A solution to a common problem turns covering up into big biz for M-Edge Accessories
Patrick Mish, who grew up in Gambrills, MD is a one-in-a-million kind of CEO. He says he has his wife, Devon, to thank for it all.
Mish married Devon, a California native and a voracious reader, in October 2005. As the holidays hit, he says it quickly became apparent to him that he was going to be carrying around quite a few books. "She can burn through a 300-page book in a few hours. So that spawned an idea for an electronic device that you can get your books onto and carry around 10 books."
A few Google searches later and Mish realized that there were a few e-book readers already on the market in 2006. "They were just a shadow of what they are today. They had LCD screens and not very good battery life. As a device they weren't very great, and they didn't have a whole lot of content," he explains.
That is until late 2006 when Sony released its Sony Reader. The device used e-ink technology in lieu of an LCD screen that made reading for long periods of time much easier on the eyes. It also boasted a much longer battery life and had a decent library of books.
"We got a couple of these devices and started using them. We brainstormed ideas, finally deciding we could make accessories. You need some kind of protective case. You just spent $300 and it's a pretty fragile device. Crack the screen and you're SOL. The other key thing was that since these weren't backlit screens, you needed some kind of book light, so you could take the device with you and always have the option to read. That got us going."
It all starts to come together
Mish put together some "extremely crude" concepts for a book light and a pretty basic jacket. Pretty soon after that, in late 2006, with prototypes in hand, Mish and Devon had a product line available and M-Edge Accessories was born. And, they did it all without any previous knowledge or experience in product development or manufacturing.
Once again, Google proved to be an essential tool. "We Googled around for some kind of manufacturing capability overseas. We went onto a couple of different websites like Global Sources. I faxed the first drawing to a manufacturer in Taiwan and said, 'Can you guys makes this? Here's my email address, email me back if you can.' Two weeks later I had a prototype sitting on my doorstep."
The manufacturer was very accommodating, Mish says. "We explained to them our business model, so that they would invest the time with me. Obviously, I'm a nobody to them and I'm looking to buy 10 units initially. So, I said there's a lot of growth potential here, and here's what we're envisioning. They were very flexible."
"It was pretty cool. It was a neoprene sleeve, not unlike a neoprene sleeve used by runners for an MP3-player. We designed the product. Got it made, but a very low quantity. I knew the basics of HTML and got a very crude website up and running. We put the products onto Amazon.com and in late September we had our first sale. By the end of the year, we may have sold a handful of products."
Mish, who has a Ph.D in Engineering, had kept his day job as with defense contractor Northrup Grumman designing ships. "I always had an entrepreneurial kind of desire. I wanted to work for myself, do my own thing. Defense contracting wasn't satisfying that craving. So, I was really motivated to get this company going," he says.
Serendipity is cool
Amazon.com released the first-generation Kindle e-reader in 2008. That, says Mish, made things more interesting. With its refined e-ink technology, a much larger library, and Wi-Fi functionality backed by the undisputed online retailer king, the Kindle presented M-edge with its breakthrough opportunity.
"The cover that came with the Kindle was really kind of dud. People didn't like it. The device frequently fell out of the jacket. That opened the window for us to produce a superior cover and gave us the ability to get a lot of market share by getting in on the ground floor. It was a combination of good luck and hard work that began to pay back dividends," Mish recalls.
Mish got even luckier when Oprah Winfrey featured the Kindle on her show in October 2008, calling it her favorite new device.
"Our sales were kind of bumping along, not anything incredible. Then the Oprah show happened and there was a massive spike in our sales. We ran out of inventory that day. The Oprah Effect is for real. It does happen, because it wasn't until after 4 p.m. when the show airs on the East Coast that this massive spike happened," he says.
The success of the Kindle during the holiday season kept sales rolling. M-Edge had a significant portion of the market share for Kindle covers. The company got a lot of traction because they were on Amazon.com and had a great product line. That meant one thing -- time to expand.
Mish hired two college friends, Adam Ashley and Jim Ward, to work for the company in their spare time. Ashley, also an engineer by training, was an artist. Mish tasked him with improving product design. Ward, a CPA, came on to provide some business expertise.
The first Kindle was followed by an updated version in 2009. That year also saw the release of the Nook from Barnes & Noble. "With the Kindle 2 there was a flurry of activity and then a lot of other players entered the market. The e-reader was the gift to give for Christmas 2009. So, our growth has been exponential since the early days. It's pretty wild."
According to Mish, the company's sales have grown in the 1000 growth percentage range each year. A company that began with just him and his wife, expanded to include Ashley and Ward, then Ward's wife, Alison.
"Packaging orders began to be too much so we'd be up until 2 a.m. working on orders to go out the next day and my wife would take hundreds of boxes to the post office. We hired some temporary workers in 2008, and in 2009 we hired 25 people," he says.
The release of the Apple's iPad last April was yet another golden opportunity for Mish and M-Edge. With sales of more than 1 million devices in the first month alone, the company's decision to expand its product line to include devices beyond e-readers seems to be paying off.
"The iPad is our first branching away. We've developed a line of products and we're kind of curious to see how people use the iPad. We think it'll be similar to the way they use e-readers. They'll want to prop it up, and will need a stand for it. And, they'll want to be able to protect it when it's not in use. They'll want to take it with them everywhere and that will open up some interesting product design opportunities," Mish says.
As companies continue to release electronic devices, the future looks rosey for M-Edge based on the lessons Mish says the company has learned. "We're interested to see how all of that plays out. What we've learned over the past four years is that consumers just love to personalize the heck out of their stuff. They want it to be really unique and representative of their individual style."
"They need some baseline level of protection for their stuff. That's part one. Then they want to personalize it. And then for e-readers, where do you want to read? It's usually in bed. So we have our leather jackets with lighting systems. When they're on vacation, they love to read by the pool or on the beach. It's no problem to take a paperback book to beach, but you're not going to want to put an expensive device down in the sand. We saw an opportunity and developed the leisure jacket. It's a clear vinyl jacket that slips over the device, allowing full functionality but protects it from sand and splashing water," he adds.
M-Edge has a range of new products in the development phase that will enable consumers to take personalization of their e-readers and iPads even further. "We're very excited about the future," Mish concludes.
Walaika Haskins is managing editor of Bmore Media. She has lived and worked in Baltimore City for 25 years, taking occasional breaks to live in Paris, New Orleans, and New York City, but she always comes back to Baltimore.
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Photos by Arianne Teeple:
1. Dr. Patrick Mish, founder and CEO of M-Edge Accessories
2. The Guardian case for the Amazon Kindle
3. Graphic Artist David G. Bell, left, and Vice President, Marketing and Public Relations Devon Mish, right
4. The M-Edge E-Luminator 2 Booklight for Compatible E-Readers
5. Dr. Patrick Mish, founder and CEO, left, with wife and Vice President, Marketing and Public Relations Devon Mish, right
6. The FlexStand bookstand for the nook