It had become something of an assembly line of pain. There was a clear pattern. Patient after patient would walk through Ed Barry’s door presenting lower back issues. Many of them struggled to lead productive lives.
One such patient was a man in his 40s who for years—perhaps even dating back as far as his high school football days—had been in severe pain; on a scale of one to 10, he was a nine. The doctors he had previously seen told him that his only option was medication. They couldn’t take away the pain, only mute it.
Dr. Barry, a chiropractor, put the man on his table. Over the years, Dr. Barry had experimented with different techniques and protocols to treat patients with lower back pain. He was increasingly convinced that the best treatment was one of the simplest: What’s known as flexion and distraction therapy on a Cox table. The table moves as the doctor manipulates the spine, and the combination of those two things happening simultaneously stretches and decompresses the spine. After treatments over several weeks, Dr. Barry was able to deliver relief to patients. He could reduce their pain from a nine to a three, then a two—until ultimately, the patient no longer had to see him.
A thought occurred to him: What if he could replicate the Cox table in a home device that was portable—so patients didn’t even need to come into his office? Thus, the idea for the LIFT was born. But it took the better part of 20 years for him to develop an actual prototype. During the intervening two decades, he learned some important lessons that are useful to any entrepreneur. Among them:
Sometimes (actually, often!), it’s a long time between the moment you come up with an idea and the time it gets fully implemented. In surfing, which is one of Dr. Barry’s hobbies, people emphasize the importance of “waiting” for the best wave to maximize the joy of the ride. Once you start obsessing over the number of waves you’re not getting, the whole experience becomes more stressful. You may want to wait for those first few waves in the set to pass you by in order to catch the last wave, which is often bigger and more powerful than its predecessors. The moral for entrepreneurs: Sometimes it’s better to take a deep breath and invest a little more time in deliberation and planning to assure a more rewarding outcome.
Creators of any kind face many twists and turns, and if you let yourself become discouraged, that becomes a distraction and takes away from your engagement levels. When I was younger, I ran marathons, and the physical stress and duress that the body endures during a very lengthy race like that is challenging. Preparation is key here—not just physical, but mental, too: You have to train yourself to never lose sight of the ultimate goal, regardless of the difficulties you encounter. This is a mentality that—once it is embedded in the subconscious mind—has the ability to steer the conscious mind to the “target” like a cruise missile.
Ask for Advice
Starting a business or building something new means confronting the fact that you don’t have all the knowledge and skills necessary to fill in the blanks. You have to be willing to meet lots of folks who’ve trundled this path before, and be willing to ask a lot of questions. A successful tech guru once described standing in a room with ping-pong balls flying all over, with the goal being to get hit with as many of them as possible. I had to lose my hesitancy to meeting lots of people and asking lots of questions. The great discovery here was how generous and willing so many people are to share their experiences and provide helpful guidance.
Dr. Barry has had to rely on all three of these tips over the past 20 years as he has slowly brought his device to fruition. The first prototype was created in a small fabrication shop in Millville, N.J. owned by a welder who specialized in building weight lifting equipment. Dr. Barry showed him a sketch of the way he envisioned the device; eight months and many meetings later, they had something. But it was made of steel and weighed a whopping 60 pounds. Dr. Barry knew it needed to be lighter.
The evolution of the device was defined by starts and stops, commensurate with Dr. Barry’s enthusiasm or frustration with his progress—depending on the year. At one point, he enlisted a class of engineering students at the University of Texas to take the 60-pound version of the device and make it lighter and more agile. They did—but they went too far in the other direction. The result was a prototype made of PVC piping; it was light but it lacked stability.
Dr. Barry was undeterred. He connected with a boutique firm and spent several long sessions translating the therapeutic protocols and the way he envisioned the device working. After several trials, the firm presented a promising design. The team cycled through three iterations until ultimately, they delivered one weighing in at 28 pounds. Last year, Dr. Barry was awarded a patent for the LIFT.
He is now starting to focus on building his business, BAACK2. He recently hired a president and is talking with investors and manufacturers. But if he hadn’t been able to persevere through the past 20 years of fits and starts, he would never have gotten to this point. The roller coaster of creating a new product can be maddening enough that many entrepreneurs just walk away. But Dr. Barry says if you take the long view, it serves a broader purpose.
“You’re conditioning the mind to be comfortable with ‘delayed gratification,’” Dr. Barry says.