This post is the second in the “From Idea to Product Launch Series“
What do you have a passion for? Is there something that would make your life better?
This article includes my considerations for which invention idea to prioritize and a list of qualities that can make developing a product easier.
While researching product development, most of the online gurus I came across recommend finding a small way to alter an existing product and selling that idea to a company. After all, they already had manufacturing and marketing processes in place. Unfortunately, my product idea was for a wholly new product. Better chairs and bedside commodes already existed. The trouble was a lot of good but shaky bedside commodes, like the BSCs that insurances cover, tend to be what many people have at home.
My original plan was to try to license or sell the idea to a durable medical equipment (DME) company. I approached several companies. I approached a few of them multiple times, believing that as the product was further along in development, they may be more likely to respond. There was one person that called me back and we had a real conversation about the product. This person was from a smaller, local company. (The company was not that small, but I am not sure small companies exist in the DME space.) He pretty quickly determined that it was not a project that he was interested in because it did not fit his target customer. He was nice enough to stay on the phone and discuss things. The gentleman asked if I had a prototype sample from a manufacturer. When I reported that I only had the garage-made, rough, prototype because I was unable to find someone to make it, he told me that almost no one in the USA does and that almost everyone goes oversees to have DME manufactured. He also told me to make sure that I got it tested. The long conversation was really helpful and I am so grateful that he took the time to make that call.
Early in the development of what would become the Chair Cane, I was laid off from my job. With the extra time, I started to develop at least 3 different products that related to art. All three have now been placed on the back burner because of different obstacles and the desire to focus on just the Chair Cane. If I had pivoted more quickly from trying to sell the Chair CaneTM idea to focusing on its production, it would have advanced more quickly and would likely have been for sale months earlier.
I saw a better and more elegant version of one of the art products on Instagram. It’s price point was about $300 (3x) more than what mine would have been, so I may go back to it. One idea was an accessory for the first. The third art product idea was developed to the point of provisional patent and reaching out to a manufacturer. Selling/licensing the idea was my preferred path. I approached a few companies and made private, custom YouTube demonstrations for each to review. Because they were private, I could watch the view count closely and I knew that one company looked at their video. It was a simple design and I thought it could be easily produced for low cost. There was a local company with the right materials and tooling that agreed to create a sample. After months of “sorry, we have not done it yet,” I sent an email with a short deadline for seeing progress. The person I was working with was on vacation over that time and the whole thing was dropped.
Not getting calls or emails back was disappointing but an expected likely outcome. One company tried to be nice but their process ended up cruel. I had reached out through email and it was forwarded to the person/team that accepts pitches. They did email back an encouraging letter and included a phone number to call. No one ever answered another email or phone call. I had this vision of a phone sitting on a table in an empty, small, dark closet. Occasionally, an intern might be sent there for punishment.
List of product qualities that would make inventions easier to take to market:
- It doesn’t already exist
- People want it, the more, the better
- It solves a problem, is entertaining, or makes a task more efficient
- Small change with big impact on existing product
- Small product; easy and relatively cheap to produce, store, and ship
- Tech/game/app that everyone can download and is addictive
- Tariff free and tax exempt
- You can develop rough prototype without hiring a specialist
1-The Invention is a Novel Idea
This seems intuitive. If you invent something and are going to try to sell it, you need to research and make sure that it does not already exist. Many inventors have a good start on this because they went looking for something they needed and were not able to find it. Look past an Amazon search. Dig deep on Google. Try a variety of search terms. Go pages deep on the search. Maybe you just do not know what it is called. Maybe the product exists, but in a different specialized area. I looked on photography supply and mechanic sites for one of my art related items.
Even if you are unable to find a preexisting, similar product, do not be surprised if one pops up on a patent search. You can use Google Patents to begin your search. It may also be worth hiring someone to do a detailed search for you. I used Legal Zoom to do a patent search years ago and one of the findings was almost an exact match. It was actually my idea but better. With the Chair Cane, I did the initial research myself. When it was patent time, I did ask the lawyer that I was using to complete a detailed search (that he suggested). More intellectual property talk on a future post in the series. You should have more than a good story before getting a patent. Develop the idea more first.
2, 3- The Product Invention Fills a Need
While you can develop a product and then spend time convincing people they need it, filling a need that people already recognize is an easier haul. I did not perform proper market research for the Chair Cane. I recognized and was aware of my choice at the time. Myself and the the patients I saw, through my home health work, were the target market. I saw the need. I wanted this product to help the people I worked with. I did have some discussions with colleagues about the problem and if they had any ideas. I really did not start off looking to build a product or open a business.
The other projects have not made it past rough prototype stage. That is to say, my personal art set up and supplies include the products, but I have not approached anyone else to see if they would want to use them. Nor do I have a suitable sample for them to try out.
4-7 Think Small, Cheap, and Easy
As mentioned before, if your invention idea is a small but meaningful change to a product that already exists, you may be able to skip most product development steps and head straight to the pitch. Find the right phone number in the target company’s marketing or product development department and shoot your shot.
If you actually need to produce a prototype, sample, and/or case of products, size matters. I am envious of all the sticker shops on Etsy. It can be a difficult challenge to develop a unique digital design that sells, but they can store it in a folder and mail it in an envelope. Again, it is not easy, but the resource cost is much lower than for larger items. Programming an app or game that people like is really difficult, but digital downloads do not need a warehouse with a forklift.
8-You already have the knowledge and skills needed to make a rough prototype
This can include a detailed drawing that has enough information for someone else to be able to pick it up and know what the product is and what it does. It is better to have a functioning model. You can test it out yourself. You can show your manufacturer, lawyer, or investor what it really looks like and how it performs. I am currently working on another product in the healthcare realm that I will probably need to hire an engineer to get a working prototype. My PVC and elastic band version is just a big paperweight right now. To introduce it to a manufacturer without the materials and physics at least partially worked out, would be a waste of time.
Going back to an important point raised in the question at the top of the post, what are you passionate about? Developing a product invention takes some time, even if you skip my mistakes and pour 100% into the project. Design problems may come up that need to be fixed. Filing for patents and trademarks can take a long time. It may be difficult to find a manufacturer that will work with a small, new business. There is time to wait while the product mold/sample is being made. Production, shipping, and almost every step requires patience and learning a new process. If you have experience in developing a new invention idea into a product or a licensing deal, it may be easier but it is hard to imagine it would ever be considered easy. Going through the whole process for a product that I did not care about would have been excruciating.
More to come in the series!
Are you working on a project now? Any pearls of wisdom you would like to share? Join the conversation!