street Journal did the first of 4 front-page articles tracking the development of the PenAgain. So far the PenAgain has sold millions of units around the globe but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The game changing Twist ‘n Write children’s version was launched in 2008 and has been hailed by parents, teachers and occupational therapists as one of the most significant breakthroughs ever in children’s educational tools. The Twist n’ Write is now called the Rockyt Writer. It’s refillable and is set for its launch in 2012.
In 2009 joined forces with Propel-r Innovations inc and Baumgartens Ltd. to market and distribute the PenAgain internationally and in the US respectively.
Stay tuned. This rocket shaped pen is just about ready to blast off.
To be continued…