Every entrepreneur knows what pushing an idea uphill feels like: not great. Despite your best efforts, you’re just not able to get any momentum going. You’re frustrated, unsure of what to do to next. You wonder what it is you’re doing wrong. Should you change direction? Or give up on the project all together?
I’ve experienced this dilemma on many occasions and I see my students and others frequently struggling with it as well. The conclusion I’ve reached after 30 years of entrepreneurship? Sometimes you have to sit back, stop pushing and figure out how to get someone or something to pull your idea to market.
You believe in your idea, but you can’t seem to get anyone else to. It’s important to remember that potential licensees and investors are risk-averse. They’re wary of pulling the trigger on an idea they perceive as being too risky. To win them over, you will need to prove that your idea is worth gambling on.
Here are five things you can do to turn the tide and achieve that.
1. Run a successful crowdfunding campaign.
Need to prove that demand for your idea exists? Nothing, and I mean nothing, speaks louder than consumers reaching into their wallets to pay for your product. The evidence is indisputable! In fact, my students are increasingly using crowdfunding to lure potential licensees in.
When a company witnesses dollars rolling in right before its eyes, it quickly jumps on board. Your campaign needs to meet its goal or come close to it. That doesn’t mean you have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars though. After meeting his modest goal of raising $10,000, one of my students is currently negotiating with a licensee.
2. Get a purchase order.
Let me be clear: This is a gutsy move. You can’t actually fulfill an order at this point, after all. But like I said, nothing speaks louder than an order -- especially a large one. So you should consider showing your prototype to a retail buyer and asking, “Would you order this?”
I used this technique to convince the company who licensed my rotating label from me to get a move on. The company had been sitting on my technology for more than six months when I showed them a purchase order for 50 million labels from Rexall Sundown. Nine months later my product was in stores.
3. Win an award.
If you enter your idea into a competition and win, others will take notice. Over the years, retailers such as Walmart and Staples have hosted invention competitions. Make48 is an example of a newer innovation competition. After one of my product ideas won a gold at the Edison Awards, my phone rang nonstop for a few weeks.
4. Build a loyal following.
One of my former students, Miguel Valenzuela, created the first version of his product PancakeBot, the world’s first 3-D pancake-printing machine, back in 2011. He spent years working on the project, never quite sure of its future. But the support and encouragement he received at Makers Faires encouraged him to dig his heels in and keep trying.
With the support of the maker community and the ensuing publicity he received, he found a licensee earlier this year.
5. Work a trade show.
I think getting a booth at a trade show shouldn’t be anywhere near your first move, because it will cost you. But if you’re not getting any traction, you should consider it.
The fact is you never know who's going to walk by -- including potential licensees and large retailers. It is a great way of getting exposure and possibly that big order. Again, I’m recommending this option because it really does work. After attending a housewares show, one of my students ended up signing a licensing deal with a company whose representative had walked by and liked her idea.
Pushing and pushing will tire you out and drain your enthusiasm. Take a step back and decide how you can put your creative problem-solving skills to use instead. Remember: Taking away risk is the most surefire way to get people to jump on board.