Drop the idea- Your idea is a business venture no matter how much time, money, energy and effort you put into it. Keep your eyes and ears open and know when to move on to your next idea, you’ll have plenty more ideas that will come to you!
As a part of our series called “Celebrity Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Fried.
His expertise comes with over 15 years of experience as a mentor to inventors, including celebrities. He is the author of Inventing Secrets Revealed and You & Your Big Ideas. A thought-leader of the industry, Fried has been featured with products on As Seen On TV, home shopping channels, catalogs, and online retailers through licensing and manufacturing. As president of his consultancy Inventor Smart, Fried aids clients through constructive feedback, product development, and more to help bring their ideas to market. He has presented his expertise at the 2019 National Hardware Show, The Inspired Home Show, and the 2018 Invention-Con hosted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was a good kid, hopefully, my parents felt the same way! I was a hustler, I liked to have my own money, earn it and spend or save what I wanted.
I realized looking back that I was curious, liked to learn and understand how things worked, and was put together by first taking them apart, not in an aggressive way! I always liked the latest technology, finding ways to make my life easier or keep up with the cool gadgets.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are people that let things happen and people that make things happen, the choice is yours! I positioned myself in anything I did as a leader and not a follower. I liked to hear what people have to say, take constructive criticism well, and then evaluate what to do next if anything at all. This led me into positions where I was representing Student Government and interest groups in high school, college, my part-time jobs as a manager in my teens, volunteering in my community on the board of directors, and continuing to represent groups and initiatives from a perspective of thinking of others first and making decisions as a leader.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The author compiled amazing conversations to understand the mindset of many successful people and what it took for them to achieve greatness. This book is about being rich in your mind first and knowing that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. That is why I invent it. My first thought is how this can help someone and make their life easier and then see them use it for the same reason why I came up with it. The other part of the rich, financially, follows.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I have a story about every invention that I’ve thought of and created or not created. For example one of the early inventions I came up with when we were at a Disney show at Nassau Coliseum. I bought an expensive mylar Elmo balloon and during the show, it flew up to the ceiling, along with many others! You should have heard all the crying and screaming going on… So I invented the Balloon-O-Band, a nylon wristband that had a metal D ring attached that the balloon ribbon can be tied to so the kids can take the band on and off and if the band comes off and they let go, it’s also a weight so the balloon and band don’t fly away!
Then there is Pull Ties, an ongoing revenue stream for me that is a bag sealer. On bread, you have the twist ties or plastic tabs, or in your snack bags you have the chip clip… I wanted to find a better way to seal my bread, cereal, items that were in plastic bags everywhere in my kitchen, including my freezer and pantry. I can up with this item Pull Ties, which keeps food fresher longer and seals the bags tight. You put the bag through the loop and push the button up the track to seal it. I had great success with this product on QVC, it was and continues to be on the shelves in major retailers and online.
I also am very proud of the journey my Snack-O-Spheres have had. I worked with a licensee to include Sesame Street and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and sell a ton of them. Now, these snack containers have another version with pets again in major retailers.
What else… I have had a device that takes knots out of jewelry, a microwave cooker and steamer with twist-lock drain, on infomercials, another one I am not able to disclose, and how about this one, my collapsible egg tray. I came home with leftovers and there was no room left in my fridge, then I noticed that space above the egg carton and opened the carton up to see that there was only one left taking up all that space. So I came up with this egg tray that collapses to hold the number of eggs you have to save space in your fridge, called Eggstra Space! This invention was on QVC and now in major retailers as well as online.
A recent one I came up with I can share is the Paper Towel Topper! Most people have various versions of a paper towel stand on their counters. Most people wet their hands or have dirty hands before they grab a paper towel. If you take a look at the top of the paper towel roll, it either is shriveled up from getting wet or dirty from that hand you place on top while you’re grabbing the paper towel. My invention is a topper, a cap that fits into the inner tube of the paper towel roll and can fit any paper towel stand. keep your paper towels clean, sanitary and add that extra grip when holding. This product is simple and useful and can be used by people with these paper towel stands, good audience, and opportunity!
I have plenty of fun ideas, whether they are a success or did not launch, it has been a fun, personally and financially rewarding .frustrating, lessons learned experience and journey
There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
From coaching and consulting other inventors, this is one of the biggest hurdles, taking the emotional side out of how you feel and look at your invention idea as a business. Will this idea make you money? Every idea and person together are unique. When you come up with the idea, it’s important to do your due diligence just like if you would start your own business and the research is imperative. Do your research and find good people to work with. When you come up with an idea, it’s a bit overwhelming to understand what needs to get and where to go and who to trust. An invention will most likely need time, money, energy, and effort. Patent searches and or filings, design, specifications and engineering, prototyping, and deciding if you would like to license your idea and its intellectual property to earn royalties or start manufacturing your idea and starting a business.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
I suggest simply searching online if your idea exists to start. Put in descriptive words in the search engine and click on images. Browse visually to see if your idea already exists. Many inventors search with their eyes closed! I tell them to search with their eyes open and see what comes up. Jot these findings down or copy and paste the URL to later compare why yours may be different. You’ll need to decide or ask an IP attorney or agent for an opinion if your idea is already patented and you may be infringing on someone else’s intellectual property or it possibly patentable based on what you came up with or it may already have an expired patent and it’s in the public domain and anyone can manufacture it and sell it. These are some important steps to start with and asking others, besides your family and friends, their opinion and feedback if they would buy and/or use what you came up with. Then make a decision if you should move forward or not. Will your idea make you money is what I concentrate on for my own inventions and when working with other inventors.
Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?
I value everyone’s opinions I have asked for, and not to pat me on the back and make me feel good, but to provide me with good solid feedback that won’t hurt my feelings. There are people you can ask that are risk-takers and others that can be conservative. Evaluate the risk you will be taking and find a balance. Is it the right product? Is it the right time in your life? Is it right for you? Planning for your products failures can help to overcome the hardships quicker and it’s easy to enjoy the success!
For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
When I come up with the idea I capture it, then take a deep breath. I hit the search engines and review the images to compare what exists, get a patent search done with a patentability opinion, to understand what my options are. I could have hit a brick wall and moved on to my next idea or should I consider licensing this idea to earn royalties or manufacturing it. I don’t make the decision at this point however I really have this on my mind while exploring the next steps.
Then I work with a product designer or engineer depending on how complex my invention is. Once I have the CAD files completed, I make a prototype and a few iterations of it until it’s as close as possible to the way I want it to work and look. Then I file either a provisional patent application or design patent.
Then I start obtaining quotes from factories should I want to manufacture it and present it to buyers and sell online. Or if I would like to license it, I connect with potential licensees that manufacture and distribute the category of the product I came up with. Tough for the independent inventor to be on store shelves with one product SKU. Not impossible, but difficult, that’s why most of the time I veer towards licensing. Either way, it’s awesome when your product is in retail and available for sale!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started, I definitely learned a few hard lessons. One of my inventions I worked on and kept working on even though people were telling me they would not use it. I was stubborn and determined to prove them wrong. I listened to my own opinion and finally realized that what I invented and prototyped made someone buy something that was cheap enough to replace without investing in my product. Also, other mistakes I’ve learned that even though you are inventing something different, is it making someone’s life easier? Sure it may be different, but adding 2 more steps to get something accomplished will most likely not sell.
The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
When I started coming up with ideas that were for the mass market, where the window of opportunity is wide open, or figuring out how to make it wider for more sales. Like my Pull Ties, by the time I was done with my pitch for it, I was asking how many people had a kitchen and I could find plenty of uses for my bag sealer. Niche products are limited and serve a small market. When I started inventing ideas that had this window opened, I had more options and sales and success.
Also, finding the right people to work at each stage of the invention process has made coming up with an idea much easier and streamlined for myself and the clients I work with.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Do your research and look at the facts, be real with yourself and the facts. Ask questions and ask for references.
2. Ask independent people for feedback, and don’t ask people that will earn from you. If you ask someone their opinion and they say it sucks, then they have no more business from you! Ask questions and ask for references.
3.How buyers make decisions. Buyers are allocated a certain amount of shelf space and they have to hit certain targets of sales and revenue. That’s why they go with more of the established brands and are challenged to take a chance on a new product from an inventor. So it’s not easy to get into retail with that 1 product, but not impossible. Better to have established sales to show in your pitch to buyers.
4.When I first started, I would open up a business for every idea I was working on and had to start paying taxes on each of them. Better to invent under a company and start your company when you are ready to receive payment.
5. Drop the idea- Your idea is a business venture no matter how much time, money, energy and effort you put into it. Keep your eyes and ears open and know when to move on to your next idea, you’ll have plenty more ideas that will come to you!
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
1.Starts with an idea in your head, on a napkin, text, email or leave yourself a voice message to capture your idea before it disappears!
2. Attempt for intellectual property protection, including provisional, design, non-provisional or utility patent and/or trademark.
3. Bringing your product to life-computer drawings (CAD), identify materials needed and make a prototype.
4. Licensing-preparing for licensees and representation
5.Manufacturing-preparing for production and tooling quotes, broker representation.
6.Marketing- packaging, sales sheets, demo videos, preparing for the pitch to retailers, web and social media presence.
7.Making the decision of licensing and manufacturing and discussing distribution channels-box big retailers, catalog, as seen on TV, specialty retailers, online retailers, etc.
8.Increase your opportunities with your invention- get some press!
9. Enjoy the process and make some dollars!
10. Start all over again!
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
As an inventor myself, I learned the hard way in the beginning and made plenty of mistakes, lessons learned. Now consulting inventors that come to me at all stages, they share their journeys with me. I hear where they are and I recognize what they could have done differently. Taking the 15+ years of my own experiences and other inventors have enabled me to look at an idea and help the inventor to make better decisions. Yes, you can figure things out on your own but it will take you time and there will be plenty of twists and turns, however, when I need something done in life, I go to a specialist or expert.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Interesting that with inventing a product, you have some options. If you are limited on funds, you need some cash to get to a point to have a prototype and some intellectual property. I helped an unemployed inventor license his product made out of cardboard, then was on QVC shopping channel!
If you want to raise money for a product without any sales history or even development, it will be tough to get funding. There are crowdfunding options and asking your family and friends. I feel like if you don’t have the funds, then save up and work on your idea when you have the funds. Baby steps is how I started.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I continue to invent and go through the process like other inventors and prove to them that if I can do it they can too. Sharing my experiences and knowledge through my social media, invention books I’ve written, platforms to help inventors promote their ideas, inventor e-learning courses, and running a national inventor club are ways for me to give back and keep inventors with their invention ideas moving forward.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Thank you. In my position talking to all types of people, they could be doctors, lawyers, unemployed, startups, students or senior citizens, any race or nationality… treat people equally and don’t forget where you came from!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Mark Cuban. He has such a great entrepreneurial spirit and high energy tells it like it is and has the experience to see what would work and how to overcome challenges to make them successful. I can appreciate his hard work and what that has earned him financially as well as being a good-hearted person from what I see and know of him.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.