Inventor Insight: Ensuring your product idea can be a success

It is likely that one-third of you reading this article have had an idea for a product at some point in time. Perhaps it was a simple solution for one of life’s little nuisances or a life-saving device. Either way you know your idea was designed to make lives better. However, most of you will never act on the idea, leaving the world without the benefit of having that product to improve their lives.

No matter what the purpose of the product, there are common traits among successful consumer products. How do you know if your “problem solving/makes life better” idea will make it to the store shelf and truly help people? Keep in mind that there are more good ideas and good products out there than shelf space available for them. So what can you do to ensure your product idea has the best chance at success? The old adage about 5 minutes of planning being worth 10 minutes of work is true. If you take time to ask and answer some questions ahead of time you will improve your odds of getting there.

What is so great about your idea? When you walk down the aisles of a store the choices are overwhelming. Your idea needs to have a value proposition, which helps to distinguish it from anything close to your idea. Find that one thing (or more, if possible) that sets it apart: faster, stronger, cheaper, time-saving, etc. This is your value proposition — the thing that makes your future customer willing to pay for your product.

Are you solving a problem? Not every product on the market solves a problem; sometimes it is more a matter of convenience or simply making life a little easier. Products that solve a problem tend to do better as you will have people looking for a solution. If you invent something that is more of a convenience item you will have to convince people why they must have it. Either way, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to understand why your solution is the best solution.

What do customers say? How do you talk to a customer when you do not even have a product yet? Not to mention, inventors should be careful about how much is said about an idea before it has some patent protection. This is where inventors get uncomfortable, but it is critically important to make sure that more than just you, your family or friends are interested in paying money for your idea. You need to understand how your idea will be the ultimate solution for making life easier and then communicate that to people, in particular your future customer. Fortunately, it is easier than you think: You become the expert by knowing the problem and competition better than anyone else. Next, you talk to others who are suffering from the problem or nuisance, learning how they solve the problem now and what is wrong with current solutions. You do not need to share details of your idea, but instead find out what is missing for customers and try to make your product fill that need. One of the best places to start your sleuthing is by reading the reviews of any competitive product.

This list is far from comprehensive; there are many other factors that influence a products’ potential for success. It is only meant to get the one-third of you who have an idea, or know someone who does, to start investigating if it is worth pursuing. There are many options for inventors to get their idea to market; licensing, crowdfunding, Amazon and more. The risks have been greatly reduced and only require minimal investment, mostly your own time, and a little bit of money to learn if now is the time to share your idea with the world so all of us can benefit from it. Once you do, there are local resources available to help you with the next steps in evaluating the idea and identifying how best to make your “problem solving, makes life better” idea into a reality.

This is one in a monthly series about topics of interest to entrepreneurs. Lara Merriam-Smith is the program manager for NW Innovation Resource Center, a Bellingham-based organization that supports economic opportunities through entrepreneurial innovation in northwest Washington. It helps inventors looking to take products to market and connects new start-up businesses with resources to help them grow. For more information online go to