Looking back, I was the most creative coming up with new product ideas when my three children were very young. Solving problems comes with the territory. From educating your child to keeping them happy and healthy, you're constantly faced with problems that need addressing. For example, bath time. When my children were all under the age of four, getting them clean and dry could be a little stressful. Which led me to wonder, was there something I could invent to keep them entertained? That's how I came up with the idea of a bubble pen.
To build a prototype, I replaced the glue in a glue pen with bubble bath. Now my kids could write all over our bathtub with soaps and suds! They loved it. I failed to license the pen, but my children definitely inspired me -- I have dozens of photographs of them playing with my prototypes to prove it.
Think about it. Kids do and say the funniest things. How could I not dream up toys, games, and products when mine were young? Being an inventor is not unlike getting to be a big kid for a living.
If you're creatively inclined, the perfect time to become a toy inventor is when you have your own child.
"As a mom, I'm always solving a problem," Sylvia Pomazak concurred. When I met Pomazak, she worked full-time in addition to maintaining a private practice while raising her two young sons in the Chicago suburbs. Ideas for new products came to her all the time, but building another business was out of the question. The flexibility licensing affords appealed to her immediately, she said.
If you have ideas for products, why not get them out there? One of the big benefits of licensing is that it requires far less time than starting a business the traditional way, which is why it's a particularly great fit for parents.
"You can license a product from your own home. You don't have to travel long distances or set up meetings with companies. You can honestly decide for yourself how much time, energy, and focus you want to put into licensing and when," she explained. Pomazak is now an advisor at inventRight, the company I cofounded to help people license their ideas.
For example, you can spend as little as a few hours a week. When Little Sport Star founder Nick Farnsworth quit his job to become his children's primary caregiver in 2014, he was able to license his ideas for a line of sports-themed baby products while he worked around his son's schedule. He told me he was at his desk from about 9:15am to 11:15am and after 9pm during the time it took him to develop his initial concepts and get to market.
"This was enough time," the UK-based inventor said upon reflection. "The beauty of licensing is that it is relatively hands-free, but when necessary I outsourced my work." Using PeoplePerHour.com and other similar sites, he was able to hire marketing experts, designers, web developers, and copywriters while keeping his costs manageable and small.
To help him expand his range and scale up quickly, he secured a licensing deal with Kids Preferred at the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas later that year. (One of the biggest parenting product trade shows, the Expo focuses primarily on baby-related goods like strollers and cribs.) Little Sport Star products (now 12 SKUs with new products launching at Toy Fair 2018) retail in Toys 'R' Us, Kohl's, Barnes & Noble, and JCPenney stores as well as Amazon.
Farnsworth told me that he always been creatively inclined, but it wasn't until he became a parent that he was inspired to take action. When he overheard my business partner Andrew Krauss discussing my book at the Kids Expo this year, he introduced himself. I was delighted to learn One Simple Idea had been useful to him.
"Licensing is such a great opportunity. It makes so much sense, for companies and idea people," he enthused. "I'm surprised more people aren't doing it. Everyone is trying to do it all themselves, but how many of them are making any money? And what about their time?"
For Farnsworth, time allocation is precious. Going the licensing route enabled him to care for his son during his first four years and pursue his instincts at the same time.
"Looking after the kids is a big part of my life. I'm very proud of everything I do, including being very involved with their development." He actively shares his story online in support of his brand, including guest blogging for The Dad Network and seeking out press. I think that's wise.
His wife is a hospital doctor who works long days, including weekends. He had always harbored entrepreneurial ambitions, so they agreed together that she would continue to work and he would do his best to work around the kids, he explained.
"Licensing my ideas seemed the most obvious opportunity, particularly as our kids were the inspiration for the ideas."
I agree with Farnsworth: Products are more interesting when you understand their backstory. And every product has a story, doesn't it? Yours can be of great advantage on social media.
"People tell stories to one another," he pointed out. "And, to be honest, it's part of the protection of your brand." That's also true. He has figured out how to be an asset to his licensee by establishing ownership.
I was not surprised to hear Farnsworth has begun inventing toys. You need to think like a child to invent for the toy industry! That's never going to be easier than when you're a parent or primary caregiver.
Simply put, you begin to see things through their eyes.
You get to relive your childhood again.
Look at it this way. Children don't exactly keep their emotions to themselves. They're expressive. Your kids are a great potential focus group, is what I'm saying. Just watch their reaction. They're a tough crowd. There's a reason why all of the judges on ABC's The Toy Box are children.
You can even go one step further and invent with your children, like the creator of PancakeBot did.
Many parents want to foster a sense of entrepreneurism in their children. Why not take a chance yourself? You may end up passing down a skill that they put to use when and if they have their own ideas.