The Power of Focus

February 24th, 2008

If you aspire to high achievement, focus is a power from which you cannot abstain. Inventing something new, bringing a product to market, and authoring your own destiny are not things that you luck into by chance. If you are to reach these plateaus, you must do it consciously, with full focus and awareness of what your goals require. But what is focus, exactly?

The achievement-celebrating philosopher Ayn Rand offers an excellent definition of the mechanics of focus:

In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions. But in the sense of the word applicable to man—in the sense of a consciousness which is aware of reality and able to deal with it, a consciousness able to direct the actions and provide for the survival of a human being—an unfocused mind is not conscious.

Psychologically, the choice “to think or not” is the choice “to focus or not.”

If you want to succeed, you need to focus. You need to focus your mind to a “full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality.” One way to begin doing this is to spend some time thinking about it. This seems obvious, but is often taken for granted. How often do you make time to sit down and think about what really matters to you? This is important if you want to achieve a state of focus. After all, you cannot focus without something to focus on. However, you need to be careful to ensure that you focus in the right way.

In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey reveals that there are actually two kinds of focus. The first (the good kind), he calls “proactive focus.”

“Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.”

This is the kind of focus you want to exercise: rational, healthy focus aimed at what you can and should change. The other kind of focus is called “reactive focus.”

“Reactive people, on the other hand, focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern. They focus on the weakness of other people, the problems in the environment, and circumstances over which they have no control. Their focus results in blaming and accusing attitudes, reactive language, and increased feelings of victimization. The negative energy generated by that focus, combined with neglect in areas they could do something about, causes their Circle of Influence to shrink.”

Now, let’s compare each type of focus with a practical example. We will assume you are an inventor and you are competing with another inventor for a spot on Wal-Mart’s shelves. Here is how a person applying proactive focus might approach the competition.

“Gee, this sure is gonna be tough. If I don’t land this spot, it might mean going back to the drawing board. However, I am not going to let that cloud my thoughts. I know my product is valuable. I am confident in it. If I really flesh my presentation out, I have a pretty good chance of beating this other guy. Therefore, I’m not even going to think about what if I lose or what my competitor is doing. All I can control is how my invention and I come across to the store reps. Time to get working on it.”

This is the type of focus you want to achieve. Notice that this person has blocked out all kinds of irrelevant thoughts – the downsides of losing, any advantages his competitor might have, etc. His sole concern is making his invention look as good as possible. Now, let’s look at how a person exercising reactive focus might think about the same situation.

“Arg, this is going to be so hard. If I don’t land this spot, it’s game over for me. Why should I even try? This other guy has way more money than me. We can’t all get an inheritance and a huge staff to work with. How can little old me compete with all of that? Ugh..whatever. I guess I’ll go in there and sling mud at the wall and hope it sticks.”

This person is focused too, but on the wrong things. Dwelling on how much money the other inventor has or his huge staff does nothing to move the goal closer to realization. All it does is squander the inventor’s precious energy on irrelevant matters. Meanwhile, the proactively focused inventor is locked in on the things that matter, tirelessly pursuing the best within him and doing all that is within his power to succeed.

This, in a nutshell, is what focus is. It is a state of mind where you resolve to let nothing stand between your ambitions and their uncompromising achievement.

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.

Immunize Yourself Against Inventor Baby Syndrome

February 19th, 2008

Inventor Baby IdeaMost inventors are tough-minded people who thrive on ingenuity and a willingness to experiment. However, inventors need to be on the lookout for an insidious beast, an attitude hell-bent on robbing you of your fire and ambition: Inventor Baby Syndrome. If you permit yourself to succumb to its progress-sucking powers, you will experience roadblocks in your quest to bring an invention idea to market. So what is Inventor Baby Syndrome? Before attempting a full diagnosis, here are some symptoms:

1)      Refusal to adjust your original idea in any way, shape, or form.

One thing that victims of Inventor Baby Syndrome have trouble grasping is that the idea is less important than execution; ie, less important than the problem you are trying to solve. Venture capitalist Paul Graham discusses this in an article relating to startups:

“In some fields the way to succeed is to have a vision of what you want to achieve, and to hold true to it no matter what setbacks you encounter. Starting startups is not one of them. The stick-to-your-vision approach works for something like winning an Olympic gold medal, where the problem is well-defined. Startups are more like science, where you need to follow the trail wherever it leads.”

Replace the word “startups” with “inventions”, and you will understand the point being made. Clinging to your original conceptions in the face of rational evidence that you should make changes is a disastrous policy. Be careful though! Rushing to start over all the time is another symptom of Inventor Baby Syndrome.

SRC: http://paulgraham.com/startupmistakes.html

2)      Constantly scrapping your progress and starting over.

In the same article, Graham cautions against the opposite problem: starting over too frequently!

You have to be prepared to see the better idea when it arrives. And the hardest part of that is often discarding your old idea.

“But openness to new ideas has to be tuned just right. Switching to a new idea every week will be equally fatal. Is there some kind of external test you can use? One is to ask whether the ideas represent some kind of progression. If in each new idea you’re able to re-use most of what you built for the previous ones, then you’re probably in a process that converges. Whereas if you keep restarting from scratch, that’s a bad sign.”

This is an Inventor Baby Syndrome symptom because it’s just a way for you to put off that fateful day when the market decides if your invention will fly. By endlessly starting over, you never finish. It seems obvious enough, but this is a surprisingly common problem.

3)      Refusing to partner with anyone or disclose anything

Perhaps the most common symptom of Inventor Baby Syndrome is guarding your idea with such jealous hostility that you turn away perfectly harmless people who just want to help. The obvious downfall of this is that depriving yourself of partnerships and assistance makes the road to selling your product much more challenging. If you need a database programmer, you should hire one. Make him sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement and swear him to secrecy, but hire one! This is often the only way to get your invention to market. Trying to carry the whole operation on your shoulders will only lead to an overstressed life, not runaway success.

If you do any of these things, you are afflicted with Inventor Baby Syndrome. It is a harsh name, but an accurate description. Inventing something and convincing people to buy it is hard work, and anyone who tells you differently is lying, naïve, or both.

If you want to throw this success-stealing monkey off your back and face the challenges ahead with open eyes, there is a cure: a rational, reality-based approach to inventing. To achieve it, you need to confront and fully accept some basic facts about what you are doing.

The first fact is that people don’t buy inventions because they’re really cool ideas. They don’t walk into Wal-Mart or Home Depot, pause, imagine all the painstaking work that went into making the product or how unprecedented it is and then, in a rush of inspiration, decide to buy it. Rather, they buy things that they believe will solve some pressing need that they have. That is why you should not cling to your original idea at all costs. Instead, hold true to your vision, but make changes if reason and logic tell you that you should.

The second fact is that constantly starting over is just a defense mechanism to shield you from the pain of possible failure. “What if no one buys the product?” you might subconsciously wonder. Well, that is eminently possible. But what is the alternative? Giving up and living the 9-5 grind that helped drive you to invent something in the first place? Instead, adopt a mindset of optimistic realism. “Yes, failure is possible, but I am confident in my ability and the value of my invention. I am going to persist as though I will succeed until actual evidence makes me think I wont.”

The third fact is that, to be totally honest, most people do not care about your idea. Yes, you should take reasonable precautions like NDAs. But in all actuality, there are not swarms of people just dying to steal your idea. Most people will not drop everything they are doing to pursue an idea they just heard of. For the most part, this will not happen and you should not let it dominate your thoughts.

Above all, keep the end in mind: getting that product to market. If what you are doing is inhibiting the process then stop doing it and start making new decisions. You have to have sensory accuity and figure out what is working and what is not. Don’t expect the market to suddenly change it’s response to your product. You must grow and adapt to meet the markets demands.

Your Competition Never Sleeps

February 18th, 2008

Idea CompetitionThe world of business and inventing is cutthroat to say the least. When it comes to creating new products, everyone with a serious stake in the process knows that time is of the essence. The reason for the frantic pace lies in something called the first-mover advantage. According to Wikipedia:

First-mover advantage is the advantage gained by the initial occupant of a market segment. This advantage may stem from the fact that the first entrant can gain control of resources that followers may not be able to match.

There are several advantages that can be gained from entering first:

  • Scarce resources can be preempted, e.g. occupation of prime retail locations
  • The ability to register patents and trademarks that will protect the first entrant from future competition.
  • Changing the economics of the market in a way that second entrants will not have an economic justification to enter.
  • Early profits can be re-invested in improving the resource base.
  • Reputation will likely have the advantages that come from suppliers, distributors and customers who are familiar with and loyal to their products.

Those are some pretty hefty advantages for first-movers. With all of this being the case, is it any wonder that competition is so fierce? This is where the saying “your competition never sleeps” comes from. It is an immutable law of business has been operating and will operate so long as there is business to be conducted and profit to be made. So what should you do about it? The best defense is to protect your secrets, get to market as fast as you can and protect yourself once you arrive. Fortunately, there are some savvy, common sense steps you can take to achieve this.

1) Secure intellectual property protection

One effective way of shielding yourself from fast-working competitors is to get a patent, trademark, or copyright for your invention. Most likely, a patent will be what you are going for. The chief benefit of having a patent is that it gives you the right to stop others from capitalizing on what you have the patent for. Therefore, if you have invented a new, lighter and more puncture-resistant bicycle tire that utilizes new rubber alloys and aerodynamic formulas, you can secure patent protection and, in effect, retain the sole rights to capitalize on those things. Clearly, this is one way to make competing with you a less attractive prospect for anyone who was planning on it. However, you probably will not succeed in getting a patent unless you..

2) Create a prototype

The United States Patent and Trademark Office requires that you produce some actual, tangible embodiment of your idea before you can receive a patent for it. For this reason, it makes a lot of sense to create one. But the other important reason to create a prototype is that it gets you from dreaming to doing. Ask yourself this question, and be honest with yourself: if your competitor has a prototype already and you do not, which one of you is likely to reach the market first? All else equal, the answer is obvious. Once you reach the prototype stage, you are much closer to that glorious day when your creation reaches paying customers. And rest assured; your competitors know this and know it well. You would do well to make creating a prototype your number one priority in your day to day efforts.

3) Negotiate exclusive agreements with vendors

Once you are ready to hit the market, see if you can get creative with your vendors. If you are selling via the web, for example, you may be recruiting affiliates to sell for you. Promise them an extra cut if they abstain from selling competing products alongside yours. If you are selling in stores, the same principle applies. Many vendors can be talked into an exclusive relationship with you if the price is right. This is one reason that Microsoft holds such a dominant position in the operating systems market, and you can benefit from a similar approach. If you can secure some type of exclusive agreement, you will make it that much harder for competitors to crowd in on your target market and take away your hard-fought sales!

4) Get your partners to sign NDAs

If you have partners or employees, you should get them to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements whenever possible. Although they are not airtight, they legally compel those who sign them to keep your secrets under wraps from anyone that you do not explicitly authorize. If anything goes awry down the road, you will have the early workings of a case against them, perhaps even the ability to seek damages. In the best case scenario, the NDA will simply function as it was intended: to keep your private information under wraps.

Follow these simple tips and, you will be armed for the never-ending battle of speed, wits, and savvy with your competitors.

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.

Rearden Steel – Lawmakers Steal Royalties from Capitalists

February 15th, 2008

America is often called the land of opportunity. Work hard and play by the rules, we hear, and you can lay claim to all that you have produced. It is the reason people risk death and imprisonment to set foot on American soil year after year. However, this magnificent legacy of freedom, justice, and achievement is under attack by Republican senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. At the behest of a powerful lobbying group called the Financial Services Roundtable, Sessions is pushing an amendment through the Senate that would set a terrifying precedent for the protection of intellectual property rights.

The amendment centers around a company called DataTreasury, the creators of a patented system of digitally scanning, sending, and archiving checks. DataTreasury’s technology is used by most of the major financial institutions in the United States. However, many of those banks are infringing on DataTreasury’s patent by using their technology without paying royalties to do so. And although the United States Patent and Trademark Office upheld the patent when it was challenged last summer, Sessions’ amendment would prevent DataTreasury from collecting the royalties it is owed. According to the Washington Post:

“The provision, passed without dissent by the Senate Judiciary Committee in July and inserted into legislation scheduled for a vote by the full Senate this month, is a rare attempt by Congress to intervene in ongoing litigation, congressional experts say.

Although the amendment would not invalidate DataTreasury’s patents, it would spare the banks from paying for infringing them should courts decide that’s warranted. If DataTreasury collected a royalty of just a couple pennies per check, the cost would run into billions of dollars.”

SRC: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/13/AR2008021303731_pf.html

Such an amendment would relegate DataTreasury’s patents to figureheads, stripping them of the rights our courts are sworn to protect. It all started when the Financial Services Roundtable mobilized their lobbying efforts, agitating for patent reform that would spare them from having to pay the royalties they owe. Of course, the lobbyists did not explicitly name this as their purpose. Instead, they cloaked their support for patent reform in the guise of “protecting banking institutions complying with post-9/11 security requirements from the abusive practices of patent trolling trial lawyers seeking personal enrichment, which ultimately will be paid for by checking account customers across America.” The amendment was approved by the committee within minutes and was given next to no attention by major media outlets.

The unvarnished truth, however, is that the financial industry is using its immense lobbying muscle and the entrenched culture of political corruption to avoid paying what it owes. Their concern is not bank customers, but the hit their own wallets would take. Tragically, it looks as though this amendment will pass and this horrifying degradation of property rights will become law. But how is this possible? How could such a travesty of justice take place in a nation founded on the rights to life, liberty, and property? The answer lies in the world of literature, in a work that has inspired millions of businessmen since its release.

In the watershed novel Atlas Shrugged, readers were introduced to Hank Rearden. A hardworking, self-made steel magnate who fought intransigently against tyrannical government invention in his affairs, Rearden symbolized a productive genius being exploited by lesser minds. Readers also meet Jim Taggart, the inept and corrupt railroad executive who operates by means of pull and government favors. At the behest of Taggart and his cronies, Rearden is brought to trial by the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. His crime: selling his own product without government permission. The events leading up to Rearden’s trial are frighteningly parallel to DataTreasury’s predicament.

In bringing Rearden to trial, Taggart and his hoodlums appeal to “the public good” and “the national welfare” as reasons to limit Rearden’s profits. The justifications given for the limiting of DataTreasury’s patent royalties are similar. “This is a glaring example of the abuse of the system,” said former congressman Steve Bartlett (R-Tex.), president of the Financial Services Roundtable. But the goal of Sessions and Bartlett (the “Jim Taggarts” of this case) is not the sanctity of patent law – it is the attempt to subvert justice by means of intellectual dishonesty and political favoritism.

The Financial Services Roundtable has accused DataTreasury of being a patent troll who bought up patents with the intent to shakedown the financial industry. But the truth is that DataTreasury is a real-life Hank Rearden. From the same article:

[DataTreasury founder] Ballard asserts that he developed the basic architecture for the system in the mid-1990s, and applied for patents in 1997 and ’98. He said he realized at the time that paper would one day be obsolete for financial transactions but that paper and electronic images would have to coexist for a while. His system helped make that possible, he said.

Like Rearden, Ballard put his time and energy into the creation of a valuable product – and, like Rearden, a pack of corrupt competitors is conspiring to ensure that he never receives his just rewards.

Heroically, Rearden defeats his enemies. In a courtroom of his peers, he exposes the poverty of his attackers and their empty claim to be fighting for a noble purpose. Can DataTreasury do the same? Only time will tell, but its best hope for victory is to assert its rightful claims as Rearden did: openly, proudly, and without guilt. Nothing less will expose the moral bankruptcy of Sessions and these modern-day Jim Taggarts – and nothing less will secure the glorious tradition of property rights for future generations.

“I shall answer all the questions you are afraid to ask me openly. Do I wish to pay my workers more than their services are worth to me? I do not. Do I wish to sell my product for less than my customers are willing to pay me? I do not. Do I wish to sell it at a loss or give it away? I do not. If this is evil, do whatever you please about me, according to whatever standards you hold. These are mine. I am earning my own living, as every honest man must. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact of my own existence and the fact that I must work in order to support it. I refuse to accept as guilt the fact that I am able to do it better than most people – the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability – I refuse to apologize for my success – I refuse to apologize for my money. If this is evil, make the most of it. If this is what the public finds harmful to its interests, let the public destroy me. This is my code – and I will accept no other.”

Eric Corl is the Founder and CEO of IdeaBuyer.com, the new technology and product marketplace where intellectual property is bought and licensed. You can email him at EricCorl@IdeaBuyer.com.

Kill Bad Ideas Quick

February 14th, 2008

Some inventors make the mistake of pouring years of their lives and thousands of dollars into bad ideas. Maybe their idea was ill-formed and nobody actually wants it. Maybe they wasted years pursuing an idea that actually will not work the way they originally thought it would. Whatever the case may be, the end result is lots of wasted time and energy on a dead idea. By this point you are probably thinking, “There must be a better way!” Fortunately, there is. It is a bold, decisive strategy that is best summed up as “Kill your ideas quick.” What does this mean, exactly?

Basically, you want to expose your idea to as much critical scrutiny as you can, as early as you can. In this article, we will discuss two main ways of doing that. The first and easiest way is to collect feedback about your idea. Ask people questions like, “Would you buy this? What need would this fill for you? Can you think of any reason why you would not want to buy it or use it? What about your friends? Do other products do what my idea is going to do, better? How so?” The more detailed feedback you get, the better. However, merely collecting this feedback is just the starting point. What you want to do is implement the feedback you get into your prototype or working model. Doing this as quickly as possible will help you determine whether your idea is a winner or a bust. As you force yourself to actually create it rather than endlessly theorize, you will discover whether it is too expensive or too big or too hard or impossible.

Of course, the best scenario would be if you know someone in your field that you trust and can ask for advice. They above all people will have a good sense of whether your idea is unrealistic or not. The feedback they provide will also be immensely valuable, especially if your idea doesn’t need to be killed.

Another way to kill your idea fast was pioneered by Internet advertising guru Perry Marshall. He advocates using the cheap, fast-response ad medium of Google AdWords to test public interest in your idea before diving headlong into pursuing it. Perry describes the nuts and bolts of his approach in his free e-course on Google AdWords:

“Let’s say you’ve got a product idea. The product itself costs $50,000 to develop, and you’re sure it’s a good idea because it solves a really thorny problem.

So here’s what you do: You write a report, e-book or white paper about how to solve that problem. You create an opt-in page where people can get your report in exchange for their contact information.

Then you buy keywords, send people to that page and see how many people you can get to opt in.

That alone will tell you something.

And if you absolutely cannot get anybody to opt-in to your report – or if you can’t find keywords that anyone is searching for – then that’s a good sign you should abandon the project before you throw any more money at it.”

SRC: http://www.perrymarshall.com/google/day4.htm

Perry’s point is that you can use an inexpensive testing medium to see if your idea is a winner. At the very least, you will be positioned to proceed on the basis of actual knowledge instead of wishful thinking. Perry continues:

“Not only will this process validate that you’re solving a worthwhile problem; it will also fine tune your efforts so that you’re dealing with the real problems that real people have!

It’s worth repeating: after testing your concept on Google AdWords, you’ll never throw good money at a lousy product idea. And when you need assistance or investment money, you’ll have proof that people are looking for what you have to sell.”

Perry’s method can be applied to virtually any invention relating to something that people would look for on a search engine. Best of all, it does not need to be expensive. If you can spare a few hundred dollars, you will get real-time market research from people who are actively looking for what you are making. What could be more valuable than that? And like Perry says: if no one likes your idea, it is probably a dud and at least you know for sure.

Whichever method you choose, killing your ideas quick is sound practice. It is also a bold step away from the “Inventor Baby” mentality who seeks to protect his idea from harsh contact with the real world and its desires. You will be facing reality as it actually is. You will not spin your wheels on ideas that are doomed to fail. And most importantly, this will free up your precious time and energy for more fruitful projects.

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.

How to Get The Right People Behind Your Invention

February 13th, 2008

All inventors have, at one time or another, pined for “the right people.” Be they investors, programmers, distributors, writers, architects, butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers, personnel is a crucial ingredient to the success of any invention. But getting the right people behind your invention is a road more easily mapped than traveled. In this article, we’ll walk you through finding and keeping the personnel you need to make your invention a hit. The task can essentially be divided into two categories: investors, and everybody else.

Investors (and how big a slice of future profits to give up for any personnel)

Some inventors are so desperate for investment capital or key personnel that they offer irrationally high percentages of future profits for those people to come aboard. In addition to advertising your desperation, this is a mistake for standard business reasons. John T. Reed, Harvard Business School graduate and real estate guru, explains why:

“At Harvard Business School, one of the lessons we learned was that one’s cost of capital was an indication of one’s competence as a businessperson. To put it briefly, if you are paying 50% interest or 50% of your profits to your silent partners, you are an incompetent businessman. Some successful investors would protest that was how they got their start. I don’t doubt it. I know some of them. But it was still a dumb move and the investors in question are lucky such terms did not blow up in their face and ruin their reputations before they got started.”

If you are a competent, accomplished person in your area of expertise, you should not be giving up half of your future profits for an investor to fund you. The same goes for other personnel you need. Unfortunately, many naïve or beginning inventors fall into this trap because they lack start-up capital or believe they must do whatever it takes to attract X person to their operation.

Instead, use a different approach. The best route is normally to forgo outside investors altogether and bootstrap your invention with savings or small loans from friends or relatives. However, if this cannot be done, you should approach investors after you have a proof-of-concept of your invention. If at all possible, you should try to get some cash flow going before seeking outside capital. Try to drum up some kind of sales or progress with whatever you have accomplished so far. The website AntiVentureCapital.com explains why this helps you to attract investors later:

Pretend for a moment that you are a venture capitalist or angel investor. Two founders visit you about separate deals. You ask them each what progress they have made in the 3 or 6 months that they have been working on their respective projects.

* One entrepreneur answers that he has been able to finish his business plan as well as find a means to generate cashflow which is being used to move the main project further along. Now he needs more money to fully capitalize on this developing opportunity.

* The other entrepreneur can only point to the “great” business plan he’s polished to perfection over the past 6 months and the “great” opportunity lying before him.

Which entrepreneur would you be more impressed by if you were the investor?

This demonstrates that you have something tangible. It also lets you keep your dignity when negotiating terms rather than begging them to accept half of your future profits.

Professionals with special skill sets

Of course, inventors don’t just need money to get their invention off the ground. They also need people with certain special skills to create the invention in the first place. So how do you bring such people into the fold?

The most common response is to promise the personnel in question a share of future profits. While this is acceptable practice (as long as it is not an egregiously high amount as discussed earlier), it is not the most effective way, either. The most effective way to get the right people behind your invention is to pay them to help you.

Not the answer you were looking for? Well, look at it from a realistic standpoint. Pretend that you are an experienced professional with a valuable skill. (If you are inventing things, you probably are such a person.) Now pretend that someone you don’t know is asking you to work on a project you’ve never heard of. That by itself is probably enough to make you a little uncertain. But then, to top it all off, they ask you to work for free, with no base pay, on the hopes that it someday pays off and you can collect when it does. At this point, your well-honed skepticism should kick in and dissuade you from doing the deal. Your time is simply too valuable.

However, imagine a different scenario. The inventor explains his idea to you in a way that sounds persuasive and enticing, and also offers to pay you! It might not be a huge amount, or even what you could get at a salaried job someplace else. But the sheer fact that you will be compensated for your labor will, naturally, make you more confident about the project and being a part of it. When a person sees someone put his own sweat, blood, and tears into something, it just feels easier to trust them.

Therefore, you should either save some money or use a small loan from friends or family to pay the personnel you want. Of course, you can still sweeten the deal by promising them future equity in addition to their base.

When you have some money saved up, it is time to place ads for the personnel you need. The industry you are in will dictate exactly how to go about doing this. If you are creating a new kind of garden hose, for example, you might want to advertise for engineers in a lawn and garden trade journal or magazine. You might try help-wanted ads in the paper, or even Internet resources like Craigslist.com

The idea is to offer something of tangible value to the people you want. This will go a long way toward getting the right people behind your invention.

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.

Why Paranoid Inventors Fail

February 13th, 2008

Paranoid InventorEvery inventor knows that it’s a mistake to go around bragging about your idea to everyone who will listen. Careless mistakes should obviously be avoided. However, there is another kind of inventor who commits just the opposite mistake, and suffers the same failure. That mistake is paranoia. It is an irrational, unfounded fear of everyone in his field that causes the inventor to clam up and wall everyone off. An excellent article called “Inventor Paranoia” profiles the problem as such:

Many beginning inventors are obsessed with secrecy. They’re convinced their latest invention is their “best” — and that anyone who hears of it will certainly “steal” it. They then become so obsessed with “protecting” their invention as to virtually guarantee that they’ll never see a dime from it.

Hey, guys, you can’t “protect” an invention. You can seek to acquire certain intellectual property rights in the invention. e.g., with a patent. And if your solution to the problem is truly superior, and if it’s commercially viable, and if the rights you acquire are sufficiently “strong”, i.e., your intellectual property covers ALL economical ways of providing the intended user benefit — you MAY be able to sell or license those rights.

However, even if you do everything ‘right’ — by the book — there’s no guarantee you won’t get ripped off. If someone chooses to copy your invention — without acknowledging your rights — all you can do is sue them. And a typical infringement suit starts in the range of a quarter million dollars.

SRC: http://www.tenonline.org/art/9405.html

If this is the case, why are there any paranoid inventors? And what is so disastrous about being a paranoid inventor? To answer those questions, we must first understand what drives this paranoia in the first place.

Nine times out of ten, an overly paranoid inventor places an enormous value on “ideas.” Not even just on his particular idea, but on ideas as such. In his or her mind, the quality of an idea is the sole determinant of whether an invention succeeds or fails. Consequently, inventors who believe this are extremely overprotective of any ideas they might have. They view the entire professional community as potential adversaries who, if they happened to discover the idea, would immediately drop what they were doing to pursue it. While this can indeed happen, it is far from likely. The truth is that ideas in and of themselves are not nearly as important as execution and the personnel behind them. However, many naïve inventors continue to think that ideas are sacred assets to be jealously guarded against intruders.

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Graham clears up this misbegotten notion in his article “Ideas for Startups”

“They overvalue ideas. They think creating a startup is just a matter of implementing some fabulous initial idea. And since a successful startup is worth millions of dollars, a good idea is therefore a million dollar idea.

If coming up with an idea for a startup equals coming up with a million dollar idea, then of course it’s going to seem hard. Too hard to bother trying. Our instincts tell us something so valuable would not be just lying around for anyone to discover.


Actually, startup ideas are not million dollar ideas, and here’s an experiment you can try to prove it: just try to sell one. Nothing evolves faster than markets. The fact that there’s no market for startup ideas suggests there’s no demand. Which means, in the narrow sense of the word, that startup ideas are worthless.”

SRC: http://paulgraham.com/ideas.html

Invention ideas are somewhat different than ideas for startups, but the basic truth holds. If you never network with anyone or get your plans off the ground for fear of “your idea” being stolen, you are damning yourself to failure. You will turn away valuable networking opportunities. You will make it impossible to find the technical talent you need to create the invention. You might even turn down funding or buyout offers that would get your product to market faster or let you capitalize on all of your hard efforts. Clearly, this is not a smart or rational approach to inventing. So what is the solution?

The key is to abandon the fetish with protecting your idea. Instead, take reasonable steps to protect yourself and trust that you are smart and competent enough to get it to market. You cannot hire a database programmer, for example, if your refuse to tell him what his job is or what he’s doing. Therefore, you should have him sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement stating that anything you tell him is legally confidential. This gives you recourse against him if he spills your secrets, and more importantly, it gets you started in the invention process rather than stuck in analysis paralysis about what happens if someone steals your idea.

Risk is a part of invention because it is a part of life. The best you can do is take responsible actions to guard against worst-case scenarios and focus on getting to market as quickly as possible. Do not let paranoia prevent you from taking bold steps to succeed.

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.

Getting Endorsements for Your Invention

February 13th, 2008

When it comes to establishing your credibility and value, few things are more effective than endorsements. An endorsement puts a trusted and well-known figure behind your invention. It says to potential customers, in effect, “I wouldn’t stake my reputation on this invention unless it performed like its creator says it does.” This is an enormous help in the task of establishing your invention as something worth buying. But how do you go about getting endorsements for your invention?

Well, there are basically two types of endorsements you can get for your invention: endorsements from respected people in your field, or endorsements from celebrities. We will examine each type separately.

Endorsements from those in your field

Getting a respected authority in your field to endorse your invention is an excellent way to build credibility. Fortunately, getting one is a bit easier than getting celebrity endorsements. There are a few ways to go about it. One way is to contact the person you are seeking an endorsement from and simply ask for one. Tell him or her that you are willing to send them one of your widgets and that you would appreciate a few positive sentences to use in your promotional materials. Nine times out of ten, the person you ask this of will be happy to help. Just be respectful of their time and be sure to thank them if they do help you.

If you are not sure how to strike up a conversation with this person, try flattery! After all, if you are in the same field as this person, you should have some common ground right there. If they have a great product on the market, tell them how big a fan you are, how you use it yourself, how you have recommended it to others. This builds some good will between you and establishes a basis for continued conversation. Once this has been done, feel free to come right out with something like “Hey, so speaking of kitchen widgets, I just invented a really neat new so-and-so and I was wondering if I could send you one to check out and possibly review for me. A testimonial from someone as accomplished as you could really help.”

Where do you find professionals in your field? Typically, trade journals, conferences, or periodicals are the best source for this information. Anyone who publishes papers or is generally considered an authority in a field will probably be in these publications. You can also ask your colleagues if they know anyone of importance.

Endorsements from celebrities

Now, a word of caution: A-List celebrities like Angelina Jolie probably won’t be singing your invention’s praises anytime soon. However, that does not rule out local celebrities! An excellent article on Helium.com gives some practical tips on how to find them:

“Try local celebrities. Many local radio personalities are not only expected, but contractually required to advertise for a certain number of sponsors. Contact your local radio stations, and you’ve got your celebrities. Local acting schools and modeling agencies are filed with eager students, always needing a few shots and spots to boost their portfolio.

If you do want to spend the bigger bucks, subscribe to the professional version of the Internet Movie Database and gain access to actor’s agencies. While you may not net or afford any A-Listers, there are plenty of more obscure actors who would consider giving an endorsement.”

Of course, it helps if your invention is in some way related to what the celebrity is known for. For example, it would not make very much sense to ask a radio DJ to pipe up your latest suite of computer programming tools. But if you just invented a new kind of stereo speaker or sports widget, a radio DJ would be a perfect fit. Seek out celebrities that have something in common with your field, and you will drastically increase your odds of scoring that killer endorsement.

We live in a celebrity obsessed world, so it certainly makes sense to try and get one to endorse your invention. However, it may be far more effective to go the first route: getting one from a credible authority in your field. These are people who your customers already know and trust. You can only benefit from capitalizing on their good will. Additionally, some celebrities are very polarizing. Half of your customers might love someone while the other half despises them. It would be a shame to alienate potential customers over something trivial like that. Therefore, you should take care to only seek out neutral celebrities that don’t engender a whole lot of controversy.

If you are diligent and selective in the process of seeking endorsements, you will almost certainly secure one. It is simply a matter of getting out there and making the necessary phone calls.


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.

Five Key Networking Tips for Inventors

February 13th, 2008

While the swift cut-and-parry of creation is the heart of an inventor’s life, there is another important component – networking. Let’s face it; no matter how great your invention may be, you can always benefit from talented professionals in your field that might be willing to lend a hand. Maybe it’s that database programmer you’ve been scouring the earth for, or that distributor you need to get your product on store shelves, or a patent attorney to make sure your intellectual property is protected. Whatever the case may be, there are steps you can take to put yourself in the path of networking success. In this article, we will examine five of the most helpful. By applying these tips to your day-to-day efforts, you will increase your odds of meeting the people you need to move your invention forward.

1) Have a clean, approachable website.

The benefit of having a simple website to send people to cannot be stressed enough. Let’s say you are at a party or industry conference. Suddenly, you meet a new colleague and the two of you get to talking about your respective projects and goals. As the conversation comes to a close, the colleague asks you, “So, how can I stay abreast of what you’re up to, how can we keep in touch?” If you are networking-savvy inventor, you will reply, “Oh, no problem! My website is www.JohnDokes.com, it has all my contact information and what I’m working on. Check up on me there from time to time!”

This is extremely simple to do. Your website does not have to be flashy or fancy; a clean, black text on white background HTML layout will do just fine. As mentioned, your website should include your name, profession, hobbies, and areas of expertise, achievements, and maybe a periodical blurb about what things of importance you are working on at the time.

2) Print business cards and carry them at all times.

But what happens when you meet someone on the fly? There isn’t always time to scribble down web URLs or phone numbers, and lack of preparedness could kill an otherwise great networking contact. Fortunately, this does not have to befall you. The solution is a timeless standby of professionals everywhere: business cards! Simply visit your local Kinkos and print up 200 standard business cards with your name, e-mail address, mobile phone, and anything else you deem relevant. Then, make a point of carrying 5-10 of them in your wallet with you at all times. With business cards in tow, you will be able to capitalize on networking opportunities wherever you happen to be – on vacation, at restaurants or coffee shops, even in the grocery store. You truly never know when you will meet someone important.

3) Consider a separate phone line or wireless phone for professional purposes.

While not an absolute necessity, you need to consider how a potential contact or partner might perceive you. If they call your house line and hear lots of family commotion in the background, it might send the message that you are ill-prepared to take on a serious venture of any kind. Whether this is reasonable to infer or not, perception is reality for many people. Therefore, it might make sense to get a separate landline or wireless phone for your professional needs. You would then print this number on your website and business cards instead of your house phone. A wireless phone is best because you can carry it with you and never miss an important call. In addition to upholding your professionalism, doing this also helps you delineate between different areas of your life.

4) Follow leads wherever they may appear.

Anyone who has been in business for long knows that leads and opportunities can crop up almost anywhere, at any time. It is not uncommon for new business partners to meet on vacation, over dinner and drinks, or while playing golf at a country club. Therefore, you should keep this in the back of your mind and be ready to pounce on new opportunities as they arise. If you are out on the green with someone and you get to talking about your professions, there is no shame in “testing the waters” and seeing if he is interested in new projects. Do not assume that just because you aren’t in a business setting, you cannot pursue business leads. Truly successful inventors are creative and resourceful.

5) Use the direct approach whenever possible and appropriate.

Many people take a passive approach to life. Instead of acting to bring about some outcome, they simply hope it comes to be through osmosis. When it comes to networking, this attitude is a death sentence. If you want to meet the best people and bring them into the fold, you need to proactively seek them out. Let’s say you are in desperate need of a graphic designer, for instance. Throw up an ad on Rent-A-Coder that says you’re looking for one! Better yet, ask around your circle of friends and contacts to see if they know anyone with the skills you need. This is how networking happens. Of course, you should seek to establish some kind of relationship with a person before you just mine them for contacts. You wouldn’t want to bombard someone you just met. But by all means: once you are on good terms with someone, feel free to ask them who they know.

Apply these tips to your inventing and you will soon find that networking is not so difficult and it can make the difference between a successful invention and a failed one.

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.

Butanol: The Gasoline of the Future?

February 8th, 2008

Ethanol, the long-time front-runner among gasoline alternatives, might have to step aside for a new technology from British energy company BP. As early as this spring, gasoline stations in Britain could begin offering butanol, an easily transportable and more energy-efficient substitute to ethanol. It will be distributed as part of a trial period that will determine public response to the new fuel and its marketability.

The process by which butanol is created is very similar to that of ethanol. “[It] is a type of alcohol that’s made by fermenting sugars with microbes, such as bacteria or yeast,” said Popular Science magazine. “Most ethanol is produced from corn, wheat and sugarcane.” It’s important to note the similarities between the two, but the differences are what make butanol a more plausible fuel alternative.

Butanol is a more viable energy source than ethanol in part because of its superior energy density. Philip New, president of BP Biofuels, explains that ethanol only provides about two-thirds the energy density of gasoline compared to the upper 80 percent that butanol provides. This means that one gallon of butanol will provide only 10-15 percent less energy than one gallon of gasoline – a huge achievement in a world that isn’t quick to sacrifice performance for a cleaner environment.

Another considerable benefit is the easy storage of butanol. “It isn’t as corrosive [as ethanol], so we don’t have issues with it at higher concentrations beginning to eat at aluminum or polymer components in fuel systems and dispensing systems,” New said. The inability to store a volatile substance could easily affect its practicality as a gasoline replacement.

Additionally, butanol can be transported using existing gasoline pipes. Water gets in pipes with any fuel system; gasoline and butanol allow the water to settle out of the bottom. Ethanol, however, mixes with the water, causing potential problems with the integrity of the final product. New said the big problem, though, is that if the same fuel line used to transport ethanol is then used for aviation fuel, there is the potential of water contamination of the aviation fuel, which could be a very serious problem.

Although butanol has many advantages over the more commonly known ethanol, it is not flawless. According to Popular Science, butanol is far less-efficient to make than ethanol largely because it is more toxic to the microbes that ferment it. Because of this, every bushel of corn produces less than two percent butanol in comparison to 12 percent ethanol.

This variation in the amount of fuel yielded is bringing the affordability of butanol into question. The less butanol extracted from a particular feedstock, the more resources required to produce a certain quantity of butanol. Technology Review said ethanol relies heavily on government subsidies and questions the affordability of butanol if they do not receive any. In response, New said he is unsure if butanol will need subsidies from the government. He thinks that it is important, however, to change the way subsidies are offered. “A transition away from subsidizing biofuels on the basis of volume towards subsidizing on the basis of energy content would represent a level playing field,” he said. “By subsidizing volume, you’re effectively supporting less-energy-efficient alternatives.” It is a valid point considering the high energy efficiency of butanol as compared to ethanol.

Steps, however, are being taken to improve butanol’s fermentation yields. BP has enlisted the help of chemical company DuPont to help engineer microbes that can better sustain themselves in the fermentation process. According to Popular Science, “John Ranieri, head of biofuels development for DuPont, [said] this will drastically improve butanol’s yield, clearing the way for what is potentially a much more useful fuel.”

Though the primary, short-term goal of butanol use is providing alternative fuel to the automotive industry, it is not limited to that. Boeing has teamed up with Virgin Green Fund, a sub-brand of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group conglomerate, to explore the use of alternative fuels, including butanol blends, in aviation, said Popular Science. With increased efficiency through the work of DuPont, there are better chances that butanol use in aviation could become a reality.

Butanol and ethanol both have significant potential as permanent alternatives to gasoline. Although ethanol has provided an excellent renewable source of energy, butanol promises to be a much more reasonable substitute. Its superiority in energy output far outweighs its issues with low yields from feedstock. Further, the collaboration between BP and DuPont will undoubtedly minimize its production problems. With improved efficiency, butanol might become an important player in the future of biofuel.

John Gerbich is the Staff Writer for IdeaBuyer.com, a marketplace for new technology and products that allows inventors to showcase their intellectual property to consumer product companies, entrepreneurs, retailers, and manufacturers. Visit the site by clicking here > Patents for Sale.