When a child goes off to college, some parents turn the old bedroom into an office or home gym. When his daughter went to Holy Cross, Jerry Snee Jr. outfitted her room with two 3D printers, a workman's bench, and a high-powered computer, and turned it into the headquarters for his business venture.
He now refers to the room as the "Squidget Cave."
Squidget, to oversimplify the concept, is a handheld cube with attachments on all six sides. Features like a pen clicker, a button spinner, and a pencil roller simulate common fidgeting habits, allowing users to discretely release stress and focus without distracting others with noise or ruining writing utensils or jackets. It is useful for anyone who has problems focusing without fidgeting, but Snee notes it would be especially helpful to individuals with autism, attention deficit disorders, or similar conditions.
"This isn't a toy," Snee, a Holy Cross graduate still living in Worcester, said. "We're not in this to rake in a bunch of money and then sell out to a toy company ... this is a mission for us."
Snee said he found out in his 40s he has "off-the-scale" attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That means Squidget is not just business for him -- it's personal.
"I know what these kids go through," Snee said, before quoting from the company's vision statement. "The real goal is to give them the tools to allow them to properly reclaim what too often has been a lost sense of self-esteem and dignity."
Snee isn't alone in getting something out of the Squidget. He has provided it to friends, he said, who have made use of it while on phone calls or in the office. More importantly, Squidgets have been distributed to students at various levels of schooling, especially in special education departments, and Snee said he has seen firsthand the positive impact the device has on someone who may struggle with concentration or simply sitting still. The company also provided 50 college students with prototypes. The students then took a survey that showed the company how people use its product.
It also showed Snee and his son, Sean -- a City of Worcester engineer who does computer-aided design work and production for Squidget in his off hours -- some problems with their design. Namely, the college kids were able to snap off attachments, as the product was too fragile. That led to a redesign, and the attachments are now nearly impossible to break, with about 50 pounds of pressure needed to snap pieces off the device, Snee said. Prototypes are churned out by 3D printers -- which were part of a five-figure investment by both Snees -- but the final product will be manufactured using injection molding, resulting in a stronger cube.
[caption id="attachment_4151" align="alignright" width="239"] Jerry Snee Jr.[/caption]
That incident might have only required some minor tinkering from the younger Snee, who estimated he spends 10 to 15 hours per week on the company, and together with his dad makes up the only design and production employees of Squidget. Other setbacks have had more of an impact -- a failed crowdfunding effort in 2014 being the most prominent, with only about $5,400 in pledges made. That was followed by a campaign by a separate group for a "fidget cube," which raised $6 million on a similar concept with what Snee concedes is more marketing savvy. That doesn't get the Squidgeters down, though.
"We're the little engine that will," Snee said. "I was devastated by that failure ... it took me a long time to get over that. But we just kept going. And when I saw this campaign, I had some tough days. And Sean would say, 'Dad, we've got to keep going. We've got the better product, and we've got the better team.'"
Things are looking up for the Squidget team, though. A patent for the product is nearing the approval stage of the process, and they are actively involved in marketing and promotion, with another crowdfunding campaign scheduled in a few months -- on a different website. The company is also drawing up paperwork to be a "benefit corporation," a designation that means it retains its for-profit status while still focusing on philanthropy and doing good in the community.
"Our vision is to provide substantial benefit to people," Snee said. "So we're pricing this so that no person will be without it. We've designed it to be affordable."
Each Squidget retails for just under $17 is available at squidgetinc.com/store in three different series: Original, Executive, and a Valentine's Day Limited Edition. Snee said the company is introducing a second product next month via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. (Those interested in more information and a link to the campaign can submit contact information here.) The company can also be found on Facebook.
Snee has grand visions for where the company is going -- he's the strategic end of things, he noted at one point, delegating the tactical side of the operation to Sean. For things like manufacturing and shipping, he wants to "walk the walk," insisting on paying people high wages and treating them well. He emphasized the Worcester-centric nature of his "eight-year overnight success," saying Squidget was looking into collaborating with the community he lives in to make the company work. Snee has a vision where he hires the Seven Hills Foundation's employment program to send out the gadgets to local schools and programs, creating a local base that can scale nationally or internationally.
"We're really building communities of committed people," Snee said. "We've got our heart and soul in this."
Reprinted with permission from an earlier issue of Worcester Magazine (worcestermag.com).