In Good Company

Got a great idea but don't have the time to develop it yourself? Why not hire an invention marketing firm to turn your great idea into a great product?

Die-hard sports fan Scott Nastazio thinks a lot about golfers and the new products they could use. "They're always having to go back to their bags when they need [a tee]," says the 34- year-old New York City police officer. "I thought it would be easier if they had a small tee- and golf-ball holder they could wear on their belts."

Lacking the time to develop the product himself, Nastazio looked for a company that could help him bring his Tee Ball Caddy to market, eventually deciding on the Invention Idea Co. of New York City. Since then, things have been moving quickly. "The company made a prototype and has lined up an overseas manufacturer to make a product," he says.

Likewise, when Danny Gabrielov, a Staten Island contractor, created the Compound on Wheels, a three-wheeled cart designed to make life easier for homebuilders, he turned to the same company. "The Invention Idea Co. has really helped me get my product moving," says Gabrielov, 32. "They were especially helpful in getting the prototype built. I wouldn't have had the time to get things done on my own. The company helps me take steps at the right times."

Invention marketing firms like the Invention Idea Co. can be beneficial to inventors of all types, offering much-needed advice about what inventors can do on their own to promote their ideas. They do come at a price-the Invention Idea Co. charges about $7,000 to $10,000-and all inventors should always be sure they're getting what they pay for. But the cost is typically not out of line with what you'd pay by doing it all on your own. Here are some questions to ask before deciding to hire an invention marketing firm:

1. Are you prepared to lose money? Taking a product to market is risky, no matter how you proceed. Don't trust any product evaluation that claims a product will succeed, because no one really knows that until people actually buy it. Reputable invention companies will make it clear that they can't guarantee success.

2. Have you compared costs? Invention firms will often prepare brochures and drawings or do patent searches. (The Invention Idea Co., for instance, has a second company, PromoMart, that arranges for prototypes and engineering drawings.) But there are outside firms that perform the same services-graphic artists and advertising agencies do brochures, and many independent companies provide prototype services. Compare an invention firm's costs with those of outside firms.

3. How much will you be involved? Inventors improve their chances of success when they work with the invention firm to contact marketing companies. The inventor's infectious enthusiasm is a key component in most product sales. If you don't have the time or desire to promote your idea, be sure the company doesn't expect you to handle the task.

4. Is your product a good fit with the invention company? The Invention Idea Co. prefers to work with simpler, consumer-oriented products and steers away from the high-tech inventions.

5. Will the company help you sell the product, or is it only offering to help you license it? Licensing deals are hard to come by. You have a better chance of securing a licensing deal if you successfully make and sell the product, even in a small market, so you may prefer to use a company that can help you locate a manufacturing partner. Your costs will be higher, but so will your chances of success.

6. Can the company close the deal? Many licensees are marketing companies that need help getting a product made. Other companies may want to buy the product on a private-label basis before buying the product. The invention or marketing firm needs to be creative, capable of negotiating the final deal. Ask what type of deals the company is currently working on or what type of agreements they have signed in the past.

When you evaluate whether to have someone help with your invention, consider the money you will have to spend, how your invention will be developed and how many potential buyers will see your idea. Sign up if you'll get enough exposure and if you're willing to risk your money. Every year, thousands of inventors start out with low chances of success and end up making it. Nobody succeeds without trying. That's the entrepreneurial spirit that turns average Joes into millionaires.

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This article was originally published in the October 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In Good Company.

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