Sailing to Success: An Interview with Inventor Billy Smith
Sailing to Success: An Interview with Inventor Billy Smith
In honor of National Inventors Month, LegalZoom spoke with enterprising 25-year-old Billy Smith, a fresh face among American inventors. Billy and his brother Nick, who are featured in a LegalZoom TV commercial, modified their grandfather's “Ski Klipper” to create the Sporting Sail. The body-sail parachute is used primarily for downhill snowboarding, skiing, and skateboarding. In addition to forming his LLC with LegalZoom, Billy also filed his patents, trademarks, and copyrights through LegalZoom to turn his invention into a successful business.
LZ: How has your business been doing?
Smith: It's been going great. I couldn't ask for anything more. We're having so much fun. Sales have picked up tremendously. Our website continues to increase in traffic. We've noticed that our product has been expanding into markets we never thought of. We've grown our presence across the board with different projects and collaborations. Currently, we have an exciting project we're working on with the cool Best Made Company in New York. They're helping us design a Best Made Body Sail Series.
LZ: Have you seen the LegalZoom ad you star in on TV?
Smith: I haven't seen it on TV yet, but I've been receiving more calls, emails, and texts from people I've never met—as well as people I haven't seen in over 10 years. Everyone loves it, including my boss. It's been such an honor.
LZ: What was the inspiration for creating your invention?
Smith: It all started with my brother and me. In 2006, at my grandfather's home in Colorado where we spent spring vacations skiing, my brother and I were rummaging around in the attic and found a mysterious box in the corner. We opened it up and found these things called Ski Klippers with “Made in Norwich, New York” on the packaging. We knew Norwich was where our grandfather was raised. We ran downstairs and asked him what the Klippers were.
He was 83 at this point and still got 45 days of skiing in each season. He's been more or less our inspiration from the start. He told us to put the Klippers on and try them out. They only weighed about 10 ounces. We stuffed them in our jackets, went up the ski lift, threw these beautiful sails on, and reinvented the descent ever since. It makes any lame day on the slopes incredible. Instead of sinking in heavy snow, you can get more lift. Ultimately, the inspiration came the first time we tried the sails on the snow.
Then we thought we needed to bring it to the streets because my brother and I grew up skateboarding in San Francisco. One day we decided to go down the steepest hill with a one-way street in Marin Headlands, just above the Golden Gate Bridge. We took the ride and since then, our minds have been exploring more imaginative uses for the sails. We didn't know what we really created until kids started taking it in new directions. With the help of LegalZoom, it's been a dream come true.
LZ: What are the differences between your grandfather's prototype and your invention?
Smith: After the initial run on the skateboard with our grandfather's sail, my brother and I went back to the garage and started sewing some of own prototypes. We tested about 10 prototypes with different construction methods, materials, and designs. We eventually figured out that the simplest design was what our grandfather had used from the start. We tried different bungee systems, cords, strings, handles, and straps. In the end, we decided that the simpler design was the best design. Then we worked on enhancing the performance of the material. We sourced the best materials possible. Using my product design and development background, we were able to construct the best possible sporting sail we could. Our sail is directly inspired by our grandfather's Ski Klippers. We simply enhanced his design with modern-day materials and construction.
LZ: Did you originally build the sail as a source for revenue or simply for fun?
Smith: Initially, it was just sharing the excitement with friends. We didn't get into it with the mindset of making money. Our goal was to have fun and see where it would take us. Now with the success of the sail, we've started mapping out plans for how we can get them into the hands of people who would really enjoy them. My grandfather, brother, and I operate the LLC and what makes us happy at the end of the day is how we're running the business. We try to keep everyone involved who's been there since day one. The sail has been well received by the people who have tried it.
LZ: What brought you to LegalZoom?
Smith: LegalZoom came into view when the serious side of the experience started to happen. We needed some help without a lot of money to work with. Saving our start-up costs was initially the priority, but protecting ourselves soon became the primary focus. Finding LegalZoom gave us the option to use more money toward development, design, and testing to make the best possible product. We worked with LegalZoom to take care of the legal issues and help make our dreams happen within a short period of time. I was able to have full control over our LLC formation, trademark, DBA name, seller's permit, and patents. With the legal aspects resolved, we were able to focus on sales and make our online presence grow. LegalZoom played a tremendous role in our start-up.
LZ: When you started thinking about your intellectual property, did you also start thinking about your business formation?
Smith: Exactly; they go hand in hand. If you have a tangible product or idea to protect, whether for utility or design, it's important to initiate both of those processes when you start your business. As you get more exposure, you'll find out that other people have had similar ideas. It's all about taking action with your idea. Take one step forward and if it feels good, proceed with what you feel is right. For us, working with LegalZoom was the right thing to do.
LZ: Aside from theft of your invention or someone jumping on your idea first, what were some of the other fears when you began?
Smith: In the beginning, there was a lot of criticism. We experienced the initial hurdle of people saying, “No. It's not going to work. It'll never happen.” We respected their perspective and focused on how we could do things differently. Believing in ourselves and knowing that we stood by what we were doing are what helped us overcome our fears. You cannot deny fun. Having this much fun made it seem undeniable that this pursuit was going to do something good for us in the long run. We started the legal procedure early, which gave us the security of knowing those particular fears could be put aside.
LZ: What was your experience like using LegalZoom?
Smith: I didn't have any difficulties at all. I couldn't have asked for anything better. I was 22 years old at the time, fresh out of college with a great job lined up. I knew before I started my new job that I needed to have a side business set up. I had been working on the sport sail and really wanted to continue with it. I knew forming my LLC before my hire date was the right thing to do. I had three weeks before I started, and LegalZoom was like a heaven-sent website. In about 20 minutes, I filled out my LLC formation form and submitted it. I had some questions and followed up with a few phone calls to get some help, but not legal advice. The experience has been so good. I keep coming back to get help with my business. The people are really great. From start to finish, it's been perfect.
LZ: LegalZoom reached out to you to hear the story behind your invention, and then you ended up starring in a TV commercial. How was that experience?
Smith: I got an email from LegalZoom with something about a TV commercial. I wasn't sure if it was for real, so I called LegalZoom and they told me it was true. Next thing I know, I met with this great group of creative people who were discussing amazing ways to promote their products. They brought us to LA for a world-class production with top-notch people. Everyone had something good to contribute with such positive energy. The commercial came out exactly how I would've wanted it. We love it.
LZ: Since the commercial has been running, have you seen any effects from it?
Smith: We've seen immediate effects. Great collaboration projects have come about as a result of the commercial. Our website traffic has been booming. We've sold our products via the website to 20 states nationwide and six different countries since the release of the commercial. Our online sales have continued to pick up. LegalZoom has really helped legitimize our product.
LZ: Did you have any fears entrusting LegalZoom to help you get your patent and intellectual property protected?
Smith: No, not one fear whatsoever. Just knowing I could call and speak with someone was assuring. I really appreciated the patience they had with me because I'm young and didn't know exactly what needed to be done. It was important for me to get the legal matters taken care of so I could focus on making my dream come true. LegalZoom provided me with assurance. Their patience with me learning the process has inspired me to keep moving forward with other transactions with them.
LZ: How did you find about LegalZoom?
Smith: I asked my girlfriend's mother at the time, who was a lawyer, what I should do— because I really wanted to start a business. She recommended that I go to LegalZoom and do it on my own. She said I would learn more that way. It was a wake-up call for me to take some control and just do it.
LZ: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Smith: I think it's important for everyone who wants to start a business or protect a patent or trademark to do their research and then contact LegalZoom. I believe in it and I trust it. It's simple enough for anyone to use. Nothing but good can come from it. They help people make their dreams come true every day. Thank you, LegalZoom.