Enventys Partners CEO Louis Foreman shares his experiences in the inventing journey
“I hate to break it to you, but the world doesn’t need your idea. It doesn’t need my ideas, either.”
The following interview, reprinted with permission and edited for brevity, was originally posted on Dec. 8, 2020, on thriveglobal.com. It was conducted by Tyler Gallagher, CEO and founder of Regal Assets, an international alternative assets firm. Louis Foreman is founder and CEO of Charlotte-based product development firm Enventys Partners, founder of Edison Nation, and publisher of Inventors Digest.
Can you tell us a bit about your youth backstory?
I started my first business out of my fraternity room in college. I played lacrosse and we did not have a local supplier of equipment. In my Econ101 class I learned about supply and demand, and if there was a demand for a product or service and no one was satisfying that demand, there should be an opportunity.
So rather than take notes, I took action. That initial business of selling lacrosse equipment to local teams eventually pivoted into screen-printed apparel, and by the time I left college, it had grown to become the 24th largest screen-printing company in the country.
What is your favorite “life lesson quote”?
“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” by Wayne Gretzky. You need to fail fast, fail early, and learn from each mistake to increase your likelihood of success.
What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your products?
I have always questioned why things are done the way they are done and wondered if there is a better way. Some of my earlier inventions (and patents) were in the field of sports protection, namely soccer shin guards and baseball protective guards. The products available on the market did not fit well, and as a result, did not provide the optimal impact dispersion.
I was inspired by the technology that was being used for splinting and casting in the hospital and thought this could be the ideal material to use for sports protection. I took my idea and developed some of the first custom-formed soccer shin guards. I eventually licensed them to Nike, Adidas, and nearly every other major soccer company in the world.
People seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
The difference between having a good idea and making money from that idea lies in the execution. The vast majority will never follow through on them because life gets in the way. They don’t have the time, financial resources, or understand the process.
My current company, Enventys Partners, was started to overcome this problem by providing the necessary resources to go from a sketch on a napkin to the store shelf. Over the past 19 years, my firm has been involved in the development of over 2,000 consumer products and medical devices.
What is the funniest mistake you made when you were starting?
While an entrepreneur in college, I attended an industry trade show and stumbled upon instant hand warmers, which were a completely new product at the time. The weather in the winter in Illinois was quite cold, and I knew that I could sell these at all the home football games for a handsome margin.
I decided to purchase 40,000 units and have my fraternity brothers help me sell them. Well, the colder temperatures for football season didn’t come as planned. The first few games were quite warm, and the warm weather stretched into November. The very last game of the season, versus Northwestern University in December, should have been a frigid event, but it ended up being in the 60s.
I didn’t sell a single hand warmer. The lesson in all this is that you need to stick to what you know and what you do.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product,” and why?
Your idea probably isn’t unique. I hate to break it to you, but the world doesn’t need your idea. It doesn’t need my ideas, either. It’s 2020 and civilization has gotten by this long without it. The reality, however, is that consumers will want to purchase products and services that make their lives easier, are better for the environment, bring joy to their lives, or cost less. You need to determine what it is about your idea that differentiates it from the competition, both direct and indirect, and why consumers will want to purchase it rather than something else that satisfies the same basic need.
A basic search on Google will give you an initial idea of what is out there. A more thorough search on the internet and using patent databases will also reveal whether or not your idea is truly novel.
Define your customer. Who is that person? Please do not say everyone in the world. That in itself is absurd—and even if everyone did want it, could they afford it? Could you manufacture that many units and distribute them all? You need to be able to paint a narrow picture of your perfect customer and understand their demographics from age to income and geographic location. Armed with this information, it becomes easier to quantify the size of the potential market and do the necessary research to see if those customers want your product.
Determine demand. If you know who your customer is, figuring out demand becomes much easier. Just ask them! Conduct online surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews to determine what they like about your product, what they don’t like, how much they would pay for it, where they would expect to purchase it, and how often they would purchase.
Outline a path to financial success. Construct a startup budget and Pro-forma income statement to determine what you need and how long it will take before you break even and then become consistently profitable. You may discover the financial rewards do not justify the risk.
Figure out funding. Where will the money come from? Most businesses fail due to a lack of capital. They might have had the resources to get started, but not enough to get to profitability.
Personal savings, combined with money from friends and family are a natural place to begin when trying to raise outside capital. If more is needed, banks can provide liquidity to existing assets. Angel investors are a more appropriate source for risk capital and will require a greater return than a traditional investor. Venture capital is another option if your business has the potential to generate explosive growth and returns. Don’t start the process until you know you have the resources to get you to profitability.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have been teaching entrepreneurship at three universities for over 10 years, mentor numerous startups, and serve on nonprofit and government boards. These small actions can have a multiplier effect on the lives and success of entrepreneurs.
Louis Foreman’s steps from idea to consumer product:
- Identify a product that addresses a problem or need and determine what makes it unique from all the others.
- Determine the feasibility of this idea (see the five questions).
- Research the product and industry. Are there other products that exist? What is the direct and indirect competition?
- Search for patentability. Do an initial prior art search online to see if there are any products similar to your idea, and then do a more thorough search using the USPTO database of patents to see if there are existing patents that cover the idea. You are looking to see how likely your idea is novel and therefore potentially patentable. After searching to see if any patents exist, you can file for protection. Starting with a provisional application, this is an inexpensive way to give yourself “patent-pending status” while you research the invention and decide whether to move forward. Within one year, you’ll have to decide whether to file the non-provisional utility application, which hopefully will result in the issuance of a US patent. That patent gives you 20 years where no one else can make, use or sell what you have created.
- Prototype. Reduce your idea down to practice by creating a “works like” prototype. This doesn’t have to look like the final product, but it should show that it can function as you have envisioned it. Prototyping is a process and with each version, you learn something new. There is a reason that James Dyson had 5,127 before he was satisfied with his vacuum cleaner.
- Design and engineer the product. Once you believe the idea is doable, hire a firm to handle the industrial design and engineering. Professional firms have the skilled staff to make the product look great, function properly, and provide the necessary engineering files that a factory will need to produce it at scale.
- Get manufacturing quotes. In some cases, you may be able to get quotes for manufacturing from the same firm that did your design and engineering. In other cases, you may decide you want to pursue this on your own. It is important to determine if you want to have your product manufactured domestically or overseas. Typically, overseas manufacturing will result in lower costs but longer lead time for delivery. You will also lose a little bit of control in the process because “driving over to the factory” is not nearly as easy.
- Crowdfunding for market validation. Crowdfunding has become an incredibly effective way to get market validation, as well as a way to generate non-dilutive capital for your business. By launching a crowdfunding campaign, and we have done over 2,000, you can pause before manufacturing your product and make sure there truly is demand at the price you intend to sell it for. You also build up some initial momentum and buzz.
- Production samples. Once you have settled on a manufacturer, the process of open molds (tooling) and production of the first samples begins. There will be several iterations before they get it just right, so be patient during the process.
- Commercialization. Most companies take an omnichannel approach to selling their product. The crowdfunding process helps start the sales generation, but once you fulfill the orders to your initial backers you need to be thinking e-commerce (Amazon and your company’s website), as well as traditional retail.
- Marketing. Keep adding fuel to the fire here and monitor the return on ad spend. You want to make sure that the money that you are spending is generating sales.
- Innovate. You need to continue to improve your product or develop complementary products that you can sell as well. Innovation happens quickly and if you are not looking to disrupt your competition, it is just a matter of time before they disrupt you.