Inventing is fun for lots of people – you see a problem or a perceived problem and have the satisfaction of dreaming up a solution. The work is interesting, creative, and often even productive. How can you beat it? I admire problem solvers and totally understand why this is such an engaging and fun activity. However inventing for fun is to inventing for money as taking a Sunday drive is to racing at the Daytona 500. Both are perfectly worthwhile things to do, but it’s not difficult to tell who is doing what. The differences are obvious.
DIFFERENCE NO. 1
The person who’s inventing for fun dreams up zillions of ideas – he almost can’t help it. One day it’s for a new garden product, the next it’s a laundry room product and the next it’s something for the car. Flitting here, flitting there, without a clue about any of these industries and where his inventions might fit in. The person inventing for money understands that inventing is often the easy part and that the real creativity is in knowing what to invent. He or she understands that before trying to invent anything the inventor for money must first really study the industry in which the new invention is intended to compete. A company intended to branch out into a new field would never do so without first intensely investigating the new industry to determine where its targets of opportunity lie. Since that’s so logical for a company, why shouldn’t it be just as logical for the inventor?
Before even thinking about a new product idea, the invent-for-money guy first learns how the industry operates, how products are distributed, the industry’s cyclical selling periods, the trade discounts, which companies are on the rise and which are on the decline, which products are hot and which are not, which products flopped in the past and which are on the rise. Only after he has determined a need, a target of opportunity or an undiscovered niche, does the inventor-for-money set out to invent the actual product. To invent for an unknown industry usually results in inventing what’s already been invented or solving a problem that no one cares about. It’s like a custom tailor making a suit and then looking for someone it fits.
The inventor-for-fun looks at his creation and proclaims, “It’ll sell in the millions!” The truth is, he really hasn’t the foggiest idea if the product has any commercial value at all, and isn’t even aware of who his product really has appeal to. “The consumer of course”, he’ll say, as if only a fool would see a reason to ask. However, that’s the wrong answer. The person inventing for money understands that a licensable product is invented for the licensee. That’s who he has to please. Pleasing the consumer is beside the point. That’s the licensee’s job, not the inventor’s. The person inventing for money understands that a product’s marketability and its licensability are not the same thing.
The hard truth is that companies don’t like to sign licensing agreements. They’ll only do it, kicking and screaming, if the idea is fresh and exciting, if the start-up costs are in proportion to the anticipated returns, and if the idea brings new profits to the company instead of simply switching sales from one product to another. You’ll notice I haven’t said that the invention has to improve the lives or the well being of the consumer. Worry instead about improving the well being of the licensee. After all, he’s the one signing the checks – and anyway, he knows a lot more about pleasing the consumer than you do. That’s why you brought your product to him in the first place.
The invent-for-fun person will do everything to avoid personal face-to-face rejection. He’ll run to get a patent and send out a bunch of unsolicited letters to names out of a directory, or he’ll seek advice on Internet newsgroups from others who also have never licensed anything, or he’ll surrender his bankroll to an invention submission company, or he’ll build a website and put his trust in the miracle of the Internet. None of these activities brings results. They never have and they never will.
On the other hand, the invent-for-money person will do everything possible to get himself and his invention in front of the boss of the company that can best sell his product. He’ll do it himself or he’ll get someone like me to do it for him – but either way he knows that nothing happens unless a face-to-face presentation is made to the person who has the authority to say yes. There are no shortcuts and no substitutions.
I’ve created and licensed more products of my own and those of other inventors than I can count, certainly more than a hundred, and can honestly report that I never closed a deal in any way other than a face-to-face meeting. I used to try calling and mailing the material but it was so hopeless that I long ago gave up trying. I can also honestly report that I never closed a deal unless I met with the person who could make the decision. Engineers, sales assistants, folks from the design department – they’re all just gatekeepers who have the authority to say no, but haven’t the authority to say yes. And the truth of the matter is that they’re all your enemy. The gatekeeper feels it reflects badly on him if the boss gets excited about an idea from an outsider since he’s the one being paid a salary to dream them up. It’s predictable that he’ll do his best to facilitate your failure.
There’s certainly nothing wrong in inventing-for-fun; it’s a creative and engrossing activity. If you want someone to pay you for the results, then I hope you will consider the fact that inventing for money is first and foremost a business with all the failures and successes that every business experiences. However, if you keep sight of your goal, and if you maintain your approach to it in a businesslike manner, there’s no reason why you won’t start achieving the kind of successful results that you will have earned by your efforts.