Someone's finally invented a clean beer shelf for urinals
"People think the simplest ideas have already been made." That from Matt Williams, founder of LavCup, a product so simple and brilliant you wonder why it hasn't been done before.
LavCup is an antimicrobial shelf for toilet stalls and urinals where people can set their drinks while they get down to business. Its tagline: "Because you can't hold it."
Even better, the shelves allow for advertising. "The audience is so captive, that's what makes the medium so powerful," Williams told me.
Williams came up with the idea of a cup shelf back at Villanova, where he was a finance major. He and his friends would go to "a lot of bars, and they tended to be crowded." He usually would take his beer with him when he went to the restroom, because, "chances are you won't go back to your same seat."
During one such trip to the boy's room, Williams put his pint on a urinal. I won't tell you exactly what happened next, but you can imagine. Williams called it "devastating ... I couldn't drink it after that."
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Then the brain cells kicked in. "Why isn't there a sanitary place to put your drink?" he thought. "I know it sounds gross."
Gross, yes, but there was money to be made, and a business was born.
After graduating in 2008, Williams went to work for an investment firm. On the side, he began consulting engineers and intellectual property attorneys to develop some prototypes for the first LavCup and apply for patents.
He and his father put together about $15,000 to get the prototypes made with a silver ion coating to fight off germs. "I maxed out multiple credit cards. It was really risky, but I truly believed in the idea."
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Williams lives in the Scranton, Pa., area, famous for "The Office" (one of LavCup's investors actually owned a paper company). One night early on he ran into Kris Jones, the creator of Pepperjam, a marketing company now part of eBay.
"I approached him in a Chinese restaurant when he was with his wife." Jones also went to Villanova, so Williams gave him his elevator pitch. It worked. The two men ended up meeting at Starbucks later for a two-hour interview, and Jones became LavCup's first investor. Since then, others have come in, including those involved in a local casino, a racetrack and the aforementioned paper guy.
Eventually, Williams said he got several hundred thousand dollars in seed money, and Front Row Marketing began helping him land deals for LavCups in stadiums and arenas. He just got a contract with CenturyLink Field, home to the Seattle Seahawks and Sounders. "Twelve hundred units are flying to Seattle now."
Here's how the business model works. LavCups are provided to entertainment venues for free, but the company shares in the advertising revenue for ads placed on the shelves. Since nearly everyone at a football game goes to the bathroom at least once, that's a compelling pitch to advertisers. "We can guarantee their ad will be seen by everyone. You can't say that about an ad in the concourse."
I pointed out the only issue might be the name. LavCup makes me think of going to the doctor to provide a sample. Williams said he was looking for a name that was memorable, like Kleenex or TiVo. To help create buzz around the product, Williams has created a six-second Vine video which sums up its usefulness. Investor Brandon Igdalsky, owner of the Pocono Raceway, also made a video.
The hardest part has been "in the field" research. Williams has taken several photographs showing how people handle their drinks around toilets and urinals. "It's just so awkward taking pictures in a restroom," he said. "A lot of times I've forgotten to turn off the flash, and I've heard people say, 'Some dude is taking pictures of himself in a stall.'"
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But it's all in the name of research, fame and fortune! "In five years I want to be in every single hospitality venue," Williams said, not just stadiums and arenas, but airports, rest stops, casinos. "Everyone goes to the bathroom."
—By CNBC's Jane Wells. Follow her on Twitter: @janewells