By Ty Hagler
One of my favorite conversations starts with the statement, ‘So I’ve got this idea.’ As an innovation consultant and industrial designer by training, these words spark an engaging discussion that gives me a chance to not only share my expertise, but also to learn something new about my field. When someone forms an idea for a new product, there is a tangible thrill and excitement that I find infectious, and I always welcome the discussion.
Having recently spoken with several inventors, pre-funded start-up ventures, and generally creative people, it has struck me that many of the conversations start with a request for validation of their ideas, but ends up with a discussion of process. The discipline of industrial design teaches that the first iteration of an idea is rarely the best idea.
This concept may seem counter-intuitive, but the merits of an idea depend on the customer’s problem the idea is trying to solve:
Is this problem a real point of pain or frustration for a segment of the population?
How large is that population segment?
Is the pain or frustration strong enough that people are willing to purchase a solution?
What is the process that customers follow to seek out a solution to this problem?
Answering these questions is a critical part of the due diligence that will be required of any investment in your idea, whether you’re pursuing a license deal or full commercialization. A number of research tools help us find the answers to these questions, including customer mapping and concept validation studies. Ultimately, these tools all fall back on the overall concept of Kenichi Ohmae’s 3C Model—the corporation, the customer, and the competitors.
While the aforementioned questions address the customer aspect of the 3C Model, people with ideas must also examine their competitive landscape. When we engage in this type of work, the odds are highly likely that someone else has observed this problem and launched his own solution. How many competitor or substitute solutions currently exist to address that same pain point? It certainly makes sense to know what the patent landscape looks like for your particular domain.
In my conversations with investors, be they venture capital firms, angels, or otherwise, I find that their initial focus is on “who” versus “what.” That is, investors focus their first-pass screening criteria on the corporation aspect of the 3C Analysis, because this typically overlooked by start-ups. Investors are just as interested in placing their bets behind a talented leadership team that is committed to their vision as they are in the details of a specific business opportunity. Launching a product takes an enormous amount of energy, and, to be successful, it ultimately takes a team of tireless, talented people. Of the many decisions you face when pursuing your idea, your ability and willingness to organize a team around your vision should have the greatest impact on the decision to license or commercialize.
As you evaluate how to best develop your idea, you should assess your capabilities at the very beginning of the process. Full commercialization takes a lot of fortitude, determination, and the ability to recruit the right mix of talent to clear the initial hurdles, whereas inventors who want to stick to what they do best—inventing—may choose the patent-and-license route. Regardless of the path you choose to follow, the process of bringing an idea to life is a skill to be developed and you will find there is a whole ecosystem to support you in your creative contributions to the economy.