My innovation career started early. Dad said that you couldn’t plant watermelon seeds in the winter and watch them grow.
I didn’t take no for an answer.
I wanted to be a rich and famous children’s book writer. But I give my books away. My TED-Ed animations are free. And you probably never heard of me.
Ourboox has over 230,000 ebooks in dozens of languages, but the books are free and we are still losing money.
I wanted to be a famous jazz singer and musician. Stars who began their career performing with me have moved onwards and upwards.
I ended up becoming a bad breath expert. I smelled thousands of people’s mouth, underarms, shoes, etc. Some of my clients were famous and successful. I wasn’t.
But how famous and successful can you become from a career in halitosis? And what do you say at parties when people ask you what you do for a living?
I tell them that it could have been worse.
I could have been a proctologist.
I invented a mouthwash that became successful in many countries. That was my one success. It’s more instructive to start with the failures, though.
My first manufactured invention, together with Prof. Ervin Weiss, was the QuadLoop. It is a disposable plastic device for plating bacterial samples on agar plates. It is still in use after thirty years. You might think that this is a success, but when you share two percent royalties on a product that costs two cents, you think otherwise.
My second invention was the Diaslide. The Diaslide helps you plate directly on the agars within the device.
This time I didn’t have to share the two percent royalties. On the other hand, my patent was not clever enough and someone circumvented it. He ended up selling his invention to the same company who was manufacturing mine.
I invented the basis chemistry of a deodorant soap. But the manufacturer closed the factory and with it their know how.
I invented an upside-down shoe spray that worked better than the world’s leading product. But it was too difficult to produce commercially.
Worse, some of them popped open in the airplane on the way to Japan. I never got another order but the plane must have smelled good for years.
We developed an anti-microbial flavor that found its way into toothpaste and chewing gum. We received $10,000 a year in royalties!! But it cost about $500,000 to develop.
I invented a really good and effective lice shampoo. But it was oily and uncomfortable to use.
My late friend, the super-talented designer Ami Drach helped me invent a give away gizmo for hanging toothbrushes in a hygienic way. But it was a give away and 2% of nothing ain’t much.
My student Dr. Nir Sterer and I invented a test for enzymes in saliva that are linked to bad breath. But you had to spit on the device.
Back to mouthwash. In 1978 I began my Ph.D. studies with Prof. Eugene Rosenberg and Prof. David Gutnick. I was looking for a project that had no applied aspects whatsoever. I chose to study the behavior of oil-eating bacteria at the water:oil interface. It turned out that there are many bacteria that partition at water:oil interfaces.
So together with Prof. Ervin Weiss we came up with the idea of checking whether oral bacteria stuck to oil droplets. They did.
When we colored the oral cavity, we found that bacteria and debris would stick to olive oil droplets following rinsing and be removed following expectoration. This mouthwash didn’t have any lasting effect, however.
I had a discussion with Dr. Yoel Konis about adding CPC to the oil-water mix. I explained to him that the CPC would compete with the bacteria and debris. Just to show him how ridiculous the idea was, we did an experiment. There was a magic window where the CPC actually propelled the bacteria to the interface. We were astonished. We filed for another patent.
The mouthwash removed bacteria from solid surfaces.
And did it better than almost all other mouthwashes.
We discovered (by accident, of course) that if we added a food color to the mouthwash, it would color the bacteria and debris so that you could see them.
The mouthwash was launched in 1992 in Israel. It became successful after a local TV personality gargled with it on screen. In 1994 Dr. Phil Stemmer visited Israel, fell in love with the mouthwash and licenced it in the UK.
There were television ads (we weren’t in them).
It became a hit.
It took about 8 years to get the product from the lab to the shelf, another 10 years before it became a big success. It just came out in North America (Colgate, Total Advanced Health Mouthwash). We have what to hope for!!!What did I learn? You can learn a lot from failure. And what about success? You need to be lucky. But to quote David Blumenthal, “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.
Related books I’ve written: