I've been licensing my ideas for more than 30 years now. It's been a wild ride. I've licensed ideas to the toy and novelty gift industries without intellectual property. My Silicon Valley attorneys and I went to federal court to defend an innovation I came up with for the packaging industry. Over the years, I've made many mistakes. I'm tallying them here in the hope that you'll benefit from hearing about them. I don't mind making a mistake. My goal has always been to learn from my mistakes so that I never make the same one twice.
1. Giving up too early. I can't say it enough now, but it took me a long time to figure out that licensing is a numbers game. When I started out, I would ask just two or three companies to review an idea. If they turned me down, I gave up. I was inexperienced...or maybe it was that I doubted I was capable of coming up with a good idea. Rejections still stung. But years later, I'd see the idea on the market! And I'd want to kick myself. Today, I know not to give up until I've exhausted all possibilities. As a result, I encourage my students to make a list of 20 to 30 potential licensees to contact.
2. Listening to others. When it comes to licensing an idea, your potential licensee's opinion is the only one that matters. It's hard not to rely on your friends and family for advice, but you should try to resist. In fact, I'd be careful whom you listen to, period. I've decided not to move forward with an idea based on what someone else thought, only to regret it later. Make your own decisions.
3. Failing to stay in one industry. Throughout my career, I've jumped around from one industry to another. It's been fun, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. When you focus on coming up with product ideas for one or two industries in particular, you start developing important relationships. When you hit a wall, deciding to move on is tempting. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that you're discouraged, but don't change course.
4. Waiting too long before meeting face-to-face. I've signed plenty of licensing agreements without having met anyone from the company. But I think after an agreement is signed, you should make the effort to get to know your team. After all, they're the ones who are ultimately responsible for the success of your idea. Meet up at a trade show or schedule a visit to their facility. By all means, go out to lunch or dinner. When the going gets tough, you'll be glad you did.
5. Failing to ask a company for its decision. It's taken me a long time to have enough confidence to ask a potential licensee point blank, "Is this product right for you?" I want them to tell me yes or no. If you commit to doing so, you will be pleasantly surprised how fast you can move a project forward. Always keep the conversation on a positive note, because chances are you'll be back with another idea.
6. Letting my emotions get the best of me. Sure, it's just business. But it's hard not to become invested. If someone's actions anger you, give yourself time before you respond. Don't use email to convey sensitive information. If you receive an email that you feel is strangely or offensively worded, pick up the phone. Making assumptions leads to trouble.
7. Celebrating before a deal is done. Don't spend a check before you cash it. Deals go awry all the time. Make sure you cross every t before you throw your hands up in celebration. Signing a license agreement takes time. If you try to rush the process, there's a chance you may overlook something.
After all these years, I've realized the time to work even harder is when you're riding high. If you experience a little momentum, that's fantastic! Keep your foot on the gas pedal. Your determination will see you through. With any luck, you'll make fewer mistakes than I have.