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A revised and expanded new edition of the classic guide for inventors
When this comprehensive resource for inventors was first published, bringing a new product to market was costly, time-consuming, and very risky. But today, new technologies including the Internet have drastically changed the world of inventing. In the past, inventors had to handle production, manufacturing, packaging, and distribution by themselves. Today, large companies are constantly looking for new ...
A revised and expanded new edition of the classic guide for inventors
When this comprehensive resource for inventors was first published, bringing a new product to market was costly, time-consuming, and very risky. But today, new technologies including the Internet have drastically changed the world of inventing. In the past, inventors had to handle production, manufacturing, packaging, and distribution by themselves. Today, large companies are constantly looking for new inventions to license, and new technology makes it easier than ever for inventors to outsource what they can't handle themselves.
A leading expert on invention and innovation, author Don Debelak has brought this one-of-a-kind inventor's guide fully up to date. This new edition is packed with trustworthy, proven advice on product design, manufacturing, patenting, licensing, distribution, financing, and more. Plus, the latest innovative strategies in funding, outsourcing, and Internet marketing make this the most complete and up-to-the-minute guide available for inventors like you. Inside, you'll learn how to:
* Recognize a valuable, moneymaking idea
* Determine if your product is market-ready
* Create a custom, step-by-step product-to-market strategy
* Adjust your strategy for changing market conditions
* Find financial help from investors and partners
* Use turbo-outsourcing to bring your product to market in a year or less
* Find a manufacturer to cover up-front development costs
With more funding, licensing, and outsourcing options available, it's easier and cheaper than ever to get your product on the shelves. So why wait? Whether you're an experienced inventor who wants to sell more of your creations, or just someone with a million-dollar idea, this is your guide to financial success. Don Debelak's expert advice and timeless wisdom have already helped thousands of people turn their inventions into cash. Don't miss the boat!
There are three types of inventions. The first is what I call technology-enhanced ideas, which are inventions that use current technology to improve existing products. For example, engineer Lonnie Johnson created the Super Soaker, those superpopular high-powered squirt guns, by borrowing industrial pumping technology to build air pressure and develop more thrust in a squirt gun. The second category, technology-created products, arises when a newly discovered technology leads to the development of entirely new products-such as Segway Human Transporters (those balancing two-wheel scooters by Dean Kamen), microwave ovens, and weed whackers. The first two categories are dominated by inventors with a technology background, typically not the everyday person. The third and by far the largest, category-end-user-dominated inventions-are new product ideas geared toward satisfying the people using the product. I've found that end-user-dominated inventions represent more than 80 percent, and probably more than 90 percent, of the inventions from individuals. Inventors find ideas in their everyday lives, work, or hobbies. The inventions might meet a functional need in the everyday world, like the Java Jacket, which provides extra insulation for paper coffee cups so people don't burn theirfingers; they might come from employees assisting their employers, such as a portable in-flight entertainment system that cuts the cost of in-flight entertainment by $1 million per plane; or they might jump-start people into scrapbooking, like the Scrapbook Genie, which offers almost 30 easy-to-use scrapbook templates. People come up with these kinds of ideas all the time.
I know that most readers already have an idea in mind. You'll be in great shape if your idea scores well in this chapter's product evaluation. Even if your product doesn't score well, don't worry; you will probably create another idea with high potential. You learn in this chapter not only to look in your life for new products ideas but also to follow a scorecard for success that helps you recognize which ideas have a chance to succeed. This chapter covers how to:
Generate a great idea: Discover "hot" product ideas in your daily life.
Search for winning characteristics: Use a new product scorecard to forecast success.
Perform quick and easy market research: Employ tactics that generate quick feedback.
Know whether your product will make money: Determine perceived value versus manufacturing cost.
* * *
Work Irritant Leads to Success
Dan Tribastone was a registered nurse in an orthopedic operating room. Orthopedic surgery requires that the area undergoing surgery be constantly bathed in water. A typical orthopedic surgery requires 75 to 100 liters (20 to 25 gallons) of water per patient. Before Tribastone created the Omni-Jug, disposing of this water was a major problem for the nurses, since they had to use 25 to 35 waste canisters during each procedure. Nurses had to make 150 to 200 new connections to the canisters during every operation. At first Tribastone simply recommended that the hospital purchase larger containers, but a search of available products didn't turn up any containers designed with the proper connections for orthopedic surgery. A major problem for nurses represented major opportunities for an inventor, and Tribastone was poised to cash in.
He failed in his early attempts to find a larger container to modify. The containers all collapsed with the required vacuum pressure, but in time he was able to find a larger, 3.5-gallon container that could withstand the pressure. After adding a couple of ports for input and evacuation, Tribastone introduced the Omni-Jug, which has since had annual sales of more than $5 million per year. Two keys in Tribastone's success were (1) he knew exactly what the product had to do because he used the products himself every day; and (2) he was able to establish quick rapport with his target audience early in his sales effort because he worked in the same environment as they did.
GENERATE A GREAT IDEA: DISCOVER "HOT" PRODUCT IDEAS IN YOUR DAILY LIFE
Everyday inventors glean ideas from everyday life. The best ideas improve product performance, meet a critical customer need, or simply have widespread appeal because of the product's status or technology. Often these ideas are right in front of you, but you have to exercise some creative thinking to identify them. I frequently teach invention classes, and to demonstrate how frequently we overlook the obvious I ask how many people are satisfied with the hot water systems in their shower. Most people raise their hand. When I ask what they do before they get into a shower, people typically respond that they stick a hand in the shower to make sure the water is the right temperature. My next question is, why would people do that? People look at me and reply that they don't want to get burned. Then I ask how the water company knows not to charge you for the water wasted before you hop into the shower. People respond, logically, that the water company simply charges you for all the water. By the time I'm finished, people are starting to wonder about their hot water system. Perhaps it isn't nearly as efficient as they first thought. Some inventors have tried to produce a means for instant hot water in the bathroom, but at $300 to $500 a pop, the solution is too expensive. Someday an inventor will discover an economical solution. The point is that everyone's lives have at least a few problems waiting for solutions. Those problems are all opportunities for the inventors who notice them.
Potential ideas are everywhere, but learning to see them requires a perceptive outlook. You can start by using four criteria to determine where to look for a potentially winning idea:
1. What is important to you? At home, important items might be things you use frequently; accessories to your passions, hobbies, or collections; or something your children or your pets need. The Swiffer, a mop with a throwaway dust-accumulating cover, is a good example of a frequently used product. People clean their floors all the time, and they were ready for an easier-to-use product. At work, an important item would be something that produces more profits or better products for your employer. William Boyer, an employee of Alaska Airlines, knew how expensive inflight entertainment systems were so he created the digEplayer, a much cheaper in-flight personal entertainment player.
2. What annoys you? Too-hot coffee cups at the 7-Eleven were the inspiration for the Java Jacket from Jay Sorenson. Mountain bikers Frank Hermansen and Carl Winefordner thought it was too difficult to change a bike tire and came up with a 10-second tire-changing tool for bikes.
3. What would be nice? Someone in the late 1990s decided a mulching lawn mower would be nice, and today they are the dominant type of lawn mowers. Brian Glover and Francisco Guerra thought it was dangerous for women to accept drinks in public settings due to the availability of date-rape drugs in today's bar scene, so they created a coaster with test circles that would activate a warning from even one drop of a drink that had been tampered with. Bryon and Melody Swetland thought glow-in-the-dark bubbles would be great fun for students and young adults, and they responded by creating Tekno Bubbles. The same opportunities apply at work. Patrick McNaughton, who worked in a restaurant, thought it would be nice to write dinner specials on a board that people could read in the dark. So he came up with fluorescent chalk that would glow under neon lighting.
4. What would finish a job more quickly or easily? People buy one product to provide a total solution to whatever they are trying to accomplish. Look for products that need other products to finish a job. The Scrubber, a dishwashing tool with a handle that drips dishwashing soap into a scrub brush is a good example. It eliminates the need to add soap to your brush each time you do dishes. Brad Young was a diehard outdoor enthusiast who liked music. Rather than struggle to comfortably use his headphones with a hat, he came up with the HeadBANdZ, a headband with built-in headphones.
Now you need to start using these four tactics to come up with ideas for inventions. Your goal is to list ideas that you want to explore, not necessarily whether you've discovered a potential product winner. Don't worry now about how to make the invention, how to get a patent, or how to build a prototype. Your first step is simply to make a list of two to five, maybe more, ideas for which there is potentially enough end-user demand to justify moving ahead.
SEARCH FOR WINNING CHARACTERISTICS: USE A NEW PRODUCT SCORECARD TO FORECAST SUCCESS
Your first evaluation determines whether the product is perceived to be unique, with obvious and important benefits, and whether the product will have the right distribution channels. Use the product scorecard (see Figure 1.1) to rate your product on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being very true and 5 being not true. Your product should rate a 1 or 2 for at least half the responses. Explanations for each item follow the scorecard.
1. The product has the "wow" factor. When you have a product that does great things or meets important needs it will resonate with people. Later in the chapter I explain how to test the product idea with more people, but here's the first question: When you first thought of the idea, did your eyes open wide and did you say, "Yes, this is it. I've got a great idea."
2. People agree with your premise. Many times you have a premise, or a reason for your idea. Brad Young's premise for his Head-BANdZ was that it is annoying to deal with both a hat or headband and headphones during outdoor fall and winter activities. For the Swetlands and their Tekno Bubbles, the premise was that people love to buy gimmicks to liven up a party.
3. The product offers a total solution. Cutting the number of products required for an activity from three to two isn't all that impressive in the market, but you hit pay dirt when you cut the products needed to just one. Consider Christmas tree lights. When people string lights across the eaves of their house or in front-yard trees they are forced to deal with lots of extension cords. One solution has been to have a cord with an eight- or ten-cord receptacle box on the end. That reduces the difficulty in connecting the cords, but you still need many extension cords. Kevin O'Rourke created a total solution with the ElectraTrac, an extension cord that has a plug-in every eight feet. Within two years his product sales exceeded $3 million during the Christmas season. The ElectraTrac is a total solution because customers need only one cord.
4. The invention targets people with passion. Everyone is passionate about something, and you want people you are targeting to be passionate about your type of product. When people care about a product they evaluate it closely, read magazines, attend trade shows, and are generally easy to contact. They also buy products for their passion and are willing to spend more money to get a better-quality product. Passionate people will also replace a perfectly good product if they see something better on the market. Gourmet cooks have passion and are an ideal market for cooking supplies. If people aren't passionate, they may buy the same product previously purchased, without even considering other options.
In the case of business purchases, products that have importance to or impact on a company produce similar results: A product that improves fit and finish of a consumer product would be valuable to a company that had a perceived quality problem.
5. The product relates to an emerging market. During 2003, inventors introduced many new products to the scrapbook market. Scrapbooking had just started to take off, and products were first sold in small scrapbook stores. As scrapbooking caught on, large chains such as Michaels started adding scrapbook sections to their stores. Individuals and inventors who understood what scrapbookers wanted supplied many of the market's initial products. Sales were relatively easy because stores need products to fill their shelves. This same situation existed when kitchen-organizing shops such as Lechters first opened and when personal digital assistants (PDAs) became popular. The first cell phone accessories, such as belt holders and earphones, also came primarily from inventors.
For businesses, new trends are often the result of new processes, systems, or equipment that becomes popular. Inventors are the ones who typically come up with auxiliary products to make new innovative equipment or to make manufacturing and office systems work better. Supporting tools, such as sliding keyboard shelves for computers, shelving for office cubicles, and sharpening devices for new cutting tools, are examples of products introduced by inventors to support new technology or products.
6. The product targets new trends in existing markets. Stay up-to-date in areas where you have a passion and take advantage of the latest trends. If you love dirt-bike racing, that's where you look for trends. You can also check with your family, friends, and acquaintances. When you talk to people, ask what they are passionate about, what their hobbies are, and what other interests they might have. Ask how that area is changing, what new things are occurring, and in what directions the market is going. I've found that at least 4 out of 10 people have some area that they are passionate about, and about half of those people are involved in an area where major market changes are developing. That means 2 out of 10 people might know a developing trend that you could act on.
7. The product offers few technical challenges. Inventors can and do introduce technically difficult products (the Apple computer was invented by two individuals), but this type of invention requires more money and more time than you are likely to have. You don't need to invent a technical product to be successful. Rollerblades, invented by Scott Olson, are not technically complicated at all, but they became an enormous success. Products with few technical challenges take less time and money to introduce, and they present far fewer challenges to the average inventor.
8. Targeted customers can easily find the product. Products are easy to find if you can buy them at a specialty store, from a catalog or mass merchandiser, and/or on a variety of Internet web sites. One of the nice features of a scrapbook product is that your target customers frequently go to scrapbook stores and will see your product several times during a six-month period. George Gruber's GeoMask, a tool for quickly applying masking tape to woodwork when painting, is sold in paint stores, in hardware stores, and by mass merchandisers. People painting can see the product every time they look at paint colors to buy. This exposure to target customers, which is not difficult to achieve for the right type of product, helps inventors build sales momentum.
Excerpted from Bringing Your Product to Market ... In Less Than a Year by Don Debelak Excerpted by permission.
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Preface: Welcome to the World of Inventing.
Introduction: Fast-Track Inventing: A Game Anyone Can Play.
PART I: PREPARE FOR SUCCESS.
Chapter 1: Step 1. Evaluate Potential Ideas: Recognize theMoneymakers.
Chapter 2: Step 2. Look Like a Winner: Demonstrate BusinessSavvy and Customer Knowledge.
Chapter 3: Step 3. Build a Business Foundation: Line Up KeyHelpers and Financing.
Chapter 4: Step 4. Prepare for Kickoff: Decide on Patents andPrototypes.
Chapter 5: Step 5. Choose the Right-Fast Track Strategy:Understand What Works Best for Your Product.
PART II: THE FAST TRACK: LICENSING YOUR IDEA
Chapter 6: Step 6A. Prove the Concept: Demonstrate Why YourProduct Is “Hot”.
Chapter 7: Step 7A. Choose Your Targets: Determine WhichCompanies Will Benefit the Most.
Chapter 8: Step 8A. Preserve Your Capital: Use Low-Cost Tacticsfor Landing a License.
Chapter 9: Step 9A. Develop a Licensing Plan: Find the QuickestWay to Market.
Chapter 10: Step 10A. Sell Your Concept: Create the HighestValue for Your Product.
PART III: THE FAST TRACK: TURBO-OUTSOURCING.
Chapter 11: Step 6B. Prove the Concept: Establish That theProduct Will Make Money.
Chapter 12 Step 7B. Choose Your Partners: Find Distribution andManufacturing Partners to Accelerate Sales.
Chapter 13: Step 8B. Preserve Your Capital: Encourage theManufacturer to Pick Up the Up-Front Costs.
Chapter 14: Step 9B. Develop a Marketing Plan: Create the Backupfor a Successful Deal.
Chapter 15: Step 10B. Sell Your Deal: Motivate Companies to MoveQuickly.
PART IV: THE LONG-TERM INVESTMENT: BUILDING ACOMPANY.
Chapter 16: Step 6C. Prove the Concept: Establish That theProduct Will Make Money.
Chapter 17: Step 7C. Choose Your Sales Strategy: Determine Howto Become a Significant Market Force.
Chapter 18: Step 8C. Preserve Your Capital: Structure Deals toKeep Control.
Chapter 19: Step 9C. Develop a Business Plan: Creating HighValue for Your Company.
Chapter 20: Step 10C. Sell Your Product: Motivate Customers andDistribution.
Appendix A: The Go-No-Go Decision Matrix.
Appendix B: Checklists before Starting the IntroductionProcess.
Appendix C: Sample Documents.
Appendix D: Web Addresses for Inventor Stories.