The inventor of the Earbud Yo-Yo

A step-by-step guide to being a hygiene inventor: An interview with the inventor of the Earbud Yo-Yo. Yes, she's a dental hygienist.

RDH eVillage knows you love to see hygienists succeed as much as we do! Here's an interview with "newsworthy (and history-making) hygienist" Julie Barkley, inventor of the Earbud Yo-Yo™.

RDH RDH eVillage: Share your background with us.

Julie Barkley: I was born in Covington, LA, which was my inspiration for the name of my company, Covington Creations. I grew up in Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas. I attended The University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston from 1982 to 1984, where I received an associate's degree in dental hygiene. I also received the Hu-Friedy Golden Scaler Award in 1984. I worked full time as a dental hygienist for 12 years. After my son Nicholas was born in 2001, I continued to work on an as-needed basis. I still carry my dental hygiene license in Texas, and I work occasionally for my husband, Dr. Timothy P. Barkley, in Spring, Texas.

RDH eVillage: What inspired you to invent the Earbud Yo-Yo?

Julie: I received an iPod for my birthday in October of '07. I really enjoyed the idea of having my own personalized music, so I used my iPod a lot. It had one annoying feature — the earbuds were always tangled. One day I was untangling them for the umpteenth time and the idea came to me that I had always wanted to invent something, and that I should work on this problem. I first went to the Internet to see what was available to solve this problem. What I found was very few products in the market to organize earbuds. Several companies sell earbuds with the organizer. Curious, I purchased all of the available organizers. The earbuds that came in the organizers were poor quality, and I had a good pair that I wanted to organize.

So I began to look for parts to make a device. I used my son's yo-yo to create a prototype, and this is where yo-yo originated in the product name. I wanted to make an organizer that would stay on the cord, and in making this prototype I found that it could be wound and unwound to my desired length to customize the length of the cord. When I finished using the earbuds, they could be easily stowed by wrapping them around the final time and locked in place, not tangled in my purse. That's how the Earbud Yo-Yo was born. The final design is square, and at the four corners are sets of rubber teeth (an appropriate design for a dental hygienist) to lock the earbuds in place for storing. The Earbud Yo-Yo can be easily stored on the iPod or in a pocket, purse, backpack, or briefcase.

RDH eVillage: Can you share with readers who aspire to be inventors what the process is from idea to product?

Julie: The process that I followed from concept to manufactured product is a series of parallel tasks, and they are as follows:

• I initially funded the project with my own money, and later raised money to meet the cost of building this business.

• When I first came up with the idea of the Earbud Yo-Yo, I made a working prototype and took it to a design engineer to discuss the idea and get his help refining the device. After working on the design, he told me that I had some patentable ideas. It took four prototypes before we settled on the final design.

• From there I went to a patent attorney. This process is rigorous, time consuming, and expensive. We filed for provisional status and then submitted the final application. The Earbud Yo-Yo is patent pending. In the process of creating the marketing materials for the Earbud Yo-Yo, I developed several marks and taglines that we have applied for trademarks.

• I worked for several months on the design features of the Earbud Yo-Yo, as well as the package, logo, taglines, and Web site design.

• While the product design process was ongoing, I then wrote a business and marketing plan that included launching the Earbud Yo-Yo at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. With the help of engineering drawings, I sent a request for a proposal to a number of injection mold manufacturers, and selected a manufacturer in Taiwan.

• While waiting on the bids to arrive, I worked on the business plan that called for outsourcing marketing, media, e-commerce, and fulfillment. The tasks were:

a) Seek marketing and media experts to guide me in implementing the plans

b) Seek an e-commerce company that would help me sell on the Internet

c) Seek a company that is an expert in Search Engine Optimization

d) Seek a company that fills orders and provides customer service.

• I realized it was going to take a lot of money to launch this product, so I worked on the budget and started raising capital.

• In September, several events occurred.

a) I received manufacturing bids and selected Grand Dynasty Industrial Company as the manufacturer.

b) I formed Covington Creations LLC as a Texas limited liability company.

c) I scheduled a trip for Nov. 6 to Grand Dynasty Inc. to inspect the facility and view the first manufactured Earbud Yo-Yo off of the assembly line. That would be the first time that I actually saw a finished product and I wanted to be sure the product met specifications before committing to a large order with GDI. Happily they met my expectations.

d) I worked with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) staff to prepare a booth space for the January show and product launch. CES was very helpful with my planning and design. I also attended a workshop in October in Las Vegas that gave me tons of material and confidence. I was worried about having a low-tech product at a high tech international show.

• In December, I received the first order of 2,000 Earbud Yo-Yos to be used for demonstrations, samples and early sales after the launch.

• In January 2009, I introduced the Earbud Yo-Yo.

RDH eVillage: What was the best advice you ever received?
Julie: The best advice I have ever received was, "Be decisive and surround yourself with good people." I know I could not do this by myself and I wouldn't want to. It's fun to able to share the highs and lows of the business with others.

RDH eVillage: How do you define success?

Julie: I define success in many ways, depending on the different aspects of my life. When it comes to my business life, I define success as being able to help people, being good at what I do, and finding joy in it. I also feel successful, on a different level, in my new endeavor in Covington Creations because I have stepped out of my comfort zone, trusted my instincts, and believed that this is something I could do. Not only do I feel like I helped people in the dental hygiene profession, but with the Earbud Yo-Yo, I've helped make people's lives tangle-free, and that is also very satisfying.

I have three tips for future hygienists investors/entrepreneurs:

• Research your idea and find out how big your target market is.

• Be decisive and surround yourself with good, positive people.

• Believe in yourself, trust your instinct, and if it makes sense to you, it will make sense to others.

Thank you for sharing your story, Julie. Please go to Covington Creations at www.covington-creations.com to learn more about Earbud Yo-Yo.

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