Bringing a product to market demands inventiveness. That seems obvious enough, right? Not just the conception of a new idea, though -- the entire process. Because whether you choose to try to license your idea or venture it on your own, you'll have to keep thinking creatively to make it happen. You'll need to strategize. That's just the nature of entrepreneurship. Inventors underestimate this. They want to focus on the fun part. They look for magic bullets where there are none. It doesn't have to be that way! Yes, there's a lot to learn, that's for sure. But if you commit to being open-minded, to relentlessness, to asking questions, well... I can almost guarantee you'll be surprised how far you get.
I've brought most of my ideas to market by licensing them, which is both speedier and far less risky than venturing. The step inventors struggle with the most when it comes to licensing their ideas is getting in touch with the right person at the right company at the right time. Some companies are harder to get in to than others. And, fear of rejection rears its ugly head. I look at it like this. This company wants to hear from me. They just don't know it yet. I'm bringing them a gift! I'm going to show them how to make money. It's my duty to make sure they see my sell sheet.
Getting in to big companies can be particularly challenging. You know your product is a perfect fit... if only you could get your sell sheet in front of a decision-maker! This is a perfect example of a time when continuing to be inventive will serve you well, and it's hardly exclusive to licensing.
On the road in San Antonio earlier this year, I was delighted to meet an inventor who has mastered the art of getting in. George Burkhardt knows better than to take no for an answer. In the short time he's been trying to bring his ideas to market, he's already licensed three hardware products. For Burkhardt, being resourceful is second nature. Growing up on a farm in the "middle of nowhere" forced him to learn how to improvise when he was young, he said. "We didn't have the money to hire anyone. If something broke, you fixed it yourself." Burkhardt spent the bulk of his career working for the Air Force as a civilian mechanical engineer, where he was tasked with developing techniques, equipment, and methods for finding defects in aircraft components. When he retired 14 years ago, he decided to focus on innovation outright.
The first idea Burkhardt tried to license was a tool for changing hot oil in vehicle engines that boasts numerous benefits. "We've been to the moon and got computers, but we're still changing oil the same way." When he was ready to begin contacting potential licensees, he made an insightful observation: Both big retailers and big manufacturers have product managers. Surely product managers at companies in the same industry talk to one another, he reasoned. He wanted to license the idea to a major player in the automotive industry, but he knew he'd have to face a lot of gatekeepers if he tried getting in through their front doors.
So he got crafty. Burkhardt contacted NAPA -- the largest auto parts retailers he could identify -- instead. He rang corporate headquarters, asked to speak with the product manager who handled the corporation he was after, and when they connected, spent about a minute describing the tool before asking, "Can you give me your counterpart's name and number?" To leverage what had just happened, he immediately called the person whose number he was given and said, "The product manager over at NAPA thought this would be a good fit for your company and suggested I contact you...." The employee on the other line was hooked: He asked Burkhardt what he had. And just like that, he was in.
That's a great example of pull-through marketing. But Burkhardt didn't stop there. He wanted to see if he could drum up some competition, which he would use to bargain for a higher royalty rate as well as other benefits. Because he'd failed to get anyone in upper management at this second company to talk to him before, he knew he'd have to use a different technique.
So Burkhardt visited USPTO.gov to do a quick patent search with the company's name and 'assignee.' He was looking for inventors whose patents were assigned (and therefore likely sold) to the company who lived outside the state, reasoning that these inventors most likely did not work for the company. After identifying several, he sought out each individual's contact information online. He eventually got ahold of an individual who gave him the name of the person he used to work with at said company. Burkhardt made the most of his hard-sought leverage by employing the same technique again when he got in touch. "Your old friend from Stanley recommended me," he said. The implicit latter-half of that sentence being, because he thought my idea was good.
Eventually, both companies sent him a licensing agreement. He was able to garner a significantly higher royalty rate by playing them off one another. You can find the product today in retailers like Snap-On, WW Grainger, and O'Reilly Auto Parts as well as a dozen others online like Walmart and Sears. His ploy worked out charmingly. Burkhardt played smart.
Some people focus on what they lack. If only they had the funds. Or knew the right people. Or had better timing. What I love about Burkhardt's techniques is that they're available to everyone! Applying his inventiveness to a new challenge paid off in a big way. It will for you, too.