Read an Excerpt
One Simple IdeaTurn Your Dreams into a LICENSING GOLDMINE While Letting OTHERS DO THE WORK
By STEPHEN KEY
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2011 Stephen Key
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow You Can Create the Life of Your Dreams
ARE YOU a creative type who is always envisioning new and better ways to do things? Do you constantly think of ways to make things more efficient or enjoyable, more aesthetically pleasing, or just plain more fun? Do you often see ways to improve or enhance the products and services you use regularly, or ways to give them more pizzazz? Have you ever wished that you could be the one to bring those ideas to life ... and actually make a living doing it?
Or are you one of the millions of people world-wide who are unemployed? Do you want a livelihood that can't be snatched away tomorrow through a single stroke of bad luck, like a layoff or illness? Or are you one of the many millions more who are underemployed, struggling to make ends meet and bored to tears in a dead-end job? Do you need to find a way to supplement your day job without running yourself ragged? Do you dream of having a job that doesn't squander your talents and limit your earning potential?
Or perhaps you're like me. You know life is short, and you don't want to waste it working just to pay bills and to build up your retirement account. You want to work in an industry that interests you, to do work you're passionate about, to have the means and the freedom to pursue your personal interests, to spend quality time with family and friends, to travel—to enjoy life.
That's what I wanted. And that's exactly what I've been doing—dreaming up ideas, licensing them to companies, and living the life of my dreams. That's right. I rent my ideas to other companies. While they're making and marketing the stuff I've dreamed up, I'm collecting the rent for those ideas and doing what I love to do: create.
Every day, tens of thousands of people all over the world are working for me: box boys, cashiers, truck drivers, printers, fabricators, accountants, marketing execs, sales reps, researchers, human resource administrators, and presidents and CEOs of companies like Ohio Art, Nestle, Jim Beam, Toys "R" Us, Walgreens, Walmart, and others all are laboring on my behalf. They take care of the research and development, production, marketing and sales, customer service, accounting, and everything else that goes into producing and selling my creations ... so I don't have to. My creativity fuels their production, and I leverage their immense power. I have found a way to make the system work for me rather than the other way around.
You can, too. All it takes is one simple idea—one that's ripe for the marketplace.
The reason I can do this—and the reason you and anyone else can too—is because of a trend called "open innovation" that is reshaping the business world. In the past, most new product and service ideas came from inside a company or from a big design firm. Rarely would these big corporations even consider ideas from an "outsider" like me—a regular guy with no credentials in engineering, marketing, or design, but with a creative bent and a penchant for dreaming up cool stuff. Now for the first time in history, companies are realizing that maybe, just maybe, they don't have all the world's smartest and most creative people working in their companies. They have finally grasped that they can, and must, find new and innovative ideas from the outside.
You can find many academic books on the subject of open innovation, but this is the first book to explain why open innovation is important to you and how you can use it to become a successful entrepreneur—as you'll learn in Chapter 2. Today, companies need help. They need people like you and me. It doesn't matter if you're a stay-at-home mom, a truck driver, an aerospace engineer, or a teacher. It doesn't matter whether you have a Ph.D. or are a high school dropout. To play the biggest, most exciting game in the world—coming up with new, or improved, or jazzed-up products and services—your credentials are irrelevant. All you need is a simple idea and a simple strategy for bringing that idea to market.
Is It Really That Simple?
Oh, here they come ... all those "but" questions buzzing around in your brain. I knew they would, and I understand. What I just said and what I'm about to tell you flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Later, I'll explain how my strategy turns conventional wisdom on its head and traditional methods of innovation into the dinosaurs they are. First, though, let's get those nay-saying questions out of the way.
But Don't I Need to Start a Company?
You no longer have to start a company to experience the entrepreneurial thrill of innovating. As you'll learn in Chapter 3, licensing your ideas lets you focus on the most exciting part of any business and leave the tough stuff, like manufacturing, marketing, and distribution, to others.
With the global recession and the wars that are weighing our country down, you hear a lot of doomsayers forecasting the end of the American Dream. My students and I—and many others I have never met—provide living proof that the American Dream has far from expired. In fact, it is more alive, more accessible, and far more exciting today than it ever has been in the history of our country. You'll read many of our stories and learn all about this exciting new world of innovation and how to be a part of it throughout this book.
But Do I Need to Quit My Day Job?
Absolutely not. In fact, I recommend that you do not quit your day job—until and unless you have the passion to create and license ideas as a profession, and have a few successes under your belt, and have sufficient royalties coming into your bank account. As I always tell my inventRight students, licensing is a numbers game. Most people have to come up with a lot of ideas before one gets licensed. It can also take time to find a licensee and for the licensee to bring your idea to market.
The great thing about licensing ideas is that it doesn't have to be a 40-hour- a-week job, even for those who are ready, willing, and able to do it "full time." When you're first starting out or if you're doing this as a hobby or to supplement your day job, you can do this in as little as 10 hours a week or less using my 10-step strategy for creating and licensing ideas.
But Don't I Need a Patent?
Well no, and maybe yes. In my experience, you do not have to put your financial security at risk to innovate. You don't have to take out a mortgage on your home or empty out your retirement savings to get a patent on your idea. You do not need patents to license ideas, and product cycles churn so quickly that you will lose your opportunity if you spend the years and tens of thousands of dollars it takes to get a patent.
Besides, if you think a patent guarantees you protection, you're crazy. First-to-market owns the shelf space. That's the best protection you can have. In Chapter 11, I'll show you the smart way to play the patent game. I have more than a dozen patents myself. For now, just realize that patents are not nearly as important as you think they are. It really depends on the idea/invention. Read Chapter 11 to help you decide!
But Isn't It Really Hard to Do This?
Back when I first started licensing my ideas to big companies, it was much harder to do than it is now. Today, the pace of business is so fast and products come and go so quickly that companies simply do not have the ability to do it all on their own. Consequently, many companies have opened their doors to independent product developers like you and me—a movement called "open innovation," which you'll learn more about in Chapter 2. The 10-step process that I teach my inventRight students and that I've outlined in this book makes it easy for anyone to create and license ideas.
But What If I Don't Have Any Ideas?
Everyone has ideas. You're a consumer, right? By virtue of being a consumer, you have plenty of opinions about all the products and services you buy and use at home, at work, and at play. So you do have innovative ideas. It's those ideas that companies desperately want and need. It's those ideas that can help you go into business for yourself without having to start and run a company with a lot of overhead, equipment, and people. You just need to learn how to translate those ideas into a marketable product and how to get your ideas into the right hands and in the right way. That's what this book is all about.
But if dreaming up product ideas is truly not your thing, you can still get into the innovation game by becoming a connector—a product scout—someone who brings other people's ideas to companies who want and need them.
Whether you're a creator or connector, these ideas do not have to be mind-blowing. They don't have to change the world. No reinventing the wheel here, I tell my students. Companies can make huge gains from small, incremental changes and from slight improvements to existing products.
I've been swimming in the innovation stream for more than three decades, so I know where and how to look for ideas. In Part Two, I show you how to brainstorm ideas and pick the best ones to develop for licensing. I also tell you where and how to find products and industries in need of refreshing.
But How Do I Start?
My dad spent his entire career at General Electric. He was a project manager, and he loved his job. He never thought of himself as going to work. He was just doing what he loved. When I was struggling back in my 20s, making and selling toys at craft fairs, Dad told me, "Find what your passion is. Make it your career, and you will never 'work' a day in your life."
That's where I tell my students to start: find your passion. Are you interested in sports? Then look there for simple ideas—existing products you can improve upon. If your passion is gardening or pets or monkey-wrenching or parenting or music or home improvement, start there. When your work is your passion, it propels you forward. And it's fun!
Sometimes I work a lot because I love what I do. But like my dad, I never feel like I'm working. Sometimes all I do for long stretches is make sure my checks are being deposited.
I like to think I took Dad's advice to heart and went one better. Although my father loved his work, he wasn't in control of it. When he was laid off, his years of loyalty were powerless against much larger economic forces. Today, I get to love my work and know that I don't have all my eggs in one basket. They're scattered about in dozens of different baskets. Even better, there's an endless supply of eggs out there for me if I need them. You have them, too.
I love being my own boss. I love coming up with new products. I love the life that creating and licensing products has enabled me and my family to live. And I'd love to help you do the same. All it takes is one simple idea.
So start with one simple idea that you're passionate about. Then follow my 10 simple steps for bringing your idea to market.
My Introduction to a New Way of Innovating
When I was in college, I didn't have it in me to be like those ultra-driven business students. I wanted to relax and have fun and make things. In fact, after my dad gave me his piece of golden advice about finding my passion, I realized that if I could come up with good ideas and make things with my hands, I would be the richest man in the world, in every sense of the word.
I switched from business classes at Santa Clara University to art classes at San Jose State University, even though I couldn't paint or sculpt as well as my classmates. A few years later, I began making stuffed toys on my own with a sewing machine. I sold them out of a booth at fairs around the state of California. My favorite part was watching my funny creations make people smile. To the world I was looking like a pretty big loser, but I loved every minute of it. I just didn't love the fact that I needed more income to do the things I wanted to do with my life, like get married, buy a home, and raise a family.
Around this time, I had another conversation with my father. This time Dad gave me his second most important piece of advice, one that he didn't follow personally but saw his employer, General Electric, put into action. This is what he told me:
Find something that doesn't require your presence.
Find something that doesn't require your hands.
Make sure it has a "multiplying effect."
At first I didn't understand what he meant. But over the ensuing couple of years, I figured it out.
Here's what happened next: I knew I needed to break out of the fair circuit, so at age 27 and with a background in art, I talked myself into my first job with a start-up toy company called Worlds of Wonder. Within a year, I found myself on the manufacturing and design team that helped bring the company's most popular toy ever to market, the original storytelling teddy bear, Teddy Ruxpin. Kids were entranced by his animated ability to talk and blink his eyes. Parents could pop a cassette player in his back, and he would rivet kids to their seats by telling them stories. In 1986 alone, Worlds of Wonder sold five million Teddy Ruxpins. For a brief while, we became the fifth largest toy company in the world. All of a sudden, my future was looking bright.
You wouldn't have known that if you'd seen me after I'd stepped off a 13-hour flight to Hong Kong. Haggard and wild-eyed with jet lag, I felt like I'd just landed on the moon. The tropical heat and humidity hit me like a ton of bricks. I stumbled into my hotel room and collapsed. The next day I traveled across the border to our factory in mainland China, which was working around the clock to fulfill the demand for our bears. My job was to make sure every one that came off the line looked beautiful. The bears meant money, and we had to keep them coming. My boss had given me a parting direction in no uncertain terms: "Never stop the production line."
Standing on that production line watching bear after bear pass me by, I kept thinking about a man named Ken Forsse. Ken created Teddy Ruxpin and licensed it to Worlds of Wonder. Everyone knew he was making millions of dollars in royalties. Those numbers pinged about in my head as I watched the workers' hands move rapidly over soft brown fabric.
Something was inspiring about this equation. The man with the idea, the one who was making lots of money, wasn't even there. We only saw him when we needed approval. He wasn't the one standing halfway across the world in a frenetic factory far from home, like me.
I finally understood what my dad was talking about and what the multiplying effect could mean. I suddenly realized I didn't want to be the guy on the line, working day in and day out. I wanted to be the other guy. Like Ken, I wanted to be the smartest guy in the room, the one collecting the checks while others were working for me. That single thought changed my life—just as so many of my ideas since then have.
When I got back to California, I decided to show my own ideas, my own creations for toys to our company president. He smiled and listened politely, but later my boss reprimanded me for taking my focus off our existing product lines. I knew right then I had to quit. Fortunately, by then I had years of experience as a freelance designer and a network of potential clients to fall back on. I knew WOW needed me, so I hoped they'd be my first client—and they were. I also had the support of Janice, my girlfriend and future wife, whose salary could take care of us financially until I got my feet on the ground as an independent product developer. And so with that support as my springboard, I launched Stephen Key Design, LLC, and set out to create, develop, and license my own ideas.
Flash forward to spring 2000. It's a sunny day in Boca Raton, Florida. I am standing in front of yet another production line and watching as my Spinformation label is being affixed to thousands of bottles of herbal supplements at the Rexall Sundown production facility. Watching that production line made me oddly nervous; any breakdown would mean an interruption in my income. I couldn't help but smile. Finally, I was on the right side of that upside-down equation.
This production line was printing money for me just as it had for Ken years earlier. The best part was that I didn't even have to be there. I'd only dropped by that day because I wanted to. I'd become the smartest guy in the room. By renting out ideas to others, I'd finally fulfilled my dad's prescription. I didn't have to be there for an idea to reach customers. And by getting some of the world's largest companies to work for me, I'd set in motion an awe-inspiring multiplying effect.
The crazy thing about this story is that the label itself wasn't even my idea. I just figured out how to manufacture it, something no one had done before. The point is: you don't even need to have your own ideas to do this.
Excerpted from One Simple Idea by STEPHEN KEY Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Key. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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