Become an Inventor, Just Not a 'High-Maintenance' One
Companies want to work only with inventors who are professional and fair -- people who don't waste their time.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
One unsung strategy for protecting your ownership of your invention ideas is simply being ... reasonable. Put another way, that could be rephrased as: Don't give anyone an excuse to work around you.
Companies don't want to work (let alone partner) with high-maintenance inventors. And this advice is applicable, whether you're an independent product developer attempting to license your creation or the founder of a startup developing a technology the big boys will want a piece of one day.
It's also advice that, in my experience coaching and mentoring inventors for 20 years, is too often underappreciated.
To become a successful entrepreneur, you must exude confidence; there's no doubt about that. You're leaping into the unknown! But excessive self-confidence can seriously hurt you. When you begin making demands about what you deserve, and assuming your product is worth some large arbitrary figure, you're putting yourself at risk; and what's worse is you probably don't even realize it.
It's really simple. Companies want to work only with individuals who are professional and fair, and don't waste their time. It doesn't matter how fantastic or innovative your product is. They will run from you like the plague if you are difficult to work with.
Big picture-wise, you need to make it cheaper to work with than around you. This is especially true when a potential buyer is big enough to enter the market without you. So, don't be a nuisance. Instead, focus on making yourself desirable to work with. You will need all the tools in the toolbox -- thankfully, there are many -- to profit from your ingenuity.
Here are some scenarios of what not to do.
1. Making everything about you and your product
You refuse to see the company's point of view. Your relationship is one-sided. Yes, you've invested a lot of time and energy into this project. But now the company is too, and it's taking a risk, to boot.
"An inventor who is not willing to have their product changed in any way is a high-maintenance inventor," explained my longtime business partner, licensing expert Andrew Krauss. "A licensee will almost never launch a product exactly the way the inventor envisioned it.
"When an inventor doesn't understand that, the company will feel like they constantly need to negotiate in order to make necessary changes -- a great reason for a company to walk away."
Amy Jo Brogan, a coach for my company inventRight, who airs videos about inventing on YouTube, chimed in.
"I've talked to inventors who are stuck on the name of their product invention and don't want to change it, because it's consistent with the inventor's company name or brand that they're trying to establish, and they want that recognition," she said. "This is short-sighted."
Look at things from the company's perspective. Seriously. And find a mentor who's experienced at bringing products to market in your industry. He or she can help you understand what's realistic and what's not.
As a rule of thumb, the larger the company you're dealing with, the slower it moves.
2. Asking for too much money up-front
Really? You're asking for money even before any sales have been made? This is what's known as top-loading a deal, and in my opinion, it's a mistake. You're focusing on the short term. Okay, you've invested your own money. But what makes you think you're entitled to recoup those costs right away? If you can get some money up-front for your licensing deal, make it recoupable against future royalties. In this scenario, everyone wins. Remember: In the best of cases, your licensee is your partner. So be a team player.
As the former CMO of licensing company Allstar Products Group, Michael Weinstein worked with hundreds of inventors to take their products to market. "Push-back regarding royalty percentages and the channels that licensing companies need to control can typically be handled through an educational discussion outlining what's required to maximize opportunities for all parties involved," Weinstein told me.
Today, he's president of digital at Bluewater Media. "When these discussions aren't resonating with the inventor or the inventor has misguided thoughts about their own ability to create the next billon-dollar product, sometimes it makes sense for the licensing company to simply walk away," Weinstein added.
From what he'd observed, Weinstein said, inventors often returned after experiencing first-hand what his former company had warned them about. They'd finally realized that the company was actually looking out for their best interests.
3. Assuming others will solve the problems that arise
The product development process is typically rife with setbacks. There are going to be many issues that require sorting out along the way, especially ones related to manufacturing. So, establish a good working relationship and open communication channels with your vendors.
Grand Fusion Housewares has licensed many products from students of my coaching program. On a recent call, cofounder Brendan Bauer described his own run-in with a high-maintenance inventor. While Bauer's company was getting quotes for this inventor's product from its manufacturer overseas, difficulties arose. Grand Fusion had questions for this man but he balked: He began questioning the company's capabilities and assuming it was trying to cheapen his invention by using inferior material.
He was/is the perfect example of someone to avoid working with at all costs.
Don't be that guy! Don't just point out problems without offering any type of solution. It's easy to point out problems. But if you do, try to be an asset, not a burden. And don't overstep your bounds.
4. Asking for things but never offering anything in return
"Help me!" This is the inventor who feels "it's only about" him or her. I witness this kind of behavior on social media a lot. When you act as if the only thing that's important is your product and you, you're not going to cultivate the allies you need. So, stop shouting. And help others, so they'll be more motivated to help you. This is not rocket science.
"Employees at licensing companies need time to get their other work done, so don't email or call them too often," Krauss, the licensing expert, recommended. "When you do, don't just pester them for updates. They will not be launching your product overnight. If you give them the impression that you expect this, they may want to walk because you are going to be high-maintenance."
Brogan also had a thought here: "When an inventor is adamant about meeting in person or "working' for the licensee," she said, "either because they want to be more in control of what happens, or they have unrealistic expectations of their relationship and are clingy: That's a problem."
5. Forgetting to stay humble
You've worked extremely hard and now you're doing well. Bravo. But don't forget: What goes up comes down. The way you treat people during your ascent is how they're going to treat you during your descent. Trust me: It's not your brilliance that got you where you are. Success requires a little luck, meaning being in the right place at the right time and having a lot of determination.
6. Acting like a solo artist
Entrepreneurs are only as strong or weak as their teams. You won't get where you want to go alone. Every successful entrepreneur I've interviewed, including Shark Tank's Daymond John, has spoken about his or her team with reverence. They work with the same people for decades. I would be nowhere without my own team.
So, share the spotlight with everyone who has helped you become successful. That's a surefire way to build a strong support team. When you get media exposure, mention by name the people "underneath" who helped you. When you need them, they'll be there for you. Loyalty is priceless, hard-won and easily lost.
7. Holding out for the perfect deal
I get it: You don't want to sell your business until you've proven the value in what you're doing. I've felt the same way. But I would be the first to tell you now that it's a dangerous mentality -- one that can leave you vulnerable to opportunists who have grown impatient.