Archive for the ‘Invention How To’ Category

Turning an Invention into a Business

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Turning an Invention into a Business

istock_000009365323xsmall By Eric Corl, Idea Buyer LLC

The way most people (and infomercials) portray inventing, it seems like building something is the endgame. Create the widget, the logic goes, and your job is done. All that remains now is sitting back and waiting for fame, fortune and orders to pour in. This extends at least as far back as Henry David Thoreau, who famously declared “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Indeed, what could be more appealing from an inventor’s point of view? Unfortunately, this is not the way it usually works in practice. As marketing guru Perry Marshall countered, “Henry David Thoreau never built any mousetraps, and the world never beat a path to his door.” Marshall’s point – and our point today – is that inventing is a business. Like any other business, money is not made merely by developing a product. To truly cash in, you will need to create demand for what you invented and monetize that demand in a life-sustaining way. Several ways of doing this are discussed below.
Above, we said that turning your invention into a business starts with creating demand for the invention. But demand from who? There are actually a few routes you can take in generating demand for the invention. Perhaps the most obvious and intuitive is creating demand among customers. If your invention is a consumer product that could be sold on a store shelf, this is certainly something to consider. However, if you are going after the consumer market, their desires must be taken into account during the inventing process. Rather than merely inventing what you want, you must design, prototype, and develop what the buying public will pay for. It is possible that the latter might be something slightly or entirely different than what you imagined at the outset. Don’t let this stop you. Remember, your goal here is turning your invention into a business. Business is about finding needs and filling them.

That means it is far wiser to gauge demand for your invention at the beginning (by conducting market research or surveys) than to invent whatever you want and try to force it down people’s throats later. Many unhappy inventors have taken this path, only to find that their dreams of market success were doomed from the start. The phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind. Even if you are certain your invention has demand in general (for example, a new kind of bike tire), you can boost your odds of market success even higher by figuring out what current versions are lacking. What are some common complaints about alternatives to your invention that are already out there? Such questions will help you create something that people are already eager to buy without a whole lot of selling and hype. In fact, that is the central lesson of this entire article. The surest way to turn an invention into a business is to invent something for which there is much known, obvious, ready-made demand. If you have to convince people that they “should” want your invention, you’re looking at an uphill climb from day one.

Of course, inventors can create demand for their inventions from people other than consumers. Maybe your personal strengths and weaknesses are ill-suited to marketing your invention personally. It is not for everyone. An alternative strategy is to create demand among manufacturers, who would buy or license your invention and bring it to market themselves. Several advantages stem from this strategy. For one, you have the luxury of focusing on decision makers at a small handful of companies, rather than trying to juggle the logistics of selling in stores around the country. Conceivably, you could spend a few weeks creating a presentation, booking appointments and conducting product demos and close a deal rather quickly. The terms of the deal are completely negotiable by you and the manufacturer. For instance, the two of you could enter into a licensing agreement, whereby you get $50,000 immediately and 2% of gross product sales for 20 years. Or, you could agree to sell the invention outright for a larger up-front sum.

The main difference between creating demand among consumers vs. manufacturers is in how you promote the invention. Selling an invention in stores, again, demands publicizing the benefits of the invention to the consumer. Keeping our bike tire example, you would likely want to advertise how durable the tire is, how it is more puncture-resistant than the leading brand, and how it offers better traction over rocks, branches and mud. This is the information pertinent to a consumer’s decision making process. Manufacturers, of course, have their own decision making process. Rather than product benefits, the manufacturer is concerned with profit margin, production costs, short and long-term demand and the likelihood of the product triggering lawsuits, among other things. Pitching to manufacturers, therefore, requires having pleasing answers to these questions.

Again, the overall idea is that turning an invention into a business centers around demand. Without demand from others, money never changes hands. We cannot stress enough, therefore, that you are not inventing simply what you want. While this is a great starting point, what you personally want to invent must always take a backseat to what consumers or manufacturers will pay for. Luckily, there is often room for both to co-exist. If you have spent your life working with a product category, chances are you are one of its consumers who knows what you and others will pay for. Keeping these principles in mind will go a long way towards turning your invention into a feasible business.

Eric Corl is the founder of Idea Buyer LLC, an Ohio Limited Liability Company. Idea Buyer LLC runs and manages IdeaBuyer.com and is a leader in new product development and commercialization practices. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com. If you have a product that you would like our feedback on, email info@IdeaBuyer.com

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How to Fast Track Your Invention to Market

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

If you are the kind of person with a million ideas and not enough time to pursue them, you might want to consider “fast tracking” your invention to market. In this way, you essentially become a hired gun. You, the inventor, perform the tasks of researching and developing the product. Then, you “outsource” the manufacturing and marketing to partners with money. Those partners will develop, market, and fund the startup costs. In return for their greater efforts, they will receive a greater return. The benefit to you, however, is that this is one of the quickest ways to bring a product to market and exit with cash in hand. If you are a serial inventor, this can be a great way to build up some cash and move on from one idea to the next.

The best way to get the ball rolling is to find an angel investor, ie, a private person with personal wealth and the skills necessary to fast track your invention. INC.com has a comprehensive directory of angel investors. Using it, you can locate investors in specific areas, with specific skill sets, and find one that is sure to meet your fast-tracking needs.

Once you have found an investor, the next thing you will do is determine how profits will be split and who is responsible for what. Typically, you will be the one researching and creating the product in question. If it was your idea, this is only logical. You should make it your business to know the market inside and out and formulate a product that can be profitably sold in it. Then, you want to create a prototype for it. Since the extent of your responsibility is creating the product, it makes sense to do this as quickly as possible. Then, responsibility shifts to the investor to put up the funds and get the product to market.

In his landmark text “The Time Trap”, Alec Mackenzie stresses that the single most effective way to get more done in less time is writing a list of things you are going to do that day. It sounds simple – and it is – but it takes a high level of discipline to actually put it into practice. Accordingly, this is an excellent way of ensuring that you develop your prototype as quickly as possible. Not a day should go by when you are not doing something to advance this goal.

When you finally do have your prototype ready, you should waste no time hitting the market. How can you do this? The best way is to use a tried and true formula: start with smaller stores, build a track record of success, and use this as leverage to get into bigger outlets. An article on BusinessKnowHow.com imparts a very specific strategy that you can use to get your product to market in a short period of time. Here is the course of action recommended:

“This is where reps come in. They have had to change their ways of working. It used to be that they would spend the majority of their time with the big chains. The little guys got whatever time was left over. In some cases, reps would use sub-reps to call on the little stores. Well, it ain’t that way today. Some big firms such as Wal-Mart say that due to their volume they don’t need the rep to call on them and they want the commission usually paid to the rep for themselves. That means that reps have to look for other ways to make money. They do this by two methods: One, call on smaller retailers and call on them more often; two, take on lines that the smaller retailers are looking for.

“So, as a supplier to the retail market, seek out the reps. Ask some stores that might be potential candidates for your line who they believe is the best rep that calls on them. Interview several reps, see what other lines they have that would cause them to call on the same type of firm you believe your goods could go into. They are your best bet for getting into all types of stores both large and small, that is their profession.”

For the best results, you can have your investor start working on this while you are creating your prototype. Optimally, you can do these tasks side-by-side, wasting as little time as possible and getting to launch as fast as you can. If this is not possible, you should at least begin this process as soon as the prototype is ready. When it comes to fast tracking, time is obviously of the essence.

Keep your objective in mind with the eye on the prize to compress time and shorten your time to market.

Inventor How To- Increase Your Creativity

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Every inventor knows the dreaded feelings of a creative dry spell. It is the pit of dread that comes with feeling like you are totally out of new ideas, that you could not innovate your way out of a paper bag, that you are creatively burned out. Ayn Rand called this anxiety “the squirms”, and it is well-known to any creative person.

So how do you wriggle out of the squirms and back into creativity? Brian Clark, creator of the popular website CopyBlogger.com, offers some helpful clues in his article “Do You Recognize These 10 Mental Roadblocks to Creative Thinking?”

The first roadblock Clark discusses is following the rules. He explains:

“One way to view creative thinking is to look at it as a destructive force. You’re tearing away the often arbitrary rules that others have set for you, and asking either “why” or “why not” whenever confronted with the way “everyone” does things.

This is easier said than done, since people will often defend the rules they follow even in the face of evidence that the rule doesn’t work. People love to celebrate rebels like Richard Branson, but few seem brave enough to emulate him. Quit worshipping rule breakers and start breaking some rules.”

SRC: http://www.copyblogger.com/mental-blocks-creative-thinking/

Two real-life examples of this spring to mind immediately. Ten years ago, people probably would have scoffed at the idea of Wikipedia.com. “A collaborative encyclopedia?”, they would exclaim. “Impossible! It’s never been done. It will be rife with errors – if people bother to edit it at all!” Well, today Wikipedia not only exists, but is one of the most trusted sources of information in the world. In addition, its accuracy rate is almost as high as Encyclopedia-Britannica.

Another example of an invention that whose creator “didn’t follow the rules” is Digg. Prior to Digg, news websites virtually all had moderators and anchors who decided what news got seen. Digg changed all that by creating a socially-driven system where users voted on news and thus determined what was popular enough to be on the front page Today, people pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars to consultants who promise them that they, too, can be seen on Digg’s homepage. All because the creators of the site went against the conventional rules.

Another roadblock Clark identifies is being practical. He argues that while practicality is important when it comes time to deliver the goods, it can lead us to idea killing self-censorship when we are just brainstorming.

“Like logic, practicality is hugely important when it comes to execution, but often stifles innovative ideas before they can properly blossom. Don’t allow the editor into the same room with your inner artist.

Try not to evaluate the actual feasibility of an approach until you’ve allowed it to exist on it’s own for a bit. Spend time asking “what if” as often as possible, and simply allow your imagination to go where it wants. You might just find yourself discovering a crazy idea that’s so insanely practical that no one’s thought of it before.”

The problem with practicality is that too often, we let established conventions define what is “practical” to us. In this way, any new and original thought is instinctively labeled “impractical” because it has not yet been done. Instead, do your best to banish “practical” from your vocabulary during creative brainstorming. You can apply the demands of practicality later, after you decide if you like an idea or not.

A third roadblock Clark talks about is the fear of being wrong. This is ingrained in all of us. As humans, we never like to be wrong on some issue because it makes us feel like failures. However, this is not necessarily true. Even the greatest minds in history have used failure and mistakes as stepping stones to technological discovery:

“We hate being wrong, and yet mistakes often teach us the most. Thomas Edison was wrong 1,800 times before getting the light bulb right. Edison’s greatest strength was that he was not afraid to be wrong.

The best thing we do is learn from our mistakes, but we have to free ourselves to make mistakes in the first place. Just try out your ideas and see what happens, take what you learn, and try something else. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen if I’m wrong? You’ll often find the benefits of being wrong greatly outweigh the ramifications.”

The common theme in all of Clark’s roadblocks is that if you want to be creative, you shouldn’t self-censor. Instead, let creative brainstorming be a time of open, free flowing ideas. Ask yourself bold new questions and don’t feel like you need to come up with exact answers right away. It may turn out that you are onto something huge – something you may have cast aside by being unnecessarily stringent.

Inventor How To- Developing the Habit of Decisiveness

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Read about any successful inventor or businessman and you will inevitably notice something: a habit of decisiveness in all that they do. What is decisiveness, exactly? It is a word we often hear, but rarely define.  In simplest terms, decisiveness is accepting the fact that you are in control of your own life. It is the methodical, systematic effort to determine the best course of action and then carry it out. Put negatively: it is the refusal to let the random gyrations of society, chance, and whim set your course. Psychologist Michael J. Hurd sums up decisiveness as “trusting and acting on the conclusions of one’s mind.”

Obviously, decisiveness is a quality inventors stand to benefit from enormously. So how can you develop this habit in your own life? Hurd offers some practical tips on being decisive in his article, “What Should I Do?”

When stuck with the question, “What should I do?” don’t stay stuck. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to blindly asking someone else what you should do. Instead, ask yourself — and answer — the following questions:

What are my options in this situation? (If there is only one option, your question is already answered. If there are two or more options, then proceed to the next question).

What are the likely immediate and longer-term consequences of each option? (Make a list of each set of consequences and confine the lists to one page).

Which options are the most desirable and the least desirable, and why?

What is my final choice? (If you cannot answer this yet, then first develop the top 2 or 3 finalists. Then go to a final judgment).

Questions like these will become invaluable guides to action, as inventors face decisions all the time. Which supplier should I use? Do I believe this cost is legitimate? Is this deadline realistic? Do I have too much on my plate? Questions like this crop up all the time, and successful inventors are the ones who are comfortable answering them.

Of course, it will be far easier to ask yourself those questions if you accept that you are the author of your own destiny. As appealing as this sounds, few of us ever fully accept what it means in practice. Hurd elaborates more on this helpful point, which is essential to creating a lifelong habit of decisiveness:

“This exercise is an example of using your own rational judgment instead of letting others tell you what to do. It’s the alternative to both do-as-I-say dogmatism and do-as-I-feel subjectivism. It’s called being objective. Some don’t like the idea of objectivity because it seems too cold or harsh; others feel it’s too hard, or too much work. What’s the alternative? Self-defeating impulsivity? Doing what a dictator tells you to do? Praying to the skies and hoping for an answer in code? Get real!”

If you work at it, you can stop yourself as you are about to fall into these traps. Do you find yourself thinking “Ahh, I can’t be bothered with this now; I’ll cross the bridge when I get to it.” Or how about, “I know this is important, but it’s just such a big decision that little old me can’t possibly decide it.” If you think these thoughts, drop what you are doing and change them. Successful inventors cross bridges miles ahead of them in their own minds and are better off for doing so. They do this by asking themselves, “If I don’t decide, who will?”

So, instead of succumbing to those passive thoughts and letting them move you, take a different approach. Will yourself to sit down and consciously decide the pressing questions before you. If you need to write a business plan, don’t think “oh my God, this is such an important task that the slightest little error will screw it up. I might as well not even try.” Instead, put on a pot of coffee, sit back, and do some research. Read a few sample business plans. Get some expert advice. And then, sit down and write one. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, and you can certainly go back and edit. The important point is that by doing this, you have made the decision to move forward. You have gone from thinking to doing.

This same thinking applies to any decision you face. Instead of getting stuck in analysis-paralysis, calmly think about what this decision requires of you. One way of staying calm is to remind yourself that no matter what you are doing, someone, somewhere, has done it before. It may be challenging, but it is doable. You can also save yourself a lot of mental anxiety by asking, “Where do I start?” Once you figure this out, the rest tends to unfold naturally.

Above all, keep your cool and always remember that you are in charge. If you resolve to make this a part of your outlook, it is almost impossible to fail.

 Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of IdeaBuyer.com, the online marketplace for intellectual property that gives inventors the opportunity to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.