September 8, 2016
Lessons from Inventors
This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Michigan Inventors Coalition Inventors Expo which drew attendees from more than just our state. It was an energetic, creative group who was there to learn from a variety of experts and fellow inventors. The products ranged from a device that allows a guitarist to play a harmonica easily while strumming to a mechanical arm that pets your dog while you are away…and more.
While the inventions were, needless to say, diverse, and while most of us will never invent a product, the lessons still apply to many of us in business. Here are just a few takeaways.
Solve a problem:
It is easy to get caught up in a project or product you forget everything we do or create must solve a problem. Every single inventor at the expo talked about how their idea for a product came from a need or problem they faced. Most realized they are not the only one with that problem or need, and that began their journey.
Even if you believe you have the best product in the world, you need to validate it, and not just with those you know. Your family and friends will probably tell you what you want to hear. You need to listen to independent individuals who will provide objective feedback. Is the product easy to use? Will it last? Is there a market for it? Is the cost in line with expectations?
Avoid the trap of spending on things you don’t need before you are ready. For example, many of the inventors talked about working out of their home at the start. Others described using freelancers to do graphic design work or assembly rather than hiring staff before it was really necessary. This helps preserve dollars so they can be spent where they are most valuable.
Karen Smoots, Mompreneur and inventor of “TheGreenGloveDryer” said as a busy mom she did not have time to run from place to place to manufacture and launch her product. She found a local plastic injection molder and a local packaging company to make her job easy. Also as a proud Michigander she is doing business with companies working to strengthen the local and statewide economy. Of course, it is not always possible to find the resources you need locally. Find the best resources, wherever they might be located.
Build a Network:
These inventors were almost giddy as they walked the expo and stopped to share stories. They talked about what they tried, what worked and what did not. They compared notes on product development. They questioned each other about how to open doors to potential markets. Keynote speaker Stephen Key is an award-winning inventor and lifelong entrepreneur. He boldly told the audience, “This is your family,” then he went on to give a room full of people his cell phone number and told them to call if they needed help. That’s building a network. We all need to find those who can be our trusted advisers because a great network can save you a lot of heartache.
Thanks to the Michigan Inventors Coalition for the invitation to speak, and good luck as you inspire inventors to create the next cool product.