As forward-thinkers and innovators, many entrepreneurs are ahead of their time when it comes to creating state-of-the-art products. Those small-business owners who attract attention and interest in their revolutionary concepts can attain exponential exposure and sales.
Philip Bourgeois is an industrial designer and founder and CEO of Studio RED, a design consultancy that opened in 1983 and has managed more than 5,000 product development projects for a wide range of organizations, including entrepreneurs. In 2000 his company designed the TheraSense, Inc. Freestyle Tracker Diabetes Management System, the first glucose monitoring device to require a small amount of blood from parts of the body less painful than the fingertip, such as the arms or legs.
“The meter acceptance was significant,” Bourgeois says. “It captured a 15 percent share of a 20-year-old market dominated by [competitor] LifeScan, and in its fourth year it was purchased for $1.2 billion by Abbott [Laboratories] and became the beginning of their diabetes division.”
Not For The Faint Of Heart
While the payoffs and rewards are potentially substantial when your ahead-of-its-time concept hits the big-time, the process of selling cutting-edge products is challenging, says Vinay Tannan, a U.S. patent agent and founder and CEO of Taan Consulting, an intellectual property strategy and business development agency.
“Revolutionary ideas and products are essentially disruptive innovation,” says Tannan. “Such concepts are not incremental or expected by the market, but rather something that changes the way the game is played. The prospect of selling disruptive innovation is fraught with challenges, including establishing a market demand for something that people often don’t yet know they need and developing a competitive edge around your innovation that positions your company for long-term growth and success.”
When cultivating and selling your revolutionary concept, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
Do Your Homework
Before you jump in and pitch your idea to potential investors, retailers or manufacturers, research the industry and competitive landscape to make sure your product is truly innovative and a large enough market exists.
“Conduct a freedom-to-operate analysis of the patent landscape to determine if the practice of your innovation might be infringing on someone else’s patents, and survey the potential customer base to make sure that your innovation is addressing one or many pain points,” advises Tannan.
Having a solid idea of how big the potential market is and how much of the market you can capture is critical and often requires substantial, time-consuming research and development. “To create a unique product requires a visionary management team with an appetite for innovation and the willingness to pay for the development it takes to achieve new, breakthrough solutions,” says Bourgeois of Studio RED.
“This development may take the form of deep design research to find new product opportunities, multiple engineering mock-ups and test cycles to overcome initial approaches which don’t hit the mark—all the way to investments in manufacturing methods that have never been applied to this new product category.” Bourgeois adds.
Highlight Your Market
Once you've completed thorough research, present the idea within the framework of the target market, says Bourgeois. “We learned early on that you can’t just show a series of concepts to a product manager, manufacturer or retailer,” he says. “This part of the process shouldn't be done in a vacuum. It’s important to present the product within the context of the competitive landscape. Explain how the product fits a particular zone in the competition and speaks to a specific demographic, as well as supports the company’s vision and branding strategy,” he says.
Educate, Educate, Educate
Focus on educating your listeners regarding why your product is ideal for them and how it will change their lives, says John Scherer, founder of the Video Professor, which produced tutorials for computer-related subjects in the late 1980s. He is now CEO of the Canless Air System, makers of the Canless Air O2 Hurricane.
“In selling this revolutionary product, we inform the consumer that the 02 Hurricane is safe for the environment, as it replaces dangerous canned air and offers new cleaning options,” Scherer says. “Explain exactly how your product can help the intended user live an easier, more enjoyable life.”
Trust Your Gut
“When an idea is right, you'll know and feel it,” Scherer says. “If your presentation flows from the heart, then consumers are likely to buy your product.”
Building a business around a disruptive innovation takes confidence and persistence.Tannan adds, “Be prepared for people to tell you that your product is stupid, that it won’t work and that nobody will buy it. Stay focused and believe in yourself, and you will succeed.”
A freelancer since 1985, Julie Bawden-Davis has written for many publications, including Entrepreneur, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.
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