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.