Who is 'tinnovator' Aaron Dunlap?

Success! The Altoids Tin Battery-Powered USB Charger

The response to the Altoids tin USB charger was so overwhelming that Aaron Dunlap founded The Electroids Company to fill the orders.
The response to the Altoids tin USB charger was so overwhelming that Aaron Dunlap founded The Electroids Company to fill the orders.
Courtesy Aaron Dunlap

All told, Aaron Dunlap had enough materials left over to create 25 Altoids tin USB charger kits. He put a blog post on his personal Web site describing his invention along with a photo and sat back and waited -- halfheartedly. "I had enough for 25 kits, and thought that if I sold half that many within a few months I'd be lucky," says Dunlap [source: Dunlap]. Instead, he needed to wait only a couple of hours.

Within five hours, the original 25 kits were sold. In addition, requests for more were not only still coming in, but increasing. A few days later, Dunlap's blog post was picked up on the aggregator sites BoingBoing and Digg. Suddenly, his Altoids tin USB charger was famous. Another big boost came a couple months after his post and served as the real tipping point for the Altoids tin USB charger. The print version of Popular Science magazine featured a full-page story on Dunlap's creation. "The already-extraordinary demand for the kits became insane," he says [source: Dunlap]. With requests for his kits coming in faster than ever, he founded a retail site, The Electroids Company, to handle the orders.

While Dunlap's invention is highly functional and fulfills a sorely overlooked niche, the designer acknowledges the role that the Altoids tin has played in his sales. "If I'd chosen to use an off-the-shelf metal project enclosure in the first place, I'm sure I'd still be trying to sell those 25 kits," says Dunlap. "Putting it in an Altoids tin turned a somewhat-interesting electronics project into a cultural phenomenon" [source: Dunlap]. He has evidence to support his hypothesis: Following the success of the Altoids tin USB charger, The Electroids Company began offering a LED flashlight, also enclosed in an Altoids tin. "People went nuts for those too," he points out [source: Dunlap].

With the response to the Altoids tin USB charger (and new LED flashlight) and the ensuing founding of The Electroids Company, Aaron Dunlap has gone from mere tinnovator to tinnovating entrepreneur. It's not a bad success story for a college kid who just wanted to make a cool USB charger for his smartphone.

If you'd like to get your hands on one of Aaron Dunlap's Altoids tinnovation kits, you can click through to The Electroids Company's retail site here.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Dunlap, Aaron. "9V USB charger." Aaron Dunlap.com. November 1, 2005. http://aarondunlap.com/blog/1130885615
  • Dunlap, Aaron. Personal correspondence.
  • Urban Dictionary. "Nomophobia." March 31, 2008. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Nomophobia