Coming up with ideas is the easiest part of being an inventor. Finding inspiration for building products that you can sell is a completely different story. The 12 steps of invention was written to give you the real steps that I use as an inventor to bring my products to market and make money.
- Find a niche market.
- Look for voids in available products.
- Define mid-priced products.
- Come up with invention ideas.
- Do your patent and design research.
- Sketch your product ideas.
- Create a model in software.
- Build a working prototype.
- Refine your product design.
- Prepare for manufacturing.
- Launch your first product.
- Land your first sale!
1. Find a niche market
If you already have an invention idea, it looks like you missed a step here. Anyone can come up with ideas but inventors come up with ideas for products that will sell. Make sure you follow the Twelve Steps of Invention closely.
The best way to come up with good invention ideas is to first find a marketplace that has customers willing to spend money. Here is a list of a few niche markets that have plenty of buyers.
- Science Experiments.
- DIY Electronics Kits.
- Drones and Accessories.
- Grooming accessories.
- Health Related Items.
- Motorcycles and Accessories.
- Boating Related Items.
- Custom Furniture.
- Household Items.
- Educational Items.
- Private Eye and Other Spy Gear.
- Photography Related Items.
- Hobby Kits.
- RC Cars, airplanes, boats and accessories.
- Bicycles and Accessories.
- Solar Power Related Items.
- Electric Vehicles and Accessories.
- Electric Scooters.
- Pet Care Items.
There are many more of these types of niche markets. Do your research and I recommend picking an area that interests you. Oftentimes our own hobbies are a great place to start.
2. Look for voids in available products.
This part takes a bit of practice but I will give you a secret on how to find great ideas for products with limited availability and a willing customer base.
Google News! That’s right, I have my Google News account set up to show me topics related to things that I like which includes many sections on technology and science. Whenever there is a new article on Techcrunch, Wired or some science website related to an experiment, new innovation or product, I get an alert. You would be surprised how many times an article has popped up about someone working in a lab or in their garage on some hobby or something they have no intention of selling and it has inspired me. When this happens, I jump on it and try to release a product as fast as possible. Don’t believe me? This is exactly how I created the Sonic Levitation Machine that has made me a few hundred thousand dollars over the years.
As I have mentioned, not all my products have made millions of dollars but the Sonic Levitation Machine is an example of one that only took a few weeks to design, was really fun to work on and made enough money to pay the rent over the last couple of years. I am not sure what you are expecting as a new inventor but I would definitely call this one a success.
There are many ways to find product ideas within a marketplace. You can simply look around on the internet to see what kind of items are being sold. Sort website shopping areas by “most popular” or look for products that have only a few styles or models.
More often than not, there are complete lines of products that haven’t been updated in years but still sell well. There are also many overpriced products that are still selling. If you think you can building something of better quality at a lower price, you might have found your new product idea.
3. Define mid-priced products.
New inventors have a really hard time with this one which is based in reality. The world is full of low cost products and it really doesn’t need many more. The problem with inventing low cost products is that they are easy for large businesses to knock off and if you are successful, it will happen even if you have a patent. Be sure to read all about my opinion regarding patents here.
You need to come up with product ideas that can retail in the mid-price range of $150.00 – $300.00. This is how you are going to keep your initial investment in your idea relatively low and still have the greatest chances at success. That’s because you are going to build your first one hundred (100) units for an investment of less than around $7,500.00 if we go by my 2.5X – 3.5X rule. As I have explained in the past, many of my products cost me less than $3000.00 to release the first run.
If you make it this far in the invention process and then decide to ignore the advice in this video, don’t say I didn’t try warning you. These numbers are not something I pulled out of a hat and are actually taught in microeconomics classes worldwide.
There are many reasons for marking up your retail price this way. We will be discussing this subject often.
4. Come up with invention ideas.
So you have a few ideas that past the test in step two. Now, what do you do? You start by thinking hard about each idea and doing some research. You will have to be honest with yourself and ask the following questions.
- Is this a product people really will want to buy?
- Is it simple enough for my first invention?
- Do I have the skills needed to make it a reality?
- Can I build them at a reasonable cost? (just guess here)
5. Do your patent and design research.
If you have been following the 12 steps of invention you probably only have one or two product ideas that you might be able to build. At this point, you will have to start thinking about a few important aspects of your invention idea.
The initial design phase and patent search are part of the same step because any parts of your design that overlap with a valid patent will need to be changed. Don’t worry too much yet, most of the time you can easily avoid any issues.
Avoid infringing on other people’s ideas.
The first step in your research is to do a patent search and make sure that you will be able to avoid infringing on other people’s patented inventions. We discussed how to protect your idea and avoid infringement in other posts but most of the time, it’s not that hard to avoid violating a patent. You just have to make sure that your design is different than the claims in similar patents. As engineers and inventors, we have to be aware of patents and work to avoid any legal obstacles. If there is still a concern, you can always seek legal advice with an experienced patent attorney.
You may notice many things similar to your idea but do not get discouraged. If you read the patents in detail, you will start focusing on the claims and notice that very little is actually protected in most cases. It’s usually just the “way” (method) a product works or the types of technologies that were combined to make a product or invention. You can learn more by reading this post on how to protect your idea and also search for other people’s patents.
Next, you will need to start thinking about a prototype and this is going to be one of the most challenging parts. But don’t worry, that is why I am here. Before you go off with your ruler and duct tape, I have some bad news for you. At Invention Therapy, a prototype is not what you think. Our version of a prototype is a 99% complete, ready for manufacturing product or device. In this age of computer-aided design, 3D printers and low-cost electronics manufacturing, you have no excuses here. In the next step, we will begin our prototype by sketching our ideas.
6. Sketch your invention ideas.
Putting your ideas on paper or on the computer is one of the most important steps of the invention process. If you don’t know how to sketch, don’t worry because was never very good at it either. You can use a computer or a piece of paper and a pencil. It doesn’t matter at this phase. You are just trying to inspire yourself and get some ideas down for you to review. You can read more about sketching your invention idea here.
7. Create a model in software.
This is your secret weapon as an inventor and the information that those invention help companies don’t want you to know.
Computers give you the power to design most of your product in the vertual world. This significantly reduces the costs of building our physical prototype and also the investment needed to get to the point of manufacturing.
By building your product digitally, you also have access to the entire world where companies will compete to make our products for you. It is a simple as sending them your files for review and getting back the lowest posible quotes. Don’t worry about them stealing your idea because we are only having them build some parts. In the beginning, you will be doing most of the assembly yourself.
8. Build a working prototype.
As I discussed in Step 4, your prototype is 99% ready for the manufacturing version of your product. You can use 3D printed parts for all injection molded items at this stage but things like CNC parts, electronic boards, enclosures, screws and any other hardware must be used. This prototype should pretty much look exactly like the completed product.
Another advantage of building your prototypes this way is that if you are planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign, you will be almost ready to go. By having a fully functional prototype ready, you can take pictures, create your website, layout your project page on Kickstarter and start your first crowdfunding campaign.
The great thing about crowdfunding is that it lowers your investment for your product release and creates a buzz around your new brand. Don’t get too carried away here and be sure to still use the 2.5X rule when pricing your rewards. You can offer discounts to a few of the initial backers but overall you will need to markup on your costs of each product or you could be left holding the bag. That would not be a very good way to get started as an inventor.
9. Refine your product design.
You will make mistakes during the design process. I make them all the time and have to reorder parts, circuit boards, and other components. Just try to check your work in the computer over and over before submitting your circuit boards, 3D parts or any other items be manufactured. This is all just part of the process no matter how frustrating it can get. You will eventually work out all the bugs and improve your overall design along the way.
10. Prepare for manufacturing.
So you made it and are ready to manufacture your first product. The good news is that it probably won’t cost you as much as you think if you have followed all of my advice so far. By doing everything in the virtual world up until now and then working out all the bugs in the prototype, you should have a very good idea of what is involved in mass-producing your product. In fact, it shouldn’t be any different than making your final prototype only in a larger quantity.
The hundred unit rule should never be broken.
This is one rule that I have lived by for over twenty years and I learned it from Apple Computer. That’s right, even Apple started by building one hundred units of their Apple One computer and as we know, the rest is history.
As I mentioned in the video, you may get a cheaper price on one thousand pieces during your first run of manufacturing but your initial investment could be as much as five or six times the cost of a one hundred piece run. Sure, each part will cost more to make at only one hundred units but your risk will be much lower. Once your product is successful, you can easily make the choice as to whether or not to make the next one hundred pieces.
11. Launch your first product.
This will be the most exciting part of your journey as a new inventor. It will also be another new experience for you where you will have a great deal to learn. The only advice I can offer is to take your time and have patience. It may take you a while to get any reasonable volume of sales but stick with it.
You will have many options available to you in order to sell your products to the public. Here are a few avenues through which you may be able to offer your products to customers.
I am not a fan of the giant retail brick and mortar stores as a way to distribute your products. This type of inventory management comes with many obstacles and can quickly put your small product manufacturing business in the red. Do your own research and decide what sales channels are best for you.
I should mention that no matter where you plan on selling, it will be a good idea to establish a brand. This will basically be your website where customers and possible resellers can find out more about you. It is also a good place to add a storefront and offer your products for sale.
I am a big believer in branding your products based on a website URL. Trackstick and Soundlazer are both my brand names and web addresses. This part is up to you but you can find yourself working twice as hard if you use a company name and a product name separately. You need to make everything easy for people to find and remember.
12. Land your first sale.
Throw yourself a party because you are in a very elite crowd of people. You no longer just have ideas floating around your head and you are now officially a true inventor.
Your first sale came in, you made some money and your shipped your first order. I know that doesn’t seem like much but very few people make it this far. You only have ninety-nine more units to sell before your next manufacturing order. Actually, you can’t wait until they are all sold out so keep your eye on inventory and available cash.
Did I mention that your work is now just getting started? Welcome to the road to success. I hope you will share your experiences with us and continue to create products.