Richard Donat: Bringing new products to the marketplace

Richard Donat, CEO of the consumer products company AbsolutelyNew, wants to democratize the marketplace.

AbsolutelyNew started out as a marketing services company, but according to Donat, it transformed after he saw that many inventors were being faced with a lot of difficulty finding a means to get their innovations into the marketplace and in front of consumers.

“We found that individual inventors didn’t have that opportunity from big companies,” Donat said. “A company like Wal-Mart doesn’t want to buy products from an inventor.”

For Donat, starting a company that catered to these inventors, who are often pigeonholed by larger companies as “single-product vendors,” wasn’t an act of charity but what he saw as a big business opportunity.

“I saw an opportunity to have the inventor market as a platform to launch many different businesses. I can sit and think of many different ways to get inventors into the marketplace,” he said.

Donat was born and raised in Berkeley, and as a teenager he worked as a lifeguard for the city. He continued that job as he studied physics at UC Berkeley and competed nationwide as a rugby player, until he decided that it was time to get what he called “a real job.”

Donat said he has been very fortunate in avoiding a lot of challenges and hardship in his business career, especially in the tumultuous period following the collapse of the dot-com bubble.

“I was lucky because I was working at Apple and Ford Motor Co. and had big corporate experience,” Donat said. “I was lucky to be one of those who was always employed while companies were bought and sold.”

While working for Ford Motor Co., Donat found himself traveling a lot and running into a shortage of personal time to spend with his wife and children.

“My wife said, ‘Change jobs or change families,’” says Donat, who chose the former. He soon found his way into the position of vice president of sales at AbsolutelyNew, where he eventually moved up to his current position as CEO.

The name AbsolutelyNew came out of a group effort to find a name that succinctly described what the company was trying to do.

“We had an internal contest to find out who could come up with a name,” Donat said. “This name described exactly what we were doing. It described that we are bringing to the world the most innovative products in the marketplace.”

BUSINESS

New project: BackSwing, which goes over your office chair and helps give you support for your back.

Last project: We have one that did pretty well called the StirChef. That’s been on a lot of different cooking shows.

Number of voice mails a day: 30 to 40

Essential Web site: www.sfgate.com

Gadgets: My BlackBerry World Edition. I have to travel internationally a lot and it’s the one thing I couldn’t do without. I’ve been to Moscow and Asia and it works everywhere.

Education: Studied physics at UC Berkeley

Last conference: International Houseware Show in Chicago

First job: Working as a lifeguard for the city of Berkeley

Career objective: Retire young

PERSONAL

Hometown: Berkeley

Sports/hobbies: Swimming, rugby, baseball, work out

Transportation: BART, takes me a half hour to get to work

Favorite restaurant: Chaya in San Francisco

Computer: Apple PowerBook Pro

Vacation spot: Poipou in Hawaii

Role model: My father was my biggest role model. He worked hard and treated people well.

Reading: I’m reading all the James Bond books right now by Ian Fleming.

Worst fear: Anything happening to my wife and children.

Motivation: Providing for my family and helping inventors bring their ideas to life.

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