Alumnus designs, markets phone-charging gadget
By Emily Brigstocke, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, September 19, 2012
ChargeCard, a credit card-shaped connector cable for phones invented by Noah Dentzel ’10, aims to make conventional USB cables obsolete. The product is scheduled to become available to the general public in November, having been successfully marketed by the newly popular fundraising method of crowdsourcing, Dentzel said.
Dentzel developed the idea for ChargeCard while working in Madrid and dealing with the frustration of the battery in his BlackBerry phone dying, he said.
“I remember one time I wished I just had a tiny little connector,” he said. “So why not make one in the shape of a card, so that it fits in your wallet?”
The gadget is made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic, measures 3.25 by 2 inches and is only 0.1-inch thick when not plugged in, according to the project’s industrial designer Adam Miller.
“The idea is that you put it in your wallet and you forget about it,” Miller said. “It’s that small.”
Dentzel and Miller used the online platform Kickstarter to raise money to develop their product. Kickstarter and similar programs provide an interface for entrepreneurs and potential backers, where product designers post project ideas and supporters can donate to fund the project.
Crowdfunding is relatively new in the finance world and functions differently from typical venture capitalism. Kickstarter allows donors to fund creative projects and employs a method of all-or-nothing funding in which project creators must reach their target dollar amount by a self-determined deadline in order to access any of the money, according to the website.
“The biggest advantage is that you get a really good sense of [a product’s] market viability,” Miller said. “The baseline of it is that given limited funds, it allows you to develop a concept.”
ChargeCard has experienced a few manufacturing delays that must be resolved prior to the November release, according to Miller. The product’s success is among its problems, however — the product has sold over three times its original production limit, and the team has had to defer and reject orders, Dentzel said.
Dentzel and Miller, along with colleague Brian Hahn, experienced huge success with Kickstarter and met their goal of $50,000 in the first three days, despite having set a 40-day period on the Kickstarter timer.
The fundraising success is a result of the startup’s “guerilla” marketing and public relations systems, according to Dentzel. The team lacked the funds to advertise conventionally, so the team members bought a trailer, on which they fixed a billboard to the outside, and they converted the interior into a mobile office and bedroom.
The project gained momentum in February and officially launched on July 18, he said.
Neither Dentzel nor Miller said they were worried about the product’s success. While a number of USB connectors that serve a similar purpose are already available on the market, ChargeCard has a competitive advantage because of its “extreme portability,” Miller said.
Dentzel said he attributes his success in designing the ChargeCard to close observation and following his intuition.
“I learned the most from engaging with the people around me,” he said. “If you’re observing a problem on a regular basis, ask if people around you are too. A lot of ideas are born out of a nuisance.”
Dentzel recommended that after formulating an idea, innovators should follow through and trust themselves even in the face of criticism.
“People have a lot of ideas but never do anything with them,” he said. “As an innovator, it’s really easy to only focus on the negative ones, but as soon as you’re 100 percent sure of something, it’s too late.”
Dentzel, who worked for World Outlook Journal of International Affairs and The Dartmouth while a student at the College, contributed a number of creative ideas to his publications, according to former World Outlook editors.
“I remember even then he had pretty entrepreneurial ideas about ways to expand the journal: more editorial pieces, more online articles,” John Mei ’11 said. “He was really good about morale, even if [the ideas] didn’t end up working out.”
Dentzel and Miller said they have ideas for new future products, including paraphernalia for the recently-released iPhone 5. The team is currently developing a product with flash memory and a small amount of built-in charge that would not compromise the ChargeCard’s slim packaging.