My top tips, learned the hard way!
1. Pick one idea and focus on it
Most inventors have lots of ideas rattling around in their heads. It is just how we are wired. When we decided to pursue one of our inventions, we set all of our other ideas aside for a while. The idea we chose to pursue was one we felt met a market need and was related to a hobby we love.
2. Be prepared for the journey
We made a decision that we wouldn’t regret pursuing our idea, no matter what happened. For us, failure would be if we never dared to try. We went in with our eyes wide open. We knew that there would be very hard times ahead (welding all night to meet a deadline, sleeping in our vehicle on the way to a trade show, slow initial sales, etc.)
3. Get help
You don’t have to go it alone. There are many credible places that can help along the way. We took a business plan writing class through our local SBDC. Score and SBA were also helpful. Be VERY careful of “1-800-Invent” type companies that make grand promises and want lots of money up front. That never ends well. Don’t underestimate what you can do yourself with a little research. We did market research and scoped our competition with the help of the internet and people in our target industry. We built a number of test stands that we lent to bike shops in return for their candid feedback.
4. Be flexible and open to feedback
We know that your idea is the greatest ever, but be willing to make adjustments based on feedback. You don’t have to react to every single piece of advice, but look for consistent patterns or messages that are worth exploring. Our single best product improvement came from someone we didn’t know, who was testing our stand at the bike shop where he worked. He was brutally honest about an aspect of our design that wasn’t working for him. We then confirmed his suggestion with others who observed the same thing but didn’t want to hurt our feelings. Feedback from friends is great but sometimes they can be too kind. We completely changed the way our clamp clutch mechanism worked. This was a huge game changer for us and was a source of very positive feedback about our product in the marketplace.
5. Don’t get discouraged
Behind most successful products is a determined individual who passionately believes in his or her invention and stays upbeat in the face of setbacks and naysayers. It would have been incredibly easy to get discouraged after our early experiences with RackStand. At our first trade show, we brought our entire inventory in this trailer and only sold one. By the time we drove back home, all of the remaining boxes were damaged so badly by shaking in the trailer that they had to be replaced. An expensive and time consuming lesson.
6. Proceed with caution
We have heard motto’s like “go big or go home” and frankly, we don’t subscribe. You don’t have to bet your home on your idea. Make expenditures as you can afford them and when they are appropriate to the current stage of the project. We have seen many inventors dump thousands of dollars into a patent for an idea that they haven’t even proven works. We like to say “start with cardboard and duct tape” and refine your idea from there.
7. Build value into your invention…
…then seriously consider licensing or selling it to someone else. A larger company with established manufacturing and distribution processes is often an attractive exit strategy. We built a small but loyal following in the industry that made us attractive to license. We looked much bigger than the little two-person company that we were and caught the attention of a larger company serving the bicycle repair industry.
8. Enjoy the ride!
Being an inventor may be financially rewarding or it may not. In many ways, it is not the destination, but the journey, that makes it all worth while. To make the most of the journey: learn all that you can, meet new people, take pride in your accomplishments, and experience the satisfaction in knowing that you gave it your all!