A seemingly simple idea can sometimes become an incredibly successful, mass-market product that makes life a little bit easier for millions of people. Such is the case with Rubber Bandits®, oversized rubber bands equipped with tear-resistant, waterproof labels, created by self-described “idea czar” Adrian Chernoff in 2004.
Chernoff was born in 1971 and grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1996, followed by an MS in Manufacturing Engineering, as well as an MBA in 1999, all from the University of New Mexico. He began a career in product development, first working for NASA as a mechanical engineer, with one-year stints at Walt Disney Imagineering, Sandia National Laboratories, and Los Alamos National Labs before landing at General Motors Corp. (GM) in 2000, where he spent five and a half years working as Chief Vehicle Architect. At GM, Chernoff developed a variety of innovative vehicle designs, including several powered by alternative forms of energy.
In 2004, he received a phone call from his mother who had heard of a competition held by the office supply store chain, Staples®. The competition, called Invention Quest, invited entrants to submit ideas for products from which judges (including Staples founder Tom Stemberg and Post-It Note® inventor Art Fry) would choose several to go into production. Cash prizes would be awarded, along with licensing agreements.
Chernoff didn’t have much time, but he told his mother that he would enter. Just one week before the deadline while sitting on a bus in Colorado on the way to visit his brother, he began brainstorming ideas. He thought about the challenges that he himself faced when it came to organizing files and media at work and remembered that he had once tried to attach a sticky note to a rubber band, but that the sticky note had fallen off and gotten lost. That’s when he had the idea of adding a label to a rubber band. He began sketching illustrations of how it could work, by simply wrapping a rubber band around bunches of documents, disks, scrolls, tools, even flowers, and having a foolproof label attached to the band for easy identification.
Chernoff submitted his idea and made it through several rounds of competition, continually improving his design with each round. In the end, Staples chose his Rubber Bandits from among more than 8,000 entries. They awarded Chernoff $5,000 and signed him to an exclusive two-year agreement. In 2005, the company began selling the colorful bands in retail stores across the country. The bands were sold through late 2007.
Meanwhile, Chernoff left GM to start his own ideas company, 2 Smart + 1, where he serves as CEO. Later, he founded a think tank called Ideation Genesis.
Chernoff holds 89 patents and has been recognized with a number of honors for his achievements. He was the recipient of a General Motors Chairman’s Award during his tenure there and was named a Distinguished Engineer in 2007 by his alma mater. In addition to his startup ventures and consulting work, he is devoted to inspiring individuals who have each, in some way, changed the world.