This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.
A month had passed since Craig Madaus lost his job. After a long career in advertising and print media, Madaus was spending his time job hunting, taking yoga classes and wondering what was next. He would hang out at Starbucks — where maybe he could drum up a conversation with someone who might know of a job.
Eventually, he took a job to make ends meet. As a crew member on a sailboat, his job seemed simple: help deliver a boat from the manufacturer in Connecticut to the customer in St. Thomas. But Craig Madaus would soon bump into his future almost as accidentally as we bumped into his story.
David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom: So, you’re on the boat, and you run into a storm. Tell us more.
Craig Madaus: “Yes, between Bermuda and St. Thomas we encountered 30-foot waves and winds at 35 knots. Struggling to steer, our boom ultimately broke and split in half. It was terrifying, but we muscled through. The bigger problem, though, was the broken refrigerator. We still had five days on the open sea. We were down to one sail, our food supply was rotting and the boat was taking on water.”
Sturt and Nordstrom: Doesn’t seem like the best situation for innovative thinking.
Madaus: No, it doesn’t. The crew decided to split the duties of emptying water by taking turns. My shift was 2-4 a.m. That night, while I was smashing plastic bottles to make more room for accumulating trash, I noticed something. The concave bottom of the bottle made it impossible to flatten the bottles completely.
Enter the idea for Bubi Bottle — made entirely from silicone, the bottle is, as Craig describes it, “scrunchable.”
Sturt and Nordstrom: So, that night you get the idea to reinvent the water bottle?
Madaus: Yeah. It sounds simple. But then I started thinking about it. I could create something that not only holds water in, but keeps water out. It could be used as a dry pack for people on a canoe trip or overnight hike. If it was flexible enough, you could fill it with rice, beans, cellphones, passports or whatever you need to keep dry. That’s where I got the idea for silicone.
Sturt and Nordstrom: The functionality of the bottle is really cool. However, your story still gets more intriguing.
Madaus: I asked a friend, Kelly Torrence, to draw up a design. I made a small business card with a picture of the bottle and place where a person could write down their email address and tell me what color they prefer. Then I started talking to people. I collected nearly 250 cards with color choices and email addresses. I would talk to people on the street, but I also spent a lot of time at Starbucks drumming up conversations.
Sturt and Nordstrom: So people were interested in Bubi Bottle before you even had anything to show them?
Madaus: Yeah, a lot of people would give me feedback and ideas. I used those 250 cards to choose the colors of the bottles. Still today, the colors people chose on the street are within 2 percent of sales per color.
Sturt and Nordstrom: That’s amazing! OK, but back up. When you had that first batch of bottles manufactured, what was your marketing strategy?
Madaus: Well, that’s the funniest part. I remember the day 2,000 bottles were shipped to my apartment. The boxes were stacked in my living room. I was so happy to finally have the product. It took me about 20 minutes to come to the realization that I had no idea how to get into retail stores. Uh oh.
Sturt and Nordstrom: So, what’d you do?
Madaus: I went to Starbucks. That’s where business people hang out. That’s where I would talk to people and get ideas. And, I really didn’t know where else to go.
Fast forward from Madaus’ first days trying to sell bottles on the street in 2012 to today. Bubi Bottles are now sold in 23 countries at many of the world’s most renowned retailers, like Brookstone, Fab, Dick’s Sporting Goods and soon in Whole Foods.
Sturt and Nordstrom: You’ve created a very successful business simply by talking to people — people outside of your normal circle. A lot of Bubi Bottle was built at Starbucks. Which leads to how we met you.
Madaus: (Laughing) I remember when you called and said how impressed you were when my “sales rep” jumped out in front of you at a conference and said, “Do you want to see something cool?”
Sturt and Nordstrom: She was so well spoken, energetic and passionate about the product.
Madaus: (Still laughing) Yeah, I flew into Salt Lake City for the outdoor retailer show, went to Starbucks and started talking with her about the Bubi Bottle. She told me that she had the next couple days off, so I hired her to help man the booth.Comment on this story
Product development, marketing, focus groups, networking and recruiting were all performed at a coffee shop. Madaus and Bubi Bottle are living proof of a recent study conducted by Forbes Insights, the O.C. Tanner Institute and the Cicero Group that found 72 percent of people who win awards for their work talk to people outside their inner circle. Craig Madaus was just smart enough to realize that he could find all those insights down at the corner Starbucks.
David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times best seller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at www.greatwork.com.