Innovation is not an easy process, but it has the power to propel you into the business world and open doors. The first step in turning your idea into a product is sharing it with the world. But even electricity was a tough sell 140 years ago.
Many leading scientists denounced Thomas Edison in the late 1800s. These scientists claimed electricity was a fairy tale and couldn’t be harnessed on a wide scale. We now know that was a bunch of malarkey and live in a perpetually lit-up world, and it all started with an idea, a dream, and Edison’s perseverance. With the right mindset and an understanding of what it takes to invent something new, you could be the creator of a whole new line of products. Here’s what you need to know about getting started and launching your invention.
Success in the world of innovation is all about timing. If you wait too long, someone else will capitalize on a similar idea and capture your niche. On the other hand, if your invention is the first of its kind, the market might not be ready, and you’ll have to fight an uphill battle to carve out a place for your product.
Henry Helgeson, co-founder of Cayan (now part of TSYS), faced this issue with his mobile payments technology company in 2011 – years before mobile payments became mainstream. For other startups on the too-early side of innovation, he recommends perseverance to get ahead of your competitors while the market catches up.
“Peers in our industry [said mobile payments] would never happen, but we kept moving and got a three- to four-year jump on everyone,” Helgeson said. “It takes a while … it’s not something you can build up overnight. But once you have momentum going, it’s very powerful.”
According to Helgeson, if you’re on the later end, you need to look at your competition and decide if you want to continue on your path or if you’re better off going in another direction with your invention.
“There [should always be] a sense of urgency to fix what you need to, make the change, and [get the product] back out to market,” he said. “As long as you do it quickly, it’s OK.”
Another big challenge is making the public aware of your product. Your idea may be great, but without a marketing plan, no one will ever know about it.
“In hindsight, we were too focused on our product and thought it would sell itself,” Helgeson said. “You need a plan to [market it].”
In an interview with Business News Daily, marketing and communications professional Nicole Lininger said that many entrepreneurs who are just starting out don’t have a large advertising budget to promote their inventions – but that doesn’t have to stand in their way, she added. She recommended starting off with a top-notch social media marketing plan, which is cost-effective and far-reaching.
Ready to turn your product idea into a reality? The experts we spoke to offered the following advice for aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs.
There are many steps in the invention process, and it can be overwhelming to take care of everything yourself. Lininger advised seeking out professional assistance so you can be assured that certain elements of the process rest in capable, experienced hands. For instance, you may want to find a manufacturer if you’re looking to develop your prototype, or Rocket Lawyer if you’re looking for a qualified, on-demand patent attorney. You should also consider a business partner, said Anayet Chowdhury, co-founder of educational technology company ArgoPrep.
“Find a co-founder who believes in your idea [or] product and has a specific set of skills that you do not possess,” Chowdhury said. “Companies that have co-founders are [more likely] to succeed compared to solopreneurs.”
Incubators can also be a great place to find success, providing tools, resources, and a supportive community as you move through the process.
Kate Bell, founder and director of Zip Us In, which provides jacket expanders for pregnant women, uses IncuHive as a base for her business. “The business support has been superb and enabled me to be confident in my scale-up plans with such a vast network of experience behind me. IncuHive has been instrumental in us pitching to investors and has provided meeting space and an advisory board.”
Manufacturing is an incredibly complex process, requiring more of a partnership with your manufacturing facility than a normal vendor. When you know what to look for in that facility, you’ll have a winning relationship for years to come. Learn what to look for in our article “How to Find a Factory to Manufacture Your Product.”
Inventing a product requires a lot of initial investigation, patience and resilience, Lininger said. Before you start, set aside the time to do your due diligence. This is especially important when you’re looking at patent protection for your idea. Ask yourself, “Would my design infringe upon someone else’s copyright or intellectual property (IP)?”
“Do some research into intellectual property and familiarize [yourself] with the process and the jargon used in the field, including patent, copyright, trademark, etc.,” Lininger said. “There are numerous reputable sites you can learn from, such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office, World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Trade Organization. If patent protection is something you are interested in, contact a patent lawyer.”
Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website and investigate any patents on items similar to the one you want to make. If you have questions or want to ensure your invention is legal for you to create and sell, consult an attorney who specializes in patents and IP law.
You should also look at what’s out there to size up your competition. Marco Cirillo, co-founder and CTO of social planning app Kibii, recommends researching who your competitors are, what your target audience likes and dislikes about products already on the market, and if your product is unique enough to stand out. [Read related article: How to Do a Competitive Analysis]
“Many founders and business owners will leave marketing as an afterthought,” Cirillo said. “To get the highest return, you need to conduct research and set targets before you even launch your product. This will help the team stay aligned and have a common vision so you can ensure a successful product launch.”
Once you’ve found your market and ensured a clear legal path, it’s time to create a prototype. At this point, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to have your product manufactured or licensed.
The former means you’ll create and sell your product yourself (this includes paying a third party to manufacture your product). The latter means you’ll sell another company the rights to make, use, and sell your products, granting that right in exchange for a license fee and royalty payments.
Even before you have a finished product to sell, you’ll need to talk it up to your friends and professional contacts. Lininger emphasized the importance of developing a great elevator pitch: a concise sales speech that includes a hook, a value statement, statistics and other data, a description of your product’s unique aspects, and a call to action. For more information on this topic, see our tips for perfecting your elevator pitch.
Helgeson reminds entrepreneurs that their products will not be perfect in their first iterations. You’ll have to tweak the product along the way, and the best way to figure out those changes is by continually testing your invention with real consumers. Get honest feedback from test groups to validate your idea, he advised.
“The validation process needs to happen on a regular basis,” Helgeson said. “If you’re trying to do something and the market tells you [they want] something else, you might be going down the wrong path. Be out there in the field … talking to people, being part of industry conversations. You can’t sit in a room and try to dream something up.”
By incorporating your business, you create a separate legal entity, protecting your personal assets from any liabilities of your corporation. Better yet, it’s easy to do. The
Follow these six steps to incorporate your business:
Secure a trademark for your business name to help separate your business from the crowd, while protecting you from businesses that may imitate your services. Learn how to trademark your business name.
If you have one of those lightning-in-a-bottle ideas for an invention or service, getting legal protection is a good idea. That’s what patents are for – giving you a legal right with federal protection to essentially own a specific product, idea, process or any other type of invention.
As with a trademark, you need to apply through the USPTO to secure a patent. It’s a simple enough process, but it does require a fair bit of documentation of your idea to make sure someone else didn’t already secure the rights. Once everything has been validated, that idea is yours; however, it may require renewal every few years.
Changing demands, inaccurate inventory records, outdated processes or even limitations in physical storage space make the distribution of any product a slow burden. That’s exactly why inventory management systems were designed.
With an inventory management system, you’ll analyze current market trends to manufacture enough product or order enough stock to keep up with demand, while avoiding overproduction and overstock concerns. An inventory management system also helps your company save money and improve cash flow – all while improving customer satisfaction. You can find the best one for you in our guide to inventory management software.
Eduardo Vasconcellos, Sammi Caramela and Nicole Fallon contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.