The 10 Must-Have Ingredients for a Successful Invention
Sometimes I feel like a priest. When I tell people I am not only an inventor but also help other innovators, just about every person has a “confession:” They have an idea, one they have been nursing for years and want to get it off their chest. They want feedback and professional insight. And every confession session ends with some version of the same question: “What’s your gut feeling about my idea? Will it make me rich?”
To be a success and an economic opportunity, it’s more important your idea meet certain criteria than that it be groundbreaking. Even a moderately innovative idea can become a huge success if it has all the right “ingredients.” But keep in mind, some ideas could go either way depending on the execution and the choices you make in developing your idea into a real product.
So what separates the wheat from the chaff? Below are the 10 “ingredients” I look for when deciding whether an invention has the right recipe for success.
1. Bring passion to the invention. Your idea should arise from your personal experience and passion. So don’t invest in developing an invention you aren’t excited about. Stick to the needs of the customer you know best: You. Passion is the fuel for entrepreneurial action.
2. Have higher-value density. Winning products deliver more bangs for the buck. It’s not just about price: Something can be successful if it’s more expensive by delivering more value per dollar. The added value can be tangible (improved functionality) or intangible (brand).
3. Address a gap in the market. Entering a crowded field forces you to take market share from established competitors. Entering a gap in the market assures you others will have to take market share from you.
4. Have high ROI potential. Since invention is inherently risky, save your efforts for items with high-reward potential. Avoid low-return inventions, especially since the effort and the investment is about the same in most cases. If it is a low-cost item, you will need to be able to sell large volumes. On the flipside, bigger ticket items work much better in low-volume niche situations.
5. Keep it simple. Another way to reduce your risk is to stick to simple items, as they are easier to execute and cost less to develop. (They can pay exactly the same amount if the dollar value is the same as a more complicated product, since royalty rates aren’t necessarily any different.) Ideas that are easy to explain are also typically easier to sell.
6. Follow a clear path to market. If an idea won’t sell through traditional channels, such as existing retailers, it may require much more effort to develop distribution. Try to steer clear from complex distribution networks and focus on utilizing existing ones.
7. Exploit attractive markets. Growing markets are easier to be successful in than shrinking markets. Also, some industries are much more receptive and hungry than others for innovation.
8. Have a clearly defined customer. It should be easy to identify the type of person who would likely buy the product. Ensure the product is tailored to these consumers' needs and preferences. By taking the time to understand your specific customer, it will be much easier to implement your marketing efforts (and see a return on them).
9. Make sure it is within your personal limits (both technically and financially). Walk before you run. Don’t stretch yourself financially so much that you’ll break the bank if the product fails. One way to cover your bases financially is to get other people to share the risk.
Also, learn the ropes with simple ideas: There will still be tons to learn without tackling something with massive barriers to entry.
10. Avoid “gotchas.” Some products have hidden challenges you may not be aware of. For example, if you want to sell a power-product innovation, you may not know that if you want to sell to major retailers you will have to plan for the time and cost of safety testing. To avoid these unknown pitfalls, make sure you research and ask others.
Christopher Hawker is the president of Trident Design, LLC, a product development and commercialization firm working with everyone from independent inventors to large corporations, based in Columbus, Ohio. He has brought over 70 products to market in a variety of industries, including the PowerSquid and the Onion Goggles. He has worked with Stanley, Philips, GE and Kyocera among others. He blogs at inventorsmind.com.