Congratulations! You think you came up with a new, multi million-dollar idea…
But you want to be sure…
I met with an inventor not too long ago, who told me about his idea for a new gardening tool that he was really excited about. We went over what he had done, the next steps, expected development costs, etc… We talked for over an hour. And at the end, he asked me a very serious and heart felt question:
“Do YOU think people are going to buy it?”
He was looking for ANY Validation. He was unsure and hesitant about pursuing his idea. Like so many inventors he was suffering from FEAR, UNCERTAINTY AND DOUBT (FUD). Doubt that people could buy his idea. Uncertainty about HOW to turn his idea into a product. And Fear that someone might steal his idea or that he would never get a return on his investment.
He thought, like so many inventors do, that you need to summon enormous courage to overcome FUD… like charging into battle, sword drawn.
But what if there was a better way? What if there was a simple process for Inventors to eliminate FUD and pursue their ideas with confidence?
What if you could know that your idea would sell without spending thousands of dollars in development?
What if there was a simple way to protect your idea so you didn’t have to worry about people stealing it?
What if there was a simple process to select and choose only the best ideas for development?!?
Idea Validation Process
This is a problem that I have been working on for over 10 years. See, right now, I manage a product development and engineering services company. We design our own products, and products for other people as well. Some of the products we invented and developed in the beginning, absolutely flopped and never sold. We spent thousands of dollars and months of time. We had boxes of production parts in our garage for months, that we ended up taking to the dump because nobody wanted them.
So I worked to figure out a process, a formula for how to CHOOSE which ideas were worth pursuing and could change my life. And now, using the process, we have launched and licensed multiple award winning products.
Most People Will Only Ever Get One or Two Shots to Create Their Idea. Give Yourself the Best Odds for Success!
This guide outlines the 10 steps we now use to determine which ideas to pursue and which to let go. I have
explained them in broad strokes, which may be enough for many. However, if you would like a little more help and
guidance walking through the process, we do offer coaching with phone calls, worksheets, questionnaires, and
instructional videos to make sure you know what you are doing and that you are taking the right steps at the right
1. Set Expectations
Inventing is an exciting journey. If done right, it is incredibly fulfilling and has life changing potential. To create something out of nothing is a feeling that cannot be rivaled in my opinion. But it does take time and effort. Inventing is a type of investment. You put money (and effort) in over a period of time and hopefully get a return at some point in the future. It is not a get rich quick plan, or even a job.
Odds are, if you go down this path it will be more than a year before your idea produces any revenue, and likely longer before it is profitable. Making money off of inventions also takes a variety of skill sets, from engineering and product development to patents, manufacturing, supply chain, marketing and sales. But, with the right help and the right process, you CAN make your idea a reality and reap the benefits of hard work. Our coaching clients also get access to our trusted partners who can help fill in the gaps where you may need assistance, from video production to patent attorneys, to manufacturing help, we know who you need to talk to and how to get in touch.
2. Google It
This seems obvious but it is amazing how many people skip this step. Type in keywords, search images, try different search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Amazon) because they give you different results. Odds are, you are going to find your idea, or something really close to it. And that is OK. That is a WIN. I have an entire notebook of ideas I have come up with that have already been invented. I keep them to remind myself that I am coming up with ideas for things that PEOPLE WANTED ENOUGH THAT THEY ALREADY MAKE IT. So if your idea is already made, congratulations. Buy it, use it, and go find something else to invent.
3. Patent Search
Some ideas may not exist on the market, but may exist on the patent world. Patents protect your idea for 20 years from the date of application. Before diving in, you want to make sure that you have “room to operate,” that your idea is not going to infringe on anyone else’s patents. You also want to know if you will be able to get a patent on your idea. If someone else has done it, but the patent is more than 20 years old, you are free to make it, but you won’t be able to get a patent on it unless you make improvements.
Now that the internet is available, just about anyone can do a patent search (patents.google.com). We teach our coaching clients, not only how to search for patents, but how to understand and interpret what they find.
4. Define Your Market
There is a reason that the Sharks always ask about the market for your product. It is critical to know who is going to buy your product, and how many of those people exist.
Figure out who your ideal customer is. Who do you want to buy your product? What do they like to do? What stage of life are they in? Is your product an idea for trucks, how many people have trucks? Is it an idea for skateboards? How many people own skateboards? How many are sold each year? The objective is to make sure that there are enough people who could possibly buy your product, and would want to buy your product to make it worthwhile. Investors and potential licensees will not only want to know the numbers, but also the basis or rational for those numbers.
5. Validate the Job
People buy things for a reason. Usually it is to solve a problem they are having. Sometimes it is to provide pleasure, like ice cream. One way to think about this is to ask “what are you hiring the product to do? What is the job that needs to be done?”
If you came up with an idea, you probably know what you hired it to do, and the outcome you hoped to achieve. Now you need to see if other people would hire a product to do the same job, or if you are alone. THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM TELLING PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR SPECIFIC IDEA… that comes in a later step. Ideally you need to talk with 50 people, although 30 will probably give you a pretty good idea.
Go to the mall, a busy street corner, or walk around your neighborhood and start asking people “what is the hardest part about…” You may also ask “what problems have you noticed when you [activity where problem arises]” and see if they bring up the problem you have noticed without you telling them what the problem is. You don’t want to bias your results by telling them what the problem is right away. See what answers they give you, ask followup questions. See what problems come up over and over again. If they don’t bring it up on their own, you might try asking if they have ever noticed “XYZ” problem. Sometimes the problems are so commonplace that they aren’t recognized as problems but as “just the way things are.”
Pay attention not only to how many people give a particular answer, but how enthusiastically they give it. Do people get all animated and lit-up talking about the problem, or is their reaction more ho-hum “yea, I’ve seen that, not a really big deal.” Ideally you want to find a problem that a lot of people have, and a problem that really bothers those people.
Evaluate What You Have Learned So Far
The great thing about our process is that the first four steps are all FREE and can be done in a day or two. They
can also be done without actually telling anyone about your idea, so you don’t have to worry about anyone
“stealing” it (although this rarely happens). These steps should be taken with every new idea. You
may find out you need to modify, change or improve your idea. Otherwise, you can move onto the next steps.
If you do need to change or modify an idea, it is important to remember that product development is a
numbers game. Some people think they will only be blessed with a SINGLE good idea during their life, but the
truth is, IDEAS are easy, especially if you pay attention. Odds are, many ideas won’t make it through the first 4
steps, and that is OK. That is a WIN. I have an entire notebook of ideas I came up with that people have
already made. You just saved yourself 6 months, a truckload of money, and have given yourself more time
and better odds for your next idea. This process is designed to save you thousands in product development
The following five steps have minimal cost and are designed to save you thousands in development costs. I
have shown this in a particular order, but the actual order may be dependent on the type of product and your
specific skills and abilities. The following steps can typically be done for a few hundred dollars if you do it
6. Basic Prototype
Usually, an idea forms itself in your mind. Now we are going to transform that mental image into something that
we can show other people to help explain what it is and what it is supposed to do. It doesn’t have to be perfect,
rather we are trying to capture the essence of the product. This can be anything from a drawing or a video
(find someone on Fiver.com or upwork.com to make it if you are not able), or a physical representation, a model
of what your idea will look like. I am amazed at what people can accomplish and create with $20, some
creativity, and a trip the the Home Depot or a thrift store. The goals are to have something to show, to help you
figure out how different parts might fit together, whether it can realistically be made, what parts work well and
what may need to be improved.
7. Provisional Patent Application (PPA)
Before showing off your prototype or telling people about your idea, you will want to file a provisional patent
application (PPA). This is an important first step in protecting your idea. Filing a PPA costs between $65 and
$260 depending on the size of your company. Provisional Patents are different from full blown (utility) patents.
They can be written in plain language, they do not need to include claims, and they don’t need to be reviewed
before achieving patent pending status.
Inventors can write their own provisional patents, but some people are more comfortable having an attorney
do it. If you have an attorney write and submit your PPA on a simple product, you can expect to pay about
$2,000 – $3,000.
The key to writing a good provisional patent is disclosure. You want to put as much about your
invention in as you can. Any and all different ways you have thought of to make it work, any variations you may
or may not include, and all of the benefits your idea has when compared to what is currently available . They say
pictures are worth 1,000 words. Include pictures in your PPA, even if they are hand drawn. When you eventually
file a utility patent you don’t have to patent everything in the provisional, but you won’t get the early date for
ideas that are not in the provisional, so try to get all of the good ideas in.
You can tell people about your idea before filing a provisional patent application depending on how much
you trust the people you are talking to and how worried you are about people stealing your idea. Odds are,
nobody is going to do anything with your idea until you have shown that it can be successful because, frankly,
there is still a lot of work to do at this point before any money is going to be made.
If you have already publicly disclosed your idea, you can still file a PPA and get a patent as long as your first
public disclosure was less than 12 months ago and nobody else has filed a patent on your idea.
That being said, there is a reason that the PPA is usually filed before publicly disclosing your invention. It is like
paying $5 to have someone “hold” an item at a yard sale while you run get the other $295 and your truck to
actually bring the item home. It allows you to get a patent in the future, but date it back to the date of the
PPA. This is very important as the United States uses a “first to file” system, meaning that the first person to file
a patent on an invention gets the rights to that invention, even if they were not the first to invent it.
8. Solution Validation
Solution validation is very similar to Step 5 described above. You need to take your prototype and ask 50
people if it solves the problem, what they like about it, what they don’t like about it, if they think they would use
it, if they would buy it, and what price they would buy it at. You will get much better feedback when you are
talking to complete strangers rather than friends and family. Your mom probably isn’t going to tell you that
your idea sucks. Also pay attention to what sorts of people like your idea and what sorts do not. This will help
you define your target market which will be important for the cost validation step below.
9. Cost Validation
There is a simple way to figure out if your idea will sell at a price point that will allow you to make money. You can
get a pretty good idea of what your product could or should cost by looking at the competitive products and
deciding if a) your product is more difficult to make, less difficult to make, or about the same. Obviously a product
that is more difficult to make will need to be priced proportionately higher. You also need to decide if b) your
product provides more value, less value, or about the same value as the competitive products. If you have a
hard time estimating price, guess high.
Once you have an estimate for the price point, you can create a landing page on the internet. A landing page is
a simple website. Nowadays, landing pages can be put together simply and quickly, even if you have no technical
I have found ClickFunnels to be the easiest software for building a landing page. It is easy to use and has great
tutorials. Most people can get a page built in a couple of hours. The landing page should explain what your
product is, have a big picture or video of the product, and some bullet points describing the benefits (there is
a difference between a feature and a benefit, sell the benefits), and a “BUY NOW FOR $XX.00” button. When
the “Buy Now” button is clicked, it will take them to a new page that says something like “Coming Soon” or
“Thank you for Helping” or “Out of Stock.” You can also have an option for them to leave their email address so
you can contact them when you are ready to sell your product. For an example of a landing page, click
After you have a landing page, you can test pricing and determine how many advertising dollars you need
to spend to sell your idea. To do this, use Facebook or Google ads to drive traffic to your landing page. Keep
track of how much you spend, how many people visit, and how many click the buy now button. The data you
collect will give you a pretty good idea of how much it will cost to sell your product. This is a great way to test
products that will be sold directly to consumers. This process does not necessarily tell you if your
product is a flop, and you need to be careful not to give up too soon. It will, however, tell you if you have a
WINNER. If you have your target market right, with good sales messaging, and a product that people
want. This process – pretend sales – is how you can KNOW that your product will sell before you spend
thousands of dollars on development.
10. License or Launch
Now that you have gone through the steps, and are confident that you can sell your idea, there are generally
two ways to bring a product to market – License or Launch.
Licensing is working with an established company to have them design/finalize, manufacture and sell your
idea. If you land a licensing deal, you will can expect to make 3%-7% of the gross revenue, but you also have a
large company taking on the risk, paying for development and using their pre-established sales
channels to start bringing in money. They are likely to sell much more of the product than you would, at least
initially. Plus, you are free to pursue other inventions. Launching your own product is an adventure and usually
has higher costs and higher potential payout. After completing these steps you can then move confidently to
product development, manufacturing, packaging, sales and distribution.
At this point, you need to make a decision on how you want to bring your product to market. The decision is a
personal one, and depends on your goals and ambitions. You may consider things like how much you can invest before needing to see a return, is your idea and add-on or upgrade product, if you like your current job or are looking for a way out, and whether you want to be involved in your idea’s industry every day. Either way you choose to go, the data you collect by following the steps in this guide will be instrumental for you or for your licensee as you move forward and bring your awesome idea to life.
About Me (the Author):
I am a third generation inventor and engineer. Making new things is in my blood and I have been inventing my
whole life. My dad and grandpa were both engineers and inventors too. I have learned a great deal watching them create their ideas, and working with them, and learning from their mistakes and successes.
Knowing that inventing was going to be a big part of my life and career, I studied engineering and business in
college and came away with a Masters Degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA. I have studied
product development from just about every possible angle to deepen my understanding and give myself –
and the people I work with – the best possibility of success.
Currently, I manage Alpine Engineering and Design, Inc. a mechanical engineering and product development consulting company. I have been involved in the design of many successful (and a few unsuccessful) new products ranging from kitchen tools to exercise equipment, and from cargo racks to thrill rides. We have a team of six engineers working full time on the design, analysis, and prototypes of new ideas. We have done work for companies ranging from large international conglomerates, to small business owners and individual inventors. We also take the time to develop and pursue our own inventions. In the first half of 2019 we launched the Link-Lock which won the best new product at the North America Trailer Dealers Association (NATDA) trade show, and licensed the Broom Buddy product to a major distributor. I love hearing about and being involved in inventors success stories, and I hope this guide will help you on your journey.