Here’s how to develop your next brilliant concept into a product prototype, advertise that thing, and sell it.
- Timing is everything with new products. If a new invention is the first of its kind, you may face adoption problems. If it’s too late, it may not be competitive in the market. Knowing when to strike will make the difference for your product’s success.
- Developing your product requires research, prototyping, and practicing your elevator pitch, so don’t do it alone. There are plenty of resources available to help you along your path.
- Don’t forget to take steps to protect your business, ideas and personal assets. By securing a trademark for your company name, incorporating your new organization, and patenting your new invention, you distinguish yourself from the rest of the market.
- This article is for business owners, entrepreneurs and inventors to help them turn an ember of an idea into a global sensation.
Although innovation is a difficult process, it can help you break into the commercial world and open doors. Sharing your idea with the world is the first step towards developing it into a product. But 140 years ago, even electricity was a controversial topic.
Thomas Edison was criticized by several eminent scientists in the late 1800s. These scientists asserted that harnessing electricity on a large scale was impossible and that it was a fantasy. We now understand it to be a lot of nonsense and live in a world that is constantly lit up, but it all began with an idea, a dream, and Edison’s perseverance. You could be the inventor of an entire new line of products if you have the right attitude and an understanding of what it takes to invent something new. What you need to know about starting and marketing your invention is provided below.
The challenges of inventing
Timing is everything in the field of innovation. If you take too long, someone else will profit from an analogous concept and snag your market. On the other hand, if your invention is the first of its kind, the market might not be ready, and you’ll have to fight an uphill battle to carve out a place for your product.
Years before mobile payments became widely used, in 2011, Henry Helgeson, co-founder of Cayan (now a division of TSYS), encountered this problem with his mobile payments technology business. He advises persistence to stay ahead of your rivals as the market catches up for other firms that are too early in the innovation cycle.
“Peers in our industry [said mobile payments] would never happen, but we kept moving and got a three- to four-year jump on everyone,” Helgeson said. “It takes a while … it’s not something you can build up overnight. But once you have momentum going, it’s very powerful.”
Tips for success
Ready to turn your product idea into a reality? The experts we spoke to offered the following advice for aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs.
1. Don’t go it alone.
There are many steps in the invention process, and it can be overwhelming to take care of everything yourself. Lininger advised seeking out professional assistance so you can be assured that certain elements of the process rest in capable, experienced hands. For instance, you may want to find a manufacturer if you’re looking to develop your prototype, or Rocket Lawyer if you’re looking for a qualified, on-demand patent attorney. You should also consider a business partner, said Anayet Chowdhury, co-founder of educational technology company ArgoPrep.
“Find a co-founder who believes in your idea [or] product and has a specific set of skills that you do not possess,” Chowdhury said. “Companies that have co-founders are [more likely] to succeed compared to solopreneurs.”
Incubators can also be a great place to find success, providing tools, resources, and a supportive community as you move through the process.
Kate Bell, founder and director of Zip Us In, which provides jacket expanders for pregnant women, uses IncuHive as a base for her business. “The business support has been superb and enabled me to be confident in my scale-up plans with such a vast network of experience behind me. IncuHive has been instrumental in us pitching to investors and has provided meeting space and an advisory board.”
2. Do your research.
Inventing a product requires a lot of initial investigation, patience and resilience, Lininger said. Before you start, set aside the time to do your due diligence. This is especially important when you’re looking at patent protection for your idea. Ask yourself, “Would my design infringe upon someone else’s copyright or intellectual property (IP)?”
“Do some research into intellectual property and familiarize [yourself] with the process and the jargon used in the field, including patent, copyright, trademark, etc.,” Lininger said. “There are numerous reputable sites you can learn from, such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office, World Intellectual Property Organization, and the World Trade Organization. If patent protection is something you are interested in, contact a patent lawyer.”
Visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website and investigate any patents on items similar to the one you want to make. If you have questions or want to ensure your invention is legal for you to create and sell, consult an attorney who specializes in patents and IP law.
You should also look at what’s out there to size up your competition. Marco Cirillo, co-founder and CTO of social planning app Kibii, recommends researching who your competitors are, what your target audience likes and dislikes about products already on the market, and if your product is unique enough to stand out.
“Many founders and business owners will leave marketing as an afterthought,” Cirillo said. “To get the highest return, you need to conduct research and set targets before you even launch your product. This will help the team stay aligned and have a common vision so you can ensure a successful product launch.”
3. Develop a prototype.
Once you’ve found your market and ensured a clear legal path, it’s time to create a prototype. At this point, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to have your product manufactured or licensed.
The former means you’ll create and sell your product yourself (this includes paying a third party to manufacture your product). The latter means you’ll sell another company the rights to make, use, and sell your products, granting that right in exchange for a license fee and royalty payments.
4. Work on your elevator pitch.
Even before you have a finished product to sell, you’ll need to talk it up to your friends and professional contacts. Lininger emphasized the importance of developing a great elevator pitch: a concise sales speech that includes a hook, a value statement, statistics and other data, a description of your product’s unique aspects, and a call to action. For more information on this topic, see our tips for perfecting your elevator pitch.
5. Test your product.
Helgeson reminds entrepreneurs that their products will not be perfect in their first iterations. You’ll have to tweak the product along the way, and the best way to figure out those changes is by continually testing your invention with real consumers. Get honest feedback from test groups to validate your idea, he advised.
“The validation process needs to happen on a regular basis,” Helgeson said. “If you’re trying to do something and the market tells you [they want] something else, you might be going down the wrong path. Be out there in the field … talking to people, being part of industry conversations. You can’t sit in a room and try to dream something up.”
6. Incorporate your business.
By incorporating your business, you create a separate legal entity, protecting your personal assets from any liabilities of your corporation. Better yet, it’s easy to do. The
Follow these six steps to incorporate your business:
- Choose a business name. Simply select a business name that doesn’t already exist to secure it as your own. If you’d like to trademark your business name, make sure it doesn’t already exist with the USPTO.
- Pick a location. Identify the physical address you’ll use as your corporate headquarters. For a larger business, depending on your region, you may be required to secure a commercial workspace. Learn how to choose the right location for your business.
- Decide on a corporate entity. A business can be incorporated as a limited liability company (LLC), a C corporation for larger businesses, or an S corporation for small organizations.
- Obtain a tax ID number. An employer identification number (EIN) is an IRS requirement for any corporation. You can apply for an EIN on the IRS website.
- Manage the money. Set up a business bank account to manage your finances and create a barrier between your personal and corporate assets. Corporate bank accounts also add a clear record of corporate activity for taxes and accounting purposes.
- Secure permits and licenses for state finalization. Depending on your type of business, you may be subject to different regulatory policies. For example, someone starting a restaurant will need food-handling permits, while an accountant may need a state license to offer services.
7. Secure a patent.
If you have one of those lightning-in-a-bottle ideas for an invention or service, getting legal protection is a good idea. That’s what patents are for – giving you a legal right with federal protection to essentially own a specific product, idea, process or any other type of invention.
As with a trademark, you need to apply through the USPTO to secure a patent. It’s a simple enough process, but it does require a fair bit of documentation of your idea to make sure someone else didn’t already secure the rights. Once everything has been validated, that idea is yours; however, it may require renewal every few years.
8. Manage your inventory.
Changing demands, inaccurate inventory records, outdated processes or even limitations in physical storage space make the distribution of any product a slow burden. That’s exactly why inventory management systems were designed.
With an inventory management system, you’ll analyze current market trends to manufacture enough product or order enough stock to keep up with demand, while avoiding overproduction and overstock concerns. An inventory management system also helps your company save money and improve cash flow – all while improving customer satisfaction. You can find the best one for you in our guide to inventory management software.