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One of the primary driving forces that bring inventions to light is the profit motive. While Hollywood and the media tend to glorify the selfless inventor, the truth is that many of the most basic technologies we have would not have come to pass without the incentive of selling it. Venture capitalist Paul Graham explains this in his essay, “How to Make Wealth.”
“Developing new technology is a pain in the ass. It is, as Edison said, one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Without the incentive of wealth, no one wants to do it. Engineers will work on sexy projects like fighter planes and moon rockets for ordinary salaries, but more mundane technologies like light bulbs or semiconductors have to be developed by entrepreneurs.”
This leads into today’s topic: selling your invention, and fast. With any unnecessary guilt cleared out of the way, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of how to capitalize on your efforts. Essentially there are 2 ways of selling your invention: selling it to paying customers, or selling/licensing it to another entrepreneur or company who will sell it to paying customers. We will start with selling it yourself.
1) Selling your invention yourself
If your invention is finished, packaged, and ready to sell, your goal is probably getting it onto store shelves where customers can get at it. But how is this done? Most people do not have the first clue how the products they buy get into the stores. Indeed, it can at first seem like a mystical and confusing process that only the economic elite can understand. In fact, it is actually quite simple. A BusinessKnowHow.com article called “Selling to Retail Stores” offers some answers.
“So, as a supplier to the retail market, seek out the reps. Ask some stores that might be potential candidates for your line who they believe is the best rep that calls on them. Interview several reps, see what other lines they have that would cause them to call on the same type of firm you believe your goods could go into. They are your best bet for getting into all types of stores both large and small, that is their profession. And, lastly, don’t begrudge them the commission you pay them. Without them, you wouldn’t have the exposure or sales you’re enjoying.”
“Reps” are people who visit all the different stores and help convince them to sell merchandise. If the stores sell what the rep recommends, the rep takes a commission of the resulting sales. It is a pretty straightforward process, and the best way to get it underway is to visit the stores you want to sell in and ask who their reps are. Then, it is simply a matter of convincing the rep to pitch your product. Set up a lunch or dinner with them and make them see the value of your invention. With persistence and a little luck, you can have your invention on the shelves in no time!
2) Selling your invention to someone else
The other main way of selling your invention is selling it to another person, who will then sell it to customers. This can sometimes be easier and less of a hassle, but it is not always the best way to go. If you are not familiar with business and negotiation strategies, you may find yourself in over your head. To help prevent this, here are some tips for selling your invention to another entrepreneur or company.
Put some serious thought into who you want to sell to. Some inventors think selling an invention is as simple as calling anyone remotely involved with their market and asking them to buy it. In fact, this rarely works. Your best chance is to narrow down a list of companies that are very closely related to what you do. For example, if you have invented a new, lighter and more puncture-resistant bicycle tire, you might want to call BMX or Huffy. The idea is to look for an obvious fit between your invention and the goals of the company in question.
Do not be overzealous. There is an old saying that pigs get fed, while hogs get slaughtered. Nowhere is this truer than negotiations about selling or licensing a new, unproven invention. As a new inventor, you probably cannot demand a king’s ransom for your invention. After all, the company or entrepreneur buying it will be the one assuming the risk. Therefore, if you get an offer or convince a company to buy your invention, you should generally take the money. Unless the offer is insultingly low, you would do well to count yourself among the (relatively) few inventors who actually capitalize from their efforts.
Be direct. If selling quickly is your goal, you cannot afford to waste time on small talk and pleasantries. This does not rushing them to make you an offer before you have answered their questions, of course. But it does mean that you should not turn negotiations with them into an endless back-and-forth game of chit-chat. Keep your main goal in mind.
Take some time and decide which of these two selling strategies suits you best. Then, work quickly to take action. If you persist and keep your wits about you, you can sell your invention much faster than you thought!