For the past six months, I've been interviewing dozens of companies that are open to working with independent inventors to develop new products. This is what's known as open innovation, which takes many forms. In total, nearly 30 experts across 17 industries weighed in. Among other questions, I wanted to better understand what these companies were looking for when working with outside product developers. What were inventors doing right when submitting their inventions? What were they doing wrong?
What surprised me the most was that I kept hearing the same thing over and over again.
These companies, they aren't looking for a quick fix. They aren't interested in speed dating. They want a long-term relationship. They want to get to know you -- and even more critically, for you to get to know them. Respect them and they will respect you.
To put it another way, they want you to slow down.
These companies understand that inventors are an asset to them. To stay competitive, they need a steady stream of fresh new ideas. Their appetite is voracious! Partnering with an inventor who has already done some of the work required to develop a product can help them get to market faster, and when speed is critical, that's a significant benefit. These companies were willing to let me interview them because they want to receive more and better ideas from independent inventors.
Please realize that your long-term success as a professional inventor starts with the relationships you build, and this cannot be rushed. Basically, if you submit an invention idea to a company for licensing consideration without first taking the time to understand their business, you're making a big mistake.
Inventors can be extremely impatient, constantly jumping from one idea to the next. But this is a two-way street. Meaning, it's not all about you and your invention. Yes, you are in a hurry and yes, your product is important to you, but this their business. For you to become an asset, you must study it closely. You must understand their place in the industry, timelines, customers, manufacturing concerns, and more.
How can you do this? It's simple. First, spend time on their website. Closely examine their product line, making note of price points and manufacturing materials. Analyze their mission statement. Watch any brand videos they have made. Read interviews with the company's leaders. Research trends more broadly. Follow industry blogs. Get to know trade organizations. The list goes on and on.
This requires patience, and really, it makes perfect sense. How can you develop products that are a perfect fit, or even a good fit, for specific companies without understanding what they care about? These companies spoke about the professional inventors they depend on with reverence. They told me these inventors are part of their work family. No one wants to be embarrassed by someone they bring in from the outside.
Unfortunately, what I kept hearing is that too many inventors are panicking and submitting ideas that are not a good fit. Many of these companies told me that they can find the same idea or a very similar idea within minutes online, meaning the inventor has not done the most basic level of research into whether the idea is even new. This is an amateur mistake, one that instantly marks you as a rookie. Another example of an amateur mistake? Shoddy marketing material. If your marketing material doesn't look professional, they are not going to take a second look at it, no matter how great your idea is.
Becoming a professional inventor isn't about how many ideas you've licensed or even how great your ideas are. You go pro when you keep coming back with better ideas. These companies know there's a good chance they won't take your first, second, or even third idea. But they also realize that, if they give you some feedback and you take it seriously, you might come back with a fourth, fifth, or sixth idea that they do want.
Here's my advice. If you want to become a professional inventor, avoid making these rookie mistakes.
1. Jumping around between industries. Instead, pick one or two that you feel passionately towards and focus your efforts there.
2. Failing to provide companies with new product ideas that can actually benefit their business. You're wasting their time and yours.
3. Failing to understand what they do and how they do it. Spend enough time on their website before submitting an idea so that you're sure it's at least a decent fit.
4. Submitting a product idea that they can quickly find on the internet. This is a huge no-no! You demonstrate a complete lack of respect for their time when you do this.
5. Submitting a product idea that costs far more than anything else they sell. Know the range of price points they sell and stick within it.
6. Acting like a pest. Be patient and make sure to abide by their guidelines, including their process for submitting an idea. Give them time to review your product submission. Don't keep calling them.
7. Burning bridges. People tend to stick to the same industries. There's a very good chance you will encounter this person again, maybe at a different company you want to invent for. Don't let your emotions get the best of you. Always be respectful.
8. Marketing material that looks like it was made by a nonprofessional. Your sell sheet is what companies will use to evaluate you and your idea right off the bat, so make it count.