Chris Hawker has lots of ideas, but it’s his talent for turning those ideas into real products that drives his success as both an inventor and entrepreneur.
“I see things how they should be, never how they are,” says Hawker, founder and president of Trident Design. “If I see a problem, I try to solve it. That’s kind of my thing.”
When Hawker founded his company in 2001, the then-26-year-old inventor set out to launch his own products, from aquarium tools to guitar accessories to cooking gadgets.
He struck gold several years later with the PowerSquid, a multiple-outlet power strip that Hawker originally licensed to Power Sentry, a division of Fiskars. The PowerSquid landed on shelves at major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, selling millions of units and generating unprecedented royalties for Trident Design.
Philips later acquired Power Sentry and merged it into their accessories division.
In 2009, Philips canceled the entire PowerSquid line—a decision that nearly bankrupted Hawker.
“I had spent years getting to that point and at the time I thought it was the end of my world,” Hawker says. “In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise, as it caused me to reinvent my business as an agency, and we have been growing ever since.”
Trident has evolved into a full-service product development and commercialization firm, offering its clients everything from research and design to engineering and manufacturing. Hawker and his staff have brought to market more than 70 products in varying industries.
Some of their most popular products are kitchen tools and gadgets, including Hot Dog Slic’R (a Dachshund-shaped slicer for hot dogs and sausages), Onion Googles (foam-sealed googles to prevent tears while chopping onions) and Pitzo (an ergonomic pizza wheel).
One of the company’s newest hits is the Quickey, a key-shaped tool that functions as a bottle opener, screwdriver, file and more. An Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the Quickey aimed to raise $4,000 and easily eclipsed that, ending with $221,619.
Trident has a knack for creating artfully designed products that seem as if they’ve always existed, Hawker says.
“Our little slogan is, ‘Transforming everyday tasks into opportunities to enjoy life,’ ” Hawker says. “That’s actually what I call bottom-line design.”
Nearly all of Hawker’s own inventions—the Quickey is one of many—can be traced to personal experiences. Inspiration often strikes when he’s frustrated by a simple task or an inadequate tool.
“I think a lot people have those thoughts all the time and then they move on,” Hawker says. “I’ve had to train myself to think, ‘Oh, potential opportunity.’ ”
Through Trident, Hawker has developed what he describes as a platform for innovation. Along with developing ideas generated internally, the company provides assistance to independent inventors and startups and also provides design services to corporations of all sizes, Hawker says.
A steady stream of new ideas makes work exciting for Trident Design’s team of 18 employees.
“That’s the coolest part about the job, really, because you actually never know what someone’s going to present to you,” says Abraham Alexander, the company’s director of operations.
“We get calls from basically everyone,” Alexander adds. “We get the whole gamut—hermits to celebrities. … There’s a whole rainbow of types of people. The people who actually end up going forward are open to information. They understand that we have an expertise.”
Dan Kavanaugh, a retiree from Kansas City, Mo., had the safety of his young grandsons in mind when he thought up a kitchen tool that would slice hot dogs into small cubes. With help from Trident, Kavanaugh fleshed out the concept and licensed it to Evriholder Products. Sales of the Hot Dog Slic’R, which is plastic and free of sharp blades, topped one million in its first year. The product is now stocked in grocery chains and Wal-Mart stores across the U.S.
“It was kind of a dream,” says Kavanaugh, whose partnership with Trident led to a job there in sales. “When I originally did this, it was not for the money. It was to solve a problem.”
Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.