How One Inventor Turned a Spring Break Idea Into a Six-Figure Business


Rob Ianelli reached down to crack open a beer with his shoe.

It was 2006 and the 19-year-old American University student was on spring break in Mexico throwing back a few cold ones with his friends. He was wearing a trendy new line of beer bottle-opening sandals made by the surf brand Reef. In his eyes, the utility of a fashionable, wearable bottle opener was brilliant. A frat guy's dream. There was just one problem: Probably the most inconvenient place to house that beer opener, he surmised, was in the sole of his shoe. The floors of most frat houses aren't exactly clean.

Inspiration Strikes

These were the thoughts occupying Ianelli's mind when he walked into the next bar on the strip and whipped off his sunglasses. From his perch on the bar stool, he contemplated local Mexican beer to order while fingering the frame of his glasses. Then it hit him.

"I was just sitting there looking at my glasses and I thought, 'This is the real place for a bottle opener,'" Ianelli said.

He sketched it down on a napkin. A pair of shades with a bottle opener built into the earpiece. How had no one else thought of that?

"It was a joke to some extent," Ianelli said. "Everyone dreams about inventing products. First thing I did after sketching it on a napkin was get a patent. I had no idea what I was doing. But two years later I had a prototype."

If it sounds like it was easy, it wasn't. Ianelli had no experience in engineering and product development. (In college, he studied International Relations.) Not to mention the first prototype was a bust.

"They didn't fit," Ianelli explained. "They also did not open bottles. They had a piece of metal on the end that looked like a claw, but it was functionless. It was pretty disheartening."

Try Pry Again

For awhile, Ianelli gave up. Then, about a year after the prototype dud incident, he got a second wind. Inspired to make a fresh start, he networked his way into a business deal with a more design-focused factory than the one he had previously worked with. It took a whole lot of trial and error, but eventually Ianelli succeeded in creating a prototype that fit his vision: Fashionable, functional eyewear to help students more easily achieve a most essential collegiate need — beer-drinking, of course.

He launched the product under the name Brewsees in 2011. And within two years, he had a six-figure business.

"I wanted the brand to be youthful," Ianelli said. "The ultimate consumer is a 19-year-old frat guy. I look at it as a lifestyle brand, and we're only just beginning with our line of beer-opener sunglasses."

Ianelli, who is now 28, said he has sold more than 30,000 pairs of the eyewear he dreamt up nine years ago while on spring break. He said the company is currently experiencing month-over-month growth rate of 200%, in part thanks to a robust network of 108 Brewsees campus ambassadors at colleges across the nation.

In addition to creating new styles of sunglasses, Ianelli said he dreams of branding out into apparel and partnering with a brewery to create a Brewsees brand of beer.

Staying Motivated Through Failure

His best advice for other inventors is as simple as this: Make sure you want it it badly enough, and if you do, stop at nothing until you find success.

"There's absolutely no chance that you're going to have an overnight success," he said.

"So do you really care about what problem you're trying to fix? A lot of people are just trying to get rich, but the people who do the best and find the most success are the people who are so passionate about the problem they're solving that they're never going to give up until they they solve it."

He said it's also important to realize that you can dream up the greatest invention in the world and it might still be a flop.

"Making a product is one thing, but building a business that can sell that product in a way that's profitable is another thing and that's what you need to be successful," he said. "Kickstarter doesn't cut it."

For Ianelli, the hardest part of the invention process was product development.

"It's not for everyone," he said. "I'm good at it now, but I started out pretty much clueless. There's no college course or magic wand that's going to teach you what you need to know. But if you truly believe in your idea, you will figure it out."

What product invention are you sitting on?

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