Bringing any product to market requires persistence, problem solving, and creative thinking. I'm a lifelong entrepreneur who has been commercializing my ideas for products my entire career, mostly through licensing. I've also experienced the extreme highs and lows of starting and growing a successful venture. After mentoring inventors for the past two decades, this I know: To achieve success as an entrepreneur, you need to become an expert. You and only you.
If your goal is to license your product ideas, you must educate yourself to the point that you are able to communicate with companies directly and like a professional. This takes time -- time that is exceptionally well-spent, I'd argue, if you're serious about this. Yes, absolutely, there is a learning curve. I would never recommend negotiating your own licensing agreement as a first-time inventor, for example. Without knowing the ins and outs of business terms typically included in licensing agreements, you're far too likely to end up leaving money on the table.
Many people think that inventing success is a matter of access. That if they had the name, contact information, and in with the right person, they'd find a home for their product. If only it were that easy! There are product scouts, feeder companies, third-party invention submission portals, toy brokers, and licensing agents all trying to help inventors by presenting their ideas to potential licensees on their behalf.
But I'm here to tell you that if you educate yourself, you don't need a middleman. You don't need anyone to submit your product ideas for you.
Middlemen will tell you, "I can spot a winning idea when I see one." And that's the issue. Maybe yes, maybe no. No one has a crystal ball, regardless of how long they've been in an industry. When it comes to licensing, there's only one opinion that matters, which is that of the company you're submitting to. Not gatekeepers. Ideally, you want a team of people, including representatives from manufacturing, sales, marketing, and legal, to review your submission. Everyone has a difference of opinion, and all of those perspectives are important to get a product to market and succeed there.
You need to get their feedback. You need to hear what the issues are directly. You need to look at the facial expressions of the people in the room, understand who they are, and their concerns. That's when you become a professional inventor, and why you must be in control of the process yourself.
Because most of the time, this is the moment your creativity is really gets called upon. It's where it begins. What I mean by that is, very rarely are product ideas licensed as is. There are almost always changes -- oftentimes significant changes -- made to an initial submission. You need to hear what they have to say, so you can come back with solutions. You can't count on anyone else to solve the issues for you, because they've got other tasks on their to-do list. You're the inventor, you'll actually work hard and long enough to make sure what needs to be fixed gets done. You care!
An important disclaimer: If you're inventing in the toy industry, working with a toy broker offers many benefits. The toy industry has a long and rich history of embracing outside product developers. Competition is high, and as a result, it's one of the most difficult industries to achieve success in. Hiring a toy broker to show you the ropes can help you become familiar with the industry much more quickly. Toy brokers charge differently, so be sure to ask for clarification. Most will ask for part of your royalty. Some charge a fee to review submissions. (If you have just one idea for a toy, I would submit it to the appropriate toy companies directly.)
Broadly speaking, if you're developing new product ideas for a specific field, working with an industry expert can be extremely helpful.
Throughout her career as an independent designer of game, toy, and pet products, inventor Amanda Hutton has signed more than 50 licensing agreements. When she was just getting started in the toy industry, the advice she received about how to present products from an experienced mentor and a licensing agent was very helpful.
Since 2006, she's been a fulltime pet product developer. Her licensed products on the market today include dental, plush, and tugging toys. (Full disclosure: Chuck Lamprey, a past student of my coaching program inventRight and a prolific pet product developer in his own right, introduced me to Hutton. They licensed the Super Treadz line of dental dog toys together.)
Earlier in her career, Hutton pitched around 15 to 20 products a year. Today, she pitches approximately five to 10, having concluded that it's more effective to concentrate on fewer inventions and make each prototype as complete and polished as it can be. The Push-N-Pop treat/food dispenser for dogs and cats, which she licensed to Ethical Products, has already won three industry awards, including best new product at the 2019 Global Pet Expo.
These days, she exclusively pitches her designs in person at two trade shows.
"I've always felt face-to-face is best. I want to see the faces [of the people I'm pitching to] because I can usually tell if they really like something or something's not really grabbing their attention. Obviously, if I send things just through the mail or I send a PowerPoint, I have no idea how they're truly reacting to the item. I used to send in a lot of products throughout the year. Now I kind of just save up my new products and do everything at the shows, because I really want to have that face-to-face."
That makes so much sense. These wordless insights are priceless! And in the process, she strengthens her longstanding relationships with her clients.
You should always kick the tires on anyone you're considering working with. Ask a lot of questions. Understand how people charge for their services, then do the math. Are they're willing to pass on their connections and relationships to you? There might be huge value in this.
If not, I believe you should do the work yourself. To become successful at inventing and licensing new products, there are no quick results. It just takes time and effort. Be professional. Be reasonable. You can do this.
The bottom line is this: At the end of the day, you're going to have to establish your own relationships with the companies you want to invent for. You need to receive feedback from the people reviewing your concept, so you can re-present it with improvements and continue submitting other, better new ideas.
I've been interviewing open innovation companies for the past couple of months and I keep hearing the same thing, which is that these companies want to build a relationship. Specifically, they want to build a relationship with product developers who care about their business and take the time to understand it. They're looking to make the right people part of their team. For creative people, this is a huge opportunity. Be willing to invest in yourself.