Cotrac Co. ’s SmartButton Teaching Device
Joel Williams, a high school sophomore from Temple, Texas, is the inventor of SmartButton, a shoe attachment he developed at age 9 while helping his three-year-old sister try to learn the difference between her left foot and her right foot. The product, which verbally instructs children and the disabled or blind how to differentiate between right and left, was so successful that in 2008 he made $30,000.
In addition to SmartButton, Williams is moving on to motivational speaking. He produced a DVD which endorses his product and motivates kids to become inventors and follow their dreams.
“There is a huge market of school districts out there and my plans are to make sure every school has a copy someday soon,” says Williams, winner of the Black Enterprise 2007 Teenpreneur Award for entrepreneurs under the age of 18.
But between developing his products, getting patent protection, meeting with newspapers and televisions shows and marketing his product, it’s easy for Joel to forget that he’s only 15 years old. Yet, he is confident that if teens follow his advice, they will get their business started on the right foot.
Learn to sacrifice. Sometimes it is hard to choose between doing work at the business as opposed to hanging out with friends, but Williams, who often stays up late at night to do homework says that working long hours to achieve your goals are a necessity. “You have to be able to look into the future and see the rewards that come with owning your own business.”
Williams once missed out on a party all his friends planned to attend because he had to film his motivational DVD that day. “I felt like I was missing out at first but, after completing the filming, I felt great and knew that all my friends would want to view the DVD when it became available.”
Be self-motivated. Being an entrepreneur comes from within, says Williams, who sells his product over the Internet. “I think that truly great inventors are born with something different inside. When you start to feel overwhelmed, Williams encourages teens to think of the many benefits of entrepreneurship, including the attention you’ll get from friends, fans, and the media. Making money is not a bad incentive either, he says.
Rely on friends and family for support. Williams keeps an intense schedule. He wakes up at 5:45am to prepare orders that come in overnight then attends band practice at 6:45. He spends four to five hours on afterschool activities and after doing homework he usually goes to bed after midnight. “Sometimes there are many things going on at one time and I do feel pressure to do things the right way,” says Williams, who manages a staff that consists of three people; his mom, dad, and little sister, but plans to hire additional help.
Despite working for him for free, his parents do their part to minimize his stress and keep him balanced. During the day while he is at school they ship out orders and make phone calls that can only be made during the day. “I am very fortunate to have my [parents] to help me when needed,” he says.