Bob Sundstrom, a Merrimack, NH retired carpenter, had always been a bit of an inventor in his spare time - which wasn’t much as he raised his kids and worked full-time.
There was his “super sleeve” invention, a device that kept power tools better connected to their extension cords. Turns out it wasn’t user-friendly, Bob says. Then there was his rotating mop invention. That one didn’t really go anywhere.
Then there was the fishing lure, that did.
The fishing lure that turned Bob Sundstrom, retired carpenter, into an inventor and owner of a company valued around $2.3 million and about to attempt its first year of $1 million in sales. Yes, that one.
The story goes like this.
Bob was fishing for tuna and shark off New Hampshire’s coast, chumming the water behind the boat with cut bait and herring oil, the oldest trick in the book. Bobs thought was that he really just wanted to have a lure that would release chum or a scent to attract the fish. He wanted the chum in the lure itself. Obsessed with this idea, he went home and Googled “chumming fishing lures,” and found that such a lure did not exist.
“I never looked back,” Bob said. “From that point on I just kept inventing and going and going and going until I filed for a patent in June of 2010.”
His patent was awarded in August of 2014 and he’s been creating, inventing, adjusting, and adding to his ideas ever since. The result is Odin Lure Company, his Hudson-based company that sells his original “Oozzie Jig” online, along with an ever-expanding line of built-in “bait well” equipped lures - lures that can hold and ooze fish attractant (bait).
Bob explains that, in the world of fishing lures, the U.S. Patent Office is riddled with thousands of pending design patents, but those are tweaks to something that already exists on the market. “Seldom does a whole new category come along,” he says.
His patent is a “utility patent,” as opposed to a design patent which is more specific on the materials and dimensions of a product. A utility patent is very nonspecific, giving Bob a patent that allows him to produce a product that can be attached to another lure, for example. “In reality I had created a whole new category of fishing lures in the industry, and that’s almost unheard of,” he says.
Once he understood that he’d invented something special and potentially valuable, things got a little dicey. “A carpenter I am, a business man I am not,” he explains.
He realized that he needed help to get his patented product to a wider market. He had been making the lures out of his basement, distributing them for free to fishermen he knew, getting them stocked in small outlets on the New Hampshire coast. He’d post photos to Facebook of the fish people had caught with his lures.
“Well, I was watching ‘The Three Stooges’ or something like that on a Sunday morning and there was something about the SBDC, so I wrote that down. I knew I needed help.”
Bob gave the NH SBDC a call and got a meeting set up with business advisor Andrea O’Brien of the organization’s Manchester office.
“She was so enthusiastic and wanted to help me so badly,” Bob says. “And from that point on I would just confide in her about what I didn’t know. I’m 100 percent positive that I made that young lady crazy.”
Andrea asked Bob a lot of “good solid questions,” he says. How many of the lures could he make in what amount of time? How much would it cost him to make each one? “She wanted numbers and spreadsheets - which I didn’t have - and she’d just encourage me and tell me what I needed.”
Andrea also introduced Bob to Hollis McGuire, another NH SBDC business advisor, who helped him think about finding an investor.
“Honestly, without the SBDC people, I’m not sure I would have continued. They really helped,” Bob said. “When you don’t know what you’re doing and somebody comes along and helps you with it, you just keep at it, even after they’re gone. You feel like 'I got this' when that happens.”
His NH SBDC contacts led him to people who could put a pitch together for him, and to another who helped find an actual investor. He learned about Kickstarter campaigns and that kept him going for a while. He met people who knew people who knew people.
While attending a Rockingham, NH hunting and fishing expo, he talked with one of the vendors about the lures he had invented. That person encouraged him to get his own booth at the next expo. Ultimately Bob got a booth at the ‘ICAST' expo in Las Vegas. In his second year he landed the title of “Lure of the Month” awarded by “On the Water” magazine, a big deal in the industry. He also met a guy who was so impressed by Bob’s lures that he recommended a marketing expert to him. Turns out that man was associated with the Yeti Company, maker of high-end coolers and other gear.
Fast forward through all those little successes along the way, and SBDC advisors and others eventually got Bob connected to potential investors, who did a complete work-up on the viability of his business idea.
“They came back and told me that the company could be worth $2.3 million to start. They said in five or ten years, it might be worth $36 million.”
“Um…okay. I’m happy to hear that and I’m a little freaked out at that point,” Bob says. “I kinda don’t believe it.”
So, he takes the numbers back to his SBDC advisors, wanting someone to tell him these investors weren’t just ‘shooting him sunshine,’ and he learns that the projections might be on the conservative side, and that he should actually consider the investors’ offer.
“I knew I needed an outside investor at this point. All along I knew I couldn’t put up the farm as collateral, because I could lose the farm. I wasn’t going to put my wife at risk for this. I made the lures in my basement and in my shed, and I sold them online a little bit.”
Today, he’s set up in a warehouse facility that is co-located with the injection molding company that can create his lures en masse. He’s heading off to yet another trade show, hoping to win recognition there that will put him on the international map.
When all is said and done, he says he doesn’t really care how much money he makes. “This probably makes Hollis and Andrea crazy when I say it, but it’s not about the money for me,” he explains. “It’s about having a dream and developing a passion. This is what makes life fun. Waking up with a purpose…this means more to me than money,” he said.
Bob says working with the NH SBDC was a pleasant experience that money couldn’t have bought. “To go there where the people cared and wanted to see me succeed in my dreams, not theirs, was just really good. I could see they were doing it for the love of doing it. “
And what will he do with the millions his company stands to make?
“I don’t know. I have a very small world of want,” he answers. “People tell me I’m going to be rich. I tell them I already am.”