I’ve been inventing for many years, as you probably know. And I’ve learned something simple, but steadfast. Don’t celebrate until you’ve cashed the check. There’s no better story I can think to emphasize this truth than one that began long ago.
I had a home office in Oakdale and a drawer at Kinko’s to my name. One morning, I read an article in the local paper and discovered that there was never enough space for information on labels, like warnings and drug facts. I went down to my office away from my home office and built a sample of a label that could solve this problem. I sent it to several people I knew, and was lucky enough to connect with someone who had some major contacts in the industry. Big companies.
And one day, I received a call that blew my mind. The call. As I sat in my little home office in Oakdale, I pressed the answering machine and heard, “This is Dirk Yeager, President and CEO of Proctor and Gamble, calling.” WHAT? What did they want with me? It appeared that all my dreams might be coming true – they’d seen my label, and wanted me to come out! I thought, “Game over. Home run.”
I knew I needed some muscle behind me when I presented to P&G. I was just a guy with a drawer at Kinko’s! But my wife was vice president of marketing at Gallo Winery and I knew a manufacturing guy who actually produced technology for P&G. Bingo. My wife tried to reach through my excitement and pull me back into reality, but I was long gone. And nervous.
The P&G campus was just that – a campus. It looked large enough to house 20,000 undergraduates, easily. I couldn’t believe it. I’d done everything right and I was here. I had this little idea, I’d filed some patents. And now, I was going to hit the big times with my team of three. After we sat down to lunch with a gentleman who had given us a tour, I thanked him. And he looked at me with a little smile and said, “Steve. You do know there is no such thing as a free lunch, right?”
The walk down the hallway to our meeting room was never-ending. I think they purposefully walked me down that hallway. It was lined with patent after patent. Patents for days! It was intimidating, to say the least. But I still felt okay. The room we sat down in was enormous, with a single long table. As the P&G employees walked in, I struggled to hold back my disbelief. There were at least 25 of them! An entire army, I felt. The atmosphere was tense and I began to wonder if perhaps there was another reason for this meeting, other than cutting me a rather large check and discussing the future…
I made my presentation, did the song and dance. My wife explained the marketing potential of the product and our manufacturing guy explained how it could be made. We received no smiles in return. Instead, a sheet of paper was slid across the table, and I was informed that P&G would never pay me a cent for my product and that it would never made a dollar. And they all walked out.