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Many inventors dream about being a serial inventor — selling one successful idea after another. It sounds like a pipedream to most inventors just hoping to get one idea out. But serial inventors do exist and the reasons they succeed can point the way to other inventors.
Mike Donine’s The Xcuse Box, which sold over 200,000 units and was carried by big retailers like Target, is a small box that attaches to a key chain and provides its owner with background noises to go with virtually any excuse someone might offer because they are late. A background noise of a siren provides the perfect backdrop when someone tells the boss they are tied up in traffic, auto shop noises to go with a story of a car breakdown and airport announcements let people know that you have to go are just a few of the ready to go Xcuses that get its owner off the hook at a moment’s notice.
But the Xcuse Box is just one item in a long line of inventions. Donine started out inventing what he called the Lazy Leg Lifter, which was just a fabric sling that a skier could slip over the bottom of his ski on a ski lift so they wouldn’t have the weight of the ski cutting off their circulation. The invention started out as a homemade aid for his bad legs, but ended up in ski shops up and down the West Coast. Then with the arrival of his children he started out coming up with things a parent can use. His most famous invention was the Theodore Bean baby carrier, which is a fabric baby holder that holds the baby facing out where they can see what’s going on. After selling that product for a few years he licensed it a manufacturer. But he kept coming out with new products that were sold in the catalog One Step Ahead, altogether producing over 20 products sold in the catalog.
Donine follows several principals that I’ve observed in many of the serial inventors I’ve talked to over the years. (Click here to read Don Debelak’s columns on Entrepreneur.com.)
- Introduce a product that you need. You often come up with the best product ideas when you have a problem and think, what product could have solved my problem. I don’t know this for sure, but Donine’s Xcuse box is probably created because he is frequently late, a recurring problem for busy people.
- Invent products that can be easily made. Donine created the Lazy Leg Lifter and Theodore Bean baby carrier out of fabric. You can’t be sure if products will succeed till you have a representative prototype and the best ideas for an individual inventor are ones that they can easily make themselves for testing. Even the Xcuse box was relatively easy to make, as Donine could buy the recording unit for toys that are programmed with five to 10 statements.
- Watch the price value relationship. Inventors not only need ideas where prototypes can be easily made, but also need products that can be made at less than 25% of the ideal target price point. Most inventors price their product at four times its costs, which often results in their product being priced way too high. Serial inventors figure what price their product should sell for first, and then figure out how to make the product for 25% of that selling price.
- Check out that others see the idea as a unique, novel idea. Once a prototype is made, serial inventors check out what other people say about their idea. I recommend that you take three or four other successful new products in your market, and then show those products to people, along with yours, and then ask people which product they feel is most useful and most unique. When they consistently pick your product, you have a winner.
- Make contacts and network. Serial inventors are constantly at shows, inventors’ conferences and other events so they can meet contacts that will help them introduce their ideas. They are hustlers and don’t depend on products selling themselves. If you have for instance a baby products coming, go to your local retailers meet the managers, offer to display your product and run events, and ask for the names of the sales representatives that call on them. Go the big baby shows and start to network, meeting people at similar companies or retailers that can help you. I have made some of my best contacts just sitting in the break areas drinking coffee and asking people who sit next to me “who do you work for?”