Common Sense Inventing - Educational articles to help Inventors make informed decisions

Had a discussion last week with an Inventor that has had a string of rejections from company Y even though based on the ideas he has shown me you would think they would have shown interest. His presentation is short and concise. He has great graphics that show his ideas and possible packaging aspects for all of them and even has short demo videos of each product showing them proving proof of concept. He even has some good gap analysis slides. The ideas answer the “Better Than” question.

Everything looks as prepared as you can get, so what is the problem? I was as confused as he was until he showed me a listing of the companies he had previously sent the material to for review. He had disclosed at a different meeting we had that he had a deal with company X and had signed a memorandum of understanding outlining what both sides had agreed to but changed his mind at the last minute and decided to pull the product from the company. They had spent a significant amount of money testing and doing a focus group study on his product. So they were not happy with this decision. I know the person he was dealing with at company X from my dealings with company X.

What the Inventor did not know is shortly after this issue happened with him the person he was dealing with at company X left company X and is now working at company Y doing the same position. So how do you think his ideas went over with this same person he burned at company X?

As in any industry people get promoted, fired, quit, move to other similar markets looking for work. So, the bridge you burn at one company can follow you through a number of companies. So it does not take long for your name to be bounced around until you are known as trouble. The same goes if you have a solid reputation for getting things done, providing good ideas and having realistic expectations. Word gets around in this industry. What will they think about you when your name comes up?

Invention posting sites are gaining popularity, but do you gain any benefit from them? In my opinion these sites feed off of the Inventor’s hopes of getting discovered by a major player in their particular target market and making millions.

The web is flooded with these websites all claiming to be the place every Inventor should list their idea/product to get noticed, receive funding, and make sales. They say list with us for free or they charge a monthly fee and companies and investors will find your product. Some offer paid services to build your presentation page, make a pamphlet, sell sheet or other material.

Some make the pitch saying they are an international marketplace, as if they have this special connection no one else has. There is nothing special to being international anymore. You get international exposure just by being on the internet. I get contacted by people all across the world that find my site using Google or some other search engine. I didn’t do anything special that makes me stand out over the next website or buy a spot on Google so that I show up first in a web search.

Ask yourself this, do you really think that Stanley Black and Decker, Kraft, Mattel, Craftsman, Rubbermaid, and all the other mainstream companies spend their time surfing these idea posting sites? I put in the search topic on Bing “invention Buyers” my results were 1-10 of 748,000 results. I know a number of them are repeats of the same companies so lets say you only have actually 748 of those as the correct number of sites worldwide offering these services. Do you think any business like Stanley Black and Decker has the resources or cares to have their staff look through 748 websites for a new product they can sell? Why should they even bother when they have Inventors contacting them daily wanting them to review their ideas? The answer is they don’t.

I looked at one of these companies website and they had 18 categories of products you can look through. If they have a minimum of 10 ideas/products listed per category you have 180 products to review for just this one website. Now multiply that by the 748 companies offering this type of service and you get 134,640 products to review. So, how would a toy company find you out of this large pool of ideas/products that cover such a wide variety of markets?

Plus, that number will not stay static since you are adding new products as more Inventors join these sites. So, again I ask does any one company have the resources or need to review these products, even monthly? Your chances of getting picked up from one of these sites are small at best. You would be better served pushing your product yourself and targeting the companies you want to go after. Lets not forget that Inventors will post their unprotected ideas on these sites not realizing they are doing public disclosure.

I have my own website that I include in my emails to companies or can tell them when talking with a company. I can direct them to it easily and don’t have to worry about them sifting through other websites and advertisements.

Talking with an Inventor this week prompted me to write this thread. When you invent something you may have had to use outside help to get it into its current state. You had someone build a presentation, a mold, website, prototype, CADs, 3D model, sell sheet, video, animation, etc.

The question is do you have the ability to access it any time you want? Where exactly is it kept and can you get to it if the individual/company goes out of business, your contact quits their job or dies, moves to a new location without telling you?

Consider if you had a design group make your prototype and they send you the prototype and you are happy with it and send it out for review. Months down the road you need another prototype made and you contact that same company and it is no longer in business or they had server issues and your CADS were lost. Do you have a full set of copies of their work in your possession or were you relying on it still being on their server?

You had sell sheets made and they sent you the PDF and you have been emailing and printing them off as you needed. Now due to additional features you need to update the sell sheet. Do you have a copy of the original sell sheet in a format that can be edited?

Your website was designed and maintained by a company and now that company is going out of business do you have access to get it moved to a new service provider, do you have the passwords needed?

If you have your product being made overseas and you paid the factory for the molds can you get the molds sent to the U.S. if you found a company here to do the work cheaper?

Do you have important documents saved in more than one place? Thumb drives, hard drives, external drives, computers can all fail. If they do and you have everything on just one of these items do you lose everything?

If you save everything to the cloud are you the only one with access, knows the password? What happens in the event of your death, you can’t remember the passwords or gain access to the cloud?

These are just some examples to get you thinking about making sure you are covered and your important items are accessible and safe.

A sell sheet is basically your calling card to a company. It is used throughout all industries to show a company your products benefits. There is no one size fits all when it comes to sell sheets. The formatting can be anything you want it to be. They can be very professional looking with graphs and illustrations or photographs. They can be on high gloss paper or paper with a dull finish. The major point of a sell sheet is to convey your products benefits in a short and concise manner on one or two pages of letter sized paper.

The sell sheet is comparable to the blurb you see on the back of a 300 page novel, but with illustrations. When you pick up a book and read the back jacket it gives you a short overview of the books storyline. You don’t need to read the entire 300 pages to get an idea if this book would be of interest to you. Based on that blurb the Writer is hoping to peak your interest in their book enough to buy it. The same can be said for the sell sheet. You are using this format to get your idea in front of a company representative with the hopes that they will read it, understand it, see your products market potential and want to know more.

One question that pops up all the time regarding sell sheets is how many pages do you make them? IN my opinion no more than two pages. There is no written rule saying they can’t be longer than two pages, but based on my experience two pages or less seems to be the best approach. The reason goes back to what I stated above with the book example. Do you want to read the entire novel or the short blurb on the back of the book to get the person’s idea?

Another reason for the two pages or less applies to the statement of getting your verbal pitch down to 30 seconds. It is all a matter of time. The person hearing your pitch or reading your sell sheet does not want to waste a lot of time trying to “Get” your idea. The quicker they “Get” the idea and understand it does a couple of things for you. One, if they “Get” the idea quickly and like it you are that much closer to getting the licensing agreement you are wanting.

The second is if they “Get” your idea and its usefulness quickly they can also see that the public may “Get” your products benefits just as quickly, which means sales for them and you. No matter how good your product may be if the company feels they will have to educate the consumer before they “Get” the idea, they may pass on it. Depending on the (ROI) Return on Investment calculation the company will decide whether it is worth the cost of educating the public on the product or if it just isn’t going to be worth the time and investment.

Can the company get the public to understand your products benefit using a graphic on the package or will it require a TV commercial to get the benefits across and drive sales? These are all things that are considered by the company when you present your idea.

So, what exactly do you put in the sell sheet to get their attention? You want your sell sheet to put your best foot forward. If you send your sell sheet via email make sure you send it in a format they can open. Often an Inventor will use software they have on their computer to make the sell sheet, but forget the receiver doesn’t have the same software and won’t be able to view it. You run into the same issue if they have a different version of the software than you do. This can hamper certain features of your presentation not to work or can rearrange your formatting making everything look confusing. Most people have the ability to open jpegs and PDFs. It is best to ask the receiver if they have a compatible program before sending them your sell sheet via email. You need to ask if their company has a size limit on what will be allowed through their server.

Below are some things you need to make sure are included in your sell sheet:

Make sure your contact information is on every page

Put your best short description of the products benefits

List any patents or other documentation your product has that would be of interest to the reviewer.

Make sure any photos or illustrations you have are clear and give the best visual of your product

If you have a website make sure you list it if it shows other products you have licensed

If you have a prototype or product samples available use this phrase “Prototype/Sample available upon request.”

Things you don’t want in your sell sheet are:

Telling them how long you have been working on this in your garage. (They don’t care how long or where you have been doing this. They are only concerned about will it make a profit?)

Letters from your family members telling the company how much they love your idea.

Making demands on how much you want for your idea. (Get the company interested in the product first and then you can negotiate terms once they start discussing contracts)

Don’t tell them the product has to look exactly as it does in the sell sheet or there is no deal. (Companies modify products to fit their consumer base. If you can’t see your products design changed then you need to produce it yourself and leave companies alone)

Don’t overload your sell sheet with graphs, charts, and a lot of mathematical statistics. (If you think more detail is needed to prove your product works as you claim add a note that more detailed information is available upon request. Get their interest first before you hit them with tons of information).

Give your finished Sell Sheet to a person you know will give you their honest opinion no matter if it hurts your feelings. Make sure you have signed a non-disclosure first to cover both of you. Don’t tell them a word about your product beforehand and simply let them read your Sell Sheet. Once they are done ask them to tell you about your product and what it does and see if they get the product. Do they miss seeing the benefit of the product, how it works, seem unclear exactly what you are trying to “Get” across to the reader? This is a good indicator that you may need to tweak your Sell Sheet.

As with anything this complicated I have not covered every situation, but this is a good place to start.

How much time do you spend Watching QVC and HSN? You would be surprised how much you can learn taking time to watch and really look at how they try and pull the viewer into the benefits of the product verbally and visually. Look at the difference how they pitch the product when they have just a few minutes to spend on the product versus when they have 20 minutes. You can use this as an aid to writing your own sell sheet and putting your pitch together to contact companies.

Watch a product that comes up and record it with the sound down. While it is playing think what you would say to get a person’s attention if you had to pitch that product. Write them down. Then replay the segment and see if you used any of the points they did and did they miss some points you saw they didn’t. Were you able to “GET” the benefits of the product and how it worked without the audio playing?

Another benefit of this exercise is you get to see a number of the current products that have come out. It could spark something in an area you had not considered to go after.

Here is an exercise I do daily that you may want to try and see if it doesn’t help you keep your mind active and fresh. Every day I randomly pick a topic, product, problem and think on it throughout the day to see what solution I can come up with or different twist/use. My focus for today is Flower Pots. Yesterday it was fire hydrants. You will be surprised how well it works and you will be thinking about it even when you are working on something else without trying hard.

Another interesting exercise you can do is listen to the ads you hear on the radio while driving and see which ads catch your attention and why. What in their pitch got your attention and what did it make you see visually in your mind?
While you are watching TV and doing the exercise with QVC and HSN you might want to do the same exercise with ASOTV pitches. You can go here and watch multiple videos on their products and use the same method to see how you would have pitched them.

This is a great practice to start looking at everything around you differently or as a challenge to keep things fresh and your mind active. Who knows what idea it could spark and find success.