Inventing

Want to Test Your Product Idea? Join the Makers.

  • ---Shares

Testing the market is one of the most challenging aspects of product development, especially for independent inventors. You think your idea is great -- but will anyone else? How can you be sure? Should you invest your time and energy into trying to bring it to market?

The most powerful companies in the world take missteps. So no, you can never be 100 percent sure. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to gather as much information as you can. The good news is that there are inexpensive ways of doing so. As of late, crowdfunding is one of my favorites. Another option you should consider is displaying your goods at a Maker Faire.

Related: The Accidental Entrepreneur: 3 Tales of Entrepreneurial 'Eureka' Moments

This strategy isn’t right for everyone, because ordering a small volume of product can be costly. But for Bob Coulston, it really paid off.

In 2011, his children asked him to make them a one-of-a-kind rubber band gun. It couldn’t just be a boring old single shot, his son clarified -- and he wanted to put it together himself. Coulston, a contractor by day, took on the challenge in his wood shop with gusto. After making a few prototypes for his son and other kids in their neighborhood, a friend encouraged him to attend Kansas City’s Maker Faire in 2012. Coulston says he brought about 100 shotguns the first day. After he sold out, he stayed up late that night making more. The next day, he sold out again and took more orders.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting,’” Coulston says. “Suddenly, I had proof of concept. Maker Faire is what gave me the confidence to keep going.”

But it wasn’t just that. Coulston says the feedback he got was priceless. Some people who played with the guns in the shooting gallery he had set up requested this or that, but more than that, he was able to observe the public at large playing with his product.

“I watched how people loaded the gun, how they played with it,” he explains. “That helped me figure out how to write instructions for the kit as well as improve the product.”

Related: Got a Business Idea? Here's How to See If It's Sustainable.

After attending Kansas City’s Maker Faire in 2012, Coulston launched a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter later that year, surpassing his goal of $5,000 by nearly $50,000. His Bandit shotgun -- which features no less than three different firing modes (single shot, rapid fire and shotgun blast) -- is currently sold in farm stores across the country.

Demand is stronger than ever. So strong, in fact, that he’s open to finding a company to license the idea from him.

“If I find a licensee, I can stand back and do what I really like," he says, "which is be creative -- I could build new models instead of thinking about cash flow.”

What excites me about the maker movement in particular is the sense of community. I think one of the best ways to learn is from one another. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling aspiring inventors to join their local inventor’s organization. Surrounding yourself with passionate, like-minded people will inspire you. Where better to do that than at a Maker Faire?

Luis Rodriguez, Maker Faire Kansas City’s executive producer, expects about 18,000 people to come out for the event on June 27 and 28. If you’re considering attending a Maker Faire for the first time, give yourself time to take it all in and plan on coming out both days, because there will be hands-on activities as well as booths. If you’re interested in taking a product to market yourself, there will be lectures on that topic from a panel of experts (as well as myself).

Today there are more than 160 maker events worldwide. If you’re a crafter, hobbyist, tinkerer or you want to be, these are your people. Go out and connect with them.

Related: Before You Crowdfund an Invention, Consider Patent Protection