Couple’s Hang-o-Matic simplifies picture hanging after obstacles in bringing product to market. 

Jared Rabin doesn’t want your walls to look like Swiss cheese. Like many of us, he is familiar with the frustration of nailing in multiple holes in an attempt to hang a picture that is level.

Rabin invented the Hang-O-Matic to help hang pictures and other wall-mounted accessories perfectly level on the first try. After more than 15 years of development and many twists and turns—talk about frustration—he and his wife, Karina, have gotten the product into retail outlets.

The Hang-O-Matic is an enhanced tape measure that helps mount wall hangings perfectly level. The tape measure is 6 feet long and has a bubble level that slides on. On either side of the bubble level are pointed anchors that slide on the tape and are used to make marks on the wall to indicate where nails should be placed.

Using the product is a three-step process: 1) Measure the back of the item to be hung and slide the anchors to positions on the tape where the hangers are.
2) Place the Hang-O-Matic on the wall, using the bubble level to get the anchors aligned straight.
3) Lightly press the anchors into the wall to make a nail mark before installing nails or brads that will hold the wall hanging.

A slew of setbacks

The Hang-O-Matic was born in Rabin’s college dorm. A student at University of California, San Diego in the early 2000s, Rabin had a self-confessed streak of OCD and wanted all of his posters to be perfectly level. He struggled to get them right just by eyeballing them and started to think of a better way.

Rabin grabbed a roll of dental floss and started making his first prototypes on the spot. The first attempt was a piece of floss cut to the exact length of the anchor points behind the frame. He wet his fingers and dabbed them on the wall to make saliva marks at the ends of the floss line to mark the nail holes. This worked, but the holes were not quite level.

“I did it again, but I balanced a torpedo level on the dental floss against the wall…When I figured it out, it worked fine,” Rabin says. “I looked like a goofball doing it, but it made perfectly
spaced holes.”

He continued to make about a half-dozen versions of the product. He even had an engineer create CAD drawings and had the product quoted by an overseas manufacturing group. However, his enthusiasm waned and the prototypes were stowed away in a closet for many years. It took a broken snow globe to get the Hang-O-Matic back into daylight.

Jared and Karina, the latter a native of the former Russian city of Riga, were married in 2008. Shortly after, they moved into a new house and started decorating. Karina hung a shelf in her office and placed a snow globe on it that was a wedding gift from Jared’s parents. It was programmed to play the couple’s wedding song and was a treasured keepsake. But the shelf was hung just slightly askew and the snow globe slid off the shelf and shattered. Immediately, Jared found his old box of prototypes and re-hung the shelf perfectly level in just seconds. The pair decided to continue work on the product and get it to market.

At times, it seemed that the product was cursed. Jared had solicited the help of a local investor and was hopeful that the influx of capital would be a boost. However, the deal soured almost immediately. While waiting outside the investor’s office before a scheduled meeting, Jared overheard him on the phone discussing plans to knockoff his patent and take the product to market himself. He ended the relationship and found another local investor of higher moral integrity. The relationship was progressing well, but the man had a stroke and died a few weeks after they met.

Jared thought he had a breakthrough when the product was chosen to be on Season 3 of the Discovery Channel show “PitchMen.” “I thought that it was going to be my big break. I was going to be on the Discovery Channel and they were going to team me up with an engineer and pitchman, and they were going to get me into retailers,” he recalls. However, midway through the second season, host and iconic As Seen on TV pitchman Billy Mays died from a drug-induced heart failure. The show tried to re-tool with new hosts but was canceled before filming the third season. The door had slammed shut on the Hang-OMatic again.

Perseverance pays

The Rabins continued to press forward. They drafted a second patent with a California law firm to bolster the first patent that Jared filed though a web-based service in the early 2000s. They also kept pushing to find a manufacturing partner. The Rabins initially looked overseas but struggled to get a quality product and wasted about $8,000 on prototypes. They started to work with domestic vendors and found a group in California that could help. They made several good prototypes and continued with production.

However, the production units were fraught with issues, from loose sliders to tapes that were breaking too easily. The relationship with the factory ended up in litigation. Fortunately, Jared Rabin found another factory in Ontario, California, that took over the project and has been making the product ever since. Despite the higher cost of domestic labor, the Rabins have found they can still be competitive—even in regions such as Europe and Australia.

After an additional eight years of working on the product, they are finally getting some major exposure and sales. They were cast on QVC Sprouts and impressed despite presenting the product in the wee hours of the morning: They sold 900 units in 5 minutes and are scheduled for an encore appearance in the near future. They also just landed big purchase orders from Bed Bath & Beyond and Hobby Lobby, and were on schedule to be available at both retailers well ahead of this holiday season.

They have self-funded the product throughout its life and even sold their house near the West Coast and moved to a more modest abode further inland to help fund production. They hired a fulfillment agency to deal with big orders, but the Rabins still ship web orders out of their house. Their 3-year-old son helps box up the orders.

The Rabins are working on a new design  for a professional version of the product, with a longer tape and tougher construction. They are also continuing to work on additional sales channels and hope to have more retail accounts set up before January.