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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 28, 2015 3 years ago

The butler did it

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Sarasota entrepreneur Bill Merritt recently found success in front of an unusual audience for his low-tech product — a cup holder that attaches to a laptop computer, called the Laptop Butler.

Sarasota entrepreneur Bill Merritt recently found success in front of an unusual audience for his low-tech product — a cup holder that attaches to a laptop computer, called the Laptop Butler.

It came in the form of TechCrunch, the popular news website and blog for all things technology, with a focus on Silicon Valley. Merritt was one of five people invited to pitch a product for the TC Radio Pitch-Off, which aired on TechCrunch's Sirius XM radio show Aug. 15. A retired combustion engineer, Merritt, 79, wowed the judges with what TechCrunch calls a “heartwarming tale of a dream turning into an idea and then into a product.”

The Laptop Butler won the contest, and in addition to airtime, also received an article on TechCrunch, published Aug. 17. The article has led to a sales boom for the product. Merritt says he was quickly shipping orders everywhere from Hawaii to Canada, and fielding inquires from France and Italy, after the article.

“There was an avalanche of sales,” Merritt tells Coffee Talk. “It was fantastic.”

A onetime U.S. Marine who served between the Korean and Vietnam wars, Merritt isn't an overnight success. He spent eight years and more than $100,000 on designing and getting the Laptop Butler from concept to market. What he ultimately created is a mesh pouch with a sturdy ring that attaches to a computer with a clamp. The ring and clamping mechanism are made of durable plastic and the clamp is padded to prevent slippage or damage. The device folds up and fits into a computer bag when not being used.

Merritt's goal is to partner with a company that can build consistent sales. “I'm trying to get the word out,” he says. “I really want to get someone interested in licensing this.”

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