What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “inventor?” Most people think of success and money. In honor of National Inventors Day, I wanted to bring awareness to the hard work behind the inventions we see every day in retail stores. Thanks to the America Invents Act, patent application filings increased significantly in 2013. I can assure you most of those inventors are still working hard to make their inventions a success.
There is no doubt inventing something and seeing it come to fruition is one of the most exciting things that will ever happen to you.
I know that because I’m one of them. My first utility patent for a tanning invention was issued in 2013, and I filed a patent for a property management application that same year. It’s something I’m very proud of, but it didn’t come without a lot of roadblocks, detours, and hard work. I see articles every day about inventions and entrepreneurship, and they are usually very optimistic and exciting. There is no doubt inventing something and seeing it come to fruition is one of the most exciting things that will ever happen to you, but many of these articles leave out a lot of important things that aspiring inventors should know. Almost daily, I hear about all of the headaches, mistakes, and disappointments inventors privately face. I had my own share of headaches, wake-up calls, and tough lessons while I was inventing products and building apps, and I work with several others who have the same experiences. I thought I’d share some words of wisdom from ten of our very own Dallas innovators.
- Take time to test your prototype. “We crowdfunded our idea so our manufacturing was very public. We had 1,800 people waiting for their product and we wanted to deliver ASAP, so we were in a rush to ship our product. Once we received the prototypes, we were just excited they worked, so we ordered inventory right away. After ordering our first batch, we ended up with product that didn’t work as well as it could have. Had we just spent a little more time on testing, we could have worked out the kinks and had the best version of our product out immediately.” –- Harrison Herndon, Founder, Drop Shades
- Don’t spend too much time worrying about competitors. “It’s important to be aware of competitors, but spending too much time worrying about what they may or may not do is a waste of time. Don’t get distracted by your competitor’s press release or news updates. You’re only seeing the absolute best from them — what they want the world to see. Internally, they could be a disaster. Focus on your product and execute. Give it your best effort, and don’t get caught up in things you can’t control.” – John Adolph , CEO, Parqer
- Know the importance of saying “no.” “Thankfully we learned this valuable lesson early on when we made it on ‘Shark Tank’ the first time. Everything in me wanted to say ‘yes’ to ‘Shark Tank’ when we were offered the opportunity. At the time, we were only four months into our business and had sold more than $60,000 in product. I was still trying to sew every Zipadee-Zip myself, handwrite every thank you note, package every order, answer every email, and then somehow be a wife and a mother. We ultimately sought wise counsel and turned down the show. Looking back, I know now that had we gone on the show the first time, we would probably be out of business now. We simply did not have the foundation to support such rapid growth.” – Stephanie Parker, Founder, Sleeping baby
- Find the right experts. “From filing patents to trademarks to manufacturing, it’s overwhelming, to say the least. It will be tempting to try to cut corners to save money, but you’re going to spend more money in the long run and burn yourself out. Seek out people who have been through the process and can guide you along the way. Other inventors know all about the learning curve and are usually happy to help you get going in the right direction. If you feel like giving up, reach out to someone who’s been through the process already. They will give you a spark of motivation.” –- Amy James, CEO, Shutter Huggers
- Keep communication crystal clear. “Communication and strategic planning is something I wish I had put more effort into. It usually takes double the time you think to become successful. Having a full-time job at the time, most of my app development was done through email. That caused a lot of things to be taken out of context. Plan your success by sitting down with your team in person multiple times and having a full understanding of what needs to be done and what your expectations are.” – Demetrie King, CEO, VendingMyChine
- Never underestimate the effort it takes to go to market. “Going to market is usually the least of your worries as a hopeful and excited inventor. You assume that everyone will rush to buy your product, but you quickly realize it takes a lot of time and money to prove why your product is worth buying. No matter how positive the feedback is, the only true sign of a good product is sales.” – William James, Co-founder, Krooked Oak Tree Stands
- Don’t focus too much on perfection. “It took us six weeks to launch our application into the app stores after we had completed our beta. Having developers as founders can be tough because we always want to ship the most bug-free version of our work. The issue with that is we spent countless hours trying to make the perfect product. Ship early and ship often. Even if you are afraid that people are going to throw tomatoes at you, at least you’ll have the stains to show you’ve put in some work.” – Malcolm Woods, Founder, DineMob
- Focus on solving a problem. “Businesses or products solve problems. That’s it. If you’re hyper-focused on making money instead of solving a problem, you won’t succeed. Constantly ask yourself, ‘How can I solve this problem for my customer? What can I do to make their life easier?’ Focus on the problem solving, and the money will follow.” – David Maez, Co-founder, Realocator app
- Sketch your ideas. “Make time every day to write down at least 10 ideas in a sketchbook to increase lateral thinking. This is extremely helpful to be able to come up with quick solutions when you run into problems with product development. It also helps you make connections between broad subjects that aren’t immediately obvious. There’s nothing worst than waking up knowing that you forgot a great idea that could have made a difference in your business. Always carry a notebook.” – Robe Burke, Co-Founder, MindTalk
- Understand the mindset of the latest generation. “Our market is college-age adults. College students are a lot different today from when I was in school. They have grown up with smartphones and apps, so they want real-time interaction. It’s crucial to understand your demographic in order to market to them.” – Sean Minter, Founder, Fdbak
In my opinion, the hardest part about success isn’t doing the work — it’s being brutally honest with yourself to know what work needs to be done and being patient enough to stick with what you started.
I didn’t go to college. In my mind, my manufacturing costs were my tuition and my patent is my degree. This article isn’t to scare you away from becoming an inventor, but to better prepare you for what can be one of the most challenging things you’ll ever do.
While I’m not rich from my first invention, Luminous Envy, what I learned from the process has been priceless. That experience alone has led to opportunities in other areas of my career. In my opinion, the hardest part about success isn’t doing the work — it’s being brutally honest with yourself to know what work needs to be done and being patient enough to stick with what you started.
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