Feature: Starting Your Own Business (Disability Horizons, May 2011)
If you need something which doesn’t exist, then you just have to create it yourself. We at Disability Horizons would like to introduce you to Rick Goldstein, the inventor of the Go-Anywhere Portable Commode ‘n Shower Chair line, who seems to prove that point. Rick is a 55-year-old entrepreneur who hails from Tucson, Arizona who started his company Go! Mobility Solutions (“GMS”) to design, produce and distribute a line of portable mobility products which Rick and his company have invented.
Necessity is the mother of invention
In this case, Rick’s (who is paralysed due to a C5-C6 spinal cord injury) inability to find a suitable commode chair that was sufficiently portable for travelling purposes inspired him to invent his own that was lightweight, easy to transport and which could also allow him to use a bath tub when no roll-in shower unit was available. For Rick, the commode he has invented is a basic necessity. Without it, he is unable to shower or bath while on travels, which makes his muscles more susceptible to spasms.
Apart from being uniquely able to fold into a travel bag, the commode/shower chair comes with a clever add-on that allows people to use a bath tub where no roll-in shower unit exists.
This add-on is essentially a lightweight frame that is placed in the bath tub which is connected by parallel bars to the commode chair. The detachable seat on the commode chair can be easily slid across the parallel bars, allowing the user to be transferred from the commode chair to the bath tub. Video clips of the Go-Anywhere Portable Commode used in action can be seen here at this link.
As many readers are undoubtedly aware, not all hotels have specially adapted rooms and the ones that do may only have a small handful, which usually need to be booked well in advance. Not only does the Go-Anywhere Portable Commode, Shower ‘n Tub Chair allow a wheelchair user to easily use the bathroom while on travels, it also removes the frustrating dependency on all hotels being accessible to the same standard with roll-in shower units.
Being able to solve a difficult problem with an engineering based solution consequently resulted with Rick being awarded patents for the Go-Anywhere Portable Commode, Shower ‘n Tub Chair and for two new products that are to be released, The Go-Anywhere Sport (“GA Sport”) and Go-Anywhere CS-A (“GA CS-A”). The GA Sport is a lighter and more compact model (it fits into a carry-on sized bag for air travel) that aims to address the needs of the more independent wheelchair user who would be able to assemble the commode without assistance. The GA CSA is designed for people with more severe physical and learning impairments, who require commode chairs that can recline to a near horizontal position or need greater flexibility in the length of footrests and backrest or seatback locations. The journey Starting GMS was the next step in a successful business career that had led Rick through a number of industry sectors from real estate, telecommunications, stock trading to now running what is essentially an engineering company that makes and sells mobility equipment to a global marketplace. Rick’s success, like that many other entrepreneurs has origins well rooted in challenging circumstances. In 1976, after attending Cornell University in New York, motivated by what Rick describes as a “rebellious and adventurous spirit”, Rick moved to Tucson, Arizona. Disaster struck in 1978, where a diving accident at the Tanque Verde Falls left Rick severely paralysed.
While in hospital, a period of deep introspection and unhappiness followed. Rick comments that:
“During my 9 month stay at Rusk [Institute of Rehabilitation] in Manhattan, I juggled anger and denial, suppressing both with as much alcohol as required to do so, with the assistance of co-inmates Ron Turcotte, who rode Secretariat to the Triple Crown, Larry Flynt, unfortunately only for a day before they asked him to leave, and a slew of others. I incessantly fought to help doctors and scientists cure me, refusing to accept my plight or my newly-bestowed-upon identity, “Quad”.
With regard to my initial thoughts about my future, at first there was only one possibility, that being getting cured and being returned to my previous body and life. After a while I set as a goal that I would be walking by my thirtieth birthday or I would kill myself. Somewhere along the way that goal “evolved” into making my first million by my thirtieth birthday and I think that I just kind of forgot the “kill myself” part! ”
After a year of physically and emotionally demanding rehabilitation in New York City, Rick returned to Tucson prove to himself, and to others, that he would not have his goals or dreams thwarted by his newly acquired disability. However things had changed. As Rick recalls:
“I was very bitter and had a chip, no, make that a block, on my shoulder. I expected people to treat me like a cripple so, before even giving them a chance, I proactively attacked. I was a real asshole. I still performed as well as before [the accident] only now I was pissing a lot of people off in the process”.
Despite the emotional trauma of the accident and low points he experienced, Rick went back to work. But in 1982, he and his business partner in the real estate development firm they ran went their separate ways. Rick continued working in real estate development and management for a couple of years before moving into the world of telecommunications. As is customary with Rick, his foray into this new sector was pioneering and full of innovation. Using his real estate development background, his company created communications systems for apartment and condominium blocks, which created a “mini telephone” company within each block they developed. Such concepts although new back then, are now commonplace and actually helped pave the way to the development of mobile / cellular technology.
By the 1990’s, Rick transformed his real estate / telecoms company into one of Arizona’s biggest building and development contractor, constructing pretty much everything from large residential housing blocks to major school and university developments. But Rick admits that things got too big, too fast. The hectic pace of a fiercely competitive industry took its toll and combined with a decade that included a marriage and a divorce and along with years hard-partying, Rick was simply burnt out and in 1998 took his “first retirement”. During his “first retirement” Rick became a stock trader and earned his securities licence, enabling him to trade on the markets. But also during this time Rick regularly travelled to his beloved Mexico (described as second home) with his then girlfriend and now wife Kristie.
While regularly travelling to Mexico, Rick struggled with finding bathrooms that were accessible and convenient for him to use. The “first retirement” as stock trader ended in 2004, and then the “second retirement” started. The “second retirement” was to be all about the Go-Anywhere Commode Chair. GMS was created and thereafter the beginning of the “second retirement” followed five years of painstaking and meticulous development of the chair. Developing the chair was full of setbacks of every kind, but Rick never gave up.
“Why?” I ask. Rick replies:
“I’m really too stubborn to give up and I love the opportunity to blow the naysayers out of the water. There are lots of people who never believed that a quad could build a successful business and I look very forward to rubbing their noses in it.”.
To help him eventually rub the noses of all those that ever doubted him, Rick has a dedicated team around him with his wife being the most important team member who takes a key role in the company. In the last year, the business has taken on more employees to deal with increasing demand, and now Rick’s biggest concern is ensuring that production capacity meets the ever growing demand. Much of the increased demand has been internationally driven, with global sales forming 54% of gross revenue in 2010. Such global demand has ensured that effects of the recession have not had any significant impact, but also highlights the need for such a product in the marketplace.
Rick is tireless when it comes to developing his company and big plans for the future. He has six more products in the development pipeline, all of which are related to helping to ease the process of travelling for a disabled person because as Rick fantastically puts it:
“It sucks to be stuck in one place”
Rick further comments that:
“As the baby boomers continue to move into their “golden years”, the demand for these products will grow exponentially. If we don’t invent these products for ourselves, our own golden years will resemble something very miserable”.
The Gift of Adversity
Rick strongly recommends anyone to try and start their own business, and has never felt that his spinal injury has ever stopped him from achieving what he wanted. His advice would be
“Go for it!” Don’t just sit on the fence wondering what it would be like to jump off. Jumping in either direction is going to be better than just sitting there forever. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”
He further adds that disability can even help if you allow it to, and accept that adversity is a gift. Very poignantly, Rick comments that:
“Adversity, in many cases, is the lingering vestige of a tragedyWhile tragedy offers the “gift” of healing with time, adversity offers a “gift” of its own. Adversity compels one to deal with it, offering a “very simple” choice to those affected. One who has been faced with adversity may either accept it, or not.
For the longest time, I chose not to accept my adversity. I lived and longed to return to my pre-tragic life, yet I had no control over the science necessary to the achievement of that goal. Following what I believe to be a “normal” progression of emotional duress, from helplessness and complete disorientation, to embarrassment, to bitterness, to anger, each emotion combined with a potent dose of self-pity, I discovered my “very simple” choice; I could either rebuild my self-esteem by doing what I still could do, better than anyone else could do those things, or I could elect my only other option; Give up”.
Giving up is definitely not something that Rick Goldstein knows the meaning off, and the next few months will involve a punishing schedule of travel across America for trade exhibitions and various marketing events, a trip to Australia to set-up distributorships and China to review production. None of this, of course, would be possible without his inventions.
I would guess that Rick and his life are a world away from the days following the accident in 1978 and the sadness and anger that followed. Nonetheless, running his own business and selling a unique product is something that Rick has an amazing passion for and which he derives much happiness from, and as Rick readily confesses “well I love to be happy!”.
See the original article on the Disability Horizons website.