Hula Hoop entrepreneur takes final twirl

Sara Rizk on how Richard Knerr, founder of the Wham-O toy company, put the fun into big business

A touch of sadness hit the Startups office this week with the news that Richard Knerr, founder of renowned toy company Wham-O had passed away.

If ever there was an entrepreneur that embodied the notion of fun, it was Knerr. He took so many simple and amusing ideas and created a global business from them. Silly String anyone? Or how about the Frisbee, which still keeps millions of dogs and humans entertained for hours on end, a whopping half a century after it came to market.

But Kerr is arguably most famous for taking a bamboo exercise device, replicating it with plastic, marketing it as a toy and selling more than 100 million of them within the first two years. Few people have yet to hear of the Hula Hoop. How’s that for a business legacy?

Other Wham-O products included the Water Wiggle, the Slip ‘N Slide and the aforementioned Silly String, which apparently isn’t just used alongside party poppers on New Year’s Eve. The canned string reportedly comes in handy for military operations too, and is used by soldiers to check for trip wires in hostile territory.

So aside from supplying the U.S army with a secret weapon or two, Knerr and his business partner Arthur Melin proved to the world that businesses could be built on the foundations of merriment. Their story demonstrates that having a product you’re truly passionate about can be basis for a very real success story.

Michael Birch, the co-founder of social networking giant Bebo told us just last week that he set out to build a site he wanted to use, and just hoped others would take the same view on it.

Sahar Hashemi wanted an American style coffee bar right here on her doorstep in London having visited such outlets in New York. She was so passionate about the idea that she created Coffee Republic, the UK’s original high street coffee chain.

A belief in your product is crucial if you want to convince others of its value. Ok, so not all businesses can be built on fun and games, but a little measure of passion goes a long way.

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