There are some fundamental rules for innovating that will see you make the right decisions on what ideas to develop, how to develop them and who to do business with.
Rule 1 – Appreciate the Situation
As inventors, you are naturally enthusiastic about your ideas and are the best person to promote them. You know more about your idea than anybody else and what you need to turn it from an idea into a reality, whether that is investment, services or resources. However, too many inventors only think about their own needs and do not consider the needs of their project partners and customers. They think that everybody will appreciate their invention and want to work with them and that they keep all the profit. Unless you can fund the protection, development and sales and marketing yourself, you will have to relinquish a stake in your idea for the money or services that you need and convince investors, designers and manufacturers about how they benefit from working with you and your idea.
What do investors want to know?
How much money can they make?
What is the potential market?
What share of the market will your idea take and why?
What investment is needed and what equity do they get in exchange?
How long will it take before they start making money?
What do manufacturers want to know?
How much potential business will they do?
What is the market?
What is the projected retail price?
Will the manufacturing be frequent / done in batches?
What do your potential customers want to know?
How will they benefit?
Why is the product better for them?
How much will it cost them?
Rule 2 – Give Yourself the Best Opportunity
There is no point wasting your time and money on developing ideas where there is no market, the idea already exists or there is no demand for your idea. The Smart Idea Store website provides you with the resources and contacts to quickly ascertain whether your idea meets a need, is commercially viable and that it is novel and protectable. Using these resources can save you wasting time and money developing an idea that is destined to fail. It is very easy to criticise other people’s ideas; how many of us have watched programmes like the Dragon’s Den and happily picked holes in the technology or the business plan and sales forecasts of the people seeking investment. It is always easy to find the limitation in other people’s ideas but not so easy to critically evaluate our own ideas.
Other people, whether they are investors, project partners or customers, will critically evaluate your ideas or products and make a decision on whether to invest in you, work with you or buy your product. Therefore it is better that you make the decision at an early stage, following your personal critical evaluation of the idea, that the idea needs improvement or should be rejected, rather than spending your time and money developing it only to be told by others that it doesn’t meet their needs or already exists. Spending time at the beginning to find lucrative opportunities and assessing how your idea compares to the competition will give your idea the best opportunity.
Rule 3 – Play Your Own Game
The best place to start is with your own experience, whether that is your work or your personal life, where you know the problem and understand what is required from a solution. Laszlo Biro, a journalist in Hungary, invented the Biro pen to overcome the problems of the fountain pen, which often ran out of ink, refilling the cartridge was time consuming and the ink would often smudge on the page or leak onto your clothes. Erik Rotheim, a keen skier, came up with the aerosol as a way of quickly applying an even coat of wax to his skis. They went on to be used for deodorant, hairspray, air fresheners, etc. Martin Cooper, an inventor at Motorola, took the idea of a car phone and turned it into a portable phone so that you could be contacted anywhere and never miss a call and came up with the first mobile phone. Businessman Franz San Galli lived in St. Petersburg in the middle of the 19th century where there is a daily mean temperature of -6°C in winter. He revolutionised our households by inventing the radiator and central heating system that went on to be a standard in houses around the world.
Rule 4 – Take the Right Risks
The only guarantee Smart Idea Store can give you on successfully commercialising your idea is that if you don’t take any risk you are guaranteed to fail. Even the most successful inventors have experienced failure but there was sufficient potential in their original idea for them to have the faith to develop and take the risk. Adolf Fick invented the contact lens in 1888 but it wasn’t until the 1960s that PMMA contact lenses gained mass appeal. John Gabel patented and manufactured the first multi-disc jukebox in 1906, an automatic music machine with 24 selections, but it was not until after the Great Depression in the 1930s that sales of jukeboxes took off with tens of thousands of bars and clubs installing jukeboxes and the US armed forces installing jukeboxes in their service clubs in the US and overseas during World War II. There was a demand and a market for both of these ideas and the fact that later iterations of both technologies proved hugely successful proved that it was correct to take the risk. Interestingly, Adolf Fick knew the market for his contact lenses; essentially those wearing glasses. However, John Gabel could not have predicted how external factors such as the end of prohibition, war and the impact of rock and roll would have on the market for the Jukebox.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
When you have identified a good opportunity with a good market and a good chance to protect your idea, then you need to determine the risk. Feedback from potential customers will help estimate the potential demand and technical and commercial experts will give their opinion on whether it can be made, if it can be cost-effectively manufactured and any regulatory or commercial consideration that will affect your personal and financial risk or your personal or financial benefit.
Rule 5 – Choose the Right Project Partners
Choosing the right people to work with on developing your idea may be the difference between success and failure. When you watch programmes like Dragon’s Den, inventors and entrepreneurs often give away a larger stake in their idea or company to ensure the investment of a particular Dragon as they have the reputation and contacts that they want to make the most of the opportunity.
Invention is notoriously fickle and there is a history of branding who is behind the invention, with the likes of James Dyson promoting his vacuum cleaner and airblade, to reassure customers about the ingenuity and drive of the people behind the technology. Inspiring partnerships, such as George Forman promoting the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, were hugely successful because of the association with Foreman’s healthy lifestyle which helped Foreman regain the heavyweight world championship. Famous funders include JP Morgan and the Vanderbilt family who provided Edison with the capital to develop the light bulb and the power stations needed to provide power to the light bulbs and other electrical appliances installed in our homes and offices.
The partnership between inventor James Watt and manufacturer and businessman Matthew Boulton resulted in Watt turning his patent into a commercially viable steam engine. Alexander Graham Bell did not have the capabilities to make a model of his idea and it took a chance meeting with Thomas Watson, an experienced electrical engineer and mechanic to form a partnership that led to the invention of the telephone and the often quoted first spoken words “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you.” Choosing the right partners can give you the finance, skills or insight that could turn your ideas into reality.
Spending time to research and choose the correct partners can make the difference between success and failure. Previously, the attitude towards inventors has been that they have been lucky to be offered any deals and they should be happy with what they can get. It has been traditionally difficult to attract attention to your idea or your prototype and many inventors lose faith after receiving one too many knock backs. However, Smart Idea Store believes that your ideas need to be seen by as many potential project partners as possible to give it as many chances as possible to ensure that you either get the best deal or that you get sufficient feedback to determine there is no market for your idea or that it doesn’t meet the needs of your potential customers. This will, at least, save you time and money and, at best, fund and develop your idea into a marketed commercial product.
Rule 6 – Be Flexible
If you have taken the time to identify the services and resources that you require at each stage to turn your idea into a sellable product, you will have preconceived conceptions about how it looks, what it is made from and who it is benefitting. When you meet potential project partners to discuss markets, protection, design, materials, etc. you should have prepared to present them with the information that they need to make a decision about whether they want to go into business with you. However, if you have chosen the correct project partners, they will be experienced in their field and be able to give you invaluable advice that could open up new applications for your idea, reduce the manufacturing cost, improve the effectiveness of your device, etc. Be open and remember that there is scope at every stage of your development plan to make changes that will improve your chances of success. Most people are happy to help you and will give guidance and suggestions on how you could expand the claims and applications of your patent, give you a commercial edge through design, material or cost or suggest additional potential markets that could benefit from your technology.
Rule 7 – Appreciate Rejection and Failure
Negative comments are inevitable and even the best ideas have been openly mocked. Alexander Graham Bell developed and patented the telephone through funding from his business partners, Thomas Sanders and Gardiner Greene Hubbard. Hubbard approached William Orton of Western Union Telegraph Company, one of the richest and most powerful companies in America, to offer Western Union the patents for the telephone. All the company had to do was hook telephones up to its existing lines and it would have had the world’s first nationwide telephone network in a matter of months. Instead of writing back to Hubbard, Orton decided he needed to write back to Bell, as the inventor, to tell him “We have come to the conclusion that it has no commercial possibilities… what use could this company make of an electrical toy?” William Orton, President of Western Union, in 1876 Bell went on to form AT&T which quickly became the largest company in history and made Bell’s patent the single most valuable patent in history.
Another inventor who appreciated failure was Norm Larsen, who took 40 attempts to develop a spray that repelled water and prevented corrosion on missiles, and called his invention WD-40. It proved to be just as good in other commercial and domestic applications such as automotive, manufacturing, sporting goods, aviation, hardware and home improvement, construction, and farming resulting in the manufacturer changing their name from the Rocket Chemical Company to WD-40 Company.
Rule 8 – Ask Questions
Getting time with potential customers and project partners is valuable and should not be wasted. Spend time considering what you want to find out from the person you are meeting and prepare questions that need answers. Your questions should stimulate a conversation and allow the person you are meeting to provide you with opinion and advice. It is a great opportunity to ask questions and find out why they have come to their opinion and what you can do to make your idea or prototype the best it can be and consider the requirements of your customer and business partners so that everybody gets what they need from the development process.
Rule 9 – Gain Respect
If you put the previous rules into effect, you will gain respect from your potential customers and project partners by providing them with the information they need to evaluate your idea and being interested in their opinion and feedback. This will go a long way to establishing you as serious and professional and will improve your chances of a follow-up meeting on your current idea, a meeting for your next idea or a personal introduction to other project partners who they think would be interested in your idea.
Rule 10 – Show Perseverance not Delusion
When you get sufficient constructive encouragement, show perseverance at overcoming the identified limitations and taking account of comments and feedback to give the customers and project partners what they want. They will respect that you have taken account of the necessary modifications to your idea to make it more user friendly, beneficial, cost-effective, etc. If you are continually advised to stop your efforts, you will not get customers or project partners to change their mind on your current idea and it may sour them on any of your future inventions if you push too hard to interest them in your current project when they have already rejected it. Try and find other customers and project partners who are interested in working with you but remember, it is easy to find people who will give you their time, resources and services in exchange for your money but much harder to find people who will give you their money, time, resource or service because they believe in your idea. Try and have notes of interest from companies for later stages such as distributing, licensing or manufacture to reassure investors and designers that there is a real potential in your idea and that it has already attracted attention.
Smart Idea Store
August 23, 2012