All invention begins with ideas. Sometimes we see something and can imagine a better way of doing it. Sometimes we’re faced with a problem and invent a solution for it. Sometimes the idea just pops into our head for no rhyme or reason. Whatever the source, we’re left with an idea. So what do you do with an idea?
Most people want to make something with their idea and sell it. This is normal and healthy. It’s good for you and for the economy. The first question you need to ask is: Do I have the skills required to make it? A lot of people don’t and that’s normal. You can either learn the skills or talk to someone who already has the skills. This is where the first large mistake kicks in, and that mistake is secrecy.
Everyone believes their idea is great and will be fabulously successful. They want to keep it as secret as possible, to protect it from being stolen. In reality nobody wants to steal your idea. (Or if they do, it is extremely unlikely.) First, people have their own ideas and they all believe them to be better than all other ideas. That’s human nature. To fully understand why your idea won’t be stolen, put yourself into the shoes of the stealer. First of all, most ideas don’t work. Of all the ideas that work, a very low percent are patented. Of all patents, only about 5% make it to market. That’s one in every twenty patents make it to market. Finally of all patents that make it to market, very few are successful. So if you are going to steal something, steal a product that’s already in the market and selling well. (It’s a no-brainer.)
So nobody wants to steal your idea. Don’t bother with secrecy or NDAs. (An NDA, like a patent, has never stopped someone from stealing. People who steal don’t follow rules after all.) When you talk to experts, be open and upfront. Experts are definitely not interested in stealing your ideas because they have their own that would be far more successful. They are experts after all. In fact, many experts enjoy helping others. They want you to succeed.
So what should you discuss with an expert? First, tell them to be brutally honest. Tell them your idea and get their feedback. Since they work in the industry, they may know if your idea already exists. There may be issues with the idea, such as structural problems that can’t be overcome. There may be different methods of approaching the problem that vastly simplify it. Experts love teaching and explaining, so ask them to teach you more about it. Most experts love mentoring, so give them the opportunity.
With some ideas, it’s easy to know if they’ll work or not. With all remaining ideas, you don’t even know if they’ll work. With these ideas, the next step is a prototype. A prototype is a simplified version of the product or idea. It’s something you can try, to see if it works and how well it works. The prototype can be easily adjusted and changed.
Once the first prototype is made, it usually fails. This is normal and it’s where most people give up. Sometimes the idea is bad and should be abandoned. If the idea is good and the prototype fails then your prototype may be flawed. Redo the prototype several more times until it works. Getting over failure is the first major hurdle. Most people hate failure so much that they give up at the first sign of failure. Good inventors don’t give up. They don’t blame bad tools, they make it work using whatever’s on hand. Need a part and don’t have a 3D printer or a machine shop? An inventor will make it from clay, make a mold and cast it in resin. If they don’t have clay, they’ll use Play-Doh. Never use an excuse, just keep trying and learn from each failure. This is the iterative process of prototyping, one where failure is guaranteed. Eventually the prototype will work.
So you finally get the prototype working and working well. It’s probably taken seven or eight attempts, especially if it’s your first. You’re thinking about turning it into a product. At this point, you need to think in an entirely different way. Will people purchase it? Is there a market for it and how large is that market? What price should you sell it for? Are there regulatory hurdles or certifications to overcome? What will it compete against and can it compete?