When Christopher Podlewski used to set out for a day of fishing off the coast of Key West, Fla., he would always stop to buy live bait ahead of time. He would spend $25 or $30 for a dozen shrimp and two dozen finger mullet in order to help catch pompano, tuna, and snook.
After working long hours doing contract engineering for space systems, Podlewski looked forward to relaxing with friends on the open water. But with the cost of live bait on top of another $60 to gas up the boat, his hobby was also a bit pricey. That's when Podlewski came up with the idea for an artificial lure, designed to attract fish as well as live bait.
His day job eventually brought him to New York. There, Podlewski tried to make a business out of his artificial lure but could never get past the prototype stage -- until he met Michael Armbruster, an engineer for a consumer-products company in Buffalo, N.Y. The pair started Bikini Lures and is just now bringing their innovative fishing aid, a reusable electronic product that mimics the sound of live bait, to market.
BusinessWeek SmallBiz contributor Rachael King recently spoke with Armbruster about how he and Podlewski got the company off the ground. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:
Q: How did you and Chris meet?
A: We met in July, 2003, through mutual friends. Chris was looking for a job. He's a contract electrical engineer, and I was working for a local consumer-products company, so he was looking for a job at that company. First, we started talking on the phone. We didn't know this at the time, but we were both adopted from the same orphanage in Korea.
When we started talking, we had no idea. I thought I was talking to a Podlewski, and he thought he was talking to an Armbruster. When we met, all of a sudden we were like, "Were you adopted?" That's where we just kind of hit it off.
Q: Did you both fish frequently?
A: Growing up in Long Island, I used to fish when I was younger. As I grew up, in college and high school, I had all these miscellaneous activities, so I didn't have time to devote to fishing, but Chris got really interested in fishing when he was doing contract engineering in Florida.
Q: Did you plan to go into business together?
A: We first started off as friends. We didn't really think about starting a business together. He [had] the concept down in Florida. He tried to do something with it with various other people, and he wasn't successful.
When he met me, that's exactly where my background was, in consumer products from conceptualization to the finished product on the shelves. He definitely has an edge with R&D, having worked [on space systems]. He has an electrical engineering background, combined with fishing. We met in July, we started talking about it in the fall of 2003, and then we went and started a corporation in December, 2003.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this?
A: Our recharge circuit is what makes it powerful. We've been approached by other lure manufacturers, and they all said the same thing: "We thought of this idea, it's not a noble idea." The thing that's noble is that we were able to do this idea.
There are electronic lures out there. There are electronic lures that have lights, one or two LEDs, and there are electronic lures that have a little speaker inside that buzzes. The reason why a recharge circuit is so critical is when you're putting a microcomputer inside a lure, it's not cheap. The other electronic lures out there are either disposable, meaning once the battery runs out, you have nothing but a plastic body left.
The other option is that there are a few lures out there that have batteries [you can replace] instead of two- to three-button cell batteries. But everyone who fishes knows that once you compromise the seal, electronics and water don't go well. Because our integrated recharge circuit is inside, enclosed, you don't have to compromise the seal or open up the lure -- everything is 100% sealed inside the body.
Q: How do you recharge it?
A: The product comes with recharge cables, and you have many options. Consumers connect the 9-volt battery to the clip, the other side has two cables -- a red and black cable that they connect to the lip and to the tail end of the lure. The tail has a hook on it, and the lip is where you put the line.
Q: So, after a day of fishing, consumers are able to go home and plug it in?
A: Absolutely. Our lure can be used for more than 12 continuous hours, but that's all we're claiming because we want to be conservative, especially if we start changing the programming and it starts reducing the battery time.