Thrive Global: John Grimm Necessity Is The Mother of Invention
Thrive Global – December 2, 2020
John Grimm is a Navy veteran, has 22+ years of experience in inventing and designing medical devices, and holds 60 patents. John is bringing that same expertise and attention to detail to his current role as the Co-Founder, CTO, and inventor for Philter Labs. Using his medical background and expertise, Grimm is upending the vaping industry by inventing a new technology that captures and dissolves 97% of pollutants from secondhand vape and smoke emissions to help consumers filter their vape, not their life. Grimm’s expertise has allowed him to invent customer-based solutions that serve as a starting point for necessary societal and environmental change.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was that kid that always took his toys apart to see how they worked, which drove my parents absolutely nuts. My dad was an engineer for a local aerospace company. He would bring me home old computers and junk pretty much, and I would just take things apart and put them together and build things, ever since I can remember. I just loved that part of understanding how things worked. That was pretty much my thing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” My dad used to say that all the time and it really stuck with me. Because when there’s a need for something, that’s when people get creative, or should get creative.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Old Man and the Sea. That may be a cliche book, but his tenacity and his unwillingness to quit was a big thing for me. There’s probably others, but I kind of glean the same thing from a lot of different sources. Don’t quit, and succeed or die trying are my philosophies.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I grew up in a house of smokers and it carried on with me as a child that I smelled like smoke, my house smelled like smoke, and everything I owned smelled like smoke. Philter wants to help people who don’t like that smell. You can’t stop people from smoking and it’s not fair to stop people from doing it, but how do we allow those people to coexist with nonsmokers? Finding a way to bridge the freedoms of being able to smoke, but respecting those that don’t was the biggest aha moment for me.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
One of the benefits I have is my experience in product development. Teaming up with an amazing group that share the same ideas and dreams and have incredible backgrounds is another part of it. You need to have the right people involved in the right disciplines or doing the right things in order to be successful with getting your product out. It’s not just having a great product or a great idea, or even executing a great idea. It’s about having other people that are supporting the effort that are contributing to the success.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
Getting rid of the “someone probably already thought of that” mindset is the first and most important step. Yes, maybe someone did think of it, but maybe they did not execute it properly or you have thought of a better way to do it.
Secondly, see whether there’s filed patent applications or even granted patents. Acquiring a good legal resource to help you go through that process can be helpful.Going through it with the right attitude of, “We’ll find a way to make this successful.” And then again, utilizing good resources such as patent attorneys and market research.
Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?
My family is my inspiration, because what I do, I do for them, I want to have successes for them and set examples for them. My colleague, friend, and mentor, Marco Schilling, mentored me by reinforcing a lesson that I learned from my dad, which was, “Don’t let anything stop you. Don’t think you can’t do something. It can be done.”
My dad used to say, “Impossibility is an opinion.” I know he didn’t come up with that on his own, but he always said that. It’s just work. Nothing is impossible, it’s just work. So get out there and do it.
For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
Once you have the concept and you feel comfortable with the avenue you’re going to take, you file an initial IP, which is called a provisional patent, an abstract of your idea that allows you to stake a claim in time. This gives you the right to say, “This is my idea and on this date I filed for it.” Then you have one year from that day to put it into non-provisional status.This
Finding the right manufacturing partner is very important. You want someone who has the capabilities that fall within the scope of your project, whether it be in plastics or metals or whatever your project is. Interview possible manufacturers, find out their capabilities, the products that they have done and currently are doing, how your product fits into those, and make sure there’s no conflicts as far as competitive products or similar products.
Distribution is a different animal altogether. I mean, you have to weigh certain decisions about exclusivity and finding the partner that shares your company core values. You don’t just want to get it out there just for the sake of getting it out there. Work with a partner who is going to represent your brand the way you want it represented. Getting the product in the right hands that are going to treat the product properly, interface with the customer properly, and send out the correct message is one of the most important parts of that.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we were making our first product, we had specific brand colors and they’re very sacred. Once you have your brand and your brand identity, you want to make sure you are accurate and always following it. We have a certain Pantone color blue that we use, and I transposed two of the numbers in the Pantone color. It ended up being this terrible purple color that was made on a bunch of needed parts. I ended up flying to China and I showed up at the factory and I had these parts out in front of me and I almost lost it. It turned out to be kind of funny because the color was so dreadful that even the factory was like, “This is probably the worst color we’ve ever seen. I don’t know why you’re doing this color.”
At the end of the day, you want to see your product through to perfection, and that’s what I learned from that experience.
The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
We had our proof of concept working and were trying to make it smaller and more efficient. We kept focusing on the filtering part of it. Why can’t we get this to work with just less filter? What is it that we’re missing here? Filtration works off of volume and the more filtration medium you have, the better. It wasn’t until the point that I finally realized that we needed to fix this exhale, prior to it even getting to this filtration side. From there, that was kind of a moment of, not epiphany, but what can we do to manipulate this and pre-treat it, or start to break it down prior to it clogging the filter medium? That was really what kind of the light bulb went off.
And then from there, I just started integrating some aerodynamic changes to the way that the mouthpiece would work and some of the valving, and that’s when things really started taking off. The takeaway was, when you’re told, taught, or you think you know what it is that works for a specific problem, that can be your downfall. That can be your point where you go, “I’m stuck. I don’t know what else to do here.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t think you know everything about what you’re trying to do. It’s a lesson I learned first-hand throughout my career and at Philter.
- Enlist help from experts in different fields of your invention that you are deficient in and have an open mind about that. Because you can have a great idea, there’s no shortage of great ideas, it’s the execution. You get help from other experts or publications. Don’t just try and solve it all yourself.
- Get feedback. Don’t be afraid of getting feedback from people that you can trust and take the good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t just focus on the positive, because sometimes we get good feedback and that kind of overwhelms us because everyone thinks a negative feedback is the worst thing in the world.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure will teach you a lesson. When you’re developing or inventing a product, failure is probably one of your biggest assets. Failure is something you must do.
- Make good notes about what your failures were, so you don’t repeat them. We often get stuck on an idea and how we think something should work that we do similar things that give us the same failure result.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
The first thing is to do research on your own and figure out if there’s something similar on the market. Familiarize yourself with what it is you’re trying to do and how it relates to anything that’s currently out there. When I first started inventing, there was no internet. We didn’t have an internet. And so it was a much different process. Now there’s a lot of resources for either young or new inventors that can get out there for free.
If you have a unique idea, I would recommend getting in touch with a good product development team. If you don’t want to venture out and find a patent attorney on your own, typically they have those resources.
Lastly, find a good product design firm to guide you on what steps to take. They’ll be able to give you an idea of costs, because that is an important part of this, and an understanding of what you’re getting yourself into financially is a really important part of this. I think that’s probably the way I would recommend people to go, because I don’t think most people have the kind of time and resources in house to do that sort of thing.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I definitely think that they should enlist professionals, as they’re going to have a reach that most people just don’t have. The caveat to that is that you have to interview a lot of these companies. There’s good ones and not so good ones out there. If that consultant doesn’t act like they work for you then it’s not the right fit. Ask questions, understand the products they have done and what they have brought to market.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
We’ve done both, and I’ve been a part of both on a couple of different ventures. Depending on the product, depending on the complexity, and the resources you need to get your product through, I think that there’s an opportunity to do both. Once you start introducing other sources of capital, obviously things get more complex. You lose a certain amount of control.
When at all possible, don’t take money for money’s sake. Take strategic money. Take money from people that want you to succeed and can help you succeed. If you can take money from someone that has ties or resources in your, or the ability to help you bridge other gaps that you may have deficiencies in, that’s what is important.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Throughout my career, I’ve always wanted to do things that would make a difference and have a positive impact on society. That’s what originally led me into the medical field and that’s why Philter Labs Inc. is a perfect opportunity. We are not only reducing the emissions and smell of secondhand smoke, we’re creating a safer environment and giving the opportunity for people who consume to have their freedoms while protecting those that didn’t have that protection before.
We also have our philanthropy arm, the Philter Project. Through this, we’ve partnered with One Tree Planted, the Veteran’s Cannabis Group something as a disabled veteran myself I am very passionate about, and Last Prisoner Project to contribute to those in need. The success of Philter can only help us do more of it. Patents are great, all that stuff. It sounds really great, but if it’s not really making a difference or if it’s not really helping anyone, it’s not my thing.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There’s an opportunity with Philter that can help people be more courteous, kind, it can help people be more conscious of others. That is a movement that I would be behind, whether it was our product or anyone else’s product. Because in my opinion, there’s a significant lack of that. Being conscious of each other and caring about each other goes a long way. It’s simple things, but to me, the easiest thing in the world is to be nice to somebody, and it is a lot easier to be nice to someone than it is to not be nice to them.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, and not just because he’s the Terminator. I’ve done a lot of listening to him over my lifetime, read books that he has either authored or been a part of, and admired his general demeanor. He exudes appreciating life, opportunity, and making the most out of things. One of my favorite quotes from him goes something like, “You only have 24 hours in a day. Sleep six hours and be productive 18. And if 6 hours isn’t good enough, then sleep faster.”
His success story is really quite amazing and I think he has a tremendous outlook on life. It’s not only infectious to me, but it could make a lot of us who don’t necessarily appreciate certain things in life or take advantage of certain basic things. I think he has a real appreciation for those, even though he’s like a mega star.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this!