The good, the bad and how to handle success and failure

By Jack Lander

Other than abundant creativity, perhaps the most common trait we inventors share is failure. Failure?

Jack Lander

Jack Lander

This magazine is supposed to be about success. It is, but failure is also the reality of inventing. To experience a flop with our first (or early) inventions is often a vital part of how we learn to succeed.

We typically experience failure not because our inventions lack merit, but because of problems of marketability – not knowing how to approach the market, finding that we are too early or too late getting to the market, or even finding that our invention has already been produced and sold. But armed with even the best advice, it seems that most of us have to endure being blindsided before we get it.

Should we attempt to solve this problem before we invent, or should we let human nature takes its usual course? I suppose that’s a matter for each of us to answer for ourselves.

If you’ve had a flop with your first invention, you are in good company. In fact, many venture capital firms reject proposals from highly qualified persons who haven’t experienced at least one significant failure. Apparently they consider the “school of hard knocks” to be as important as the university.

The other possibility is early success. No doubt that’s the goal of most of us. The danger is that the inventor may believe he or she has some special touch or intuitively knows the secrets of success.

But every invention has its own unique path to its conclusion, whether it is a success or failure. DuPont first produced the ubiquitous nylon, but had to drop the ill-fated Corfam, an artificial leather substitute, after trying for seven years to gain market success. Conversely, Ford experienced a major flop with its Edsel, but went on to create the highly successful and iconic Mustang.

In any event, if you haven’t yet had a success or have not yet ventured with your first invention, I would not aim for failure in order to get it over with. Someone once suggested that we should start with a “throw-away” invention and use it as a learning experience. I don’t agree with that. Why waste money on what could be a successful product? Try for a success from the beginning, but accept the idea that not everything you invent is going to make it to the marketplace and produce a profit.

To increase the odds of early success, follow these simple rules:

1)      Even if you’re wealthy, don’t take on a complex invention that requires thousands of dollars to create a demonstrable prototype. Mark Twain, who financed the inventor of a monstrous typesetting machine, lost his fortune and had to exile himself in Europe for years until he paid off his many creditors. Keep it simple. Very simple.

2)      Research the market from your desktop. Go first to, and find what’s out there. This is not a patentability search. It’s intended merely to reveal that the optimum timing for your great idea may have passed. If your invention is completely original with no similar patents you’re a genius, no doubt. But it’s likely that the market isn’t ready and waiting for your invention. If there are hundreds of patents on similar inventions, you may be too late. Even though you have invented novel features, the market may be well satisfied and you won’t gain entry.

3)      Try for product pricing between $9.95 and $99.95. Products in this price range are attractive to catalogs, TV and the Internet. The ideal range to interest these markets is $19.95 to $29.95. Products that sell for under $9.95 are difficult to profit from and those priced above $99.95 find consumer resistance. Whether you intend to produce and market or license your invention, its marketability determines its licensability.

So, strive for early success, but if your invention flops don’t lose heart. Even Edison experienced a large share of failures.