When I read the story of Manos Bhargava, it made me think that I made the wrong exit on the highway of life. Manos is an Indian-born (that's India, not Native-American) businessman. He's a smart guy with a penchant for math. In 2003 he was strolling around a major natural products trade show held in Anaheim, California. Why he was there was never revealed, but it may be that he was looking for new business ideas and knew about the popularity of food supplements. At one of the many booths at the show, Bhargava noticed a man hawking a 16-ounce drink touted to increase focus and productivity for hours. Intrigued, Bhargava took a few sips of the drink. For the next six or seven hours, he felt in "great shape," as he later described his reaction to the drink. Bhargava experienced the proverbial epiphany realizing that he could sell a similar drink. But he felt that at 16-ounces in each bottle, the drink that he tried at the trade show was too big. Red Bull had recently entered the market with their version of an energy drink, and he didn't want to compete with them. So what he did was to note the ingredients of the drink and make his own version, with the notable exception that unlike Red Bull and the drink that he had at the trade show, Bhargava's drink came in a two-ounce bottle. As such, he called it an "energy shot," or more precisely the 5-Hour energy shot. What followed was an aggressive marketing campaign to get the product in major outlets. He started with GNC, a well-known national food supplement retail chain. But what really made his fortune was getting Wal-Mart to sell his product. That led to a billion dollars in sales, and within a short time, Bhargava claimed a personal net worth of $4 billion. Not bad for an energy drink that sold for 3 to 4 dollars a bottle and contained ingredients that cost a few cents.
As is typical for the food supplement industry, along with brisk sales of the 5-hour energy shot came a litany of copycat products, most of whom didn't try to disguise their lack of originality with names such as "8-hour energy shot." But by that time, Bhargava was making enough money to have a phalanx of pit bull lawyers to go after the would-be copycats for infringement of his copyright or something like that. He couldn't patent the drink because it contained only natural ingredients that aren't subject to patent protection. Ironically, Bhargava himself copied that drink he tried at the trade show, merely packaging it in a much smaller bottle. His story is evidence . . .