Aaron Krause is going to be hard-pressed to ever duplicate the kind of success he has enjoyed with the smiley-faced Scrub Daddy sponge, but that won't stop him from trying.
After the item became a household name by scoring a $200,000 investment on ABC's Shark Tank in 2012 — racking up over $75 million in retail sales and becoming the biggest success story on the show to date — Krause is lookign ahead with a new invention.
This time, he's out of the kitchen and on the go with The Ion Belt, a wearable tech smart belt, which vows to keep your smartphone — or any electronic device using a USB connection — charged at all times.
The end of the belt has a USB port for devices — smartphone, tablet, camera, etc. — while part of the buckle has a built-in recharging USB pin connector that can be charged in a wall socket or with a computer. The wearable has embedded batteries and battery indicator lights as well.
Although Krause worked with Lori Greiner from Shark Tank on the Scrub Daddy, he has yet to make his best pitch to the Sharks for his new product thus far. That's partly because he's hoping the public demand for it is great. To gauge that, Krause has launched a campaign on Kickstarter, having raised $45,411 toward his goal of $50,000 with nine days left as of Wednesday. An early-bird pledge of $89 will land you the belt.
Unlike the Scrub Daddy sponge, which became a hit for its ability to change texture based on water temperature, the fact that it's odorless, doesn't scratch surfaces, and rinses completely clean with each use, The Ion Belt is a tougher sell because of possible misconceptions.
"The majority of the problem is the misunderstanding that this is not safe or that it's not going to let you through airport security or it's going to radiate your body. None of these are true," Krause tells Tech Times. "It's supposed to look like an everyday belt that you don't know or care is on your body. You wear it because you enjoy the look of it and oh, by the way ... you have two days of iPhone charge on your body."
The constant promotion and meetings for the Scrub Daddy have Krause traveling at a breakneck pace, and essentially "living off" his cell phone, using it for everything from standard calls, texts and emails to GPS navigation and Internet research. That being said, his smartphone battery died on several occasions, inspiring him to create The Ion Belt with a 3,000 mAh battery so that would never happen again.
Through his protoypes, however, Krause faced the recurring problem of the wires inside the smart belt breaking through regular use. Linking up with business partner Piers Ridyard changed that, though, as he came prepared with the trademarked Encapsulpak technology, providing two layers of steel sheeting between the batteries to protect them from damage within the belt, while still maintaining the garment's sleek look.
The two have created the company SoftTech Holdings LLC, which hopes to successfully deliver The Ion Belt to the masses, before rolling out all sorts of wearable tech devices in the near future.
Here, Krause tells Tech Times more about The Ion Belt and infusing technology into a buffing pad business that was acquired by 3M and remains an auto industry standard today. He also explains how the Scrub Daddy was originally geared toward cleaning car mechanics' hands, before inadvertently finding its way into kitchens across America. Necessity is the mother of invention ... and like the Scrub Daddy, Krause hopes The Ion Belt fulfills the need to stay charged.
Tech Times: How long has The Ion Belt been in the works?
Aaron Krause: I've been working on it for close to four years. It started out of necessity. As an inventor, I'm always on the go, always creating new products and new ideas. Scrub Daddy actually isn't my first. It's actually my 14th patent. My last company was actually acquired by the giant 3M Company.
3M bought my business in 2008 and I had been traveling so much and I started living off my cell phone. It wasn't just my phone — it was my GPS, my email, Internet, research. It was my everything and I drained the battery down so quickly. One day on a flight, I needed to make some calls, write some emails and when I got there, I had 2 percent left and I got on that plane and watched my battery die. That's the last time I let that happen.
I thought, 'how can I store more power on my body, so that I don't know it's there?' The option was to carry this big, bulky charger around, but I already carry a phone, wallet, keys ... and I didn't want to carry something else. I started looking at my body and thinking I could put it in my shoes, but then I would have to run a wire up my leg and didn't want to do that.
As I was looking at my belt, I started thinking if it was possible to incorporate battery technology into your belt. As soon as I landed, I called my engineer and we began a three-and-a-half-year process of literally creating protoype after prototype, but always coming up with the same problem. The wires inside that make the connection between the batteries and USB-charging end and the discharge end — when you bend them over the same point over and over again, over 30 days, you break the wires. I couldn't figure out how to overcome this problem.
How did you remedy the issue?
One day, while I was searching for someone to help me with it, I discovered a guy in England who was making a belt and replicating my idea. He seemed to have done it in six months, where it had taken me three years. I thought, 'this guy might have the answer.' Instead of going to battle with this guy, I wondered if he'd be interested.
I have a patent-pending in the U.S., so I'm going to block him from coming in the U.S., but maybe he'd be interested in selling my product in England. I convinced him to meet me at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas and the two of us hit it off like best friends.
We were supposed to have a half-hour meeting and four hours later, we were talking about how to merge the companies and that's what we did. It's one company called SoftTech. We have plans for it not to become a belt company, but to be an entire wearable technology company with all kinds of wearable products.
When we signed the papers [to create SoftTech], he showed me [his solution instead of wires] and my jaw hit the floor.
Is this where the Encapsulpak technology came from?
Yes. We said that this has to be safe, but one of the resistances that we found is people thinking it isn't safe. We've done everything to ensure that the product is safe. The batteries are encapsulated in steel, so they can't bend, be punctured or break.
We have circuitry on every one of the batteries that shut it down if there's a short. The next problem is people think there's radiation, but there's no radiation because this isn't transmitting or receiving any signal. It sends electrons through a wire stored in a battery.
Before The Ion Belt and Scrub Daddy, you had a car company called Dedication to Detail.
I started out washing cars when I was a child. That's how I made money. I always had my own business. I never worked for anyone my whole life. I started a car-washing business, which turned into a detailing business, and when I graduated college — much to the dismay of my very professional parents, who were both physicians — I started a car-washing and detailing company out of college.
I had this cool concept that I was going to franchise and turn this into the Domino's Pizza of detailing. We were going to have free pickup and delivery and we got your car done in three hours or less. I started that business and it grew rapidly. One day, I had to fire a bunch of my employees because I caught them drinking on the job. After I fired five guys, I ended up realizing that I was going to have to do all the cars.
So, I was back on the line buffing cars and I damaged a car. I was sure that it wasn't because of my skills. It was because of the product. So, I set out on a mission to create this new style of buffing pad and I was successful.
I created this new product, got a patent on it and within three months, it was selling across the country. Within about six months, it was selling all around the world. It was called the Edge buffing pad. I sold my detailing company and started making buffing pads.
Was that your first patent?
Yes, that was the first patent I had ever received. It was for the overall shape and design of a buffing pad that had edges, allowing it to get into corners and crevices of the car. From 1994 until 2008, I made buffing pads and we grew that business into a multimillion-dollar international manufacturing company.
We were actually competing with and taking business from the No. 1 company in the world for buffing pads, which was 3M, and eventually they came knocking and said, 'yeah, we can't have this.' By that time, I had probably six patents and some really cool technology in buffing pads and they couldn't deal with that because the technology I had ... if I had kept going, would have taken most of the market share.
What was some of that technology in the buffing pads?
We created a quick-connect/disconnect, double-sided, reversible, automatic-centering buffing pad and if you've ever seen an air hose with a quick disconnect — all the buffing pads on the market used to be Velcro-attaching, so you had to buy this plastic plate that the Velcro hooks onto.
What I invented was a new adapter that screwed onto your buffing machine and outlasted the plastic plate by 100 times, was cheaper than the plastic plate and centered the buffing pad by just clicking on and you had two sides. It's the industry standard in buffing pads to this day — the 3M Quick Connect. I invented that, but I no longer own any of that technology or equipment. 3M bought that entire company in 2008.
I understand that the Scrub Daddy actually came about inadvertently through your know-how of buffing pads and you selling your buffing company to 3M. How did that exactly come about?
As an incredible stroke of luck and irony, when we were negotiating with 3M, we could not agree on a price. The way we got to the sales price was 3M made me justify my evaluation by going line-by-line through every product, item and asset. At the end of the day, they said, 'OK, now we know why you think this business is worth so much, but we don't want this brush that you have a patent on ... we don't want this apron, we don't want this washmit, we don't want your buffer stick, we don't want this sponge that you call Scrub Daddy that scrubs mechanics' hands clean that you have no sales of. We don't want those products. You keep those. We want the buffing pad business and this is what we'll pay you for it.'
So, I was like, 'OK, now it looks like we have a deal.' They took the buffing pad business and they left me with what we call accessories. So, I started a new company called Innovative Accessory Products and we started trying to sell these items. The 3M buyout was extremely successful ... enough that certain people would say 'I'm retired and not working anymore,' but that's not in my nature and I'll never be that. For me it was like, 'what's next?' To be honest, the Scrub Daddy was invented in 2006 for mechanics and body shops to clean their dirty hands. It was not a kitchen scrubbing tool.
So, when 3M purchased your buffing pad company, but left you with accessories, including the Scrub Daddy, that turned out to be a big mistake on their part. But how did it get to be a household kitchen item when it was originally aimed for gritty mechanics?
After they bought the business, we had very little sales in Scrub Daddy, so we actually put them in a box and in the back of the factory. They sat there from 2008 until 2011 and serendipitously, my wife was complaining [for me] to come home and scrub the lawn furniture to put it out for the spring. I thought I'd use those old scrubbers and I'll throw them away finally.
I took them home and discovered it was the greatest thing I ever scrubbed with. I went to the kitchen and started experimenting with them. After a week of doing the dishes with them, I realized I'm missing the boat. You put your fingers in the eyeholes and go into a cup and you come out and realize that if it had a smiley face, it could actually clean silverware.
We put a smiley face in and oh, my God, it was over. It was one of those life-changing things. I literally felt like the skies opened when I came up with this idea. I came in the next day and told all my team that we missed the boat and this is the greatest kitchen scrubbing tool ever. I knew we had something really big. It took off. We had a newspaper article written about us, I got onto QVC and that led me to Shark Tank and the flood gates opened. We're the most successful item ever in Shark Tank history. We're over $75 million in retail sales [to date].
With all your success with Scrub Daddy and plans for The Ion Belt, would you ever consider a full circle and return to inventing for the automotive space?
My mentor in life is actually Elon Musk. I have the original Tesla Roadster from 2010. I don't close any doors in terms of innovation. Every day that I'm involved in some activity or some daily process that bothers me, I will come up with a solution for it.
Since I drive all the time, I'm always thinking about inventions for cars, so there's no doubt that one day I will get back to something that has to do with automotive, but I don't know when. Most of my ideas come to me in the shower, to be honest.
But lately I've been working on ice-hockey technology, wearable technology that has an application to ice hockey. They say invention is the mother of necessity. If I need something, I create a solution.