“Hey I was wondering if you had time for a beer?
I’ve got this new idea and I wanted to run it by you.”
First of all, you had me at beer. Second, I’m not sure I’ll be of any help.
But yeah, OK for the beer.
Everyone needs validation. We want to know if we are pretty enough or good enough or smart enough. And our ideas are no different.
It’s like having a new baby and when strangers coo and point out how cute she is it makes us feel good.
Inventing new things is crazy fun like skiing and once you get going down that steep hill you tend to pick up speed and more ideas come flowing.
We start piling up the sketches and notes and finally we have one that we are positive will be the next category slayer.
But… are they really as good as I think they are? I mean, I’ve been wrong before.
I’d better check with someone who can provide some feedback and then I’ll know if this is really a good idea or maybe it’s a great idea!
Do you know what’s wrong with your idea?
Not a damn thing. It’s not that I don’t think there are bad product or business ideas… It’s just that I am highly unqualified to choose a good idea from a bad one.
You see, if we’d sit down to discuss your idea and you said that you were going to sew three sides of two pieces of fabric together and stuff them full of a soft cushion and sew it shut and sell it to people to use as a device to lift their head at night when they sleep, I’d of said, yeah, that’s been done and by thousands of companies, it’s called a f*cking pillow!
But guess what, there is a guy in Minnesota who is getting gang buster rich selling a f*cking pillow!!
And how about a piece of wood with a fake, plastic fish attached, that, if you push a button, will turn it’s head and sing dumb, kitschy songs to you.
I would have spit my whiskey across the table if that were pitched to me.
But guess what… Millionaire!!
My point is that the IDEA, which we always tend to regard too highly, is not near as important as the EXECUTION.
When someone wants to sell me on their idea, I’m not that interested in the viability of the idea itself, but I am interested in the person pitching.
That person is the golden goose.
If the inventor has the chops, is believable and can get shit done, we are on to something.
Don’t get me wrong, all things being equal, a great idea stands apart and has more potential than a bad or weak idea. (I hate weak ideas the worst but that’s another story.)
But things are rarely equal. People who can execute are rare indeed.
I realize that having your idea validated, by people who have the credentials to do the evaluation, is an all-important step in the process.
So, here are some pointers to vet your idea, and then how to become the type of person who can deliver.
• Has it been done before? I mean, does a similar solution exist in the market and a person of interest can dig out a wad of wrinkled bills and walk away with the item?
If the answer is no, that’s a red flag.
Because if a similar product is being sold, your new and (GREATLY) improved version has greased wheels to slide down the tracks upon.
I say greatly because in order to break into some markets, the improvement needs to be 10x better to displace the leader. Product ideas with no existing history are very, very hard to introduce to a fresh audience.
There is a graph called the product adoption curve and that hill has killed many a great idea on it’s upward slope.
It can be done, if the formula is tight. Think of Apple, they made the climb but it cost Billions of dollars and a lot of intellectual capital – they had some of the best nerds on the planet.
Not saying no, just saying.
• Do you know a damn thing about it? Maybe you work in a coffee shop and were pouring milk on your granola and had an AH-HA! moment about a better milk jug nozzle.
You call me up and want to patent the idea to make a new and improved cow juice container.
You have no experience, connections or understanding of the industry or materials. I’d rate you pretty low in that column.
Being an expert in a field is not a sure bet but zero knowledge of it can be dangerous.
Again, not saying no. Just saying.
You might have some friends that know someone that knows someone else who is a plastics container manufacturer and they are just sitting around waiting for the next breakthrough in milk containment – stranger things have happened.
• What’s your track record? Do you have a long history of smash hits, world championships, golden globes or regional sales plaques? A background of success is a good indication of future performance.
• Who is behind you? Do you have a qualified team all pulling in the same direction, dedicated to the endeavor and in for the long haul?
Good, you’ll need them and you are blessed.
I see too many inventors trudging alone. They either don’t know how or won’t recruit a solid team that can fill the gaps. If you’re a loner, get over it, put on your big pants and get to rounding up a team. You will have to eventually and it shows you might know how to lead.
• What is under you? Is that a big pile-o-money? Great. You’re already 95% farther down the road to success.
Don’t believe me, go sit with 100 inventors that have had an idea for years and no actualization. Ask them what is the number one thing that has kept them from their dream infomercial. Yep, Moola.
At some point you have to have things made, prototypes, molds, branding, promotional stuff – you know things. It is WAY cheaper than it used to be but it still costs money and at some point, you will need it.
There are usually several phases of funding. Phase 1 is for IP protection, product development and proof of concept. Phase 2 funding might be for presentation marketing (to get another round of funding) or if you have enough to keep going in round 1 you can go to sales prototypes and maybe production ready.
Funding in today’s hyper-connected time is much easier than it used to be. Get involved with local angel investment groups or go online (SmashFactory) and utilize the ever-growing list of funding platforms. (Investment is another subject that requires an entire article or book to cover.)
The Internet is a great place to learn about funding platforms but beware, there is a lot of misleading information. Here are some quick tips to help avoid a disaster:
- Look for bad reviews – scan forums and social media platforms for negative feedback. This is called social proof. If you see a negative pattern you may consider passing.
- Research their success record – Winners do business with winners. If their portfolio is real obscure or very outdated, beware.
- Ask around for intel’ – The inventor community is small and people talk. Get a well-rounded consensus much like the social proof above.
- Crawl, walk, run – I cringe when I hear the horror stories of an inventor pushing in all their chips on the first deal. Any vendor who promotes this is suspect in my mind. Each phase should be manageable and have a clear plan to get to the next phase. This allows you to budget and provides security in the process.
• Do you know the players? You should know the competition, potential partners for licensing and vendors who will eventually help in the process.
Knowing the leaders is important. Getting to know them is more important. They will help you navigate this new landscape and provide a roadmap to your own product development pathway.
Again, the Internet is a great place to start.
I love ideas, but just like many things in life, the more you have, the better they get.
Practice having ideas.
Don’t get hung up on one or two good ideas and then obsess on it. Think about everything I have said here and create some habits that will help you become a doer and not just a thinker.
And I want to leave you with one final thing. When an idea is ready to come into the world, it’s going to come – whether you bring it or not.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard someone shout “son-of-a-bitch! that was my idea!” when they see a similar idea they had in an infomercial or ad in a magazine.
And then they obsess over how that person could have stolen their baby. I’ve done it myself.
But we need to get over it. It’s a phenomenon called simultaneous invention or multiple discovery and it’s common for scientists, writers and inventors.
The theories about the cause(s) of this are vast but who gives a shit. The deal is that either you have the chops to make an idea reality… or you don’t.
I hope you choose to birth it because this world needs your idea.