Joseph Schumpeter famously wrote of the crucial role of entrepreneurs in the economic system, in contrast to the unimaginative business managers. The late George Ballas, inventor of the Weedeater, would have been a great case study for Schumpeter.
While driving through an automatic carwash in 1971, George Ballas watched the whirling nylon bristles glide around the contour of his vehicle and wondered if he could adapt the technology to remove the weeds around trees in his yard.
At home, he punched holes in a tin can, threaded it with wire and fishing line and bolted it to a rotating lawn edger. He called it the Weed Eater, and when he couldn’t sell the concept, he founded his own company and built it into a $40-million-a-year business…
“He was laughed at by major corporations, who told him to take his idea and take a hike,” his son said. “He started making it anyway, and it caught on like wildfire.”
Within months of inventing the Weed Eater at his Houston home, Ballas had streamlined the design into a single strand of fishing line spun around by a lightweight motor…
Net sales rose from about $570,000 in 1972 to $41 million in 1976. The next year, Ballas sold the business to Emerson Electric Co. for an undisclosed amount.
Imagine that. No company wanted his invention, but he sold over half a million dollars worth in the first full year of sales, and $41 million worth in only his 5th year! It appears consumers were desperate for Weedeaters all along, and just didn’t know it until they saw one for the first time (which is pretty much my story in regards to Indonesian food).
This is also why central planning of an economy can’t work well. Products like these aren’t created because a planning agency sees value in them, but because some slightly nutty guy makes an utterly unpredictable connection between car washes and weeds.
And that undisclosed amount that he sold the company for?
“It has remained confidential all these years,” his son said, “but it was a happy sum.”