One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs: Live Your Dreams and Create Your Own Profitable Company


From award-winning entrepreneur, inventor, and business owner Stephen Key comes the highly anticipated follow-up to his bestseller One Simple Idea

How many times have you seen a product and thought, I know how to make that better? Or not seen a product and thought, How is it that no one has invented this yet? And when haven’t you thought, I need to be my own boss?

You’re thinking the right things. Now, the ...

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One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs: Live Your Dreams and Create Your Own Profitable Company

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From award-winning entrepreneur, inventor, and business owner Stephen Key comes the highly anticipated follow-up to his bestseller One Simple Idea

How many times have you seen a product and thought, I know how to make that better? Or not seen a product and thought, How is it that no one has invented this yet? And when haven’t you thought, I need to be my own boss?

You’re thinking the right things. Now, the next step is to take action—and that’s exactly what One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs is all about.

Stephen Key, one of the world’s leading experts on getting business ideas off the ground, revealed in his groundbreaking book One Simple Idea just how simple it is to make a fortune by selling or “renting” your great ideas.

Now, he helps you live the entrepreneurial dream by delivering a proven, straightforward process for starting, growing, and running a business—without the need for an MBA or millions of dollars in funding. As an inventor and successful business owner, Key brings a unique and fully rounded perspective to the subject, teaching you how to:

  • Develop, test, and protect your idea
  • Plan and launch your business
  • Manufacture, package, market, sell, and distribute your product
  • Manage and grow your business
  • Prepare for and implement your endgame

Key draws on his own experience as a billion dollar inventor to offer how-to’s and other takeaways you can use to get off the ground and into the black. Case studies, tips, and advice from other successful entrepreneurs underscore key principles to make it easier than ever for you to achieve your business and life dreams.

You don’t need millions of dollars or a business, engineering, or manufacturing background to develop, produce, and sell your own product idea. All you need is one simple idea—and the passion to make it happen.

Praise for One Simple Idea

“This book is straight-forward, no-nonsense information for how to start a successful company. Read it!”
—Barbara Corcoran, investor/shark on ABC’s reality hit Shark Tank

“The ideas in this book are key to creating the kind of enterprise that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the future. The goal of entrepreneurship is to reduce the risk of failure as detailed in this book.”
—Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Pong® and founder of Atari®

"Kudos!! One Simple Idea for Startups & Entrepreneurs is brilliant !! A must read for those that have the courage to dive into their dreams. This is a true Road Map for those that have the passion to achieve their Freedom. Truly something that I wish would have been there for me 33 years ago."
—Russ Hornsby, toy industry veteran, 2010 Toy of the Year award winner in seven different countries, and creator of hit toys ZhuZhu Pets®, XiaXia Pets®, DeGeDar® and others

“I took one of those simple ideas and turned it into a company that now has its products in over 35,000 doors of retail distribution. With One Simple Idea for Startups & Entrepreneurs, Stephen gives us the tools we need to take an idea from your Head to the Store shelf.”
—Todd Basche, inventor of Word Lock®, the #1 selling word combination lock

“Any inventor or entrepreneur who wants to make money without risking hundreds of thousands in design, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution would be well served to take advantage of the practical wisdom offered up in Stephen’s most recent work, One Simple Idea for Startups & Entrepreneurs.
—Ron Hazelton, former home improvement editor for ABC’s Good Morning America and leading authority in the do-it-yourself home improvement field

One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs is a MUST read. The process is broken down into steps that makes it simple to follow and gives you a roadmap to Success.”
—Gene Luoma, Inventor of Zip-It Clean®

"Advice is everywhere but good advice is very rare. Stephen Key’ One Simple Idea for Startups & Entrepreneurs is the exception."
—Steve Greenberg, author of Gadget Nation and co-host of Food Network's television program Invention Hunters

“Stephen’s a trailblazer in what is now widely accepted as the emerging field of frugal innovation.”
—Patrick Raymond, Invention Expert for Huffington Post, creator of InventionScore®, and co-host of Invention Hunters on Food Network

“Stephen Key is the real deal. Without his knowledge and willingness to share it, I would not have been able to successfully bring my own product to market. Now readers of One Simple Idea for Startups & Entrepreneurs have the same opportunity to benefit from an education in startups and just how true it is that all it takes is persistence and one simple idea.”
—Nancy Tedeschi, inventor of SnapIt Screw&™ and prize winner of the WalMart Get on the Shelf contest

An easy, important read for practitioner and academic alike. . . . Highly recommended."

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Editorial Reviews

"An easy, important read for practitioner and academic alike. . . . Highly recommended."
"An easy, important read for practitioner and academic alike. . . . Highly recommended."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071800440
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 11/5/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 366,784
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Key is a successful award-winning inventor, author and entrepreneur, having licensed over 20 products in the past 30 years. A holder of over thirteen patents, Stephen’s products have sold in Wal-Mart, 7 Eleven, Disney Stores and theme parks worldwide and have been endorsed by basketball great Michael Jordan and Jeopardy host Alex Trebek. Stephen’s innovative Spinformation rotating label has been licensed for use on many products including a product called Accudial. Accudial shows parents how to dose their child’s liquid medication by weight versus traditional age, making it more accurate. Stephen is also a member of the Board of Directors of Accudial Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Accudial also purchased Stephen’s entire patent portfolio for the Rotating Label in October 2011. Under Accudial Stephen is the CEO of Stephen Key Design, LLC. Accudial is the recipient of the Product of the Year Award for Canada as well as a Gold winner at the 2011 Edison Awards. Accudial has also recently won the 2011 New Product Innovation Award from Frost & Sullivan as well as the PTPA Seal of Approval. One of Stephen’s other products, Soyu Natural Teas also took a Bronze at the 2011 Edison Awards.

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Read an Excerpt

One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs

Live Your Dreams and Create Your Own Profitable Company

By Stephen Key

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2013Stephen Key
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-180045-7



Opportunities for Inventor-Entrepreneurs in the Twenty-First Century

This is a fantastic time to be creating new products and bringing them to market yourself!

The opportunities for simple ideas that offer clear benefits to the consumer are endless. Consumer spending accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the U.S. economy, even during economic slumps, and 40 percent of consumer spending is discretionary—driven by desire, not necessity. Dreaming up ideas for consumer products can be a lot of fun. But your simple idea doesn't have to be for a consumer product. It can be for something purchased and used by businesses, governments, scientists, institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.), public service organizations (police, fire, waste management, etc.), and so on.

Even during economic downturns, there are opportunities for innovation. When the economy is poor, the most popular products tend to be those that enable people to stretch their resources (such as squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube), provide inexpensive comfort or enjoyment, and improve the quality of life without breaking the budget. As I write this, our economic situation is not great, but some markets are strong. For example, the pet and home-improvement industries are both growing by approximately 5 percent a year, and the kitchen industry is on fire because people are staying home to cook.

Regardless of whether the economy is booming or busting, consumers are always open to products that make their lives easier or more enjoyable. You just need to know where to look for them and how to recognize them.

There are also lots of tools and resources available that make it easier than ever to start and grow a business. With the Internet and communication technologies, such as Skype, you can work out of your home rather than locate the business elsewhere. You don't have to sell your product only through brick-and-mortar stores; you can sell it online, too. The Internet enables you to study the market and find most of the information you need. Social media networks allow you to connect with like-minded people who can help you with your business. You can use your website, blogs, social media networks, e-mail, and other online tools to build your brand and communicate with customers and vendors.

All these tools make it easier for anyone to compete in the big leagues. You can get closer to and be more responsive to the market. You can bring products to market faster, seizing market opportunities the heavy hitters miss or don't want to bother with. You can provide a level of personalized customer service that most large companies don't care to do.

All of these things can be done from your desk, with just your telephone and computer—no fancy office or employees needed. Everything can be outsourced, from creating a technical drawing of your idea to manufacturing your product, designing your logo, and doing your bookkeeping! You can tap into creative ways to fund your business, too.

All the information, resources, and tools you need to successfully launch a small business and bring a simple idea to market yourself are out there. You just need a road map to show you how to find them, use them, and get from here to there. That's what this book is all about.

My Journey

During the 35 years I've been bringing simple ideas to market, I've done more than just license my products. I've also worked for a startup company where I helped bring other people's ideas to market, and I've started a business to bring my own ideas to market—not once, but twice. In fact, that's how I began this journey, so let's start at the beginning.

In the mid-1970s, I was a freshman at Santa Clara University majoring in economics and hating everything about it. I felt overwhelmed and needed to try something different. So I took an art class and fell in love with working with my hands. One day, I went home and told my dad I wanted to be an artist.

"That's fantastic, Steve!" he said. "Do you draw?"


"Do you paint?"


Dad sighed and studied me for a long minute. Then, he said, "Find your passion, Steve. Then do it, and you'll never work a day in your life." It was the best advice he ever gave me.

I transferred to San Jose State University because it had a huge art department, and I changed my major to art. That wasn't the right fit for me, either, because I was creative but not a fine artist. When I left college three years later, I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't think I had the skills to get a job. I had to find a way to earn a living, so I started to make things.

I made t-shirts with funny sayings on them and ran advertisements in the back of national magazines to try to sell them, but I didn't have much luck. I added funny hats with adjustable fingers in the back that you could bend into a peace sign, okay sign, or other symbols, but I didn't have much luck selling them either. I didn't give up, though, and began making soft sculptures (stuffed animals and characters). I would come up with ideas, source the materials from local fabric stores, handmake the products, and sell them at arts and crafts fairs up and down the state of California.

I'll never forget my first show. It was a small art-and-crafts festival in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It seemed like a big deal to me at the time, but it was actually just a bunch of tables and handmade booths set up in the playground of an elementary school. I was sitting there at my little table covered with my Softies when my dad showed up.

"How're you doing?" he asked.


"Good!" he said. "How many products have you sold?"

I hadn't sold any. But I loved it, stayed with it, and learned from it. One of the best lessons I learned very quickly was that if I was going to eat and pay my rent, I had to come up with ideas people loved. If a product didn't sell, I had to immediately replace it with one that did. The experience taught me to be agile: quick to realize and respond to what customers did and didn't like. I spent about six years designing, making, and selling my stuff at street fairs, loving every aspect of that little world.

Unfortunately, everyone (and I mean everyone) thought I was a loser. I could see the question in their faces: What are you doing with your life? You're 25 and selling things on the street? Besides, I wanted more for myself and my ideas. I thought, If I can sell my little products at street fairs, why not in local stores? And if I can sell my products in local stores, why not in big stores all over the country? Why not all over the world? I wanted to see my products everywhere!

One day, I loaded up my partner Marlena's Mustang with a crate of our products, a series of soft-sculpture vegetables with smiling faces we'd made out of colored nylons we purchased at a local department store. I drove to downtown Los Gatos, where there were a lot of novelty stores. I found one that seemed perfect: Puttin' on the Ritz. The owner, Marilyn Hart, was very kind. She treated me with respect, even though I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and she let me show her my products, even though they weren't right for her store. Then she gave me a mini-lesson in retail pricing—explaining how a store would keystone my product (mark it up)—and some other advice before sending me on my way, without an order but inspired to keep trying.

Two more stores turned me down, and although I was discouraged, it wasn't enough to make me stop. I went to the Rainbow Inn at the Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz, a store I had frequented as a customer and knew had a

Excerpted from One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs by Stephen Key. Copyright © 2013 by Stephen Key. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xiii

1 Opportunities for Inventor-Entrepreneurs in the Twenty-First Century 1

My Journey 2

Successful Inventor-Entrepreneurs in This Book 9

Finding a Mentor 15

2 Do You Have What It Takes? 17

Entrepreneur: Born or Made? 17

Does the Shoe Fit? 20

Startup Enemy Number One: Fear 27

Why I Took the Leap and Started a Business with One Simple Idea 29

3 Keep It Simple 31

What Is a Simple Idea? 31

Creating a Product That Will Sell 34

Test the Market 43

Creating a Product That Is Simple to Produce 47

Is It a Money-Maker? 48

4 Watch Your Back 53

Outsmart the Competition 54

Build Partnerships 59

Protect Your Idea 61

5 Ready, Set, Launch! 79

No MBA? No Problem! 79

Do You Need a Business Plan? 83

Show Me the Money! 87

Setting Up Your Business 96

6 Flip the Switch 103

Product Design Package 103

Packaging 107

Finding the Right Manufacturer 111

Logistics 120

Getting Off to a Good Start 121

7 Power Marketing Made Simple 125

What's Brand Got to Do with It? 126

Create Demand and Drive Sales 133

Get the Word Out on a Limited Budget 144

Hitch Your Wagon to Someone Else's Star 154

8 a Winning and Losing at Retail 157

Start Local, Go National, Grow Global 159

How to Get Your Product into Retail Stores 162

On the Shelves of Giants 172

Other Retailing Options 174

Creating Happy Campers and Repeat Sales 178

9 Managing the Monster 183

Taking Care of Business 185

Be Careful What You Wish For 200

When the Going Gets Tough 206

Cruise, Expand, or Sell 206

Appendix: Valuable Resources 211

Index 225

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