MAKERS LOG: 002 — MD ENGINEERING & TORQBAR
Scott McCoskery invented the original fidget spinner. I sat down with Scott and his business partner Paul de Hererra to hear the full story behind Torqbar. Below is our 4-hour long conversation transcribed:
Scott: My dad was an automotive electrician most of his life. He had tools and was a guy who fixed things himself. Very creative and always taking on a new DIY project. He engraved some really cool live-edge wooden signs. He had a tiny little workshop, and he spent a lot of time out there. When I was really little, I needed to be out there because he was basically babysitting me and he needed to keep me busy. Usually, the way that he kept me busy was to give me something to take apart. He would set me up on a bench and put whatever it was in a vice and loosen all the tight nuts and bolts. Then he would put me on a stool and give me all the tools I needed to take it apart — which would keep me occupied while he was busy doing other stuff. As a kid, I remember taking a lot of things apart. In fact, I loved to find things at our local swap meet just to take them apart, with the idea that I would make something out of the parts that were inside. One vivid memory was taking apart a carburetor. From the parts we took out, we epoxied together an X-Wing Fighter toy. It was just a repeat of that whole process of finding something and saying, “Hey Dad, could we make this out of this?” or “Can I make this into a blowgun?” or “Can we make throwing stars out of this?” That was my foundation for being interested in working with things or objects like that.
BROADCASTING, PAINTBALLING & GLASS-BLOWING
Scott: Right out of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had a scholarship I could use at any school and decided to go to broadcasting school to become an on-air DJ. I worked on the radio for a little while before I realized that it would be really hard to make any money doing the radio business unless you were in the very upper echelon.
Phil Smith was a good friend of mine living in Portland who got into the paintball business a couple of years before this and was opening a paintball store. He was looking for other business opportunities to get involved with, and I said that I was interested in starting a mobile DJ business. He said that sounded like fun and in one fell swoop I moved to Oregon and we started a mobile DJ business together.Just by way of being there, I started working in this paintball store. In the back of the shop, we had a space set up to customize paintball guns. Now I'm starting to mess around with modding things and high-performance mods. We released a few hose kit products that were popular at the time, and it was overall just great to work with Phil. It was a significant learning experience for me to witness someone who was running a small business completely self-employed.
After I moved back to Seattle in 1994, I became infatuated with Dale Chihuly and thought that his art was amazing. I had many friends who smoked pot, and they had these glass pipes that I thought looked cool. Chihuly was everywhere at the time you could not go into downtown Seattle without seeing an installation of his work. I was fascinated with the idea of being a glass artist. I bought equipment to make some small things and set up a glass blowing area in the dining room of my 675 square foot condo. I had a propane and oxygen tank up there; it was quite ridiculous. Made a bunch of beads, some marbles, a lot of women’s necklaces and it was a lot of fun.
RE-INVENTING THE JUMP ROPE
Scott: In 2001, my wife at the time got a job coaching a competition jump rope team — which was totally weird all by itself. I was like, “Okay wow, I didn’t even really know this world existed." And having the DJ background that I did, they asked me if I could MC this annual local jump rope tournament. I agreed and ultimately ended up MC’ing this tournament for 13 straight years. So I find myself at these tournaments, and I’m watching all hundreds of these kids jumping speed competition. They’re walking past me in line to get out there, and at one point I asked one of them, “Hey can I see your jump rope?” I asked them to show it to me because they didn’t look like normal jump ropes. The ones they used for speed had a wire cable that passed through a wood dowel. The wood dowel went into a plastic handle and was held in with a stapled plastic disc. The wooden dowel rotated around inside this plastic handle. And I’m thinking, “This is a speed competition. Why aren’t they using some sort of fancy jump ropes that are precision designed for high speed, zero-friction type of a setup?” And they weren’t.
So I basically went to the drawing board thinking, “How can I make a better jump rope for this competition?” I knew I had access to these jumpers. I knew I could throw ideas off of them. So I designed a jump rope that I could make out of hardware store parts. I made a prototype, and the thing that I did which ended up being the killer aspect of it was that I used a metal rod for an axel and put a bearing in the front and the back of the handle to remove all axial torque when the jump rope was spinning. If there had only been one bearing in the front or the back, the motion would cause canting on the bearing races. Now all of a sudden the handle could turn crazy fast. I showed it to some jumpers; they thought it was awesome. I thought about how I could turn this idea into an actual product.
I hit up a friend of mine for a loan so that I could buy the most entry-level Harbor Freight mini lathe and mini mill you could get. At the time I had a baby at home, but in the evenings I could go out into the workshop and make parts for this jump rope idea. I ended up making 100 sets of those jump ropes total. My wife was going to Disneyworld for the US National Jumprope Tournament. I went with her and brought my jump ropes with me. Within a couple of hours, they had sold out. Later that same day, in triple unders, a guy set the world record with one of the ropes he had just bought from me. It caused quite the stir in me.
I went back home and knew I needed to find somebody who could make this jump rope for me. I realized that on my own there was just no way I could make them in any level of significant volume. I went to a manufacturer/distributor and asked them if they were interested in carrying my jump rope. They said they wanted to show it to their overseas manufacturing team to see what it would take to make it. Most jump ropes were injection molded plastic; this was different in that it was more complex and made of metal. I had everyone sign nondisclosure and noncompete agreements before I showed the drawings and explained how it was made. They came back and told me that they weren’t cut out to make them at the time, they required machines that the workshop just didn’t have and the deal went south. The idea pretty much died on the vine right there. The story continues that the overseas manufacturing team waited out the agreement time period restrictions and 2-years to the day of signing them began selling the jump rope online, even calling it the exact same name I used, the Rev1. It has been 15+ years now, but to this day you can buy one online from the same guy who took my original idea. Using the dual bearing design, the handle shape, the way the end is built, all of it… even the name! On the one hand, it is kind of cool that so much time has passed and that design is still the spec that competition jump ropes are being built to.
Scott: I distinctly remember telling my wife, “I want a really cool bottle opener.” I wanted the coolest one I could find. So I started Googling and looking around knowing that it was just a bottle opener but wanting to find someone that made an awesome one. That’s how I stumbled across Peter Atwood. When found Atwoods, I just couldn’t believe it. I remember thinking about how cool they were. Totally over-made using cool materials, made in the USA, hand-stamped and finished. I was so fascinated by such a simple concept. Discovering Atwoods led me to join EDC Forums and which is still around as an old vBulletin style forum pre-Facebook. In EDC Forums I learned that there are people who are just totally into everyday carry and stuff you put in your pockets. I really love simple, well-made things that carry the --everything you need and nothing you don’t-- approach. That’s what got me into EDC deeper and deeper. I started trading tools and buying from makers I grew to admire. Joined the Usual Suspects Network (USN) and discovered The Cove which is basically like finding Aladdin’s treasure. I then spent the next decade trading, collecting and learning about makers. I was fascinated by their lifestyle and wondering how they were able to do it.
I remember an email conversation with Peter Atwood where I told him, “Man, it’s so cool that you just make stuff. I would love to just make stuff for a living.” I became really fascinated with basic and industrial design. Ended up buying some books on it and started thinking that it was something I could also do.
ATWOODS & SPINNER CORES
Scott: Long ago when I thought of bearings, I always thought of examples I had seen working with my dad as an auto mechanic. A bearing to me was packed with grease, and it turned smoothly, but it didn’t free spin. When I was making the jump ropes, I was taking the bearings and holding an air gun to them or taking them to the buffing wheel and practiced spinning them out. In the process, I was spinning the grease out and making them really loose and free spinning — I realized this is something you could do other things with. Ironically enough, I was already developing a spinner even before the Atwood spinner cores. It was a spinning toy with four arms with a ball on each end which rotated axially and a center axis which the arms spun around. You could hold the two ends that were opposing each other and spin the other two around. Or you could hold it in the middle, like you hold a spinner traditionally, and just spin it that way. And then the idea was that the arms could come off and you could swap them out for different arms, with pointed ends or square ends instead of balls for example. It was just crazy complicated and it was mostly just an idea in my head. It had 10 bearings in it total! This thing was really meaty because I was making it out of brass. Ultimately I got frustrated by certain aspects that weren't completely dialed in on the prototype and the idea pretty much stopped right there.
All the while I was still an avid Atwood collector. There was a big collector named Joel who posted a video of himself sitting on an airplane pinching an Atwood Ghost. He put his index finger and his thumb over the hole in the center and was just flicking it and spinning it around in circles. The hole was acting as an axle to rotate the tool and make it spin. There was a comment thread on the video and I remember typing, “I should stick a bearing in that and make it spin.” Within days I did just that and was out in my workshop, holding a Ghost and calipers realizing that this was a 3/8" hole. All I needed to do was find a bearing that had the correct width and diameter.
I knew from back in the jump rope research days that you could get different kinds of bearings with varying numbers of balls and you could specify how loose or tight you wanted them to be, lubed or not lubed, shields or without shields — all these little options and factors that lead me to the ultimate bearing for this application. Once I discovered it, I ordered a few and had them in hand within a few days. Using my old mini lathe that I made the jump ropes on, I turned buttons to go on each side. I remember I couldn't even make the threaded hole to screw them together. It was just far too small and tiny for me to do at the time. I actually just glued them together with Loctite. I had a friend of mine help me out with some CAD 3D rendering. I took that drawing to a machine shop where I managed to have about 100 pieces made out of titanium (it was honestly all I could afford). It was fun to put little grinds and finishes on them. I made anywhere from 50 to 75 sets of early Atwood Spinner Cores before I ever had the idea for the Torqbar.
IT CAREER & MEETING PAUL
Scott: Since I was a kid, I have had an interest in computers and always figured I would end up working in the field. After returning to Seattle, I knew it was time to take the skillset I had with computers and apply it. That’s when I started working for Oak Harbor Freight Lines as a system admin. My boss at that company started a consulting business and asked me to come work for him. I really expanded my skillset that way because you really have to learn how to do everything, not just what one company does. I worked there for seven years before getting a job as an IT director. While there, the company got bought out. So for a minute there I was unemployed for a little while and actually considered playing professional poker, but gave up on that idea fairly fast. I knew it was time for me to get back into the business so I took a temp job at a company called Visto to help them build out some domino servers and then ended up getting hired on there full time in IT. After a while, there were management changes and I wanted to change departments and ended up over in operations, which is where I met Paul in 2005. We actually didn’t work there too long together, but we both realized quickly that we lived on Bainbridge Island. Paul’s a motorcycle guy, and I was just getting into riding because I wanted to commute that way. So we had that to talk about, but then our careers led us in completely different directions. We stayed in touch here and there over the years.
Paul: One of the things I was responsible for while working for Visto in 2005 was managing application servers. There were many of them, and it was normal to go over to the data center and rack up 20 or 30 servers in a day. I remember doing a refresh where we were pulling out old servers and putting in new ones. I came back with a truckload of old servers that we were ended up donating to a local school system in Renton. It was great because it would give the company a nice tax write-off and it also got rid of the servers. I remember Scott asking me, “Hey what are you going to do with those old computers? Can I have a few?” I told him sure and didn’t think too much of it until I saw him set up in his office later that day. He was sitting there with a big box of about 400 CDs, swapping them in and out of the machines as they were ripping the music to a hard drive creating an enormous library of digitized music for his mobile DJ business.
Scott: It sounds so old school now.
Paul: It does. But I saw it as extremely innovative that you’d taken something that was virtually garbage and turned it into a pretty powerful platform that you used to help digitize a bunch of music.
TORQBAR: PROTOTYPES & CUSTOMS
Scott: It was the Spring of 2014, and I had spent a few months of just thinking about the concept. Then I began drawing it and making a few prototypes. The modular design was two-fold in that, 1. I hoped people could have a drawer full of Torqbar parts and could put it together in any combo they wanted to, and 2. It allowed for people to be incredibly unique and creative in their materials choice. And I should note that one of the primary reasons I allowed people to pick and choose in this way was because I just wanted to gain experience working with everything. The over-arching goal of mine was to basically be funded to experiment with new materials. It was basically like if you're willing to pay for it, I'm willing to try.
Over a short time, I arrived at the basic design and realized I just couldn’t make it. It had lots of curves in it, and I was only able to cut straight lines on my mini mill. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make this thing without learning some CNC. Money was still tight, and I was still in the hobby phase of everything. I had no money to invest and wondered how I could learn CNC Programming the cheapest way possible. I found a 30/40 router which you can find on eBay for around $500. They’re not really meant to cut metal. They’re just an aluminum extrusion gantry style router, but they’re CNC controllable. The rest of the software you can pretty much get for free or a trial just to get going. I used that to learn CNC Programming and to draw and cut this shape out which was the Torqbar. I realized I could only make it out of relatively thin metal, so that’s where the stacked design came from — plus I wanted to tap into knife handle material choices, and 1/8” thick was the sweet spot for material options. I did some crazy stuff to get this crappy little router to cut metal. I wrote some routines where the speeds and feeds were so slow, and the depth of the cut was so shallow that it might take 3 hours just to cut 1 Torqbar frame out. It made this micro dust stuff that wasn't even actual chips. But I figured out that if I went slow enough, and pushed it just right, I could actually get parts out of it that were relatively accurate. Accurate enough in fact, that I believe it made the very first 5 custom Torqbars.
I waited to show the Torqbar to anyone until I had at least a few customs made and once I did, I experienced the high demand for them in the Fall of 2015. The SCAM Design Facebook Group started. The custom list began and started filling up within a matter of days. I knew there was no way I could tackle all of them with the current router setup I had; I needed something bigger. So I started a GoFundMe to raise $7500, so I could buy a small mill and some tooling. Still very entry level for a CNC mill, but a big step up from where I currently was. At the same time, I was running the GoFundMe a I was taking deposits for Customs. At $4400 into the GoFundMe, I had collected the rest of the money that I needed to buy the mill, so I stopped the campaign right there. More than anything at the time, I was just so eager to be enabled to make these things. I ended up getting a Seig KX1 and bought a real Mach3 license. It was pretty easy to transition from what I’d learned on the gantry router over to the mill. With that machine, I was able to make all the Customs up through #034.
Figuring out how to hold the bearing in was definitely the most frustrating thing. It was one of the details I spent the most time on. I felt like the bearing was going to be prone to wearing out, getting dirty or broken. I was hellbent on figuring out a method that allowed it to be removed an replaced. At one point I came up with a Delrin sleeve. I tried friction and press fits. I tried a set screws. I tried metal rings designed to retain bearings. I found that every single retention method that put any kind of stress on the outer race of the bearing would deform it enough to kill the experience. It would still spin like crazy, but you could tell there was a difference. The difference was max spin times of two minutes to five minutes. As soon as I knew it was possible for them to spin 5 minutes long, that was enough to settle on that method as a standard. Had I installed the bearing all along with some stressful means that only produced two minute spins and never saw the longer ones, I might have released it like that. It was still cool. And then someone else would have come out after me claiming to spin more than double the time of a Torqbar and it would have been far superior. I got lucky that I installed the bearing in a way that showed me what was possible. I've honestly never found a way to do it better than Loctite 272. They way that it gap fills and cures without expansion or shrinkage. We use a thread locking series that seems to hold the bearing in perfectly until you want to get it out using a press or a bearing removal tool.
When it came to actually naming this idea, there were lots of options I was throwing around. Spindler, TwinSpin and Spiddle were a few of the contenders. I love the name Spidget and wish I had thought to combine the words 'spin' and 'fidget' in that way. Ultimately, Torqbar ended up being the perfect name. And you can sort of see it in some of the early prototypes, I had this idea that it was shaped a bit like a claw hammer curve to it. I wrote down 'twin-ended hammer' for what it looked like to me.
There’s an original list which are people that I’ve committed to make a Custom Torqbar for. That list is 175 people long and I’m on Custom Torqbar #36 right now. I had no idea how long it was going to take me to make all these Torqbars. So when the custom list filled up in a few days and I said stop, it felt crazy. There were a few people at first who I didn’t even take deposits from. They were trusted friends and people who I knew. Then there were people asking be on the list that I didn’t know, friends of friends of friends. Then people asking to get on the list twice. Then people putting their mom’s on the list. It just got really weird, so I had to stop it. In my list I have a column in the spreadsheet that shows timestamps from everyone’s private messages when they said that they were in. The Custom Torqbars that I’m working on right now, #’s 30-100, all these people are within a couple minutes and hours of each other. The person who’s #150 out there who probably thinks they’re never going to get a custom literally only signed up a couple hours after the person I’m currently working on.
I knew that I had to draw a line so that I could change my commitment, but I still wanted to allow people to sign up. At this point, all I planned on doing was making Custom Torqbars. So I started a new list, this list was a Facebook Post in my group SCAM Design. People could basically just ‘in’ on this list with a comment in order to get in on what I called a Waiting List to get on the Custom List. The waiting list consists of about 500 people. My commitment to all of the people who are on this Waiting List is that I will offer them something special. Like the next time I ever make anything that is ‘list worthy’, they’ll get first crack. They’ll get the chance to say yes or no to whatever it is I’m offering. It might be Custom Torqbar, it might be a new product, basically whatever it is… they’re at the start of that list.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll be done with Custom Torqbars in the current way I’m offering them once I finish the 175 that I’ve already committed to. It’s really hard to feel this sense of guilt towards all these people who thought when they signed up that they were going to get something within a few months or maybe even a year and it’s already been 2 years. And who knows how long it’s going to be for people at the end of the list. Frankly, I don’t like carrying that weight around. I feel real guilt towards those people. So in the future, I’m not going to structure my sales in that way because it just doesn’t feel good. It would be different if I was just one man show and just sitting in my little shop making one thing at a time — maybe having books would be right for me. But MD Engineering is growing and we need to produce a lot of product. It doesn’t mean I want to release a bunch of mass produced crap, but it means we need to produce higher volume of high quality products in order to sustain the business. There’s no way I could only make Custom Torqbars and employ 5 people to do it. It just wouldn’t work financially. But what would work, would be taking the modular design of the custom and building those parts in larger quantities. Like maybe cut 5 damascus steel frames from a billet, instead of just 1 and then putting that billet away on the shelf. Using an entire piece of exotic metal and building up an inventory of Custom Torqbar parts that people would be able to pick and choose from to put one together — that scales. That would work for us. That may be the future of Custom Torqbars once I run through the list.
MD ENGINEERING FORMS
Scott: I sought out Paul de Herrera as my business partner. I needed somebody who could take the business side of this idea to the next level. To a level that I had neither the time, interest or skillset to do. Paul was somebody whom I’d known through the years at this point. We had just recently re-connected over a business lunch, and I told him that I had an idea I wanted to show him. I remember being super nervous. He invited me to come over, and I had never been to his house before. It was such a mix of reactions whenever I would show it to people, so I didn’t know what to expect. I remember getting to his place and showing it to him and trying to explain it — and I just couldn’t get the idea out fast enough. At this time, I really had no idea if somebody would look at this and think, “Hey yeah, we could really make some money off this.”
Paul: He was jumping out of his skin nervous. You could hear it in his voice. Right at that moment, I knew you were passionate about the Torqbar.
Scott: Paul and I basically hit it off, and it seemed like a really good fit. It was a very hard thing for me to do — to take all the chances he wants to take. If there is one thing that is the basis of our business relationship, and he’ll agree 100%, is that I sought out Paul as a needed risk taker. I’m not a risk taker. I’m the total opposite. I’m Steady Eddy. I wanna know there’s money in the bank. I wanna know I have a paycheck coming in. I wanna know that the bills are paid. I’m never gonna gamble more than I have. Pretty much anything like that. But I also knew that I wanted to make a lot of money. I needed someone to pull me out of there. I needed checks and balances. I don’t know if I offer anything in return to Paul in the relationship, but that was something I was specifically looking for.
Paul: You totally offer a lot in this relationship. In any good relationship, there's give and take. You might have similarities and common interests, but there are also things you don’t have in common. And in my opinion, it's what you do with these differences that can make a regular relationship into a great relationship. It's where you're different that you can learn and teach each other. Having that type of a relationship allows you to grow. If you see things the same and your behaviors are the same, you're never going to challenge each other. Scott and I both recognized early on the differences that we have in what we bring to the table. I think I have always tried to enhance those things. Whenever I have felt like Scott was being reserved or conservative. I would say, "Nope! We’re going this way!" And likewise. If I start getting way out of hand and I just wanna go bet everything on black, Scott’s there to say, "Woah, maybe we should reel that back a little." I think because we have that understanding of each other's personalities and perspective, it's helped us make some really good decisions.
Scott: Many times there will be something on the table, it doesn't have to be a major decision, but it could be. I instantly find myself falling back to the way that I would do it. But in my head, I've started thinking, "No, there's gotta be a different way. There's gotta be a different perspective." If there’s one thing that has changed in me since we’ve started doing this as a company it would be that I’m much more comfortable with trusting other people’s decision making. It's created an environment where we're free to run with ideas, and I don't feel the need to control everything. I've been in IT management for the last 15 years as the person making all the decisions. And if it wasn't there, I was working for myself, again making all the decisions. So when you're on par with somebody, you’re not a partner if you're not listening. Obviously, it's harder at first, but when you start to see those things succeed, it becomes easier and easier.
WHAT IS THAT THING?
Paul: As Scott was showing me the Torqbar for the very first time, I was very intently watching his mannerisms, the way he was speaking and all of his body language. I could see the passion he had about this product. This was his life’s work sitting on the table in many ways. I saw value in that. This thing was cool. It was cool to play with. It was just a cool thing to have. But the real question on the table was: Could we make a business out of this? I can be an extreme risk taker, but when it comes to business decisions, I’m also about due diligence, vetting and doing your homework. Ultimately it will always be a risk, but if you’ve done those things to plan and prepare the risk is a little bit more palatable. I knew Scott was very passionate about Torqbar, I saw value in it, but I was so curious to know what other people thought of it. How do they see it? So he gave me brass Torqbar, and I began carrying it everywhere I went. At the time, I was working as a sales engineer and traveling the country. With my job, I was meeting with lots of people on a regular basis. I would take it with me to get their reactions. Not only in a business context, but also in a personal context. I would carry it with me when I'd go out to eat, which was almost every single day. I'd have it with me when I was commuting on the ferry or hanging out with friends. Wherever I was, I had it with me, and I would spin it. I told myself that if I was doing my due diligence to vet this product, I wasn't going to try to sell it to anyone. I would never initiate and say, "Hey look at this! Do you want it?" I wasn't ever going to be the aggressor. I was simply going to carry it with me, and I'd let them discover it and approach me to give me their true feedback on it. After only a few months, the feedback I was getting was incredible. I had complete strangers stopping in their tracks to ask, "What is that thing? What do you have in your hand?" Everyone all had the same reaction thinking it was super cool, asking how much it cost and where they could get one. To which I could only say, "They're not for sale yet." I began asking people directly, "What would you call this? If you could give it any name, what would you choose?" At the time, I wasn't completely on board with the name Torqbar. I was on a mission for a while to change the name. About 80% of all the people I asked replied: Shiny Spinny Thingy. I knew that wasn't the name, so after digging a little deeper into Scott's research into the etymology of the name including torque and being made from bar stock materials... I realized the name Torqbar was perfect. I remember being out to dinner with Scott and my cousin. I’d just been given Torqbar Custom #33 while we were eating, drinking and talking. During the course of the meal, we ended up engaging two separate tables in the restaurant curious to know what we had in our hands. The table right beside ours with two young boys having dinner with their grandparents. They became interested, so we handed one over to let them play with it, and they went absolutely bonkers. They thought it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen. Grandpa was feeling very generous and asked how much it cost because he wanted to buy it for his grandsons. It was the same case with the other table and in general how people reacted wherever I would take it out in public. Some people would look at it, and they wouldn’t understand it. Then there were other people who saw it, and they would just stop in their fucking tracks. I could go on, and on and on about stories like that. And coming from a sales perspective, at the time I was selling network solutions, it’s a dream job to have something that you don’t even have to sell. I don’t have to convince you that you want it. All I have to do is just show it to you, as a matter of fact, it’s even better if you approach me and ask to see it, and once you see the value of it… you just have to have it. That was happening time and time again. That scenario played out with people of all ages and backgrounds. It just didn’t matter. I had teachers telling me they were working with autistic children who could possibly benefit from something like this. So it was then that I knew we had something really special. The potential for building a business around it was real.
Scott: When I completed the final prototype, the last Torqbar before making one for someone else, I carried it with me everywhere. It wasn't to show off to anyone. I really wanted to find out if this was something I could gain skill at. I wondered if I could ever end up using it the way I imagined using it in my head. When I first started spinning it, I was all weird and awkward too. I needed to use it enough to trust the ergonomics were doing what they were supposed to be doing. From the way you kickstart it to the way it rolls off your finger, all of that was so calculated. I ferry commuted every single day working in downtown Seattle and would spin it discreetly on my ride. It was a good half hour of down time each way. One day, I got home and I realized I didn't have it with me anymore. Essentially I'd lost it and was trying to trace my steps hoping that someone on the ferry turned it into the lost and found. I ended up making some calls and determined which boat I needed to get on in the morning to ask the crew directly if anyone had seen it. The next morning, I'm standing at the door of the first mate's office trying to figure out how to even describe what I was looking for. "It's like this big with a part in the middle that spins around..." They pull out this big box of random stuff with a folder log of each item. My eyes are scanning the paper to see if there's anything on there that remotely describes what the Torqbar looked like and then I look up across the office into the employee lounge area and see a guy back there spinning it! I said, "That's it! Right there! He's holding it right now!" The guy perks up and walks over asking if it was mine. He asked, "What is it?" And I replied, "Well, it's a toy that I'm developing." I did a couple of fast spins to show him how I use it and his next question was, "So... what makes it spin?" That was the exact moment I knew I was onto something very special. The precision, the balance and the physics that went into the Torqbar has the result I was looking for. When you push physics to the limit, it almost feels like magic. Things feel a little bit unreal. When you put the highest precision bearing you can buy into a simple piece of metal that is as balanced as you could get it and then spin it, it feels like its floating in your hand. This guy thought that it was battery powered or used magnets somehow. All the while, I'm just filling up with joy inside. I just knew this was going to be a hit. Also, I was just so happy to get the prototype back! It was all coincidence and timing finding it again the way I did.
TORQBAR: SOLIDBODIES & SEMI-CUSTOMS
Scott: If the only thing you ever saw was a Solidbody Torqbar and you were trying to understand why it looked the way that it did, it might not make a lot of sense. Because it’s a little bit funny looking the way that it comes in around the weights. It has essentially the exact same form factor as a Custom Torqbar, but it’s not. If you were designing the Torqbar from the ground up from a solid piece of metal, you may not have chosen to make those cuts. However, when I was thinking about how to make a version of this spinner that could be easily produced in a machine shop in large quantities, I realized that having the shoulder between the weight and the frame made fixturing the Solidbody Torqbar in a mill super easy. I was about to get it really flat and have the room needed to cut certain chamfers. It was then easily flipped over to finish milling the other side and the shape just happened to work well as a solid product.
The thinking behind it was to be able to produce them faster and machine them to be really accurate. Honestly, there’s a lot of hand-tuning a Custom Torqbar in order to get it to be a balanced spinner. For example, the screws are ground to a certain length, if there’s a difference in weight of even 1/10th of a gram between the 4 screws used in one end and the 4 screws that are used in the other end, it completely throws it off. If the weight isn’t seated down perfectly flush against the frame and screw barrels, it can throw it off a little bit. I probably spend 30 minutes or more just taking it apart and adjusting the weight ballast that I use to get them in balance, then putting everything back together. I knew with the Solidbody Torqbar there had to be no adjusting. It somehow had to come out of a mill and be balanced. I went out and bought a big chunk of 3/8” thick brass. I was going to prototype them on my mini lathe while still feeling the burden of the Customs looming over me.
Right when MD Engineering formed, the solidbody idea was just a baby. I didn’t know how I was going to turn this into something bigger. Paul helped to formulate that strategy. He did all the necessary research into how we could take this idea and nail it out of the gate. We both recognized that this was very prone to be a fad. This could all go away tomorrow. We knew had one big shot to do this right. So at that point, we began planning how we would be able to pull off the Wave 1 pre-sale. We didn’t know if we were going to crowd-fund it or hold an actual pre-order. I was really concerned about getting in over our heads. I didn’t want to go and buy thousands of them without any money… there were just so many aspects of it and really what I needed to do was just go make Torqbars. I needed somebody to have the time, focus and insight to take that critical moment and capitalize on it. The writing was already on the wall, they were being copied. It was clear to us that it was now a race. So much has happened since then, and in hindsight, I love the way that we did it. I think that we nailed it. In that very moment, we made all the right decisions.
My buddy Kenn Jordan Jr. messaged me and asked if I had anybody to help me machine the Solidbodies, which I didn’t. He awesomely took my crappy drawings and whipped up some CAM and made some in his shop. The first 2 runs were made by him. Those actually have different dimensions than all the ones we’re making now because when Kenn adapted my drawings, he incorporated the measurements exactly as I’d originally designed them. When we got to the 3rd run we’d gone to a different shop to have them made. It was through a friend of Brian Fellhoelter — and it was Brian who gave me a bunch of crazy obvious suggestions that I should have thought of a long time ago. Basically he suggested that I move the major dimensions of the Torqbar in to whole millimeter dimensions. That allowed me to make a whole Solidbody that used to be 3/8ths thick is now 9mm thick. While the difference is only a few thousandths. This allowed me to use 3/8” thick stock instead of 1/4” stock. This also meant the machine time got cut in half and the material price went way down. It made sense in every which way to make these adjustments and that’s when the G1.1 came out. It was Brian who actually re-drew the Torqbar for me to the dimensions he suggested. And that’s where they remain to this day.
Paul: We did. And along the way, we changed our approach. Originally we were going to do a Kickstarter and were focus on it intently for a long time. Then right before we were going to launch the campaign, we realized we didn’t want to give away the percentage of business that we would have in order to use their platform. We just didn’t need it, and we’d be giving too much money aways a result. There were other things along the way too that weren’t all successes. We made some mistakes too. We left some money on the table. But because we went through that, the next time we’re in a position to release a product with that kind of appeal, we’re going to make even better decisions in a faster way. It’s all a part of the learning process.
Scott: In the Solidbody Torqbar line there's the machine finish (MF - direct from the mill with visible machining marks) or the blasted and tumbled finish (BBT - smooth with softened edges). We’ve offered those on 4 different metals: brass, copper, stainless steel and titanium. We recognized the big gap between a Custom Torqbar and a Solidbody Torqbar in terms of what you could do to the finishes. In order to satisfy the desire for someone to have something more unique and customized, without delivering a full custom (because there’s a huge ass list for that) we came up with Semi-Customs. It allowed us to leverage our staff. We have people on staff like yourself, Kim, Joe, Tony, Kayla and David who have real metal-working and finishing skills. It gave people the opportunity to express themselves differently on what is basically a blank canvas: the Torqbar. From this, we developed some really fun finishes. Basically taking a brand new Solidbody Torqbar and putting it through some sort of extra finish. That could be polishing, fancy anodizing or copper and brass forced patinas. We went and basically bought a full cabinet full of chemicals, some books and decided to figure out different ways to color the metal and differentiate the product line as much as we could. We knew that there was a really big core of customers who are collectors. These are people who want to go wide in their collection. They want many different variations of the same product. I’m the same way, you’re the same way. As an Atwood collector or a Jordan Metal Art collector, it’s all about getting as many different pieces as you can — and the rarer the better! That’s what we tried to offer our customers with Semi-Customs. Some of the finishes were gigantic hits and some were total duds. What I find kind of funny is that the ones that were total duds were also the ones we ended up making the least of. In 5 years from now when all of these might be even more collectable, those could be the ones that are worth the most money because there are fewer floating around. I think eventually the Semi-Custom is going to mesh up with the idea of the Modular Custom.
Before the granting of US Patent #9914063:
Scott: There are some timing things involved with filing for a patent. The very first rule is something called Date of First Publication, which is basically the first time you publicly show a product to anyone. From that time forward you only have one year to file at least a provisional patent before your rights to file expire. I knew that my deadline to do that was September 2016. We got some lawyers involved to help with the paperwork. We wanted to know if we stood a chance in hell of securing a utility patent on this object. Nobody had any idea of what a fidget spinner was. I had to explain that it was already getting copied. All signs pointed to this being a unique and patentable idea. It meets all of the criteria for a utility patent. We had some illustrations drawn up and finished typing up the patent to file for provisional status. This would allow us to claim ‘patent pending’ and would give us a year before we had to move into non-provisional patent status which is the next phase and costs a lot more money. We’re now in the Fall of 2016 just after our huge Wave 1 pre-sale. — Let me just say that there were actually a few times we considered just letting the patent go. There were many naysayers out there that can cause you to change your opinion on the likelihood of getting the patent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You can’t patent putting a bearing in a piece of metal.” all the while tearing my hair out thinking, “But no! It’s no much more specific than that! There are so many aspects of it which you’re not thinking about.” Then the market experienced the whole China fidget spinner clones flood. On the other hand, we were having discussions with people we trusted who told us the window was closing and we had only 1 or 2 months left to move into non-provisional. This guy was like, “You gotta go do it now!” So we went and did it, paid the money for track one filing, submitted the patent and got the process started. It got examined, and we’ve gone through the first round of rejections. 99% of all patents get rejected their first run through. Paul and our attorneys all agree that our patent was rejected on relatively weak reasons. We’ve crafted our rebuttal, and it has been submitted for our second round of examination, and that’s currently where we stand today. To be honest, it still seems crazy, but it is very possible that this patent will go through. If it does go through, there are a lot of ‘what if’ possibilities and we’ve talked about a lot of them. We’re ready to take it immediately to someone who knows how to monetize that kind of intellectual property.
Paul: I would add that our going after the patent is a huge risk. There’s a considerable amount of money invested in getting attorneys involved, all the correct paperwork completed, submitting the final patent, filing for the fast-tracking, filing all the rebuttals. It adds up very quickly and even if it’s awarded, it doesn’t mean anything yet because you have to hire lawyers to go enforce it, you have to take offenders to court, you have to win, and none of those things are guaranteed. The way I looked at it as it was happening and as it continues to happen is this: “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” We have to try. We have to push it as hard as we can, and we have to make ourselves vulnerable. We have to risk the loss of something significant to have it; because if we don’t, we will never have it. If we get it and we still can’t do anything with it, we’ll be smarter for the next time.
Scott: Yeah, we learned so much about the patent process. There’s only one way to learn about it really, and that’s to try and get one through. So much about timing. We learned so much about discretion and keeping your ideas to yourself. About how valuable that really is. I see it in the EDC world every day. Someone will come up with a really cool bottle opener idea or something, and it’ll be a prototype of something neat, and there’ll be a bunch of people commenting, “You should go and make 1,000 of them!” But really there are 1,000 people looking at that same post thinking to themselves, “I could make that.” And they just handed the entire idea to the internet. And now everybody knows it. Which is fine, but there’s so much you should do before that moment to really maximize your ability to monetize your own intellectual property. What is it for if you’re gonna spend all this time coming up with great ideas and to then just give them away?
5 months later, right after the patent was granted:
Scott: Growing up I was never very specific with myself about what I wanted to be when I grew up, or what I wanted to accomplish. But one thing I was always sure of was that I wanted to own a patent - a permanent document in US History that says "Yes, there are still unique ideas in this world, and one of them is your idea." I'm happy to say that today (3/18/2018) the United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted my utility patent for the Fidget Spinner. The US Patent process is long and exhausting and often seems completely hopeless. But in the meantime Paul and I grew a business around an idea and believed all along that the USPTO would validate our intellectual property. Now I'm proud to say the McCoskery name will forever be on US Patent #9914063. I wish my Dad was here for this day, but I know he's heading up the celebration in Heaven.
TORQBAR: LUNA & SC38s
Scott: Over the last year, we've all had ideas for other kinds of spinners that MD Engineering could make. The mini always comes up, the tri always comes up and an oversized Torqbar always comes up. Those are the three obvious directions we could go and we've had many discussions about them. The Mini is the only one I've actually had a vision for and the original was really small. It was different from a Torqbar in that the weights came right up to the edge of the button. It was a really cool little spinner and we made like maybe 20 of them total. We've been so busy lately that there just wasn't any time to see them go into production or maybe we would have and released them.
The Torqbar Luna is a little bit different altogether. Here's the funny untold story behind where it came from. We were doing business with a new machine shop to help us make the Solidbody Torqbars. They had a major problem with the way they were fixturing things which caused an entire run of 500 pieces to be out of balance. It's a weird thing to try and describe how it happened, but it was measurable and we finally figured out what was going on. All the bad pieces weren't really fixable at this point. In fact, the machine shop decided that they just couldn't make them to the specs that we demanded. Even though, concurrently there were other machine shops producing 95% perfect Torqbars. This particular machine shop said we just can't do it. So the relationship ended with that shop, but in the meantime we now have 500 Torqbars that were kind of worthless. We made a deal to retain them and kept them in a big bin until we could figure out what to do next. One day, I had a revelation that there could be a way to re-attack an existing Solidbody and re-cut into something that resembled the MiniMini. Turn the bad Torqbar into something new! As long as I could hold it square on the bearing hole and pretty much take material off everything single surface, I knew it could be squared up again. We ended up cutting a bunch of prototypes to prove it all out. Now we're ready to make more and begin releasing them.
It’s unbelievable for me to think about bringing SC38's back in the way we have. It’s incredibly humbling. Peter Atwood is the man to me. I want to copy everything the way he does it except for what he makes. I like the way he releases stuff in short runs. I like the way he’s constantly pushing the creative boundaries. I like the way that he interacts with his customers. He’s not all up in your face, and I’m the kind of guy who likes to lay low too. So when I wanted to get into the business, I pretty much emulated the way he does things before partnering with Paul. The other thing that makes it really humbling is that Peter isn't one to collaborate with people. He just always does his own thing while being respectful of everyone else. Peter's a collector too and I know he's someone to appreciate all kinds of different makers. So it was huge, the fact he wanted to work with me on the SC38's the way he has where I make the spinners and he makes the tools they're going into. I've made SC38's in a few different sizes to accommodate the varying thicknesses of the tools he's releasing for them. And there's more to come, but to date, every single one of the releases we've done together have all been very successful.
Scott: In the Fall of 2016, after Wave 1 shipped, we prepared to open pre-sales again for Wave 2. We also began hiring our team. We hired you (Eric Kimberlin). And we brought David in who has more machining experience than I’ll ever have. He has a lifetime career as a machinist. And we began investing in some big machines. We got a Tormach CNC Mill and a CNC Lathe that are production level size. They allow us to pretty much make anything we want out of any material we want. And we have someone who can operate those machines without breaking them. If Paul and I are running the business and coming up with ideas, we simply can’t be operating the machines. It takes a village to run a business like this. Otherwise, you’re just moving in slow motion. We were able to take Torqbar Solidbodies and buttons that we were having other machine shops make and can make all of those in-house now. We’re able to R&D and prototype really fast now. We’ve taken some ideas that we’ve had in the morning, and we’ve made a product by the end of the day. That’s crazy awesome. That’s just the coolest thing ever. That’s the dream to me. It’s what I want to do. I want to make stuff. And if I have a team of people whom all have these skills that they can contribute and we can take that product, hand it around and make it even faster. It’s so satisfying and fulfilling to buy a rod of metal and have a bunch of products come out the other end. You know? Watch it come alive. And then figuring out how to do it even better and efficiencies. Moving people into their wheelhouse. It’s been really fun. We did the Torqbar… let’s do it again.