Let the Experts in on the Game

Editor’s note: Jim DeBetta writes the Inventor’s Insight column for Inventors Digest. This piece appears in our August 2009 issue.

By Jim DeBetta

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Jim DeBetta

Most inventors know very little about the proper process of product development and marketing.

That’s OK. Why would anyone know about a business they are not in? What makes me nervous is that many inventors feel they will make millions, when the truth is that just a tiny fraction will ever make substantial figures.

What I have discovered is that by taking a deep look into each inventor’s accomplishments, I am able to assess what they know and formulate a game plan to develop their product for the lowest cost and effort. By knowing what to do and how to do it, inventors can greatly increase their chances for success.

Recently, I spoke with a mom who had a great idea for a baby product. She was clearly stressed by everyday life of raising two children, while trying to get a handle on what to do with her idea. It all seemed too daunting. Here is how I guided her, as I would for every inventor:

1.      I sent her a multi-page questionnaire to learn her goals (to license or manufacture and sell) and ask questions, such as: Did you conduct a proper patent search? What is unique about your product idea? Do you understand the costs and risks of developing a product? Have you located a reliable factory to produce your product? Once these, and more questions, are answered, I formulate a road map outlining the major steps in the order she should work on them.

2.      After learning more about this mom inventor, I called her to discuss everything from patents to sales and marketing. She had many questions, and providing her with answers gave her confidence to move ahead to develop her product correctly.

3.      Next, she and I created a “short list” of to-do items. She could handle some of these by herself and others with some guidance. To create a Web site and write a detailed business plan for raising money from friends and family, I suggested she hire professionals. I stressed the importance of recognizing what she was capable of and where she should defer and seek guidance, which would avoid costly mistakes and save money in the long run.

4.      I followed up with her via e-mail and phone a few times a week for the next couple of months to make sure she was staying on task for her own progress, as well as her vendors. Within a few months, she had a Web site created; found a trusted factory; got a business plan; performed consumer product surveys to receive suggestions for improvement; and created sell sheets and packaging for her product. The baby product was nearly retail ready!

Learning as much as possible during this process was very important to her. She was happy to have the right people help her, but she also wanted to be very involved so that she could develop another product later without extensive “hand holding” by me or others. You have to love that – learn once correctly, and do most of it yourself the next time!

What scares most inventors that I speak with is being ripped off and the potential costs of developing a product. Most inventors are way off in their projections. They think that, for a few thousand dollars, they can be retail ready. The true cost is often tens of thousands. This is a very competitive and serious business, and tens of thousands of people each year compete for the very few shelf spaces available at mass retail chains.

There are always ways to lessen your cash outlay – find friends with experience who can pitch in or do what you can on your own. The big lesson is to avoid making mistakes that cause you to take two steps back on your journey to product development.

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