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The Anatomy of a Product: From Idea to Reality

by: Geoff Ficke

What does it take to turn an idea into a product? How can I realize financial gain from my idea? Where do I start? These and many other questions swirl around would-be inventors and entrepreneurs as they seek to bring new products and services to market. The process can seem daunting for anyone making a first attempt and confronting the typical hurdles and roadblocks the marketplace utilizes to cull the field.

I look at hundreds of products each year and have done so for almost 30 years. The ideas that succeed invariably consist of the same basic elements.

One, an entrepreneur with passion, a realistic view of the opportunity they have created and a flexible attitude to the inevitable critique and changes the original concept will undergo. The world is full of dreamers. Successful entrepreneurs work non-stop in pursuit of their well-designed goals.

Two, a new product or service concept that fills an identifiable market niche. The niche can be a completely new product category (think Windows, XM Radio, E-Bay) or a small piece of a vast, mature market segment (Sam Adams Beer, Coach, George Foreman Grille). The Unique Selling Proposition is the element that enables the product to be positioned as an advance, offering different, improved features and benefits. The world doesn’t need another mousetrap, unless, you can prove a method to catch more mice.

Three, before running off to a Patent Attorney, display or discuss the opportunity with family, friend’s, co-workers you trust. Would they buy if available? How much would they pay? What don’t they like about the widget? Any improvements they might suggest? This is a form of micro-test market. Also, search the inter-net, United States Patent and Trademark Office, visit stores and diligently study the competition. If you feel confident that the market is not offering anything like your concept then you potentially have a significant commercial opportunity and should seek copyright, patent and trademark advice.

There are many ways to proceed. You can attempt to self-market your idea. There are numerous reputable consulting firms that can offer comprehensive services. Many colleges and state and local governments offer small business incubators and can be an excellent resource. A caution, though. The late night infomercial selling patent services that will make you rich is always a fraud. Ask for references and products currently on the market as proof that you are dealing with professionals, not charlatans.

The hardest question for many inventors to confront: How to harvest financial benefits from their invention? Licensing, self-marketing the product, funding, partnership, strategic alliance or outright sale of the opportunity are among the options to be considered. Typically, the inventors background, experience, interest and financial realities make the choice more obvious. It is usually good to have professional guidance when weighing appropriate strategies for harvesting income from a project.

A working model or a production quality prototype of the piece will be essential in researching manufacturing, costing production and for presentations. Do not cut corners here. Be as professional and thorough as possible in displaying the unique performance benefits and features of the product. You only get one chance to make a strong first impression.

A customized Business Plan or Offering Document will be crucial in successfully presenting the product for consideration. Decision-makers typically see many, many products each year. You need to stand out and that requires an exciting plan. Do not buy a Business Plan template off of the inter-net and fill in the blanks. It will not be read. Make the document as exciting as your product.

The steps reviewed above typically result in a thinning of the new product herd. In order to successfully place a service or product in this very aggressive, cluttered marketplace no shortcuts are tolerated. Inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses are an amazing breed and a valued national asset. The wealth created and generated by this group of idea pioneers is the American economic difference maker. There has never been a greater time or place to launch that needed new product, and the rewards have never been greater.