If you were to search the internet for information on how to bring your product idea to reality, you are bound to find dozens upon dozens of companies, gurus, consultants and coaches offering pay-to-play courses on how to make millions as an inventor. While some of them may indeed offer sage advice, others will sell you “simple steps” and “guideline method” programs to “ensure success”. Others will tout the merits of licensing as the golden ticket. However, even with all this help, the reality is that there is no simple method to finding success as an inventor. According to an Edison Nation poll, 78% of inventors believe that their invention will earn them a minimum of $1 million dollars, and 54% of them believe it will earn them over $5 million. Yet, only less than 3% of them will even sign a licensing agreement, let alone make any money! These “gurus” often tend to peddle false realities through cults of personality, oversimplifications, and saccharine cheer-leading, all while playing up to the notion that your one idea will be life-changing. Most of you may remember the 90’s real estate guru, Tom Vu. Before the days of social media, Tom Vu would appear in low budget commercials, surrounded by luxury cars, mansions, and yachts. He offered “free” seminars (which were thinly-veiled sales pitches) for why you needed to take his course to be as successful as him. His $16,000 course would teach you how to invest in “distressed properties” to make you an overnight millionaire. The problem was that no one became a millionaire! In fact, Tom Vu ended up being sued by his students and investigated by the government for alleged securities fraud and false advertising. The practice of preying on people’s hopes and dreams is nothing new in our society, and it doesn’t help that many folks believe themselves too smart to fall victim to scams. To make matters more treacherous, the advent of social media has ushered in the 21st century snake oil salesmen, providing them with more sophisticated tools and a greater reach and influence than ever before. But, fear not…here’s a few things to look out for.
If you’re going to pay someone for advice, you should make sure that they are the real deal. Research them and ask yourself: “Are they now, or have they ever been able to be fully employed from the revenue of their inventions? Are they blowing hot air about their past success?” A success may be framed as such, even though it’s likely it never even recouped their small advance payment (if they even ever received one.) They will likely anticipate this being issue, and instead focus on getting their licensing deal as the “big win”, and not the revenue earned (if any.) Unfortunately, getting a licensing deal is only one small milestone, and not something one should be bragging about in public forums. That alone does not guarantee success. But too many budding inventors have been hoodwinked into thinking they’re going to be a millionaire in a few short months. I get why you would be excited by that step and would want to share that. And I’d like to point out that said “guru” will likely encourage you at this stage to promote the licensing deal “milestone” as a tremendous success as it looks good for them! Congratulations, you’ve just been exploited! It is essential to know that a lot can and will go wrong between the signing of a licensing agreement, and when, or if, your product even makes it to market. It is important to understand that a very large majority of licensed products are dropped and never get to see the light of day. So, if you are bragging now, at too early a stage, you may end up with egg on your face when your product fails to make it onto the shelves.
I want to conclude this article with a personal anecdote that brings a breath of reality to the points I made above. My grandfather was a US Marine-turned brick mason who instilled in me the merit of hard work and study. He was an excellent example of the “rule of 10,000 hours”, popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. In Outliers, Gladwell elaborates on the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of hyper-focused study to truly master a particular skill set. “There is no substitute for hard work” my grandfather would often tell me. I learned that I needed to earn success step-by-step. My grandfather honed his craft over a lifetime to the point where even into his 80’s, he was sought after by homeowners, churches, and institutions for his incredible masonry skills. What he learned over his lifetime cannot be taught by a handful of videos. Sure, some pitfalls and lessons learned through error can be shared, easing the path of anyone wanting to learn those same skills. But the reality is that you cannot learn to build a brick fireplace in 30 mins, just as you cannot become a professional inventor by just watching YouTube videos, or going to a get-rich-quick style “guru”. At minimum, you would have to have a solid understanding of how to create a “foundation” that can support 7 tons of bricks. Envision those bricks as your invention idea and path to success. As a new inventor, just knowing that you need a sell sheet, video, and a working prototype is not a solid foundation. Having a formula for how to create sell sheets, videos, and prototypes isn’t even a solid foundation. Just as a brick layer needs to know to dig beneath the frost layer, they also need to have an understanding of the ground itself. It’s quite different building upon bedrock than it is building upon sand, just as it is different to pitch your invention to a large company, versus a medium or small company. Each one has its own requirements, set of ways to successfully work with them, pitfalls, pluses, and minuses. Getting to know all of those variables is essential! So, don’t be sold on simple solutions. They don’t exist.
Matt Nuccio is president of Design Edge, a New York-based toy and game development company. For more information, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.