Does Your Invention Have What it Takes?

March 13th, 2008

Some mistakes are just too fatal to overcome. If you make them, your invention is pretty much dead on the water with no hope for success. Fortunately, your invention need not be doomed to the scrap heap of useless or uninteresting contraptions. A wise man once said that smart people learn from their mistakes, while geniuses learn from the mistakes of others. This article is an attempt to capitalize on the latter method. That being said, here are four surefire signs that your invention totally, unequivocally, and without argument, sucks.

1) You have no target market

Entrepreneur.com sums up this mistake:

“You have a big idea. You’re sure the masses will clamor for it. So you begin sinking lots of money into building your prototype, developing a business plan, hiring a patent attorney, and more. Little do you know there’s an identical product that’s already out there on the market. Yes, it can be heartbreaking to learn that someone else came up with your big idea first. But it’s even more heartbreaking when you’ve lost a significant amount of money because of it. Advice: be sure to research stores, the internet, catalogs, etc., before moving along in the invention process. I’ve seen people who’ve invested their life savings only to discover–too late–that their idea isn’t original. And it often takes a 10-minute search to find what you are looking for. How can you be sure your product doesn’t already exist? Spend enough time to ensure you’ve exhausted every angle. Search relevant stores wherever you go. Search the internet with multiple key words. In other words, don’t develop your product in a vacuum.”

This is by far the leading cause of inventions that suck. You cannot – repeat, NOT – create something no one wants and hope for a smash hit. If your invention is to succeed, it has to fill a real need for real people. Find out who they are before pouring your time and money into an invention.

2) Your invention is a vitamin instead of an Advil

The website AntiVentureCapital.com once had an article dividing ideas into two categories: vitamin and Advil. A vitamin is a nice product, but nothing that anyone would feel lost without. An Advil, on the other hand, fills a need so well that once it catches on, one can hardly imagine life without it. This is an instructive distinction for inventions, too. Who would be upset if your invention came off store shelves? Would anyone care? Would they even notice? Is your invention a vitamin, or an Advil?

It isn’t that all non-essential inventions suck; clearly, there is a large market for iPod accessories. It’s just that the ratio of bad vitamin inventions to bad Advil inventions is very lopsided in favor of the former. You are far less likely to screw up if your invention solves a major, pressing need than you are if you focus on some fringe desire that may or may not even exist.

3) It’s a “Me Too” invention

They say imitation is the finest form of flattery, but this is deadly advice in the invention world. It is statistically proven that the first and second to market take home the lion’s share of sales. It is also common sense that the hoards of knockoffs that inevitably follow are seen for what they are: knockoffs. The problem is that when something is first created, the first few producers make sure everyone knows about it. So by the time the knockoff artists come around, the buying public is fully aware that you are just the latest copycat. This being the case, you have no one but yourself to blame when sales plummet faster than The Core emptied theaters a few years back. Create something original, or at least add a new variation on an existing invention.

4) Your costs are out of control

Keeping costs low is not one of the sexier aspects of inventing, and therefore it is often avoided. Inventors without business acumen often assume that sales are all that matter. They figure with enough sales, they’ll have to turn a profit eventually regardless of how expensive it is to make their product. This is a deadly error that fells inexperienced inventors time and time again. It’s fine to use whatever is most convenient when you are making a prototype. At that stage, you are just trying to prove that your invention is workable. But once this is established and you set your sights to selling it, you need to find ways to get cheaper materials and supplies. This is crucial to turning a profit on each unit you sell and recouping the sizeable investment of time and money you are making in your invention.

If you steer clear of these four fatal errors, your invention probably won’t suck.

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.

 

The Priorities for Gaining Credibility for Your Invention

March 10th, 2008

With all the false starts that come with inventing something, it is easy to feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of inventing: like you get “no respect” from credible figures in your field. If investors are turning you down, business partners are flaking out, and you can’t even seem to get your calls returned, it may be time for a change of priorities. Believe it or not, there is actually a tried-and-true formula for establishing yourself as a respected inventor. It begins be creating credibility for your invention.

 Priority # 1 – Creating a Prototype

 If anything separates players from spectators, it is this. Having a prototype – a real, working version of your invention – says unequivocally that you are for real and have serious intentions of entering your field. It takes your idea from, as Entreprenuer.com says, “your mind’s eye to the palm of your hand.”

Their article on prototyping offers some helpful guidance on how to approach the process:

“So what exactly should a prototype look like? First, it depends on your idea. Second, it depends on your budget and your goals. If possible, it’s great to start with a handmade prototype, no matter how rudimentary. For example, I’ve seen prototypes made from the simplest of household items: socks, diaper tabs, household glue, empty milk containers–you name it. If it works for your initial demonstration purposes, it’s as good as the most expensive materials.”

SRC: http://www.entrepreneur.com/startingabusiness/inventing/inventionscolumnisttamaramonosoff/article80678.html

The number one thing to keep in mind is getting your prototype to solve the problem it aims to. Early on, it is not important whether it looks glamorous. It does not need to exactly mirror the ultimate vision you have for it. Get something up and running – something that works – and you will have taken a bold and important step toward gaining credibility for your invention.

 

 Priority # 2 – Secure a patent for your invention.

 Once you have a working prototype, you should file a provisional patent application for your invention. This will protect any new formulas, equations, processes, technologies, or methods you employed in creating your invention. Having patent protection is an invaluable asset in establishing your credibility.

 For one, it enables you to approach retailers or business partners with a tangible asset. Not only do you have a working invention, but you also have the exclusive, legal right to commercialize it. This portrays you as a legitimate player with something to bring to the bargaining table.

In addition, a patent gives you some peace of mind that a sleazy ripoff artist can’t clone your operation overnight. It won’t stop all of them from trying, but it will give you the right to sue them for damages and legally compel them to stop.

Above all, being a patent holder puts you in a position to capitalize on your invention by conferring on you the status and rights you have earned.

 

Priority # 3 – Set some initial sales targets – and meet them!

 This step is where the rubber meets the road: that fateful day when the market decides whether your invention will fly. It is a day inventors anticipate with both excitement and fear; excitement driven by hope of success, and fear driven by worries about what could go wrong. However, you can increase your odds of hitting your sales goals with some rational planning and foresight.

 The first thing to do is some market research. You cannot just concoct sales goals on a whim, based on fantasies of what you would like to earn. Instead, you must research the market and determine what similar companies have sold. While this in and of itself does not determine your fate, it will give you a realistic idea of what to expect. Reliable sources of market research include industry trade journals, periodicals, and library/academic databases that include access to market data.

Another good step is to avoid overextending yourself. There is a temptation among many inventors to hit the market in a huge way. They want to get their product in as many stores as possible right up front. While the excitement is understandable, this is not always the smartest choice. A better idea is to start off by selling in one or two stores and use that to test the response. How did people respond to your invention? Were sales high? Are you maybe pricing your invention too high, or low? These questions are easier to answer on a small scale. There is an old piece of marketing advice that applies here: fail early, and fail cheap. If you can learn from mistakes at smaller stores, you can apply that wisdom and approach the bigger retailers with the most important thing of all – a track record.

 It would be dishonest to say that gaining credibility is easy. However, if you are diligent and smart in your approach, it is eminently possible. Don’t give up.

How to Fast Track Your Invention to Market

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: Keeping Your Finances in Order

March 8th, 2008

With all the invention-related things on an inventor’s mind, it is easy to overlook another important consideration: keeping your finances in order! The importance of a well-organized and documented financial life cannot be stressed enough. That being the case, it pays to take reasonable precautions and keep your finances in order.

How can this be done? The first step is a change in habits. Whenever you buy things relating to your invention – materials, postage, storage space, whatever the case may be – you need to save all receipts and paperwork that come with them. This is crucial so you can keep tidy books for your own reference, for future investors, and for your accountant. Many of the expenses you incur during the new product development stage may be able to be written off.

Another important step to take is establishing a filing cabinet for your finances. Too often, people stuff their receipts and records into random drawers, folders, and other miscellaneous hiding places. The problem comes down the road when you need to find a certain receipt or notice and have absolutely no idea where you put it. The way around this dilemma is having a small filing cabinet to put these things in. The other benefit of a filing cabinet is that not only are your records in one place, you can keep them in order. Nothing is more frustrating than digging through years and years of records when you need someone from one particular time. Fortunately, with a filing cabinet, this does not have to happen to you.

FinancialPlan.About.com offers some helpful guidance for how to go about doing this. They say that you can divide up your filing system into three categories:

  • Bills due
  • Important documents to keep
  • Items to throw away or shred

It really is that simple. Either you have a bill that needs to be paid, a receipt or document that should be saved, or something that can be discarded. It is up to you how you want to organize these items, but it can be as simple as using three individual folders labeled with the above information.

Then, whenever you get the mail or receive another financial document, take a moment to put it into the correct folder.

Beyond mere organization, you need to make sure you are in good financial standing at all times. The most easy-to-read gauge of this is your credit health. Do you know your credit score? Is it good? Do you even know what a good credit score is? These are all questions that you can and must answer. As an inventor, it is very likely that you will one day seek investors or loans or credit from stores that you are selling your product in. When that day comes, they will look long and hard at your credit health to decide whether you are a trustworthy person that they should be doing business with.

Not familiar with credit scores? Here is a brief description and link to more in-depth information from MyFico.com.

“When you apply for credit – whether for a credit card, a car loan, or a mortgage – lenders want to know what risk they’d take by loaning money to you. FICO® scores are the credit scores most lenders use to determine your credit risk. You have three FICO scores, one for each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Each score is based on information the credit bureau keeps on file about you. As this information changes, your credit scores tend to change as well. Your 3 FICO scores affect both how much and what loan terms (interest rate, etc.) lenders will offer you at any given time. Taking steps to improve your FICO scores can help you qualify for better rates from lenders.”

SRC: http://www.myfico.com/CreditEducation/CreditScores.aspx

If your credit score isn’t perfect, don’t worry. There are steps you can take to improve it, and taking them is the important thing. Do some reading and, if necessary, rehabilitate your credit status! Your career as an inventor may depend on it.

While on the subject of your credit status, you should also aim to eliminate any consumer debt that you have. This will only harm your credit status and make you look risky to business partners you may meet down the road. You want to fit the profile of someone who pays his/her bills on time.

Above all, you should strive to be in control of your financial life. This means having an organized filing system with all important records and being aware of your financial standing. Accomplish these tasks and you will have gotten your finances in order!

Networking – It’s the Small Things That Matter

March 8th, 2008

In a fast-paced world where today’s partnership is tomorrow’s downsizing, how do you maintain your networking prowess? The short answer is to forget the saying “don’t sweat the small stuff.” This may be true in certain contexts, but networking is not one of them. When everyone and his mother is promising you the moon, you trust those who remember the little nuances and details – and who comes through on them.

What types of small things matter? Think about what matters to you. One of the smaller details that always matters is birthdays. Your partners’ lives are just as busy as yours. In the daily bump and grind of conferences, trade shows, stockholder conventions and business trips, even the mightiest producers can be worn down. Consequently, occasions like birthdays are seen as a rare opportunity to relax and take stock of one’s place in the world. If you remember to send over a bottle of champagne or even simple a happy birthday phone call, you will likely be held in high regard by your partner.

Better yet, go the extra mile. If the partner in question lives nearby or will be in town, make a point of taking him or her out to dinner for special occasions like this. Things like this become cemented in our minds as signs of loyalty and good will.

The same holds true for major anniversaries. If you have been partnered with someone for many years, you probably know important anniversaries of theirs – their marriage, the day their company went public, even the first deal you two consummated. These are days of triumph and celebration, as well. It is gracious and appropriate to extend well wishes or even gifts like champagne or tickets to sporting events in recognition of anniversaries. Little things like this show that your partnership transcends the pursuit of profit and encompasses the good will between you.

Of course, the little everyday things matter as well. Remembering the names of a partner’s child, spouse, or even pets can go a long way toward showing that you value them. When you think about it, this is common sense. You would begin to question someone’s authenticity if you had to tell them your kids’ names a dozen times too, wouldn’t you?

You can also look to things outside of work to strengthen your networking acumen. The easiest example of this is the throngs of businessmen who hash things out on the golf course instead of in the board room. There is just something about an informal setting that fosters a sense of trust between partners. For this reason, create such settings often. Whether it’s golf, sporting events, concerts, or anything else the two of you deem enjoyable, such activities will add a new dimension to your partnership that a cutthroat, fly-by-night competitor won’t be able to outdo.

Another way that the little things matter is when it comes to deadlines and obligations. These are the heart of any partnership, since you are presumably partnering to benefit from each other’s skills and experiences. The best advice is also the simplest: be a man or woman of your word. If you promise a partner that you will have a report ready by a certain day, see to it that you do. If you can, strive to exceed your deadlines. This creates an image of you in the partner’s mind as someone who can be trusted under any circumstances. And, like bad images, these are very difficult to dislodge once they take root. You will benefit from this perception of trust and reliability time and time again.

Finally, it must be said: for all of these things to work and truly be effective, you must be sincere about them. In other words, don’t feign concern, care, or respect for your partners if you don’t actually feel it. Harvard Business School graduate John T. Reed offers an example of what not to do in his review of Robert Kiyosaki’s book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”

“On page 154, Kiyosaki says “the reason you want to have rich friends” is to get inside stock market information that you can make low-risk profits. He ends that discussion with the sentence, “That is what friends are for.” That is the narrowest, most mercenary definition of friendship I have ever seen. I doubt Kiyosaki is the only person who feels this way about his friends, but he may be the only one dumb enough to say it in a book.”

SRC: http://www.johntreed.com/Kiyosaki.html

Obviously, this is not the reason you want to have friends or partners. You should feel a genuine sense of trust, respect, and good will toward any business partner that you have. If you do not, the tactics in this article will lose their status as friendly gestures and become mere brown nosing.

However, assuming that you and your partner have an authentic relationship, you will do wonders for yourself to keep the small things in mind!

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.

Stand Out From the Crowd

March 7th, 2008

Have you ever looked around and wondered, in amazement, why everyone seems to be living the same life? Tragically, many people are content to become cogs in larger machines or groups of people. They become mere microcosms of the dominant attitudes and trends around them that they never stop to scrutinize or question. There are two kinds of people, however, who do not mindlessly submit to this corporeal of sameness. The first kind of person rebels against it, but in relatively benign and meaningless ways. They might dress flamboyantly or oppose trends for the sake of opposing them, but in substance there is very little to separate them from the common man. In reality they are entirely dependent on other people. Others shape their attitudes, but in reverse.

The second, much smaller group responds differently. They look around in horror, slam their fist on the desk and decide that they are not going to go through life as another schlep nobody. They are going to stand out from the crowd in a meaningful way.

 How do they do it? They stand out by taking a completely first-handed posture in the world. They accept responsibility for forming the beliefs at the core of their being and become an uncompromisable expression of their vision. Standing out is, in the words of fictional hero Howard Roark, “living as though you were the first man born.” It is achieving a radical independence of mind.

 In the eye-opening book “Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics – The Virtuous Egoist”, philosophy professor Tara Smith offers some insight:

“An independent person seeks neither his direction, his conclusions, nor his satisfaction from the views of others. He does not act for the sake of others in any way. Others are not his compass. Reality is.”

This kind of attitude naturally leads to standing out from the crowd, for the simple reason that so few live this way. So engrained is the herd mentality, so pervasive is the sameness that the man who charts his own course is a violent jolt out of the norm. That being said, here are some practical ways to employ this attitude in the service of your efforts to stand out.

Make your views known instead of accepting the status quo.

When it is appropriate, feel free to dissent from the prevailing viewpoint in a debate or argument. If the popular opinion around the office is that universal healthcare is the greatest thing since the New Deal, speak up in protest. If you know government healthcare leads to rationing and violates the rights of doctors, saying so will make you stand out immediately. If you give an impassioned plea for the glory of the free market, you will distance yourself from those who consider this cruel and heartless.

This does not mean that you should go looking for excuses to make a scene. It means that if you genuinely dissent from some popular viewpoint, you should feel no shame in saying so.

Live by your stated convictions and beliefs.

We live in a very hypocritical society. On the one hand, Hollywood glorifies the hero who holds true to his convictions against all odds. On the other, we hear from our leaders and cultural spokesmen that we live in a “complex world” where principled action is “simplistic.” However, this is not true. The masses of people who think that are confining their vision to the immediate moment. They are ignoring the broader consequences of their actions; in fact, they pretend that no such consequences exist. The standout man is the one who realizes that this is not true.  He is the man who knows that caving in to an irrational spouse’s or employer’s demands only fuels them and encourages them to grow. He is the man who realizes that living by a code of principles is the only honorable and practical way to live. Staying true to principles like honesty, integrity, and independence in the face of societal or institutional pressure will set you apart from the crowd in a huge way.

Center your life on a purpose that fulfills you.

Another tenet of the follow-the-crowd orthodoxy is the general lack of purpose or direction in people’s lives. The unwashed masses delight in pointlessly drifting from one unfulfilling day to the next until their lives have, as E.L. Kersten writes, “Faded into the obscurity and irrelevance they have earned.” For this reason, the man or woman who lives each day in purposeful pursuit of a vision or dream will always stand out from the crowd. He is a walking, talking statement that the only meaning of life is the meaning you choose to give it. This is a sharp contrast to the general crowd, who is more than happy to let someone who seems astute enough render an opinion or direction for them. It is a bold departure from the hopeless “oh well, whaddaya gonna do?” logic that keeps most of humanity running in place.

When you get right down to it, standing out from the crowd is really a matter of following your own vision. Do that and you will be standing out in more ways than you ever dreamed possible.

Inventor How To- Increase Your Creativity

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.

Getting Your Invention On Store Shelves in 30 Days

February 29th, 2008

If your invention is done, functional, and ready for sale, congratulations! You have reached a plateau that few inventors ever see with their own eyes – a finished product that is destined for store shelves. But now, it’s crunch time. You want to be in stores 30 days from now. What do you do to prepare? That is the focus of today’s article.

If you want to sell in stores, there is a rule you need to know front to back, inside and out: “Show me the inventory.” That is the mindset of buyers and managers at nearly any store worth selling in. A BeadingTimes.com article called “Selling to Stores” explores the issue further:

“Forget catalogs – store owners want to see the merchandise. Your sales will increase if you approach them with samples in your hands. Sales will increase even more if you have inventory to leave with them at that moment. While some stores will pay cash for their merchandise, most prefer terms of thirty days net.”

SRC: beadingtimes.com/marketing1203.htm

What this means in practical terms is that you had better have the capacity to create and store inventory. This is no small issue, and it should command your full attention if you are even thinking about getting into stores. Do you need to hire people to help you? Do you need to rent storage space to keep a certain number of units on hand? Do you have enough room in your house? (Make sure your wife and kids are on board before saying yes, it only creates problems later if you don’t!) The point is that keeping inventory will be a necessity for getting into (and staying in) stores. Do not approach the matter lightly.

Another consideration is that you probably cannot get your invention into huge, big-name department stores right away. An Entreprenuer.com article called “Selling Your Invention” explains the more likely reality:

“Unless you’re very lucky or very connected, you probably won’t launch your product directly into mass-market retail stores like Target or Wal-Mart. Instead, there’s a product sales lifecycle you should follow that basically takes you from the ground up, allowing you to build sales in a smart, methodical fashion, starting with small independent retailers and moving up to the big guns.”

Instead of staking everything on the ill-premised hope of “Wal-Mart or bust”, the article outlines a more reliable and time-tested approach to getting – and staying – into stores.

o Start by selling directly to end-users. This’ll give you confidence in selling and create “referenceable” customers. You can also get their feedback on the product and packaging to make improvements before expanding your sales efforts.

o Once you’ve ironed out your product and packaging wrinkles, begin selling to local independent specialty stores and online stores. For instance, if you’ve designed a line of greeting cards, approach your local gift shops. Become successful with these retailers, and you’ll have the leverage and negotiating chops to go on to the next level.

If you take this kind of approach, getting into stores within 30 days becomes a realistic goal. However, you must still make sure that the invention itself is prepared for the store environment. Primarily, this is a matter of packaging. This should not be overlooked either, because packaging can add both weight and cost to your product. If it weighs more, it is more expensive to ship. And if the packaging itself costs a lot of money, that gets added to your costs as well, making your break-even point higher.

For this reason, it makes sense to use as little packaging and excess as you can get away with. Early on, cash is king, and you cannot afford to squander it on grandiose packaging that does nothing but make your invention seem big and flashy.

If you have figured out the answers to your inventory questions, set realistic goals for your in-store launch, and square away the matter of your packaging; you are just about ready to get your invention into stores.

What remains is a solid and easy-to-use system of keeping records. Once you start selling in stores, you will encounter a whole new series of record keeping issues relating to taxes, receipts, inventory statements, sales records, and all kinds of other paperwork. Without a reliable way to keep track of all this, your life will be considerably more difficult.

Therefore, you should invest the time to create one before your invention hits the shelves. That way you establish habits of organization before things spiral out of control and leave you in a mess of random papers.

If you do not have the capacity to get your product store ready yourself, you may want to consider licensing or selling your patent to an entrepreneur, retailer, or manufacturer who does.

With all of these matters taken care of, you will be better positioned to push for store shelves. Remember the strategy: avoid big stores at first, and build your track record at smaller outlets. It is a recipe for success that has been tried and battle-tested.

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.

Keep Going – Don’t Give Up

February 25th, 2008

These words are easy to say, but not always so easy to do. Nowhere is this truer than in your fight to invent something new or grow a prevailing business. As you strive to bring your vision to life, you will face countless obstacles and barriers to success. These obstacles can take on many different shapes and forms. Whether it is someone stealing your ideas, business partners flaking out, or even loved ones leaving you behind, the life of a creator is an ongoing test of wills. Can you learn to see the beauty in struggle and persist toward the life you desire?

The world of literature offers an inspiring example of what this attitude means in practice. In the groundbreaking novel “The Fountainhead”, readers meet an architect named Howard Roark. A few years into his career, Roark is alone, struggling financially, and consigned to working in an obscure rock quarry while his corrupt colleague basks in fame and prestigious assignments. While these circumstances are enough to reduce anyone to hopelessness and despair, Roark heroically refuses to give up. His reason?

“Throughout the centuries, there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing with their own vision. The great creators – the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors, stood alone against the main of their time. Every new thought was opposed, every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered, and they paid – but they won.”

By staying true to his vision, Roark persisted through his temporary hardships and ultimately triumphed in his chosen field. If you want to keep going, you need to become a man of unborrowed vision yourself.  But how can you do what Roark did? It’s one thing for a fictional character to inspire us to great things. It is another for a real flesh-and-blood person to actually do so. Fortunately, history is filled with strong-willed men and women who have done just that. Their larger-than-life stories offer us both wisdom and encouragement to keep going when we know that we should.

One of the most inspiring stories of all belongs to Steve Jobs. Most of us know Jobs as the high-flying founder of Apple, the man who brought us the iPod, iMac, and every movie to come out of Pixar’s studios. But in 1986, Jobs was anything but. Exiled from the company he started, Jobs found himself alone and for the first time in his life, without a purpose. Jobs offers a rare personal glimpse into this dark period of his life in a commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005.

“I was lucky; I found what I wanted to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years, Apple had gone from just the two of us in a garage, into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation, the Macintosh, a year earlier, and I had just turned 30.”

If we stop the story there, many of us would envy Jobs. How many people can say that they found the work they love and achieved that type of success at such a young age? However, the story does not end there. Jobs continues:

“And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew, we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me. And for the first year or so, things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge, and eventually, we had a falling out. When we did, our board of directors sided with him. And so at 30 I was out – and very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I didn’t really know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down, that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with the board and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure and I even thought about running away from the valley.”

Here, we see Jobs at rock-bottom. The fruit of a life’s labor gone in the blink of an eye. A gaping void where a beaming pride and sense of direction once was. Against such crushing odds, a lesser person might have simply given up and resigned to failure. Not Jobs.

“But something slowly began to dawn on me: I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I’d been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. During the next 5 years I started a company named NeXt, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXt, and I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXt is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laureen and I have a wonderful family together.

Sometime’s life’s gonna hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

SRC: http://youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA

Like Roark, Jobs was a man of unborrowed vision. Cast off from all of his material success and legacy, he retained what no outside force could take away: his intransigent love of what he did. There is a lesson here that every person should learn. It is not your social status, possessions, or professional ability that makes you who you are. They are important, but they are only effects, not causes. They are the just rewards of an attitude, of the refusal to let any hardship tame the fire of your passion and hold you down.

So, if you find yourself staring down impossible odds, keep going. Don’t give up.

  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.

Inventor How To- Developing the Habit of Decisiveness

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.