What to expect when you're inventing

In many ways, a new product is like a child. As a new father myself, I know the feeling of holding your new baby in your arms for the first time.

David Brown

By David Brown

In many ways, a new product is like a child. As a new father myself, I know the feeling of holding your new baby in your arms for the first time. You dream of the limitless potential and take endless pride in knowing that you had a hand in creating this incredible thing you now hold in front of you. Unknowingly, you don the rose colored glasses that adorn the faces of all new parents. You can't fathom that anyone could ever dislike your child. You can't understand how your child could ever be any less important to everyone else on the planet then he or she is to you. By our own nature, we as humans are susceptible to this sort of thought. The more we put into our own creation, be it a child, an idea, or a new product, the more prone we are to have inflated or even unrealistic expectations for it. To help insure the success of "your baby," here are a few common pitfalls you can expect when inventing and developing new product ideas.

"Mmm… this is going to be good!"

Many times new inventors and entrepreneurs use the perceived market cap as a direct indicator of a product's potential success. They then take an arbitrary percentage of that market cap and set it as a sales goal. Their logic is, "If there are 100,000 potential buyers in the marketplace and my product will at least appeal to 25% of them, then I should be able to sell 25,000 units." This can be especially debilitating if you are among the demographic of buyers, as your own preferences may lead you to think "I like it, so everyone else should too." Anyone who has ever tried to feed a baby stewed carrots or strained peas can testify to the flaws in this logic. Just because you like a something doesn't mean your little angel won't projectile vomit it right back on you. The lesson here is this: Never make assumptions based on your own preferences. Instead, focus on your target market. Find out what the market's needs are, how big the market is, and most importantly, how many units you'll have to sell in order to turn a profit after all your expenses have been accounted for. If the number of units needed to turn a profit is higher than the potential market cap, it's time to re-evaluate your plan. Above all, don't be afraid to ask someone for help. If you have a support network to help guide you through those first sleepless nights, then by all means use it. You might just make it through the start-up stage without pureed vegetables in your hair.

"I think my kid is an all star!"

Thinking you know the success factors for your product and actually knowing them make a world of difference in the marketplace. To truly know what it takes for your product to be successful in its infancy takes research. Like any good parent, you must do your due diligence in order to insure success for your child. You talk to teachers, coaches, tutors, and experts in whatever your child is interested in. You ask their opinions as to where the child fits into that field and how and where he or she might be positioned in order to achieve the greatest success. Your new idea for a product should be no different.

Overall, it is important to gather as much data as you can and be as objective as possible during your analysis. Some questions you need to ask are:

• Is there truly a need for my product in the marketplace?

• Does my idea already exist in the marketplace? More often than not, multiple people independently find a solution for the same problem in any given industry.

• Is my product or idea already obsolete?

This one is tricky. While the product or idea you are proposing may be of great use now, the question you need to ask is "for how long?" If your product is designed to work with the current generation's technology, will it work with the next generation? If not, the relevancy and life span of it will be limited. In some cases, it could become obsolete before you see any return on your initial investment.

• How much are other people willing to spend to have my product?

If you have competitive products in the marketplace, you will need to pay special attention to this answer. Never make assumptions on what consumers are willing to pay for anything.

• How will I manufacture my product?

If you can manufacturer five units a month in your garage now at a profit, how will you manufacture 5,000 units in a month in the future?

• How will I distribute my product?

Will you distribute your product yourself, or have dealers? Will you contract with a master distributor? The answer to this question needs to be part of your long-term plan.

• How easy is it for my target consumer to live without my product?

This is a very important question. If the perceived value of your product is not more than the cost to the user, it may be nearly impossible to achieve long term success.

"Sometimes you just have to let them fall down"

Henry Ford once said, "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." Whether it's a child taking their first steps or a first-time entrepreneur launching a new product, failure in many ways is merely a prelude to success. Unfortunately, too many of us heap unrealistic expectations to succeed on our ideas (and yes, even our children) and are then devastated when those expectations are not met. Of the millions of new ideas and products that come into the marketplace, only a very small percentage of them ever become successful. Many entrepreneurs' passions for their own inventions have driven them to needlessly pour personal savings and resources into a product that may never recoup their investment. Therefore, it is important to know when to stop investing and move on to a new project. There is no shame in falling down or failing. Like a child who proudly wears skinned knees and stitches as badges of honor, true innovators will learn from each mistake and grow stronger from it.

Ultimately, the goals of new parents and entrepreneurs are much the same. You want your child, or your creation, to become something bigger than you. With good planning, discipline, and a lot of love, there is no reason your "baby" cannot be successful.

David Brown has worked in the dental industry for the past 12 years and is currently the director of dealer sales for Practicon, Inc. He also works as a consultant to inventors and entrepreneurs in the dental industry. David holds a degree in media communications from East Carolina University. He can be reached at dbrown@practicon.com.

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