History Lessons

Don't reinvent the wheel

Steve Christini's new All-Wheel Drive Mountain Bike was all the buzz at two major bike trade shows, and the 27-year-old entrepreneur is on the verge of major success, now that a sales and marketing agreement with a major bike manufacturer is in the works.

A passionate mountain biker, Christini felt there had to be a solution to an annoying problem with mountain bikes--they lose traction on steep inclines or sandy or slippery surfaces. Since he had a degree in mechanical engineering, Christini felt sure he could come up with a winning design that would eliminate the problem.

Christini did succeed--but mainly because he didn't just run out and start designing his product. First, by researching the history of other all-wheel-drive mountain bikes to see how they worked and how they had fared on the market, he was able to determine how his product should work and what pitfalls to avoid. With that head start, he avoided repeating others' mistakes, and ultimately created his product with a minimum of design changes.

Most inventors never bother to take this step, and as a result, they often follow the same flawed design paths of earlier inventors. Christini's brother, a patent attorney, didn't want Christini to make the same mistakes--he pushed him to do his homework so the capital provided by their family would last as long as possible.

Don Debelak (dondebelak@uswest.net) is a new-business marketing consultant who has introduced new products for more than 20 years. He is the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95, 800-225-5945).

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: History Lessons.

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