Meet John Osher: What We Learn from SpinPop & SpinBrush

By Shlomo  Maital  


    As a retired Technion professor, with silver hair and lots of stories,  I get to meet and greet many visitors.  Yesterday I had lunch with one of the most interesting ones – an American entrepreneur named John Osher.   Here is his story.

    Osher grew up in Ohio;  he took 7 years to finish college. He worked as a plumber, carpenter and cabdriver.   He was an entrepreneur from age 5, he tells me.  He started and sold a vintage clothing store, and an earring outlet, while still in college.  HBR Professor William Sahlman, who wrote a lengthy case about Osher, says, “he’s a street-smart guy and he has this observational power.  He hated having to manage employees, so he built a big company with very few employees.” 

   Dr. John’s was Osher’s 3rd major venture built from the ground up and ending in a lucrative exit.  He produced the uniquely American (and ‘insanely popular’) SpinPop battery-powered lollipop, which later led to SpinBrush.  SpinPop is a lollipop that spins in your mouth (using a tiny battery-powered motor),  enhancing the flavour,  and creating a new market category of “interactive candy”.  In developing the product,  Osher focused laser-like on cost, setting cost targets and determining that if they were not met, the product would not be produced.  

    I teach, “don’t fall in love too soon with your product”, I told Osher.

    Osher answered:  NEVER!   (Never fall in love with your product.).    Easy to say, hard to do. 

    After SpinPop’s success, Osher simply walked up and down the aisles of Wal-Mart, and looked for product ideas that could build on the cheap-battery technology of SpinPop.  He came up with 100 of them.  Then he narrowed them down, to an inexpensive electric toothbrugh, to become SpinBrush.  Here was his plan:  Produce an electric toothbrush that would have battery life of at least 3 months,  and cost only $1.49 to manufacture!  Sell it retail at $5.00.    

     I told him that what he did fits 2 of our models, in our book Cracking the Creativity Code.  First, zoom in, zoom out.  Zoom in on “SpinPop” and what you learned from it;  Zoom out to find ideas that can leverage it.  Then Zoom in again, to implement the idea.   Second,  Price Cost Value.    Start with high value (electric toothbrushes that create value, because people are willing to pay  $50 for a Braun, e.g.).   Make it at very very low cost.  Then charge a reasonable price, to share the value between profit margin (for the company, price minus cost) and client margin (for the buyer, value minus price).  (You get, say, a $50 electric toothbrush for $5 – that’s value!). 

     Osher is very modest, quiet-spoken, and very very wealthy – he sold SpinBrush to Procter & Gamble for nearly half a billion dollars.   He achieved this with soaring head in the clouds imagination  (Lollipops that spin????   Give me a break!)   and hard-nosed hard-headed feet-on-the-ground pragmatism.     

     Anyone can do this.  All you need is imagination, experience, objectivity, pragmatism, leadership, drive, energy, hard work, and persistence. 

    Thanks, John, for showing the way.