In my Internet surfing tonight I came across a Texas-based company called Mag-Wind that has invented a vertical axis wind turbine intended to generate enough power to power a single household, thus creating green energy and eliminating the need for people to rely on supplied electricity. Although I think the principle of this is a great cause for the world, I am skeptical on the quality of the product.
Now that I’ve bored most of my readers, I’ll get to the interesting goods. This product was invented by 2 Canadian inventors, one of which I have personally worked with over 6 years ago. Back in the spring of 2000 when I worked as a computer technician at a local computer store, I helped a local business man/inventor/CEO/writer to build and promote his latest invention. His invention at that time was a pay -phone with a web camera attached above it where people could pay a small fee and send a 30 second video to a friend or loved one while on vacation. It was very leading-edge at the time because nobody had actually deployed such a device although the idea was out there. He envisioned his invention being installed at landmarks such as Niagara Falls where people could send a video to a friend with the falls in the background of the video.
I had a lot of confidence in his idea and I was impressed with his ability to get investors interested and he even acquired a substantial amount of venture capital to build the prototypes for his invention. The one thing I wasn’t impressed with was the attention paid to the quality of the product itself. I felt the focus was more on getting investors than actually delivering a solid product. The assembly of the hardware started at the last minute, not long before the prototypes were to be marketed at a trade show in Las Vegas. Since the hardware wasn’t yet ready just a few days before the Las Vegas show, he paid me to go to Las Vegas to finish building and testing the prototypes. I set out with 2 other guys who worked for the inventor in a rental van with the 6 prototypes headed for ‘Sin City’. I remember the trip like it was yesterday. It was probably the most memorable road trips I’ve ever taken in my life. There’s a lot of beautiful scenery on the way to Las Vegas and on the way home we drove through all major landmarks including Moab Utah, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, and Hoover Dam.
I remember kneeling on the floor in the hotel room assembling the prototypes with only 2 days until the trade show (which happened to be at the legendary MGM Grand). If anything was going to go wrong, it would be the end of the invention and would vaporize their hopes and dreams. Interestingly enough, the fate of the invention lied in the hands of me, a 19 year old computer technician. You might agree that this wasn’t very good planning. I was testing the machines right up until only hours before the trade show began. With very little sleep and computer parts and tools scattered about the hotel room, I managed to get the prototypes working and tested for the start of the trade show (with the exception of a couple defective hardware devices and a minor software bug).
The trade show went extremely well. I had to be on-site at the booth at the trade show just in case there were any technical difficulties, and we did encounter a small bug where the video didn’t send 50% of the time, so we had a small workaround where we did a ‘fake call’ before each trade show attendee tried it out. I even ended up acting as one of the sales personel because of my extensive knowledge of the hardware behind the invention. After the trade show, they threw a huge party and I had a bunch of drinks with the investors who were telecom moguls from Texas. They even told me they’d love for me to come to work for them in Dallas. That was basically the first time in my life I had ever felt proud and useful, and it was pretty surreal having these executives thank me for basically saving their asses by building the devices at the last minute. I received an extra bonus from the inventor for my services and it felt good that everything went so well not to mention the all inclusive trip to Las Vegas. Later I heard that they didn’t end up getting their venture capital to build the units because of some personal dispute between the inventor and the investors, but I didn’t get the specifics.
Now getting back to the original point of the article, I did some research on the wind turbine invention and although I did find that they have received thousands of orders from a distributor, there isn’t very much information on actual testing on the product. They apparently built and tested 8 prototypes but they haven’t released much detail about the test results. Everything still seems to be estimated. In my mind, this is exactly how the previous invention was delivered. It was all about getting the investments, getting the sales, and getting the money, but not about delivering and testing a solid product. I could be wrong, but when they start to sell these products (@ close to $15,000 a pop installed), I am predicting that there will be a lot of customer dissatisfaction. I’ll keep my eyes open for updates.
Interesting story, Jim. Having just returned from Las Vegas recently, I can picture very well some of the landmarks and scenery you described in your piece. It does sound like your former employer isn’t very focused on quality, which is too bad because this idea––wind turbines––could be quite useful.
On a sidenote, despite the negative impression you received about your former employer, it does sound like you had a pretty amazing experience––an all-inclusive trip to Vegas (at 19 no less) and saving those high-rolling investors’ asses. I bet it was a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing.
Jim – this is very interesting. I am connected to a mag-wind high mucky-muck and from what I have seen, yes, it isw just about the money and not producing a product, or not one that works as advertised…