The Top 10 Mistakes Inventors Make

In working with numerous inventors and designers over the years, I’m surprised to see how many make the same errors. So from that perspective I’ve created a list of those mistakes and how to avoid them.

• Do everything yourself

Leverage. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Do what you do best and rely on others to do what they do best. These days you can get access to resources around the world as easily as around the corner.

• Focus on patents

Don’t overly rely on patents. Patents only give you the right to sue, and rarely prevent others from selling a product that’s just like yours. Remember that patents can take a few years to issue, while many products will have come and gone in that time. Even if you have an issued patent, it can take millions to defend it, money better spent on your next product. A small company in the right can be put out of business by a large company with a big legal department.

• Worry about others stealing your invention

Don’t waste time worrying. Just because you tell someone about your idea doesn’t mean they will copy it. After all the idea is only 5% of the work. The best defense against competition is getting your product widely distributed before others can respond. When they come to market with a copy you’ll be far along on your next model.

• Hire one of those invention submission companies and let them do the work

They typically charge you thousands of dollars to present your product to industry. At the worst they’re a scam costing you many thousands of dollars, and at best they rarely can do the job you can do with a little guidance. You’ll usually do a better job because of the passion you have for the product. They’re not in business to sell your product to industry, only to sell their services to you. If you have a great idea you don’t need to pay someone to shop it around.

• Spend your money fine-tuning and perfecting your design

Too many inventors keep trying to perfect their product time after time before gaining market feedback and going out and finding a customer. There’s often a fear of hearing what others think about your baby.  But, an early prototype is often good enough to gain valuable information. So save your money for marketing and selling; that usually costs a lot more than designing and engineering. While it might be painful, test your inventions early. Talk to the retailers who would be selling your product. Ask them how well it would sell. Ask them how much it should cost. Ask the tough questions even though you might not like the answers.

• If you build it they will come

Just because you have what you think is a great invention or spectacular design, it’s tough to get interest from others. Inventing the product is just the beginning and a small part of the overall effort. Expect and budget for a lot more activities after the product is developed.

• Price your product as low as possible

Many inventors don’t understand the impact that the channels of distributions have in determining the product’s price. There are often 3 or 4 levels between what you pay to make the product and what the customer is asked to pay.  Existing business models establish the channels and margins, so don’t expect you can change them because your product is so special. Just remember the retail price is often 3 to 5 times your cost. So an item costing $20 could retail for $100. A corollary is your product needs to provide value and be competitive based on the actual selling price, not based on your cost.

• Don’t speak with large companies to take on your productl they’ll steal your ideas

Rarely can a tiny company with a single product match their influence with distributors and retailers. Few large companies will sign NDAs so don’t expect it. Proceed cautiously, but do proceed. They often are your best opportunity for success.

• Once your product gets into the big chains your success is assured

Getting your product into large retailers rarely guarantees success.  They’ll return your product if it doesn’t sell, they’ll pay late, and they may require you to spend thousands of dollars to help them sell it. And don’t think these stores will want to carry the products that are best for their customers; they’ll carry the product that makes them the most money.

• Believe your own hype

It’s easy to get excited by your own product and become immersed in the great publicity and reviews. But that’s a mistake. Think like your competitors and don’t become complacent.

30 Comments

  • Zee says:

    You say:
    * “Price your product as low as possible”-consumer price can be 5 times more
    Can we get a guid on pricing out products?

    * “Once your product gets into the big chains your success is assured” – don’t talk to the big chains
    Then who are we supposed to talk to? What are the distribution networks we should hit?

  • Phil Baker says:

    Price your products based on the margins your distribution channel needs and gets from products in the same category. The point was to not ignore the channel and think you can set your own pricing rules. Also during the design phase be sure you understand how your costs translate into a retail price.

    You certainly want to go to to the big chains. The point was success there is not about selling in, but selling through and to anticipate their demands and the additional costs.

    Phil
    Author “From Concept to Consumer”

  • Zee says:

    What if I’m selling something high priced? The product I’m working on costs me 1500$ to make. I was thinking of a consumer price of 3000$.
    Is that realistic or should I expect the price to reach 5000$?

  • Phil Baker says:

    It depends upon what the product is and how you’re planning to sell it. The point is without taking these factors into consideration, there is no answer to your question.
    Phil
    Author “From Concept to Consumer”

  • zee: Let me help you out a little here. As some of you know I am also a “inventor” (hate that term by the way) and have moved products from idea through to end sales. The price point on products are generally set using a comparable, like “all super cars are over $100,000 US” and that works fine if your designing for a know market. Price point, features/benefits are all market driven so doing your market research is vital for both product design and for pricing. If you have a new product type market research is the only way to know what that magic price number is. Many companies going to market in small areas with different price points to see what moves best and its often the lowest.
    In your example that had better be a consumer direct sale or your going to go broke. If its not direct from your hand to the consumer each stop on the distubution chain will increase the retail price from 30 to 100%. The old rule of thumb was to take you labor and materail costs and multiply them by 350% to get a estimated retail price for mass produced items.

    For the most part what Phil says here is right, however I will add a few things TO do.
    1. Do your own patent search, its free online now and will let you know if you are infringing as well as give leads on if the idea made it to market (90% don’t make money by the way).
    2. File a provisional patent application, it gives you a level of protection way above a NDA and for under $100 its a bargain.
    3. Learn to comunicate, to pitch your idea clearly and quickly. The discovery channel show “pitchman” show a couple of masters of the craft, because doing a infomerical and pitcing your product to a CEO is not as different as you think.
    4. Learn to loose the ego, your idea may suck.If enough people say so it might truly suck, so listen and save your self lots of time and money and move on.

    cheers
    zippyflounder

  • Zee says:

    You’ll all look at me funny when I say this: it’s a robot. Office and high-level consumer oriented.

  • Zee says:

    I’ve already filed for a provisional patent. Now I’m well on my way to securing 300000$ funding to develop it further and sell it.

    Direct sales seem to be best but these days isn’t it considered spamming to shove your product throught the door? I suppose I’ll read up on the proper way to do direct sales.

    • You have picked a tough field, and if you can get a deal good for you. You need to remember that marketing, advertising and distribution costs can be huge, more than tooling, and development costs combined. In a robotics market your IP has to be pretty damn impressive, because lets face it everybody is pouring a boat load of money into it. That is not to say it can’t be done, roomba did it. Oh did I ever mention I invented and built a home snow removal robot, worked (works) like a charm.

    • Zee says:

      Oooh. Got a link?

  • Matt says:

    good article, cheers Phil

  • Thanks SO much for these helpful tips. Yes I agree to them all because they are practical. I’ve worked with export companies and, yeah, I understand what’s going on… It’s better to be really practical about all things.

  • Confucius says:

    Phil, I’m eagerly anticipating a copy of your book that I have ordered a few days ago. Seeing as you are responding to some of the questions here I thought I might try my luck!

    I have a design for a small kitchen product that I would like to commission to a design/manufacturing company, i.e Alessi, Menu, Evasolo etc. In your experience, what is the best way to approach this and do they work with unknown designers?

    Thanks, Ben

    • Phil says:

      The further along you are from a concept or a sketch to a more fully developed concept, the more value these companies will see in what you have. And if you have something proprietary, that will interest them even more.

      While others may be able to comment on which companies are more likely to work with outside submissions, in general the more enlightened companies do consider outside submittals. How you approach them depends on what you have and whether it’s just an idea or something further along.

      Check their Websites and see if they have a process. If you want to discuss in more detail email me at pbaker@gmail.com.
      Phil

      • One way to think of it Confucius is as a independent your giving them a discount on their internal design and or r and d dept. The more complete your idea up to and including the market research, and construction costs the bigger bargain you will be and the better deal they will accept.

      • Willzville says:

        Hey Phil just bought your book (but from amazon UK).

        I was just wondering regarding profit margins, what’s a suitable margin for a designer lamp, or ultra high-end designer furniture? I’m planning to sell through designer boutiques (I’ve only managed to get a deal with 1) and through amazon!

        • Phil Baker says:

          Don’t know from my experience, but I’m sure others here may know. I would certainly expect it to be more than 50%. You should also ask the boutiques that you will be selling to.

        • Its partly based on your expected volume, if your hand building to order then you need to be charging a lot. If your having a bunch sub contract manufactured for you then you need to be seeing a internal markup of 50-100% (if your paying $100 for it your cost to amazon would be 150 to 200) and even at that you might not cover overhead.
          In the end your selling a unique product so can charge what you want, understanding that finding that perfect price is a bit of a problem. This can be solved in part by doing some research, what are other designer products of the same type selling for (assuming a similar materials and with a understanding that some brand names have high assumed value). The final thing is this, it’s easy to lower your price later, almost impossible to raise it.

          cheers
          zippy

  • Jeremiah says:

    So quick question, lovely artivle by the way.

    I just wanted to know if I’d be able to find this book in my local Chapters or Indigo book store. And if so, how much is it going for?

  • Hi Phil,
    very good article, there are many different ways to do this stuff, I go direct to China and Taiwan Licensing to Asian Manufactures of some have a customer base of 3,000- distributors!

    “This the right time and the most important time for the Inventor and the Patent attorney to sit down and organize the Patents to be applied and the reason why half of Asian Manufactures prefer a clean skin Invention (That’s with no Patents), this gives them control on how the Patents are written and applied..'

    Feedback below from a Inventor friend

    Very good,Derek.
    There is a clear difference between a patent written around an invention,and one written around a developed designed,market-ready,invention based product.
    something about it giving companies a more focused defense strategy.
    You can see the sense of a 'clean skin' policy,offering designed,invention-based products,using NDA's,and then the patent being written around the finished commercial product,enabling companies to effectively plan around the patent.
    Patenting then is at it's most effective,and written within the context of market realities and optimum defense.
    It makes compelling sense.

  • Hi Phil,
    very good article, there are many different ways to do this stuff, I go direct to China and Taiwan Licensing to Asian Manufactures of some have a customer base of 3,000- distributors!

    “This the right time and the most important time for the Inventor and the Patent attorney to sit down and organize the Patents to be applied and the reason why half of Asian Manufactures prefer a clean skin Invention (That’s with no Patents), this gives them control on how the Patents are written and applied..'

    Feedback below from a Inventor friend

    Very good,Derek.
    There is a clear difference between a patent written around an invention,and one written around a developed designed,market-ready,invention based product.
    something about it giving companies a more focused defense strategy.
    You can see the sense of a 'clean skin' policy,offering designed,invention-based products,using NDA's,and then the patent being written around the finished commercial product,enabling companies to effectively plan around the patent.
    Patenting then is at it's most effective,and written within the context of market realities and optimum defense.
    It makes compelling sense.

  • Justin Neil says:

    I have this idea in my head of something that will really be useful, and I know how I want it to work with few existing technologies, and also know there is a need for it, but other than that I don’t really know how to go about it, it has to do with telephone but my knowledge is limited in this area, but it can actually be achieved very easily, how do I go about this should I approach the telephone companies or how to I proceed to bring this idea into something or patent it, basically what I lack is the techinical know how, but the idea can easily be achieved and I can sell the product tomorrow by myself?

    Thanks everyone.

  • Phil Baker says:

    If you think you have something that is unique and patentable, then you want to speak with a patent lawyer to get some protection. But before spending money you should determine just how unique it is, by doing your own patent search online. Remember that most ideas cannot be patented. Ideas are the easy part and most companies will not pay for an idea. In my book “From Concept to Consumer”, I write that the idea is the easiest part.
    Phil

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