At the start, Carl learned that the deals you walk away from matter as much as the ones you do.
Seeing residential demand for industrial-strength stoves, he drew up designs for a hybrid and began making the rounds of manufacturers, starting with Wolf. "They said, 'This has merit, but we're too busy to get involved -- good luck,'" Carl says. "The rest of the manufacturers basically hung up on me."
Then he met with another company and got close to signing a contract. "I got a call informing me that the CEO wanted to meet to discuss the terms," Carl says. "'This is great,' I thought. 'The big guy wants to meet me.' So I met him at the Memphis airport, where he had a layover. He resembled [Soviet premier Nikita] Khrushchev, and by the end of our meeting he was acting like him too."
The CEO wanted a one-year exclusivity deal -- and after that, his company would begin manufacturing Carl's product itself.
"I said, 'You'll be competing with me, then?,'" Carl recalls. "And he said, 'That's right. Take it or leave it.'"
NEXT: Persistence pays off