About a month ago, I shared a story about Dr. Spencer Silver of 3M who invented a unique type of glue that wasn’t very sticky. It took him and his colleagues almost a decade to eventually figure out how to turn the unique substance into a profitable, useful idea. The company eventually developed Post-Its, one of 3M’s best products ever.
The point of the story is that the big idea is often the easiest part of innovation. Who hasn’t had a great idea or seen a product or business and said, “I thought of that!”? We all have. But how many of us brought our genius idea to market? Not many.
While big ideas are great, the real trick is the next step, the part after you have your “Eureka Moment” – the actual manifestation of that idea into a viable, commercial product, service, or business. Thomas Edison had it right when he said that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
What do you do after inspiration hits? Here are the steps:
1. Get feedback: I will reiterate this point from Part 1 because I think it is very important. As entrepreneurs, we tend to be an optimistic, enthusiastic, rose-colored-glasses group. But that can also be our blind spot and downfall.
Before investing a ton of time, energy, or money into your visionary idea, make sure that other people like it too. No, they may not see what you see (that is the nature of having a big, unique idea), but you still want to make certain that people whose opinion you trust agree that it is an idea worth pursuing, and that it is commercially viable.
2. Make a prototype / test it: The next step depends on what type of idea you have:
- If it is an idea for a business, you will want to test it with a small group to see if it will work on a larger scale. There is a very popular book out right now which explains how to do this, called The Lean Startup.
- If it is a product that you want to make, then you will need to make a prototype. Tiffany Krumins went on the first episode ever of Shark Tank to pitch her product, Ava the Elephant –
3. Protect your idea: First, you will want to protect your idea by obtaining a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). An NDA is a legal document that tells people that you will be sharing confidential, proprietary information with them and they cannot use it in any way without your prior written consent. You can find and tailor an NDA to your needs fairly easily online. One place you could check out is LegalZoom.com.
Next, and this part is not as easy, you will need a copyright, and maybe a patent. Copyrights protect writing, designs, logos, brand names and more. You can apply for a copyright online at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Patents protect products; if you have a unique product that you want to legally protect, you will need to get one. This will require the assistance of an attorney and can be costly.
4. Get your business funded: Needless to say, you will need capital to get your new business or product off of the ground. A small business loan or other funding mechanisms will help you receive legal assistance to protect your idea fund the prototype, which allow you to get your business up and running.
5. Bring it to market: A product will need to be produced and distributed. A business will need to launch and find customers. This is the critical step. Everything else was the foundation for getting to this place.
6. Analyze, and pivot if necessary: The invention or business you originally thought of may not be the same as the one you bring to market. Great businesses see what works, and what doesn’t, and then make changes as needed.
7. Throw a party! Very few people get to this place, so be sure to celebrate your perseverance, smarts, vision, and good fortune.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.