New Canaan inventor reimagines the leash, the garden cart and . . . .
'Crazy' inventor's New Canaan-based company to launch new products
As Mark Noonan booted up a video this week of his Rhino Cart in action, he chuckled at the notion of the "crazy inventor," saying he avoids the term, given all of the strightforward business tasks needed to develop a newfangled consumer product.
But when he thinks back to his debut product nearly a decade ago, he suggests he might have been a little crazy at the time to have attempted it.
New Canaan-based company Nootools will launch three products for the first time in its history. Noonan started the company in 2004 after leaving UBS, where he spent seven years, a stretch that included getting treated for cancer at Greenwich Hospital each morning before work.
In Noonan's second career, 2015 will shape up as the busiest to date, with the company funding on Kickstarter the Leash Tamer, which promises to make exercising the dog a walk in the park; the Rhino Cart, which seesaws on a pair of wheels to allow garden material to be easily scooped up, rolled and dumped; and a device Noonan only hinted at as a "couch potato" product, but safe to say it involves beverages, food and, well, the couch.
At any point, Noonan has about 150 ideas in his head and perhaps 20 on which he is actively working.
"There's some problems that I kind of think about ... on the backburner," Noonan said. "I tend to often noodle on projects for a long time."
The Rhino Cart is designed to replace wheelbarrows and garden carts. A cart balances on a pair of wheels and features a high "bow" that can rotate backward to convert the cart to a manual front loader. That allows a person to easily scoop up mulch or other debris, tilt it backward on the pivot point to rebalance the load, and cart it off for easy dumping. Noonan said the Rhino Cart can handle 300 pounds of weight with little effort, making it useful even for heavy work like moving firewood.
The cart includes accessories like a storage tray for holding tools, a drop-in work bin to separate materials, and even a cup holder and bottle opener. He expects it to retail for around $250.
The Leash Tamer is made of a material that can stretch up to 10 feet with no palpable tension, and snap back to the original length of two feet. The material alone produces two big benefits: keeping a leash tangle free and off the ground, while also allowing a dog freedom of movement within the radius of the leash. Dogs tend to pull at bungee leashes to buy extra roaming room, Noonan said, a bad habit for them to pick up.
The Leash Tamer also features built-in rings and a clip that allow a dog owner to shorten the maximum extension of the leash to six or three feet when more control is required.
The same ring-and-clip system allows the leash to be wrapped around a pole, tree or even a jogger's waist for hands-free control while jogging. And keys can be clipped to the leash, eliminating any fear of inadvertently locking oneself out of the house when nature calls in the early morning or late at night.
"If it's going to be a multifunction product ... it can't have extra parts and components you have to keep track of," Noonan said. "It has to be simple, but most importantly ... the top two or three (functions) have to be as good or better than the dedicated products that do it. Nobody wants three underperforming, mediocre functions."
If the Leash Tamer was new ground in his first product for the pet set, in the Rhino Cart one can spot the ancestry of Nootools' first product nearly a decade ago.
Noonan created the company to sell a rolling snow shovel originally dubbed the Wovel, with the shovel handle pivoting on the wheel, allowing snow to be lifted easily and thrown or otherwise deposited.
With the benefit of hindsight, Noonan wishes he had had the lightweight Leash Tamer as his debut product. Among other drawbacks, the wheeled shovel was heavy, unusual looking, and despite its simple design required careful engineering, given the stresses being put on the equipment.
"Having said that -- you learn a lot from it," Noonan said.
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-964-2236; www.twitter.com/casoulman