Despite the dangerous irony, many lightbulbs go off in the shower.
“I am a consummate shower thinker,” said Mark Knudsen, president of AquaNotes, the company responsible for the first sticky notes made for use in wet places. “I get an inordinate amount of ideas in the shower — many people do — and for years I was looking for some sort of device [there].”
Because regular paper has its faults when wet, Knudsen remembers using a diver’s slate: “But the problem is that it gets smudged up with pencil lead, and you have to re-transcribe all of your notes.”
Then he decided to call out his brilliant ideas to his wife for her to scribble down, but “that didn’t last long.”
It wasn’t until 2009 that his bulb of an idea — “that holds water” but doesn’t — lit up.
AquaNotes is a patent-pending, waterproof notepad made of synthetic paper that is indestructible and recyclable and is able to be written on in literally wet conditions. The 40-page notepads of sticky notes run about $7 each and come with a suction cups and a pencil.
The Grand Haven, Mich.-based company went into production in fall 2009 and started selling its products in March 2010, mainly online and through boutiques and bookstores in 50 countries.
“We hear back from a lot of people creative folks — from magicians who get ideas in the shower for magic tricks, to musicians who write music in the shower and get ideas for musical composition,” said Knudsen. “But some of the funnier ones are from mothers who leave instructions for how their kids should wash themselves (some of their kids must have poor hygiene), and others are parents with teenagers who won’t verbally communicate with their parents, so they’ll write notes back and forth in the shower.”
AquaNotes has also heard back from women who use the sticky notes in their garden as well as people who admit that their ADHD won’t let them shut off their mind in the shower, he said.
And, of course, the company hears from entrepreneurs: “We sell a lot to them. They’re kind of the base of our customers.”
As an entrepreneur himself, Knudsen recently quit his full-time government job to focus on the business, specifically to address production issues.
“One of the difficulties is mass producing this particular item because it is a very difficult paper to work with and there are only a few printers and binders that can do this product,” said Knudsen, explaining that the synthetic paper is difficult to glue and picks up smudges in the manufacturing process. “That’s probably our biggest hurdle, and the production capacity. We have been limited on how much we can sell due to our production capacity. But we’ll be improving on that, and our production will be going up. I’m fortunate now to go with this full-time, and the stress level has gone down tremendously.”
While people are initially alone with their thoughts in the shower, they’re chatting up AquaNotes quite publicly. In fact, Knudsen said getting the word out has been pretty inexpensive and organic.
“We’ve done this without any advertising or marketing, other than Twitter,” he said. “We started with Twitter in 2010 and kind of grew the company from then. So it’s been all word of mouth since then.”
Next on the horizon — and by customer request — is a larger pad of paper, specifically the 8.5-by-11-inch size, which Knudsen said will help people who need to sketch or diagram their ideas. After that, there are some products that he can’t disclose just yet but likely will announce and launch by the end of the year.
Looking back, the past seven years have been a lightbulb in the shower that has proved to work very well.
“The first year we were building the company, but we’ve been profitable since year two, and it’s grown every year since then,” said Knudsen. “It’s a product that when people see it, and use it, they become die-hard fans.”