How I Turned a Problem Into a Product

How I Turned a Problem Into a Product

By Edward Cohen

(Editor’s Note: If you’ve attended state conventions over the past few years as I have, you’ve probably noticed Edward Cohen selling his large print calendars. Recently, I was privileged to hear the story of how these came to be created. I think you will agree that Edward is a great example of the can-do philosophy we applaud in the Federation.)

I was born with retinitis pigmentosa.  While this eye disease has common characteristics, it impacts everyone differently.  In my case, I was wearing very thick glasses from the age of four until I turned forty.

Being very nearsighted, I enjoyed taking off my glasses and looking closely at very small things like rocks, leaves and dead bugs. Maybe this was what put me on the road to being curious about all things.

In my case, vision loss progressed slowly, so I could fake my way for many years. It was only a lot later that I realized that how I adapted to the challenges that came with decreasing vision may have made me a better person in some ways.

Here are some small and big examples of what I’m talking about: Since I struggled in situations with low lighting, I discovered that if I could both make people laugh and showed an interest in a person, they were more likely to hang around me so I wouldn’t be sitting alone. This sharpened my sense of humor that some people say I still have today. Also, since I couldn’t see well, I had to make up for it by listening more carefully.  It also caused me to listen more closely to what someone said.  The by-product was that I could better tell their mood by how they sounded. And of course, knowing I had to face and overcome challenges, I could empathize with anyone dealing with the unfairness of life regardless of the cause.

So, this brings us to the last 10 years.  After retiring from 26 years with Indiana State Government in the fields of energy, the environment and information technology, my wife and I moved from Indianapolis to Rochester, MN to be closer to our daughter and grandsons who also live there.

Over the next 6 years, I got involved with both neighborhood and city efforts.  All these efforts required me to closely manage my schedule. 

All my life I had used a paper, weekly calendar.  But now, it seemed everyone around me was using the calendar feature on their phone.  While they swore it was great for them, for my purposes, I preferred paper. 

But with the diminished amount of vision I now had, I could not find a product that met my needs.  I found myself buying what companies advertised as “large print”.  Then I’d use a marker to make it really large print! But big type was not my only need.  Now that I was writing larger with a bold pen, the writing space those calendars provided was just too small.

Finally, on a cold Minnesota winter in January of 2015, I was fed up with the market not providing what I needed.  In less than an hour, with pen and straight edge, I drew the layout of a planner that would meet my needs. Besides the obvious design elements I’ve mentioned, I was annoyed that I’d often write off the edge of the paper.  The simple solution was placing a black border around the edge of each weekly page. 

Luckily, a neighbor ran a small design business.  A few weeks after I drew it, I showed it to her and explained my story.  She responded enthusiastically and offered to help.  With periodic fine-tuning, by spring I had a professionally produced file to take to get printed.

The idea was to make one for myself.  But, the copy shop said that because of the black border, it had to be printed on machines used by large printing companies. So I tracked down such a company.  The shock was hearing that printing 104 pages and a cover would cost around $100.  Once my mouth closed, the printer suggested I print a handful more since those would cost far less.  Thinking that I knew some people who might want one, I agreed.

I’d take a copy with me to all my meetings.  From time to time, someone would comment on my planner.  Then they’d ask where I got it and it was always fun to tell them I made it. 

Within six weeks, I had either sold or given away all the extras.  At the same time, I regularly heard I should start a business to make them.  They’d point out how many people could use this and I would be helping.  I was already busy and knew how much work and time it would take.  But the idea of helping people kept coming back to me.  After about a month and some conversations with my wife, I decided to take the plunge.

Assuming responsibility for all that was required, the summer and fall of 2015 flew by in a blur.  I printed 400 of the 2016 calendars and sold them mostly by the box-load to businesses and the rest over the business website I had also established.  It was great that the NFB Independence Market was one of my first customers and has submitted an order every year since.

Fast forward to now.  I am now offering the 2020 calendar, my 5th calendar edition.   If all goes well, I will have sold nearly five thousand since beginning this business.  It seems like a lot, but actually, it’s a tiny fraction of the market.

It has been a humbling experience to read feedback from satisfied customers and businesses who buy boxes each year to sell in far-off cities.  Regardless of where this effort goes, I will always treasure the positive feelings that have come with this journey.

To see my website, visit: or Google, EZ2See.