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Q&A: American Inventor Judge Peter Jones

Peter Jones shares his advice for million-dollar success, plus why he hopes American Inventor, the show he co-created, wakes the inventing giant America once was.

If success is measured in dollars, then Peter Jones certainly has that whole "success" thing down pat. As one of the judges and co-creators of American Inventor, Jones is new to the American public, but he's well known across the pond as one the most successful entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom.

At 16, Jones started his first business and has been building his empire ever since, including heading up a telecommunications company that's expected to bring in more than $500 million in revenue this year. American Inventor is his first attempt at reaching an American audience, however, and it's something he hopes will become much more than just an entertaining TV show.

We talked to Jones to get his take on building a million-dollar business and why he hopes American Inventor will reawaken America's entrepreneurial spirit and put the United States back on the map as an invention leader.

Entrepreneur.com:You're a very successful businessman in Britain, yet you decided to create American Inventor. Why did you feel this type of show should be done in the U.S.?

Peter Jones: One of the main reasons I came up with the idea was I wanted to create a show that would capture people's imaginations and hearts, but lead to something a bit more than just a TV show. I felt that everybody wants to better themselves or have a better life in some way. After speaking with Simon [Cowell, the co-executive producer], Simon very much thought that America would be a great place to start. I couldn't agree with him more because clearly, America sort of leads the way in inspiration and most other things. The show is about real people with real ideas wanting to be a part of the American dream.

Entrepreneur.comYou have a new book titled Peter Jones: The Millionaire Mindset coming out in July. Can you tell me about the secrets you share in the book regarding what it takes to build a multimillion dollar business?

Jones: What I mainly cover in the book is what I really look for in an individual. What I'm trying to do is explain what a person needs to possess [in order to] make it in the outside world. I look for a person who possesses an immense focus and determination. Many doors will be closed and there are going to be many disappointments in the future, so what I go through [in the book] is a never-stop, never-give-up philosophy, which I believe is crucial if you want to have a major successful career. It's an unwavering belief to succeed--and also the ability to use failure positively. Many people think of failure as an end result and then stop, whereas I take failure and use [it] as feedback. So for me the word "failure" doesn't come into my vocabulary. I change the word "failure" into "feedback."

It's interesting how what I've written in the book transpires even to the show because my experience on American Inventor has taught me that [Americans possess] amazing self-belief. The American dream is clearly in everybody's hearts in America, and that's why, for me, American culture is about finding ways to make dreams come true. I see America as sort of the home of the entrepreneurial spirit, and I think this [season of American Inventor] is just the start. So my book covers a lot of those sorts of things: what I would do, how I approach life, etc. It's really getting into the Peter Jones' mindset, hence the name of the book.

Entrepreneur.com:Are there any inventors on the show who you feel really embody those traits you were just describing?

Jones: There certainly are. I'm obviously biased at the moment with [Ed Hall's] Word Acebecause I'm mentoring him. But I think that Word Ace is the only invention on the show this season that potentially could end up in every American home. So for me, that's quite critical in evaluating an invention. We've got some nice stories and we've got some nice emotional journeys that people have been on, but that's not enough to make it a great invention or a great idea. That's why I chose Word Ace from the start because it's the only product I see on American Inventor this season that legitimately could become a bestselling product in America.

Entrepreneur.comYou're very different from the other judges. You have Mary Lou and Ed who are looking at the marketing end of things and Doug's looking at design, but you come from a completely different background. You're an entrepreneur at heart, so what is it from your experience that makes an invention worthy of going into the market and succeeding?

Jones: I really think an invention has to be significantly unique and also, importantly, it has to be able to be protected by a patent. So many people came in front of us who hadn't even bothered to check if there was a competing product on the market. In an ideal world, you want to have huge market potential so that millions of people will buy your product. Another key is the product has to [be produced at a price that'll give you] a very good return, so you'll have retailers and distributors who'll want to get behind the product and start selling it.

The other thing I'm looking for is whether the invention is a product that'll get used up--your market opportunity only increases because people can then obviously go out and purchase this product over and over again. I think the other thing is that when marketing an invention, you end up having to spend a lot of money. So if the invention happens to be obvious, then you're going to minimize the advertising and marketing costs of trying to educate the public [about what your product is], which results in getting a greater return on your investment.

But for me, a great invention really stands out because you know it when you see it. It really smacks you between the eyes like a cricket ball. It's the "wow" factor. Now, we haven't had an overall complete "wow" factor this season, but then again, I wasn't really expecting it--it's a new show. But I do think that next year, we'll see the "wow" factor. We've done well; we've got four great finalists this year, and one of them certainly has a great product.

Entrepreneur.comDo you plan to come back for another season of American Inventor?

Jones: I hope so. The program obviously had immense success. I think as the show unfolds and as America starts to get hold of the show and starts to understand it, it could become a cult series. To have thousands and thousands of people turn out to [audition for] an opening show and to have a show that was ABC's biggest success on a Thursday night in 15 years is quite something in itself. I think it's definitely speaking right to the heart of America. Then it's basically how we adapt the show and how we change it for season two that'll guarantee that people come back again and again.

Entrepreneur.comSince you have such high standards, what do you think about the audience chiming in with their opinion of who should win?

Jones: Do I think America will make the right decision? That's a tough one. It concerns me that America likes to vote for an invention because of the person's background story. That's wrong. I want America to use their heads when voting, not just their hearts. So yes, I'm concerned, but it's a television entertainment show and America might choose to vote based on the person's background rather than "Is this a great product, will it sell millions, and is it part of the American Dream?"

Because if they vote for one or two of them [because of their background story], the product just won't sell. We have a car seat that's probably too large to fit in a car, so will it ever be produced? That's a big question mark. And we have a bike on the show that's another tough challenge, but it's a great story and it'll sell in small volume. And then we have Erik [Thompson] with the Training Pole, and that's not a mass-market product that every American home is going to buy.

That's what brings me back to Word Ace and why Word Ace should win the competition, because it's the only product in there that every American home could have. But that's the bit I'm not sure about. I'm not sure that America will see it like that. One of the big things is that they've seen the tears, they've seen the emotional stories, but I just hope they pick the invention millions of Americans would buy. I don't want them to vote for something if they can't see America buying it or aren't sure if the invention will ever get mass-produced. I want them to turn away from voting for that [type of] product because I think it would be a bit of a falsehood if we have a product that never gets to market.

Entrepreneur.comBesides the advice you share in your book, are there any other words of wisdom you can share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

Jones: The American culture is obviously about finding ways in which [you] can make [your] dreams come true, so if America truly is the home of the entrepreneurial spirit--and I believe that it actually is--then I think being an entrepreneur is about having that self-belief and about moving forward with that self-belief and being determined and dogged about it. And that's what's intriguing about the show. Because we've seen the good and the bad, and we've seen the really wacky, but I would like America to step up and show us the real world-class, the "wow" and the amazing.

Hopefully American Inventor as a show will wake a sleeping giant and put America back at the top as the leading invention nation because inventions are declining in America right now. I hope and pray that the American Inventor show steps up to make people realize that, and make America the world-power invention leader again.

Visit our American Inventor center to read more interviews with American Inventor judges, plus access our our recaps of the reality TV show, invention resources and articles.

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