TENGA Inventor Interview vol.03Prototype Struggles

KM: If it doesn’t feel right, it just doesn’t work. If I don’t believe in it, no one will believe in it. But that doesn’t mean that the whole thing is trash. Not all failures spell the end, it’s more important that there is a lesson learned and utilized in future attempts. After that it’s simple a process of repeating and moving forward.

I see.

KM: It’s obvious but a product doesn’t exist until it’s in someone’s hands. That’s why I worked so hard on making the prototypes. In forming a brand there’s the publicity to make people aware of the product and the right price including logistics… But, the only thing I could do was create, so that’s just what I did. I knew what I wanted to make and the ideal that these products had to include, and these are important if you want your customer to feel something. I wanted to make a pleasure item for men that all men could enjoy.

Your decision and commitment are quite something! Changing topic, is there anything else that inspires you?

KM: I love movies. One thing I can never help myself from doing is watching a movie and thinking of the filming of the scene! There are so many details and ways of shooting a scene. Even in a comedy movie, on screen the actors are just fooling around, but someone has thought out how to convey that scene to the audience, why it’s funny and how the audience can enjoy it. This is what I think is important, what good is a comedy movie if no one in the audience laughs?

So you think there is a similarity between video directors and you in making people happy?

KM: Maybe yes. At least I have developed and created thinking this way.

Have you ever been influenced by books?

KM: I don’t read much. I talk to you through experience. There are 7 things I told myself ever since I was making the prototypes; “Without energy, nothing can be made. Without courage, there is no creation. Without patience, there is no completion. Without enthusiasm, nothing hot is created. Without a smile, a fun product cannot be created. Without force, there is no advance. Be serious about a product that a future costumer will use.” These words have never changed.

I can feel these words come from hard times. Back on topic – how did you sell your idea after you had the prototypes?

KM: There is an adult DVD store near where I lived. One day I heard that one of the salesmen from a porn production company was there. I introduced myself to him and talked about my vision and how I really wanted to introduce this product to the world. I had to try a few times but eventually he said he would see what he could do.

You showed him the prototypes?

KM: Of course. However…


KM: As I said these were handmade prototypes – they were the best I could do but I’d die of embarrassment if I were asked to show them now! I’m sure I came off as obnoxious to him but I’m glad I persisted, even if he only passed on my ideas to get rid of me. It didn’t go smoothly; I waited half a year for a response, sending prototypes and explanations, and nothing came to fruition for about a year. My savings were starting to dry up and anyone in their right mind would have seen the danger of the situation. Besides from money I was barely sleeping, continuously creating and destroying prototypes, no time for a day job… But for me, it was now or never; I wanted to concentrate on creating this products. Another year would go by with no movement, I was financially and mentally coming to my limits but I didn’t see myself becoming the crazy middle-aged man who wasted 2 years of his life making sex toys no one bought. My mantra was simple; “continue until success.” For me the failure was if I gave up; no one could say I failed if I don’t give up.

Continue until succeeding is important, you say.

KM: That’s right, and lo and behold, a year and a half after my original contact with them I got a call – “We’ll give you one chance to come to our meeting and present your product.”

So the time finally came for you!

KM: They gave me a meeting with the C.E.O. at the time. I simply replied “Yes, Thank you”. I had a week until the meeting; I gathered my best prototypes and headed to Tokyo to present my ideas. Then, there I was, the C.E.O. of a 7 Billion Yen company Soft on Demand, his board members, and standing among them was me – *Laughing* just a jobless guy making sex toy prototypes. I thought I’d simply be laughed out of the boardroom. Still, I presented all that I had; male-use, female-use, coupled-use, all the prototypes. After 30 minutes into the meeting the C.E.O. piped up: “You’re a funny guy. Can you move to Tokyo?” … and that was it! That’s how I came to Tokyo and one year was invested in developing the actual product and on the 7th of July of 2005, the original 5 TENGA CUPs were sold. The company has just recently celebrated its 10th birthday.

We hear there was a bit of a story behind the pre-orders of this product?

KM: At the time, a decent sex toy would sell 50,000 units in its lifetime. We were confident so we matched the production for this and started taking in pre-orders, we’d thought we’d sell around a fifth of these and continue rising. But upon opening up pre-orders, we sold all 50,000 pieces! We ran the second production immediately but for the first year we were always behind schedule. I felt really bad being unable to produce the goods on time, but thanks to all the people that supported the company, we managed to sell an astounding 1 million pieces in our first year!

The Birth of TENGA The Successful Launch