As a co-founder of a yearlong educational program that teaches people how to license their ideas, my team and I get asked this question a lot. Our students want to know: Does their idea warrant moving ahead with? Is it worth their time and energy? How can they be sure?
Unfortunately, we don’t know–and neither does anyone else. If you want to consult your friends and family, that’s fine, so long as you take their advice with a grain of salt. Because the fact of the matter is that if your goal is to license an idea, the only opinion that matters is that of your potential licensees. They are the ones that are going to take on all the risk .
Over the years, I’ve watched product ideas I privately thought were just so-so do extremely well. I tell my coaches to refrain from sharing their personal opinions for that very reason. What we think just doesn’t matter! I would never want to discourage someone from moving forward and finding out for sure. Unlike starting a business, doing so won’t cost you much. That’s a big part of the reason why I’m such a fan of this business model: It’s low-risk. Want to know if you have a good idea on your hands? Start calling potential licensees to pitch them on it. All you need is a one-page sell sheet and to have filed a provisional patent application. They’ll let you know.
Everyone wants a definitive answer, but evaluating an idea doesn’t work that way. However, there are a few baseline indicators. If you want to know whether or not you have a potential winner on your hands, answer the following questions.
- Does it offer a benefit?
A lot of people get this mixed up. You’re not selling a prototype. You’re not even selling a patent. What you’re selling are benefits. How will consumers benefit from your product? I don’t mean to imply that you need to reinvent the wheel. Benefits can be small in scope–just slight improvements or minor tweaks. But they need to be legitimate. In other words, does your idea solve a problem that irks or inconveniences many people? Not all winning ideas solve problems, but most do.
- Can you succinctly describe it?
In my experience, the best ideas are simple. When an inventor rambles on for 15 to 20 minutes about his or her idea, that’s a red flag. One of my favorite one-line benefit statements of all time is, “One thousand songs in your pocket.” That’s how Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPod. At the time, it was revolutionary! Who didn’t want that product? If you are unable to summarize the benefit of your product idea in a short sentence, your benefit might not be very strong.
- How large is the market for it?
I prefer to work with ideas that have large markets, because my intention is to make money. If you invent a product idea that appeals to a very niche demographic, your royalty checks are never going to be that sizable.
- Can it be manufactured at a competitive price point?
Answering this question takes a bit more research, but I think doing so is worth it. So many patent applications describe innovations that will never see the light of day simply because they cannot be made cheaply enough. Don’t be naive and assume that you will be able to lower manufacturing costs down the line. You won’t. Choose instead to empower yourself with knowledge. The information you need is out there; it’s not as if it’s a mystery. Get started by perusing videos on YouTube. If need be, contact a contract manufacturer to get the insight you need.
At the end of the day, there’s no crystal ball. Powerful companies spend months doing market research and still make mistakes. If you want to know whether or not you have a good idea, get out there–quickly.