How to Invent Something (Without Going Broke)

Hand writing Time to Invent concept with blue marker on transparent wipe board.

You were probably moseying through a routine day when – BAM! – an epiphany. The perfect product idea came to you. People will love it. They will beg you to take their money. You can smell success and it’s coming for you.

Unfortunately, when you want to move forward, you feel less like a Silicon Valley CEO and more like a dog who caught a car. You have this idea, you love it, but you don’t know what to do with it.

Dog driving car
“Put the camera down and tell me how to operate this thing.”

Step 1: Document

The first thing you need to do when you invent something is to start documenting everything. Start a journal. Take pictures of everything. Record yourself explaining the idea. This is what you will be using to defend your idea if ever needed.

It’s too early for a patent because your invention is still only an abstract idea. As you start to develop your product in the real-world, it may morph into something quite different. It will probably end up greater than you could imagine right now. Taking your idea through the development process will highlight potential problems and improvements. The final product will likely end up outside of the scope of any patent you would file today.

Moreover, patents are expensive. Wait until you have a solid product and a defined market before you wager so much on one idea.

Step 2: Acquire Prototype

Before you go take that second mortgage out on your house, you should prove two things: First – your product will work as expected. Second – there are people out there who will buy it.

“Look son, there goes your college tuition. I just bet your future on my product idea.” “Dad, what if nobody wants it?” “… Go clean your room.”
“Look son, there goes your college tuition. I just bet your future on my product idea.”
“Dad, what if nobody wants it?”
“… Go clean your room.”
A physical prototype is the best way to do this. You can explain your product to someone until you’re blue in the face, or you can put it in their hand and ask them to use it.

Lets go over some options of how to get a prototype of your product.

Hire a Professional Firm

There are thousands of companies out there who would like to help develop your product. Most charge by the hour in the $100/hr range. the benefit with going with one of these places is that you will get absolute quality work. they turn ideas like yours into products every day. The disadvantage is obviously the cost. Since these places are giving you a finished product, they’ll be investing a lot of time and resources up front. If money isn’t a problem for you, go for this option. Otherwise, your first invention will need to be a home run because you wont have anything left to bet on your next idea.

Elance.com / Upwork.com

Online freelancers are a great resource for cheap work. However, you only to need to dabble on one of these platforms for a moment to discover the risk. Quality. There are fantastic workers on these websites because I have seem them. Unfortunately, there is about 4 bad workers for every awesome one. I’m going to save specific strategies for another post but please – do your research before hiring anyone. Make sure that they have numerous positive reviews and a solid work history. Also see that any credentials which can be verified by the website are indeed verified. When you start working with one, be very clear and specific in your communications. Dont leave anything up for interpretation.

Another tip is to tell the worker to stop and check-in after a certain amount of time has passed. The purpose of this is to verify that the progress is moving in the correct direction before a large amount of time is invested. If there was a mis-communication, it would be beneficial to catch it earlier rather than later.

Work with a Local Fabricator

An option between the two above would be to go straight to a local fabrication shop. They will have engineers and designers on staff but their focus will be on manufacturing versus design & asthetics. When you call a fabricator, they’ll probably ask you to come in for a small meeting to discuss your product. Explain that you need a prototype but tease them with the promise of future orders (only if you mean it). Make sure that you are specific about the aspects of the design which are important to you. They may want to change things to make the manufacturing process easier. You have to find the balance between cost-effectiveness & asthetics.

One thing to remember with fabricators is that they are busy so their big customers will get priority over you. After you place an order, be patient but check in frequently.

Do it Yourself

Your final option (my personal favorite) is for you to create the prototype yourself.

“I invented in the ‘walking uphill in snow both ways’ x 1,000 era compared to your fancy computer times. What are you doing right now? Complaining about the 10 seconds it took to wirelessly access all human knowledge?” – Da Vinci
“I invented in the ‘walking uphill in snow both ways’ x 1,000 era compared to your fancy computer times. What are you doing right now? Complaining about the 10 seconds it took to wirelessly access all human knowledge?” – Da Vinci
This is the course of action I would like to push you because:

  • You will have 100% control
  • You will save a lot money

It’s easy to start down this path by learning how to use CAD. Once your product is hashed out in 3D CAD you can bring it into the real world a lot easier.

More on that later.

Step 3: Show People

THIS is the scary part. On one hand, you’ll be paranoid that someone will steal your idea. On the other, you’ll be afraid that they’ll think you’re stupid. Well, get over it.

What If They Steal My Idea?

‘I AM NOT A LAWYER’ WARNING:
If you really think someone may steal your idea, please get a patent. I’m against patents in the infancy of most products for reasons I’ve already explained. However, if (for example) you discovered how to turn raw sewage into gold, DONT SHOW ANYBODY! That would be amazing and everybody would steal it. I would steal it.
Also, I’m just a guy on the internet. Don’t take anything you read on the internet as gospel.
Chances are that nobody will care as much about your product as you do. You birthed it so it will have a special place in your heart where you cradle it while imagining yourself on Shark Tank. However, nobody else will be as invested. Why would they want to go through the work of falling in love with and developing your idea? They have their own.

I would like you to losen up and show it to as many people as you can. Present it in different ways. Tell them someone else gave it to you. Don’t let them know how much it matters to you. Courtesy is not welcome here because we want raw and honest opinions.

What If They Hate It?

Sad Woman
“I thought everybody would love my Bread Unslicer.”
Rejoice if they hate it because you just saved a bunch of money! You found out that the product wont sell before investing everything you have, it’s not too late to move on.

But chances are that they wont hate it. If they don’t like something about it, you can use that feedback to imporove upon the original idea. This is your opportunity to tweak the product’s design, pitch, or scope.

To be continued…

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