Born in a Garage
The story of how the Stump Stand grew from a block of wood in a garage to become the best-selling iPad stand on Apple's European websites.
Like millions of others, when I first purchased an iPad I was immediately fascinated by it. Sure, no surprise in that it was another remarkable entry in the family of Apple computers. But its next level design, the lines and sheer elegance of the thing were incredible to me; a step beyond anything the company had ever produced. It felt solid in my hands but in no way cumbersome. I was obsessed, and had a very hard time ever putting it down.
But when I would, a funny thing happened every time- many of those qualities were immediately and greatly compromised. I’d lay it on its back and prop one end up with a stack of magazines. No good. A book, a piece of cardboard, whatever was close by. No good. Whatever I tried, my iPad ‘experience’ inevitably went south in a hurry as soon as I wanted to or had to put it down. It become something of a preoccupation, as I’d go about my days, to and from work, and everywhere else in between, iPad in tow.
Then, I got an idea.
Wait, let me back up and explain a bit about myself. Away from my day job, I have always been a garage fiddler... building and destroying and building things in my garage until the early hours of the morning, trying to construct exactly what I need when it’s not on the shelf at the store. And like many people, I also believe in the American Dream, which to me means: work hard, take risks, fail, and repeat, then hopefully catch a break and finally achieve some success.
Anyway, the idea. It occurred to me that what I really wanted was an iPad stand that shared a few of the best qualities of the device itself – efficiency of design, utility and portability. And given the fact that I took my iPad with me everywhere, it had to be extremely durable. I hit the garage and went to work.
Making the First Molds
I started making prototypes with Play-Doh, quickly moved to foam (cutting up my son's kickboard), and then finally to a block of wood. I carved and sawed my way to a shape that started to look like a stump. When figuring out the groove that would eventually hold the iPad, I took my carved block of wood to a table saw (I didn’t have the right tool, a router). As I was cutting the groove the block slipped out of my hand, which led to mixed results: 1) I cut off the tip of my thumb, and 2) the blade slipped from its initial cut, making a second cut by mistake; that mistake, as it turned out, created a second "step" in the groove, allowing the iPad to also be placed in the ‘Lean’ position; further, it also created a larger overall groove which would allow for even thicker devices to be docked- without diminishing the secure fit for the iPad and similarly slimmer devices. Incredibly, my accident (though painful!) was fortuitous, and an important factor in the granting of my two patents.
Once that fit of inspiration subsided and the general design of the Stump Stand had been established, the dreaded perspiration was next. An aluminum master prototype was made from a 3D file. From this countless silicone molds were poured and then cured, and then tested. The design was tweaked over and over again in the garage, with new prototypes rushed into the bathroom to ‘cook’ and settle in the tub, then laid out on the kitchen floor for inspection. And yeah, it was a lot of hard work, but it was also fun to really fine-tune details like the groove angles, the softness of the material, and the optimal weight. In the end, after some 600 molds, I finally made the first Stump Stand that lived up to its name.
Our First Outing - MacWorld
We found a small manufacturer, and in January of 2011 we headed to MacWorld with 1,500 Stump Stands and no idea what to expect. Showing the product for the first time to the public in an environment teeming with competing products was both frightening and exhilarating. The response we got was overwhelming and led us to some of our first deals. Better, it gave us confidence to move forward and take our product to the next level.
Since that time we’ve learned that getting our product to market is much harder than developing it in the garage (go figure). We’ve hit some harsh realities, like the difficulty in finding retail stores willing to buy from a company with just one product. But the Stump Stand has endured and improved. Tens of thousands have now been sold all across the globe, and it’s only the beginning.
2014 and Beyond
I am pleased to say I am now largely relieved of monitoring the day-to-day goings on of my other enterprises, and plan to devote this freed up time and energy to deliver the Stump Stand to anyone who appreciates the sophistication of its simplicity.
About Kevin Noble
Kevin has been an entrepreneur with an interest in design pretty much his entire life. His childhood bedroom was in the basement of his family’s home, with a workshop situated on the other side of the wall. It was there his inventive spirit first took flight, as he’d design and build and destroy all sorts of things. When he’d get stuck with a project he’d sleep on it, literally- give or take a few feet.
Years later and after a handful of failures, Kevin currently owns several successful businesses. He continues to find excuses to go into his shop and make a mess.