New Dimensions

Stand Out

"OK," you're saying, "so how did Tornabene do it?" First and foremost, you need to make sure your product is different from all the other products out there that are similar to yours. The market is just too demanding. "[I like] to think in other dimensions and use a perspective that's intangible," says Tornabene. In other words, he looks for products that aren't delivering what consumers want-then he focuses on that need and tries to visualize how the product should be designed.

Consider the thought process behind the AB Rocker. Tornabene first identified the problem: The average American doesn't really enjoy exercising and usually stops his or her regime after a short period of time. He then looked beyond his extensive knowledge of fitness products to try to come up with a product to solve that problem.

"I started to realize that the motion people find most comforting is rocking," says Tornabene. "That's why I decided to make rocker technology the basis of my fitness products. The market's previous top-selling abdominal exercising product was the AB Roller, a major hit on direct-response TV. For five years, no one was able to come up with a better solution." Then Tornabene invented the AB Rocker.

Your challenges as an inventor go beyond thinking in other dimensions, however. When creating their products, many inventors experience the frustration of trying to coordinate three very different things: the look, the vision and the cost of the product. You need to have a look that sets the product apart, a function that's important to consumers and a price that consumers will feel is a good value.

Inventors frequently fall short in at least one of these areas. The most effective way to avoid this problem is to collaborate with another person. Tornabene, for example, works closely with Perez, a mechanical wizard who turns vision into reality by creating prototypes. The two of them own a shop in Venice, California.

After experiencing the wonderful world of marketing, you'll typically find that the best collaborative partnership is between a person with the vision to create a new idea and a person who can deliver a quality product. The skills of the two people complement each other, and their different perspectives-one looking to give customers the benefits they want, the other trying to build a quality product at a low cost-lead to the best products.

Tornabene is a well-known inventor with a track record of successful products-but he didn't start off that way. (Remember that small-town story we mentioned earlier? That's where we all begin.) What took him to the top was his ability to consider alternatives to existing products. You'll have a better chance of duplicating Tornabene's success if you can learn to think outside of the proverbial box when creating your own winning inventions.

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This article was originally published in the April 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: New Dimensions.

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