Theresa Piasta is an Army veteran who suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) who loves her service dog Waffles, a Cavapoo, who calms her during panic attacks and has had a positive impact on her life. Piasta takes Waffles out with her when going around and she loves to dress Waffles up in outfits that go with hers. Piasta found that finding outfits that went along with hers for Waffles was a lot more difficult that she thought. Piasta’s entrepreneur spirit hit and she thought that a product line with lots of options for dog attire was just the ticket. “But at my Stanford Graduate School of Business Ignite program they told me I needed to get out and find out what other women really wanted before launching my product”
And so she did. She started talking to women while walking around her neighborhood in San Francisco and found that many women were just as passionate about their dogs as she was. Not only that they loved their dogs but that the canine therapy from their dogs provided very real benefits. To find more women who can tell their own stories about canine therapy, she branched out to Instagram sites like #furbaby to posts written by women. “I then wrote to each women individually asking for three sentences about the how their dogs had change their lives. Piasta was floored by the response. “I received over 300 stories back, not just two or three sentences , but with long deeply personal entire stories.” The stories match Piata’s love of Waffles. “ She comforted when I needed it most and she never failed to put a smile on my face.”
Piata created the web site Puppy Mama which started as platform for women to share their stories on social media and the platform grew to have over 10,000 followers on several social media sites, led by Instagram. But Piata, based on input from all the posts started to get an idea of how the site could become more than just social meeting sites for sharing, and become a portal where women could find “dog friendly” businesses for women travelling with their dogs would be able to find places where they were always welcome. Piata’s concept was that the site could generate revenue from ads from pet friendly business. The mobile app would initially pick up the longitude and latitude of users and send ads and location of nearby “dog friendly” businesses. The dog friendly business could be furnished by the many worldwide contributors to the Puppy Mama site. Besides a listing of businesses Puppy Mama would also have a meetups feature that would allow users to meet other passionate women with dogs while traveling.
And this is the point where Piata crossed over to inventorship. I know this sounds odd to people who see inventors as a new tool or piece of equipment. But times have changed. To receive a patent an idea needs to be useful, concrete and produce a tangible result and involve equipment, which in the case of apps is either a computer or a cell phone. Certainly Piata met this standard. Piata wasn’t home yet as she still needed to develop the site web and mobile apps, and create her apps own social media features and create the software, and the interface with social media sites that would make the application work. But she was on the way to becoming an inventor.
Piata had already covered the first steps of inventing, finding a customer need that is large enough to cover the cost of developing the invention and researching the market to clearly identify what customers want. But the second step for Piata was in effect prototyping a web or mobile app. Typically this done in steps, first with pen and pencil outlining what needs to be on each page, and where each page should take you, then a digital mockup, and finally using an app prototyping tool like Bootstrap https://bootstrapstudio.io/ or Foundation http://foundation.zurb.com/prototyping.html. With a prototype inventors are able to do what programmers call iteration, building something, playing with it, and refining it. The prototype process could also include things like social share buttons and follow buttons. Like all prototypes, inventors need to really think through the product they want, or else they will spend lots of extra money getting the prototype they want.
Piata talks about networking to find her software developer. “I didn’t really know who to hire. I talk to some of my contacts who knew something about programing and one of them recommended a programming company in Uruguay. that company has been great, and work with me every step of the way. I’ve been able to get much closer to my vision because their costs were lower.”
Inventors need to visualize the product they’ve invented to guide them through the process of going from prototyping to final product. This process can be much more difficult with an app. Piata wanted a web app and phone app with much of the same features as social media sites like Yelp, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for a very targeted market, women who like to go places with their dogs. She wanted a community where members could share information, set up meetings with other members, but still access a database of “dog friendly business”. Facebook allows you to set up a database of interested parties on Facebook, or they do it for you with a friend list, but you can’t set up a data base of business on Facebook and so intertwining the social media sites with a web or phone app became important.
So the challenge for the site was high, and as in most application, roll-out occurs in stages. Today a phone app picks up longitude and latitude and gives users ads and a list of ‘dog friendly businesses” in the area. But in the future she plans on adding a feature where you can put in a zip code or a address that someone will be travelling to get a list of business. Roll-outs require careful planning if you are pursuing a patent, because you may not have future plans developed to the point where you can get a patent, but you still want to try and tie the rollout improvements into your initial patent filing date. Piata didn’t apply for a patent, as she wanted to use the resources she had to dominate the market niche. I recommend that people developing a web or mobile app visit a patent attorney or agent early on to plot out a strategy. Many patent professionals will give you a free initial consultation so you have an idea of what steps you can take to protect your idea.
Piata has her web and phone apps up and running and with over 10,000 followers and a very targeted audience she is on the cusp of receiving advertising revenue that will help generate more the revenue she needs to keep developing her brand so she has market awareness. Her following should grow as the share buttons she has on her site, more or less mimicking social sites should generate a buzz with women who love their dogs.