Do you have a great idea for a product or service that you're convinced is the next big thing? You probably wouldn't be reading this if you didn't--or at least want to. You know deep down that you're destined to be an entrepreneur. You already have an inkling that you'll never create the kind of wealth you desire by working for someone else. But maybe the timing isn't right. Maybe you're a student, or a full-time professional with a family to support, or simply uninterested in starting a business. The good news is that you don't have to. You wouldn't know it from reading the news, but creating a startup isn't your only option. When you have a great idea that you know belongs on the market, you can and should think about licensing it.

I've been licensing my ideas for several decades. When I started out, there were companies who flat out refused to hear my pitch, because they weren't interested in ideas generated outside their own four walls. That reality has changed. Companies that want to stay competitive understand that great ideas can come from anywhere--and anyone. They've (finally) realized they can't hire every creative person out there. Open innovation is thriving worldwide because it makes good business sense: At the same time that companies are able to lower their internal R&D costs, they increase their chances of finding that next great idea.

So what is licensing, exactly? Essentially, it's the renting of an idea. If a company likes my idea, they agree to pay me for the right to use it. The better the product does in the market, the more they pay me. It seems simple, right?

But few entrepreneurs seem to know about licensing, which truly amazes me. Years ago, I was invited to give a lecture about licensing to the Institute of Design at Stanford University around the time the job market had started to dry up. I remember that day like it was yesterday, because the experience was unnerving: Throughout my presentation, most of the students in attendance stared at me like I had sprouted a third eye.

The benefit of licensing is that it makes use of established companies' resources. A company that wants to license an idea from you already has all the tools in place to bring it to market, including manufacturing, distribution, and marketing capabilities. These days, it's speed to market that matters most. And the truth is, these companies can get a product on a shelf in a fraction of the time it would take you to get a business up and running. Better still, they take on the risk. And if the product does well, you profit.

Licensing allows creative people to focus on what they enjoy doing best, rather than devoting themselves to the success of a single idea. It's also enabled me to live wherever I want and to set my own hours.

The students were stunned. "Won't they steal my idea?" they asked. "Do I need a prototype?" "Which companies are willing to license ideas?"

In this column, I will answer these questions and more, including how to license in, how to license out, and the benefits of licensing well-known brands. Don't get me wrong: Licensing is still a business. It has its challenges. But ultimately, part of the reason I'm such an advocate of it is that it's accessible to everyone. It doesn't require capital investment. You don't even have to quit your day job. (In fact, I recommend against it.)

Welcome to the licensing lifestyle.

Published on: Oct 2, 2014